May 17, 2003

To See the World

One day last week, late in the afternoon well after time for the mailman to come by in his muddy jeep, I happened to look out and see that there was a plastic bag hanging heavily on the mailbox. We had had another visitation by the National Geographic Fairy; I knew this before lifting the rain-wet package from the side of the big green mailbox under the maple tree. Our retired neighbors had left us the package. Must be on their way back to northern Virginia where they live when not staying down the road in the little white house she grew up in. One of 11 children, her aunt lived in the house we now inhabit. The neighbors pretty much stay to themselves, neither one of them well, but they never fail to drop off a goodie package before heading back upstate. And I especially appreciate that, unbidden, they have taken to giving us their National Geographics. I'm saving every one.

I cannot see the familiar yellow border of this venerable magazine without flashbacks to a childhood where 'the Geographic' was the closest thing we had to world adventure that is today satisfied by the Nature/History/Discovery Chanels and the Internet. The need to explore places you will never go. The bizarre and wonderful plants and animals that inhabit the surreal jungles and rainforest on continents that an elementary school mind could not even imagine! Adventures of brave photographers who lived with animals as a way of life, as their job! How could one stand to simply throw an 'old' copy away, since its contents did not become 'used' when its cover date was past. And so most everybody I knew back then had a three or four column stack of National Geographics piled in yellow zigzags in the back corner of the guest bedroom: an archive of mystery and the exotic come to Everyman now living in predictable and tame suburbia.

Georgia could see well enough so that, with her red-tipped white cane, she could get around to her meals and back to her room in the assisted living apartment building where I provided physical therapy. She could see and feel her way with an acceptable level of risk so that she could, and must every day, rain or shine, walk down the quiet side parking lot along the edge of the woods to the cul-de-sac. I would often see her standing there facing the woods that she could not see, staring through her dark glasses intently into memory of forests. She had taught biology in high school starting about the time I was born. Standing there alone, she could smell the earth change through the seasons, feel the wind shift, hear it sigh in tones that told more than a sighted person would know about the size and abundance of leaves in the oak forest next to the home. And mercifully, she knew her birds by their calls.

Her husband, gone now for ten years, had invested in a lifetime subscription to the National Geographic. She got one every month but could not see the glossy pictures or read the words about the world of sharp edges and color. Her world was becoming each day a smaller and smaller dark smudge of light at the end of a long wooden cane. Once a month, I would round the corner and there down the corridor, hung on the doorknob of the therapy room, would be a plastic bag with the most recent issue of National Geographic. It was Georgia's way of passing the world on to those of us who still have time to see.

Posted by fred1st at May 17, 2003 07:35 AM | TrackBack

You didn't mention the universal allure of National geographic for kids though - topless natives! I remember as a young'un going through my grandfathers stack of magazines looking for the NG's with the stories about exotic foreign cultures where the women ran around half naked all the time!

If I were so easily amused these days life would be much easier ;)

NG has a seperate magazine for kids now. My kids have a subscribtion. Predictably, there are no naked natives to be found in the pages.

Posted by: Chris at May 17, 2003 08:42 AM

I sometimes think of getting rid of my stack but can't bring myself to do it.

Posted by: bill at May 17, 2003 08:51 AM

Bill: Don't! I had 25 years of Sunset, Gourmet and NG fileds in three large bookcases. The only thing that fell in the Loma Preita earthquake of '89 was the bookscases in my craft room...scattering everything. I decided to "condense" the magazine collection.

stupid, stupid, stupid.

Especially after Time/Warner bought and ruined Sunset mag and gardening guides.

Do not ask about the Mad Magazine collection and I have spent years finding and buying my childhood books.

keep it all.

Posted by: feste at May 20, 2003 09:41 PM

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