"...It hasn't been sighted in years. Extremely rare...the most elusive bird in the world....What follows is the story of my search for the pink-headed duck as I recall it. I took notes throughout the journey, but I soon learned that imagination was the key to finding the prize."
The Search For The Pink-Headed Duck
Is the prize a gander at a duck? What drives someone to give up everything, Nugent had to sell everything he owned to finance the trip, and go looking for...what? For something so elusive it might never be seen or, for a thing that doesn't even exist. Well Rory Nugent found much more than just the pink-headed duck. He did so because he is a "true gonzo traveler" (don't remember where I read that). I relish people like Nugent. His life is infused with the gonzo spirit. Now, that can conjure up images of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters on an acid trip across America. Or maybe Hunter Thompson's drug addled, booze fueled brilliance. But there is more than that to the gonzo way. I think it requires a certain kind of open mind...one that is not only accepting but also adaptive...chameleon-like. It must be strong enough to maintain its integrity and nimble enough to really get the perspective of the other. You may be strange in a strange land but you don't remain a stranger for long. Nugent's adventure is ultimately a story about the people he meets...people whose shared sense of wonder at the world, especially large bald foreigners looking for ducks, offers us a glimpse into cultures very different from our own. More importantly we are given a chance to see how very little difference there is between us and them.
"The other people of the world are not failed attempts at being us. They are unique answers to a fundamental question...What does it mean to be human?...It is culture that allows us to be human and the world is finally waking up to the extraordinary gift of the human imagination as brought into being by culture."
Wade Davis, Explorer in Residence, National Geographic Society
Wade Davis does not see people as objects to be studied and classified into certain cultural niches. Instead he tries to get us to imagine the cultural landscape as a tapestry...each culture a thread, playing its part in making up the fabric of the landscape. In this tapestry there is no such thing as a dominant thread, or one that is right and another that is wrong. There are just different threads we weave together to create the tapestry that is our world.
Davis urges us to see each other as equal, if different, attempts to answer the fundamental question of meaning. Each of us brings something to the project of creating a collective answer, i.e., a pattern for our tapestry. Nugent's story shows us what the work is like at ground level, between individuals imagining and engaging with each other's perspective.
For both Nugent and Davis imagination is the key to finding the prize. The prize we are after is an understanding of ourselves and the other...and like our pink-headed web-footed friend it can be elusive...let's hope neither is ever extinct.
That's all I have for now.