Friday, December 5, 2014

What to do with your old National Geographic collection

Recently my in-laws asked if we'd like their old National Geographic magazines. It turns out they've been saving them since Columbus reached the Americas.

Our house is small, and we're pretty dang bad at finding appropriate storage places for things. We've still got 90% of our book collection in boxes, although I plan on that changing once escrow goes through on our house (my dreams are filled with full-wall built-in bookshelves). We almost passed on the collection, but then we were like, "but they're National Geographics!" So we took them. And then they sat around for a long while as we tried to figure out what to do with them.

Makeshift beds were made. Towers were built. Dangerous gymnastic stunts were performed with enthusiasm and daring. At which point we had to recognize the unwise use of stacks of National Geographic magazines as building blocks and play equipment.

I remember, decades ago, sitting at my parent's kitchen table, poring over the latest National Geographic magazine. I'd examine every page and imagine worlds far beyond the scope of my everyday life. There's magic in these things. Mystery. Adventure. Only yesterday, the plumber who came to fix our water heater saw our stack of National Geographics and waxed on about his own love affair with the magazine.

Perhaps most exciting of all was riffling through the pages to find the secret artifact nestled amidst articles on rain-forest spiders or new discoveries about Marco Polo's journeys. The neatly folded map is the cereal-box prize for the kid who has a little bit of Indiana Jones in her heart.

There's no doubt my four-year-old is an adventurer, so much so that she puts this home-body dad to shame. I'm working on living up to her craving for adventure. Baby steps, you know? In the meantime, this homage to her childhood and my own is what we came up with for my daughter's room:

I know that not every map is created or even accepted by the people who reside within the (sometimes arbitrary) "boundaries" that a map describes. And a thoughtful play like Brian Friel's
"Translations" complicates even the practice of naming and labeling on maps, charts and historical and cultural analyses. Yet even accepting those qualifications, I identify with Gilbert H. Grosvenor's (the first full-time editor of National Geographic magazine) thoughts on the volume of meaning, of imagination, and of creativity to be appreciated in these works of art as efforts to understand the world we live in.

"A map is the greatest of all epic poems. Its lines and colors show the realization of great dreams."
- Gilbert H. Grosvenor, Editor of National Geographic from 1899 -1954