At first I didn't connect a friend's email subject line:
row row row your boat gently down the stream
with the "truck art" I saw last night when I went for a walk.
I mulled over that "last great unknown" phrase. So I memorized the line "last great unknown," Wyoming, Powell and resolved to look up the website when I came back home from my walk. I already knew of Powell since I've run many of the canyons* (Lodore, Westwater, Desolation, Gray, Cataract--alas not Grand Canyon) that he would explore in his expedition.
As I walked I also became less perturbed and more curious about the sensations of the flight-or-fight stress response that were threatening to debilitate my entire being (releasing cortisol, adrendaline and what-not). Logically, there wasn't a reason. I wasn't being chased by a woolly mammoth. My mind, as was its habit, was simply freaking out in wanting to know for certain what was next (even a lie would suffice to pacify it). It wasn't getting any clear signal that could serve as any reference point--and that was its issue. I don't know if the feeling is what what we commonly call 'fear' is as this physiological response felt even more primal and fundamental than emotion.
My fears weren't quelled, but there was the insight that it wasn't going to get what it wanted. And somehow there was relief in this answer answer: Actually, there is no last great unknown. It's just the next great unknown, and the next. The only drama in all this is fabrifactured when (and if) I think life and I are two separate entities at cross-purposes.
I do not think humanity has even touched the surface of what is possible when we don't rush around looking for surety of shore, when we don't hole up in cozy lakes... but allow the current of the mighty river its due. When I remember that the Unknown is also You and I, is Us, is All, then the 'have to know' rift disappears.
The U-Haul Venture Across America website on Powell's 1869 river expedition is curated really well (pleasantly surprised), and I thought it spoke in everyday language to facing the unknown, embracing its call, and the spirit of expedition.
"Hello, my name is John Wesley Powell. It is the 24th of May 1869, and the good people of Green River City have turned out to see us start. Today we begin our expedition into the last great unknown within the continental United States. I am proud to say that I am a self-driven, self-taught man of action, and am determined to conquer these unmapped, uncharted rivers and canyons, knowing that if I should fail, sure death awaits me and my crew. The nine men making the expedition along with me are prepared to embark on what I believe will be a 10-month journey throughout lands into which no one has ventured. It is my future goal to ultimately be able to guide Americans safely into the West. I seek knowledge of, and want to explore, what many believe cannot be done. Native Americans have told me that to enter the canyon is to disobey the gods and should not be done.
I have chosen a different path than that of my father, but believe that my calling lies in the depths of the canyon walls, or perhaps rushes through the rivers’ water. I see many people here today at Expedition Island in Wyoming that I shall later invite to join me on this adventurous expedition through writings I intend to note in my journal. As our expedition into the American West is about to begin, and final preparation is quickly coming to an end, I would like to take a moment to write down how I came to be here today."
I also found it inspiring that Powell feels as if he is following a 'calling' or nudge that's bigger than his parental conditioning or any sense of self-preservation--and he is going to follow it--come what may.
Also this diary passage resonates with me because Powell ventures forth with an ensemble, and as I've come to realize that atriums are more my style than freelancing solo in a coffee shop, reading that really struck a chord. In fact, I just landed today in Silicon Valley on a scouting mission because I want to be engaged in an expedition with a shared purpose again (and that takes place face-to-face, not just virtual teams).
I noted too that Powell decides to keep a diary in order to share his journey widely. This one feels far more courageous than tumbling down thick Western rivers in petite wooden boats, but I've seen that, for me, it is important not slip into hiding, and keep on sharing, out loud--especially in these exciting times.
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream, merrily merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream.
* I lived in Salt Lake City and my ex-husband was an investor in Adventure River Expeditions (three things I love) in southern Utah (it's been acquired, so not A.R.E. now).
p.s. If you're in the Bay Area, I'll be here thorugh June 1. I'm investigating an accelerator idea, and some other quixotry. It's too much to go into in one blog post, but you can check out my bookmarks under Education and Innovation to connect the dots and get a sense. If you tend to work best with a group of peers and partners, drop me a line.
Image Credits: U-Haul, John Wesley Powell's expedition 1869 photos from their own expedition photographer ("Powell's Grand Ambition" covers the difficulty of the Grand Canyon portion of the journey); Swimming Cities of Switchback Seas is a sculptural floating city assembled by Swoon and crew.