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This earlier post is now updated to reflect the recent release of a film, The Lost City of Z, based on Grann’s book of the same name. Both tell the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who went into the Amazon in 1925 with his son looking for an ancient lost city. They both disappeared. For decades, explorers and scientists have tried to find evidence of his party and the Lost City of Z. Since then, perhaps another hundred people have died or disappeared searching for Fawcett.

I read David Grann’s The Lost City of Z in 2010 and halfway through it I realized what attracted me to it. It takes me back to a book of my youth – The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – which was a novel I loved as a kid.  I probably read the Classics Illustrated Comic version before I actually read the book, as that was the case with many books from Treasure Island to Hamlet.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is much better known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. Even if you have never read any of his fiction, you probably know a few of his stories and characters because, according to the Internet Movie Database (love that site) there are at least 215 films based on his writing.

I took out my old comic book version and also my paperback of the novel and rediscovered Doyle’s little introductory verse:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.

There was another book titled The Lost World which was Michael Crichton’s sequel to Jurassic Park, but I have nothing to say about that book. To me, The Lost World is the one published in 1912 and it is the fictional story of an expedition to a place in the Amazon where prehistoric animals still survive. (Hmmm, did Mr. Crichton get inspiration for Jurassic Park from it?)  The book introduced the character Professor Challenger who appears in other books by Doyle.

Exploration and lost worlds captured the fancy of the public and authors in the early part of the 20th century. In 1916, Edgar Rice Burroughs (who is better known for his Tarzan and science-fiction stories) published The Land that Time Forgot, which was his version of a lost world story. In that  rather ridiculous tale, sailors  from a German U-Boat discover a world of dinosaurs and ape-men in Antarctica.

I read all of them. I didn’t really pay attention back then to the chronology of publication. If I had noted dates, I would have realized that another one of my childhood author heroes, Jules Verne, had introduced the whole prehistoric-animals-in-the-present-day adventure story with his novel Journey to the Center of the Earth which was published back in 1864. Those explorers find a prehistoric world of people and dinosaurs inside the Earth.

By the way, you can read The Lost World as an “e-book” free online at Project Gutenberg – if you can handle reading on a screen. I can’t.


Now, to get back to where this post started, the setting for The Lost World is was probably inspired by reports about British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett’s expedition to Venezuela and Brazil, in a mountain region called Mount Roraima.

The modern-day non-fiction book, The Lost City of Z , tells the tale of Fawcett who launched his final expedition in 1925 into the Amazon.

His goal was to find the fabled lost city of El Dorado, the “City of Gold.” El Dorado has captured the imaginations of kids, armchair explorers and real anthropologists, adventurers, and scientists for about 400 years – even though there really has never been evidence that it ever existed. That hasn’t stopped hundreds of expeditions from going out looking for it.

Fawcett was financed by the Royal Geographical Society in London.  It humbles me to think that at age 57 he headed out again because he really believed in El Dorado, which he called the City of Z .

He set out with only his 21-year-old son Jack and one of Jack’s friends. He wanted to travel light and fast, eat off the land, and not harass the natives. They vanished in the Mato Grosso region of Brazil.  Subsequent attempts to find Fawcett and the city have failed.

What happened to Fawcett? David Grann thinks he knows. The author is not an adventurer, but he ended up in the jungles of the Amazon to try to find an answer.

Fawcett’s expeditions inspired Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel of a lost world. Grann wrote an earlier book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession.

I’m not ready for any Amazon adventures, so I’m happy to follow Grann’s digging through Fawcett’s old diaries and logs for clues and doing my own armchair adventuring.

I liked that the book also deals with how in the past 40 years in Brazil alone, the Amazon has lost some two hundred and seventy thousand square miles of its original forest cover. That’s an area bigger than France. Tribes are being threatened with extinction. Many animals and plants, some we never even knew existed, are also vanishing.

Much has been lost in those jungles.

More Reading
Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost     

The Lost City


navigation map

How much do you rely on GPS, and maps on your phone to navigate? Once upon a time, we didn’t even use paper maps very much. We relied on environmental clues and simple instruments.

Some of the more popular posts here have been about variations on getting lost and being found , so I know there is an interest in this topic.

I read an excerpt of a book by John Huth called The Lost Art of Finding Our Way and it got me thinking about this topic again.

Huth was kayaking in Nantucket Sound in 2003 when a fogbank rolled in and disoriented him. He didn’t panic because he knew some basic navigation skills and returned safely to shore. But he found out that only a half a mile away, two college students in that fog mistakenly turned their kayaks out to sea and died. That day got him into exploring the principles of navigation, from ancient times to modern.

In his book, we learn about how the Vikings used the sunstone to detect polarization of sunlight. Arab traders learned to sail into the wind. Pacific Islanders used underwater lightning and were able to “read” waves to guide their explorations.

All of us – land dwellers and sea-goers – have lost the ability to make close observations of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents and weather and atmospheric effects in order to read the plnet and find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

An article I found online asks, “Do our brains pay a price for GPS?”   There’s no doubt that GPS is a useful technology, but does using it interfere with our ability to do “mental mapping?”

