12. A House-Painter, a Globe, and a Radio
Admiral Drake was a famous Antarctic explorer in the middle of the 20th century. This was back in the day where you could still produce a good radio serial, and National Geographic could tell an enthralling tale simply because there were so many places that people had never heard of or dreamed of visiting. And Admiral Drake was well known for radio broadcasts about the mysterious world at the bottom of the Earth, and adventure all over.
Of course, Admiral Drake is a fictitious character in the 1938 children's book, Mr. Popper's Penguins. The titular character (Popper, not his penguins), was a house-painter of modest means, with a wife and two children, and a fascination with the wide world, and lived vicariously through the radio broadcasts he listened to, poring through atlases and gazing at globes, and reading magazines. He was, as I look back on it, a prime example of an armchair explorer. It wasn't so much the traveling that excited him (although he would in fact at the book's end join Admiral Drake in a journey to the Arctic), but the idea of it. While he was in some ways trapped in the mundanery of proto-suburban America, he could escape into the whole realm of possibilities that existed out beyond the edges of the map of his own world, to that of the beyond.
And I realized that this is relevant to me, as I discussed a few weeks ago. I too am in some ways like Mr. Popper, I sit in a chair, and read in a book, or a website, or a paper, about animals and plants and these wonderful narratives of the world, and for me, it is not the discovery that thrills me, it is the knowing.