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The Pathfinders


Men are feeling steadily more confined and under-appreciated.

As I studied the chart titled “Pathfinders,” I was suddenly swamped by concern and compassion for men. In a certain way, these poor guys have hit the wall.

I found the pathfinder chart in the most recent issue of National Geographic, and the theme is “The New Explorers.” James Cameron is on the cover, staring boldly at the photographer as he seems to kneel on the ocean floor. The director of Titanic, he has just completed a dive to the deepest spot in the ocean in a submersible he designed and built himself. 

Cameron’s lineage as an explorer is traced in the chart, and it begins with the Neanderthals who emerged from Africa in about 60,000 B.C. As my finger followed the ensuing history through individuals like Alexander the Great, Leif Eriksson, Marco Polo, Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and on and on, I first felt kind of embarrassed. “Why is it?” I wondered, “that everything important in human history seems to have been accomplished by men?” 

I get this feeling every now and then, including when I look at the 54 volumes in my collection of The Great Books by Encyclopedia Britannica. Not one single one of them, from Homer through Freud, is by a woman. All right. Breathe deeply. After all, it has long been men who have decided what is great. 

But in all fairness, the trail of the pathfinders advanced human civilization. The chart ends in 2012 with Cameron’s descent. The ocean’s depths in the Mariana Trench have now been plumbed, and its heights on Mount Everest scaled thousands of times. We have become pretty familiar with the earth in general over the millennia. What comes next? 

One must assume that a few men will continue to explore the deep ocean and outer space. The rest will be limited to an increasingly crowded earth that will sooner rather than later be thoroughly mapped and scientifically studied, a planet webbed with well-worn trails, devoid of frontiers and mysteries. 

“I get it,” I thought. The men with this need for exploration and adventure are beginning to hit the wall, and the feeling is traveling. There are limits. All men are running out of room and opportunity in a world that is steadily more confining in order to ensure that civilization survives. Even I began to feel tense. 

The interior article on the way things are on Mount Everest provided a poignant example of what’s happening. I have to point out that a number of female explorers were highlighted in this issue. They are unusual, but they do exist and apparently have the same appetite for risk as their male counterparts. 

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay


But back to Mount Everest. Some 4,000 people have now reached the summit, some more than once. Expert climbers mingle with many who lack basic skills but may have paid as much as $120,000 for this trophy experience. They climb single file, “bumper to bumper” as writer Mark Jenkins describes it in “Maxed Out on Everest.” 

As they climb from camp to camp, they encounter the waste of all their predecessors, including “pyramids of human excrement befouling the high camps.” Jenkins also passed four corpses on his ascent. Mount Everest is a real mess. Why anyone would want to attempt a climb in this era, I have no idea. 

But maybe I don’t have enough dopamine. In another article, “The Mystery of Risk” by Peter Gwin, the reader learns that this neurotransmitter motivates people to take risks to accomplish something—“climb a mountain, start a company, run for office, become a Navy SEAL.” Actually, my personal history does reflect a pretty free flow of dopamine, only it has not been dedicated to pushing physical limits. That seems to be an overwhelmingly masculine characteristic. 

So we’re back to the male thing. As I look at the chart and imagine all the physical courage, the strength, stamina, and determination behind the pathfinders, I come back to the same old thing. Men are just very different. Throughout life, most seem drawn to challenges that evoke those qualities in some way. And lately I hear many voices expressing a perceived threat to their way of being. 

I hear it in complaint about laws, rules, and regulations; about limits on the kind of gun power they may be allowed; about guidelines on how they must relate to women; on perceived efforts by the government to tax away hard-earned wealth and force them to provide for people they deem worthless; and about the lack of proper respect and gratitude for their service in the military. Men are clearly feeling steadily more restricted and under-appreciated. 

There are many things I love and admire in men, but I also get extremely exasperated with ways that are often bossy and combative. And no matter how much I admire history’s heroes, I am very clear that the world is changing at warp speed and that there is an urgent need for the feminine to intervene in behalf of balance. We must become pathfinders too, but in a different way. 

I laid the explorer issue of National Geographic down last night knowing that it would have permanent effect. When I awoke briefly at 2:00, I could hear through my open window the distant sound of freeway traffic. I imagined men at the steering wheels of countless trucks and cars making their lonely way through the moonlit night. “It’s their way,” I thought affectionately, enjoying that sense of distant companionship.


One Response to “The Pathfinders”

  1. Michaela Buhler

    Another lucid interpretation of the things we all question and which baffle us! I don’t always have my act together to comment on your musings, but I always enjoy them and they always make me think! Thanks so much.