The heat swaddled me as I crept up the stairs and into the attic. Sunlight slanted through the high windows in near-solid beams, gilding the dust in the air. Boxes were stacked to the ceiling, contents unknown. No adventurer coming across the ruins of a great and ancient city in the jungle depths could have been more awed by their find than I was, standing in the attic in my sixth summer, surrounded by the past. I wanted to know what was in those boxes. And I wanted to know why it was there. This is my first memory of being surrounded by things waiting to be discovered. I was seized by the desire to open the boxes. And that compulsion has persisted and shaped my life; the joy of discovery.
The past is peopled with discoverers of great frontiers, new lands and other cultures. I am an explorer of small frontiers. Bird eggs and grasshoppers, interesting artifacts of the field and road-side, bits of trivia, flowers for which I have no name and the call of a bird I don’t recognize all earn my interest and study. Opening a book that has sat on the shelf long enough to accumulate dust, I’ve discovered a forgotten realm. Discovery is both an instinct and an act of will. I go out of my way to take routes I’ve never used before, and I make a point of trying a different flavor each time I buy ice-cream. Sometimes the small frontiers are even more difficult to explore than the great ones. The little ones are subtle. I have to make an effort to notice them each day, or they’ll slip away unknown.
In the act of keeping a mind perpetually open to new finds, I’ve become a folklorist of sorts, a jack of all trades. Like an archeologist or a magpie, I uncover and treasure odd facts, unusual words, bits of song and such peculiar skills as calligraphy, weaving, Irish flute playing, and carving. But my shiniest prizes are stories. I delight in stories, all stories and any stories. I’ll collect and preserve mythology, scientific law, gossip and history, for they all impart a little nugget of truth. All things in existence have a story attached to them, from the Milky Way winding through the heavens to the purple tricycle parked next door. Stories and their characters give a deeper insight to the universe and its workings. And when life seems impossible, stories tell us that it is necessary to keep fighting, and possible to win. The pursuit of tales has made me a great listener and an inveterate friend of the local library.
Story or sight, I believe there’s always something new waiting. The world is open, a box with unknown contents. Life is the act of sticking my hand in and seeing what I can find.
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