Curiosity Did Not Kill The Cat
Thoughts on the traits of extraordinary people
As some of you know, I am working on a book from my podcast BumpInTheRoad. Well, it’s actually turned into two books. I‘ve had such extraordinary guests that I’m now looking at a second edition, even before the first is out.
One of the common traits that weaves through all the stories is Curiosity. People who successfully navigate life’s bumps are curious. They’re curious about options and alternatives, but most of all, they are curious about themselves.
They’re willing to change their world view. They’re willing to change elements of their identity to evolve and meet life’s bumps.
I’d love to get a bit of conversation going about Curiosity. What are you curious about? How has it impacted your life?
Here is a draft on some thoughts about curiosity from the book:
(You may need to know a few things for this draft to make sense. I spent over a decade flying high performance sailplanes, ie high tech aircraft with no engine, on flights of hundreds of miles. So the phrase “chasing lift off the ridge” refers to flying. I also had a nearly fatal encounter with myasthenia gravis, a rare neurological disease that took my life path from Wall Street to severe disability. And eventually back again, but on a very different life tangent. All this and more is in the book, as well as the stories of my guests, on BumpInTheRoad.)
Here is a short video that explains this somewhat esoteric sport, soaring:
Did curiosity kill the cat?
“Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
– E. E. Cummings
I love to travel. I love the uncertainty, the adventure and the discovery. Left to my own devices, I am perfectly content following the wafting aroma of garlic, down some obscure cobblestone alley, to see what I might see and to taste what I might taste. Or to chase the lift off the ridge, seeing how far and fast I might go.
When I can’t physically travel, I travel vicariously through old maps. I am a collector of rare maps.
It’s a somewhat esoteric hobby I suppose, but it blends history, geography, travel, adventure and discovery, and not a small amount of humor all into one parchment.
Many see cartography as a dry topic. But au contraire! These old pieces of parchment that grace my walls have their own story to tell. They are stories of brave and curious people who were willing to go into the unknown and explore. The stories they brought back shaped the world view of their times.
To track down these esoteric pieces of parchment, I am always curious. I visit what I call “old paper” exhibits. I dig through antique shops. And I meet the most interesting people in my cartographic quests.
My interest in old maps probably stems from the travel I did as a child. I always had my head in a map, whether it was following a trek through Tuscany or planning where to eat in Paris. Metro maps, local maps, country and regional maps. Maps were simply part of my life.
My map acquisition hobby dates back to the 1980’s. I had moved to Branford, CT with my then new husband. Just off the town square, I stumbled upon a cluttered old bookshop.
The shop had that smell of must and paper. Disorganization ruled. An oriental rug was messily piled in front of a book shelf that sagged under the weight of its contents. The windows clung to what looked like decades of dust. The owner of the shop was John Elliot, a Yalie who had found himself in the rare book and manuscript business.
My interest in maps became something of an adventure. Physically I was limited by my myasthenia. But intellectually, I was hungry. And that hunger led me to some interesting places.
The Beinecke is a rare book and manuscript library at Yale. It was designed by the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merril. The architect, Gordon Bunshaft, designed a building for book lovers. It’s walls are of translucent white Vermont marble which filters the UV light and baths the interior in a warm light.
In the center of the library, are the stacks housing millions of books and manuscripts. These walls of books are enclosed in a six story tall glass tower that soars through the heart of the library. A series of mezzanines wind around the glass tower. Exhibits of artifacts from the university’s collections, including a Gutenberg Bible and Audubon’s Birds of America are displayed.
Now image this majestic setting of books and glass and marble with a black tie string quartet sending gentle melodies into the evening air, bowls of caviar waiting to be dug into, and people wandering to and fro. So it was one evening, to celebrate the accomplishments of Alexander Vietor, the former curator of maps. Among the dignitaries was Graham Arader. As a student Graham found himself $20,000 in debt due to his love of old maps. When his father refused to bail him out, he found himself in the rare book business, and built a global empire that bought and sold rare maps and other such items.
Who said old paper was boring?
Meanwhile, back in Branford, John Elliot encouraged my cartographic curiosity. He once offered me a first edition of Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, but alas, it was beyond my budget. But other items were not. So it was that I started both buying and studying the stories of maps.
My original interest was in the early pre-1800 continental evolution of the Americas, particularly North America. I have maps dating back to the sixteenth century. But when I moved out west, I realized that history didn’t stop at 1800. Time to expand my horizons!
One of the maps I’ve collected over the years is by John C. Freemont. Fremont was a military officer, explorer and mapmaker. In the mid 1800’s, his adventures took him from the Pacific Northwest to what is today northern Nevada, and across the Sierras to California. And as he traveled, he recorded what he saw.
What he saw has sparked many questions. In the map below, he drew an east-west mountain range just east of the Sierras, near Mono Lake.
Of course, no such mountain range exists. But I think I know what he saw.
Near Mono Lake is where the dry, hot air of the high desert meets the cooler, moist air from Southern California. When the two collide, if there is enough moisture, a line of clouds might form. Seen from a distance, they could easily look like a mountain range.
I know because I’ve flown this phenomenon. It’s called a convergence zone. If it’s working, it offers an invisible skyway of rising air that provides the lift needed to fly over the un-landable desert to the White Mountains, and from there, south. It is aerial magic. A truly good pilot (I am not of this calibre) can fly the roughly 500 miles from Minden, NV to the Mojave desert and back in a day, all in an airplane without an engine.
Flying a convergence zone is in many ways a metaphor for navigating life. Imagination and exploration come together in adventure. And it’s all powered by curiosity.
Curiosity is what has moved man forward. New ideas may be right or wrong and they aren’t always readily accepted. John Fremont did not see a distant mountain range. But he did spot an extraordinary natural phenomena. His later maps corrected the error, without ever realizing what he had witnessed. Fast forward a bit over 200 years and curiosity comes full circle.
And by the way, Curiosity did not kill the cat. That is a myth. Over the span of seven lives, Curiosity gave the cat an interesting life of adventure and fun. Perhaps with a few bumps along the way.
Where has curiosity taken you?