Besides wondering how much all the dogs ate, I had a few obvious questions for Will, such as Why? and How?
Why, Will said, was a mix of the words attributed to George Mallory about climbing Everest—”because it is there”—and a keen desire to experience high latitudes, extraordinary places few or no people had ever seen.
Will was determined to make the public aware of how precious and threatened those places were. Even then, more than a decade ago, he spoke of changes such as dramatic summer sea ice melts and glacial retreats that he attributed to global warming, trends that have continued in the years since. Will has kept a steady spotlight on the imperiled wildlife and landscapes of our planet’s poles.
But how, how does someone endure the cold and the hardship and the loneliness of arduous polar expeditions that last for months, then go do it again, and again? What separates a person such as Will from the rest of us? Not so much, he said. “Explorers just get up in the morning and pull their boots on. I pull my boots on.”
All around the planet, every day, people wake up, pull their boots on, and go out and discover new things about our world, or see old things in new ways.
Some explore the old fashioned way, with a camera and a backpack brimming with gear, or with the tools of science and scholarship. Some document changing cultures, find and record the last speakers of vanishing languages, trace the paths of Pacific voyagers, make films about their communities. Some stick cameras on sharks or seals to give us a first-critter view of an undersea world. Some construct new imagined spaces with music or art. Many study the past. Some study the future, and strive to make it better.
I’m lucky: National Geographic exists to inspire people to care about the planet. So I get to meet and work with lots of explorers, researchers, photographers, conservationists, educators, and other visionary folk who are hard at work finding, creating, and inspiring. There’s always something good going on at our headquarters in Washington, D.C., exhibits and events and projects in the pipeline. Pretty much every day we hear something astonishing, or harrowing, or heartening from the field. When I hear something worth sharing, I’ll put it here.
Photographs courtesy Will Steger Foundation