Every Christmas my Mom gets a card that says only one thing “Thank you for saving my life”.
It was about 15 years ago that my Mom and I were driving from my landing at Cleveland Hopkins Airport when she broke the news “I’m going to Irian Jiya”. She continued, “now I’ll tell you, they have the three most infectious diseases in the world there which you can catch by mosquito, so if there’s anything of mine that you want, tell me now. "Yes” I responded with a monotone snap, “I would like one mom”.
Now, for those of you who have no idea where Irian Jiya is I’ll tell you. It’s on the other side of the island from Papua New Guinea and is part of Indonesia. It’s a lot of jungle and it houses the most primitivistic and reclusive people in the world. Up until 100 (maybe 50) (maybe now, yikes!) years ago, it also had cannibals. The trip my mother went on was mostly populated by seasoned photographers, scientists and adventurers. The stipulation of going is that you must travel with someone you have known for at least five years as they are responsible for your life. By the time my mother finished the three week trek, half the people dropped out.
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This wasn’t the last trip she went on, not by a long shot. She caught the bug as they say, and not the giant ones she fills her camera’s smart card with either. She has traveled to the jungles of Panama, where she narrowly escaped a forest fire. She has done bug recon at a research station in Ecuador and even traveled the Serengeti. Next year, I’ve heard rumors of a Praying Mantis voyage.
It’s weird to have an “adventure mom” but I’m glad I do. It has taught me that it’s never too late to become a voyager and that the rewards are no less than the fantastic voyage of a great life. Currently, she works the potters wheel, takes a ton of free community college classes and can be found at the Cleveland Film Festival every spring and cross-country skiing in the Cleveland Metroparks every winter. This year I hope to hit a fossil dig with her in Wyoming… no bug fossils but giant fish instead!
Back when she was in the jungle of New Guinea, one of her fellow travelers asked for her medical expertise (my mom was a Physicians Assistant). It seems he had a small, superficial red mark on his thigh. She looked at it, and decided that they would just clean it, dress it and keep an eye on it. The next day she asked how he felt. He said “fine” and immediately passed out. Stripping off his pants, his wife and my mom were surprised to see his leg had become completely infected in the jungle heat and moisture. From hip to toe was solid red. My mother instantly knew he needed immediate medical attention or he would die. For the next 48 hours she kept his fever down as the local guides carried him out of the jungle. When they got to an impassable gully, they knocked down trees to fabricate a bridge. When they got to the canoes and there were no paddles, they hacked them out of the trees. It seems a tiny spider bite had taken it’s toll on him but in the end, he lived. He and his wife send a reminder card every holiday of how grateful they are.
It might be hard to be proud of your mom when she says nutso stuff like “if I’m kidnapped by jungle rebels you are NOT to come for me” but I am. I just hope a little bit of that gutsyness rubs on to me when it’s my turn to step foot in the Arctic, take a trip into space, or just simply put it all on the line for art.
Background: To put another side of things in perspective: my mother was attending Kent State when her freshmen roommate and several friends were killed by the National Guard in 1970. To her credit, she always had empathy for everyone involved.
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