May 26, 2024
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May 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Every year, my kids’ teachers assign some kind of fair at school, wherein the parents do a report and then they have to come in and look at the reports that were done by all the other parents. So for example, this year, seeing as my son Heshy is in fifth grade, he had an explorer fair. Or rather, we had an explorer fair. Our job, as parents, is to do most of the report and keep reminding our child not to run away while we’re working on it.

“But what do the kids do?” you ask.

They’re the ones who have to get dressed up as their explorer. There’s no way the parents are going to do that.

We, as a society, don’t normally think about explorers, except for like the first six months of history class every year, but they were very important. If not for explorers, everyone in the world would still be living in the Middle East. And if you think there’s a lot of fighting now…

So these people were heroes, who, at great risk to themselves, travelled far and wide to go to places where there were not already tourist attractions. My attitude is that if I’m going that far, there had better be an amusement park.

My son did his report on Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first person to reach the top of Mount Everest. One of the questions my son had to answer was, “Why was the expedition important?” He didn’t really contribute anything major to society. It’s not like there are colonies up there now. What he did just sounds like a really fun Chol Hamoed trip.

I’ve actually gone mountain climbing on Chol Hamoed too. One year, shortly after I got married, my wife and I went to Bear Mountain State Park in Upstate New York with my parents, and a few of my siblings and I decided to actually climb up one of the mountains. My parents gave us about an hour to go up and get back down, so we were on way more of a time crunch that Sir Edmund. Anyway, at some point on the way down, we were all holding onto a dead tree on the ground for support, and suddenly the tree slipped and went sliding about 30 feet down the mountain with all of us holding onto it and screaming. (We weren’t in any major danger, as it turns out. For example, I slid down in a sitting position.) Anyway, the point of my story is that if you’re wearing new Chol Hamoed pants that you don’t want to rip the back of, don’t climb a mountain.

Anyway, like me, Sir Edmund Hillary travelled with a team of people that he was responsible for, including 362 porters, 20 guides and 10,000 pounds of baggage. Because you can’t just climb a mountain. Climbing takes energy, so you need to be eating basically all the time. Also, the air is very thin up there. So for his entire expedition, he had people constantly going up and down the mountain to bring him food and bottled oxygen. And pants.

So my son had to come in dressed as a mountain climber, which was easy. Basically, he wore a coat and a backpack and a ski mask, so he kind of looked like he showed up to school and didn’t take off his coat. He also had empty seltzer bottles on his back. People would ask, “What’s in the seltzer bottles?”

“Air! Clearly.”

He didn’t have to pick Sir Edmund. The school actually gave out a list 65 explorers to choose from, only 13 of which I’ve heard of. Some of the other names were clearly made up, such as John Blashford Snell, who supposedly descended something called the Blue Nile, which sounds weird until you realize that all bodies of water are blue, besides maybe the Red Sea, the Black Sea and the East River.

I did notice, though, that most of these explorers technically weren’t the first to go anywhere. They got somewhere and found natives. Yet they’re called “explorers.” For example, I’d heard of Marco Polo, who, in 1271, discovered billions of Chinese people.

I also noticed that some of these explorers lived pretty recently, and some are still alive today, at least as of when I’m writing this article. (I have a pretty big lead time.) Because if you just pay attention in history class, it kind of sounds like there was the Age of Exploration, and then people just stopped exploring and instead started wearing wigs and arguing about taxes. Which was boring, but there was far less danger of being eaten by a bear.

But there are still explorers. You might think that all that’s left to explore nowadays is space and the bottom of the ocean, and also everywhere that’s freezing cold. But it’s not. Though what I did notice is that the definition of what’s considered an explorer, nowadays, is getting more and more specific.

For example, there is Frank Cole, who was the, and I quote, “first North American to travel across the Sahara alone on a camel.” That’s a very specific achievement. This isn’t discovering a trade route. Will Steger made the first journey to the North Pole with dogs, while Sir Ranulph Fiennes was the first to cross Antarctica by foot. He landed on the north side, walked across and was picked up on the other north side. (Every side of Antarctica is the north side.) Then there was Levison Wood, who was the first man to walk the entire length of the Nile. See? You forget your boat, you do it anyway and good things happen. He also did not get eaten by crocodiles. But it took him a year. Without dogs. Though when he got home, he had to change his pants.

 

By Mordechai Schmutter

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia, among other papers. He also has five books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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