Stuck on one of those long-haul flights not too long ago, I discovered the movie The Big Year. Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black play fanatical birders who give up their daily lives to see who can spot the greatest number of bird species in a calendar year, and thereby gain the title of the greatest birder in the world. Marriages are sacrificed, credit cards are maxed out, and helicopters are rented in the quest to spot a Snow Cock. No expense is too great to charter a plane to Attu Island to find a Rustic Bunting. One of them laments: “It took me six trips to see a Snowy Owl!” At its heart, the movie is about how to balance a driving, unalterable passion and one’s family and relationships.
Does any of this sound familiar? How many attempts have some TCC members made to land on Bouvet Island or the Chagos? To what length would any of us go to try to set foot on some elusive piece of land and at what price? How do loved ones put up with us? In a perfect world, they’re understanding and supportive, but sometimes we have to plot our trips in the greatest of secrecy, hiding that Lonely Planet guide under the bed or closely examining and salivating over an atlas on the sly when nobody’s looking.
As the holidays approach, no doubt there are some among us who will announce to friends and family at the dinner table: “I am excited to tell all of you that in 2013 I am going to the Central African Republic!” (or fill in TCC destination of choice) and in return be met with a whole gamut of reactions from happiness that you’re so adventurous to stony-faced silence. Spouses might say: “That’s it. No more.” Or rejoice in coming with you.
Of course there’s no answer to any of this. To travel to the far-flung ends of the earth is a force of nature, and not to reach that exotic-sounding location in the atlas is inconceivable. When we look at our world maps filled with pushpins or stickers hanging on the wall, we still see that island yet to be experienced. Maybe it will take six trips to Samoa to find a boat to Tokelau, and maybe it makes perfect sense to overwhelm that World War II military veterans’ tour to reach Wake Island. There’s no helping us. It’s what we do.
Here’s to everybody having a “big year” in 2013!