Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Terra Incognita

Recently, I have found myself immersed in heroic literature again. I have been working slowly through the Iliad while I am out in the wild lands. My reading at home as of late has been "Watership Down" a great modern portrayal of heroic themes and adventure. The story of the "Quest for the Golden Fleece" with Jason and the Argonauts has been fascinating me lately and I am trying to track down a good translation of the original Apolonius of Rhodes' "Argonautika". The little bit of History I have been reading lately has also been in this motif; studying great expeditions and the men who made them succeed or fail. Through all of this reading though, I keep running into one running theme across the board: "Terra Incognita."

Terra Incognita is a Latin phrase for "unknown lands". It has been uttered by countless journeymen, penned in poetry and found on maps by cartographers for centuries to show areas yet explored. The search for a land or place unknown is one of the romantic lures of all adventure. There should be no surprise at all to realize that this is a treasured concept for those seeking the boundaries of our world. There is a surprise deeper in this information though. The modern adventurer, enamored with this classical concept, must accept that our world has become one of Terra Cognita: Known lands.

What is there for a wanderer in this "Known World"? There is no fountain of youth to be found, no great tree of life, and no new world beyond a vast ocean. Sure there are isolated valleys, mountian peaks that are lucky to see one visitor a year and slot canyons that no one has explored, but we know of them. Maps can be found and data can be gathered about these places. Where do our adventurers seek their sacred fruit? Where can we stumble upon something that is so novel and exciting that our perspective of everything is born anew?

Jason crossed the "Rolling Rocks" on the entrance to the black sea, and from that day no other sailor was victim to the phenomena. Knowledge was passed and the wild lands dispelled. This is the key to our modern adventurer: Seek knowledge. Only a true fool would believe that man has learned all that he can ever come to know. In our modern world all but a few of the most extreme explorations (space and the deep sea) have been done but we are all aware of our inherent ignorance. As skilled adventures and men who posses mastery of wilderness travel we have only one option to cross the threshold into the unknown and dispel the darkness of ignorance: Citizen Science.

The initiatives put forward by citizen science programs have helped to provide some important data in many sciences. It is becoming a diverse and varied "industry" (If it is even applicable to use that term yet). Almost every major accomplishment in the media for expeditionists have come through these citizen science programs. Many of these programs are simple and take advantage of current technology, like smart phones, and ask users to simply catalog birds they see, plants, insects, etc... via an "app". The data collected here can help build knowledge about species diversification or migration patterns. On the more extreme end there are people setting up month long base camps in remote wilderness just to gain some data (see video below). To be a part of these discoveries is one of the remaining few realms for the skilled adventurer. In the long history of men who have increased our knowledge about the world, citizen science is our part of the legacy. Citizen science is where our generation of adventurers makes their mark. This is our lot, our time, lets do it well, lets do it right. Our Terra Incognita.


Still a little confused on Citizen Science? Check out this video about the "High Mountain Glacial Watershed" Project. This is citizen science at its best!

High Mountain Glacial Watershed Program from Skyship Films on Vimeo.

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