Paul and I spend most of our walks and talks about the trip and about what to do when he gets back from Alaska.
After hashing and re-hashing the pros and cons of this vehicle over that vehicle, this launch time over that launch time, we both agree we’re getting nowhere and we should take a break.
“We need a focus,” I said.
Paul agreed. “We’re missing something,” he said. “Something simple.”
Silence. I go stand by the fireplace and let my mind wander. An idea forms.
I said, “We need a quest for …”
“The Holy Grail?” Paul finished my sentence.
Monty Python’s Holy Grail is quoted often in our family.
I ignore him and continue, trying to keep him focused. “Something big, something possibly unattainable. Something to thread this trip together. After all, this must be work, not just a vacation. If it’s just a vacation, who cares? Why would anyone care to read about just a vacation?”
“What do you mean?” Paul asked.
“Well,” I searched for some examples, and said, “like see every national wildlife refuge in 30 days or see a certain amount of bird species in an allotted amount of time. We need a game, with rules, and stakes.” I was silent for a moment. “How many species of birds are there in the United States?”
Paul managed to shrug while lying on the couch. “I dunno. 500 maybe?”
I decided to Bing it and discover the answer — more than 800 species of birds exist in the United States. To see every one would be a complete impossibility for amateurs like ourselves. Moreover, the quest already exists and is attempted by people with far more expertise and resources than ourselves. In the 90s, one of three highly competitive participants of The Big Year — a challenge to all the bird nerds of the country to see as many North American species between Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 — set a record in the 700s unlikely to be challenged any time soon. There’s a book on the quest and a movie coming out — with Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black starring.
I could picture us trying to catch a sighting of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the virginal forests of Arkansas and Florida. But again, I show my naive perception of what an amateur birding family of six can accomplish. The bird is considered to be extinct, but reports of at least one male Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas in 2004 made the distinction of being investigated for five years, though no confirmations emerged.
In June 2006, a $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to the discovery of an Ivory-billed Woodpecker nest, roost or feeding site. In December 2008, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology announced a reward of $50,000 to the person who can successfully lead a project biologist to a living Ivory-billed Woodpecker.
I bet Paul could do it. I don’t know. I’ll run it by him. It’d be fun to try. Four kids? Little money? 30 days? Naah. Whatever we come up with, it’ll need to be simpler than that. Besides, like Paul pointed out, give the kids two days of intense birding and even the older ones begin to squirm. We don’t want to destroy the love they have by making the quest too intense.
When Paul and I were honeymooning all over the northwest, we saw a place called Flint Creek in Montana. It made us laugh because of a Deep Thought by Jack Handy from Saturday Night Live that repeated the word flint over and over. We decided to go there — hundreds of miles into Montana just to stand beside the sign that said Flint Creek and get a picture. We had adventures all along the way which is what a quest does. It sets you up with a goal and the obstacles just naturally present themselves. After the photo, we sighed in satisfaction. We accomplished what we set out to do. Our mission was complete.
The quest is one of the best master plots simmering in the hearts of mankind. Whether you’re talking about an elusive job in The Pursuit of Happyness or the gold under the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit, the quest fires the heart of people in its purity as opposed to its seedier, darker counterpart — revenge.
Perhaps quests are out of fashion and Paul and I are revealing our medieval sides, but we’re in quest of a quest. Looking for a goal complete with obstacles. Something to accomplish. The adventure comes naturally.