Mental mapping and spatial memory is what allows us to remember where we have put things in our home. It helps you to lay out a garden plan a trip, pack a suitcase, arrange furniture ann navigate our neighborhood and office building.

Can you give clear directions to someone to get to a place in your hometown? When I was a kid riding my bicycle all summer, I knew almost every street in my hometown by name and location. Now, I don’t even know all the streets within a mile of my house.

John Huth is a professor, a high-energy physicist, and teaches a course in “Primitive Navigation” about the rudiments of the analog methods of wayfinding using sun, stars, tides, weather and wind. He certainly is not anti-technology. He is an experimental particle physicist and was involved in the discovery of both the top quark and the Higgs boson. But he does question our reliance on smartphones and GPS.

I ordered his book, which sounds quite encyclopedic in its coverage, touching on astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography and telling the ways of early navigators whose lives depended on paying close attention to the environment around them.

Reviewers of the book point out that he is not interested in junking the technology, but relearning the old ways. One reason is because it’s still unclear what losing the old skills has done to our modern brain.

Many of my posts here are about maintaining touch with our natural world, and I would agree that losing our visceral connection to the natural world is a tragic loss with broad repercussions personally and globally.

I doubt that I would find many people in a crowd of any ages who know what “dead reckoning” means or how to use a map with a compass. Would you be able to point out major stars in the night sky and use them to find your way?

I used to teach classes in map and compass and basic land navigation at the Pequest Education Center in New Jersey, but I don’t see any offered any more. Maybe it’s time to do it again. But are people interested, or are they satisfied with the tech doing the work for them?

Always seeking the source

I have several essays here about being lost and trying to get lost and they consistently are read. It must be a more universal feeling than I originally thought.

I don’t mind being a little lost. I’ve gone on walks in the woods with the intention of being a little lost. Of course, I don’t plan to be totally lost, never to be found, just lost enough to feel it. But you don’t need to wander the wilderness to be truly lost. That is the case with a man called Benjaman Kyle.

In 2004, a man woke up outside of a Burger King in Georgia without any clothes, any ID, or any memories.

He has been diagnosed with dissociative amnesia and has little recollection of his life before 2004. He is the only American citizen officially listed as missing despite the fact that his whereabouts are known.

“Benjaman Kyle”

His full diagnosis is “retrograde amnesia” which is sometimes called “Hollywood Amnesia” because it often turns up in films (or TV or fiction). That’s when you wake up and recall nothing.

After waking up, when he was asked for his name by hospital staff. He remembers that it was Benjaman, but could not recall his last name. “Kyle”came from his police and hospital placeholder name.

When he saw himself in the mirror for the first time, he realized he was around 20 years older than he thought he was.

Benjaman couldn’t remember who he was and either could anyone else. Police and authorities have tried to do detective work and identify him and he has had national exposure on TV shows, but no one has come forward to identify him.

Benjaman believes that he was passing through Richmond Hill, Georgia and may have been on the road because of Hurricane Charley, which had hit earlier that month. When he was found,  he had three marks on his skull that appeared to have been caused by blunt force trauma.

A film has been made about his story.

More About Benjaman’s Story

Since I first wrote over the summer about deliberately and accidentally, literally and figuratively,  getting lost, I have been a bit more tuned in to the topic.

It must have also struck a chord with others, because that original post and subsequent related ones seem to be more popular here.

I was in a bookstore this weekend and came across  A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit.  I bought a copy, but it’s down a few books on my To-Read list now.

So, here’s what caught me about the book (besides the title) gleaned from the cover, some page turning and a look online.

Solnit says that the word “lost” derives from the Old Norse for disbanding an army. That’s a tough connection to make.  She makes the connection of making “a truce with the wide world.”

The book is a set of loosely linked essays.  Solnit is described as a cultural historian. It seems like the essays may have led from one to the other – like a wandering in the woods. How else would you get from early American captivity narratives to hermit crabs, to conquistadors and a grandmother in an asylum and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo? She wanders the American west to country music (after a youth loving punk rock) and adds her own narrative too.

Not all reviews of the book I found were positive.  In The New Yorker:

“Solnit’s writing is as abstract and intangible as her subject, veering between oceanic lyricism (“Blue is the color of longing for the distance you never arrive in”) and pensées about the limitations of human understanding (“Between words is silence, around ink whiteness, behind every map’s information is what’s left out, the unmapped and unmappable”) that seem profound but are actually banal once you think about them.”

Well, I was attracted to it by its title, and we know that’s not the way to pick a book, but I’m going to give it a chance. And it I like it, I might just wander over to another book of hers called Wanderlust: A History of Walking which sounds like a good followup to being lost.


Yeah, no posts this past weekend in Paradelle. A lost weekend.

Not a lost weekend like in the novel by Charles R. Jackson that was turned into the better known 1945 film, The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Ray Milland.

I didn’t spend the weekend in a drunken state. Maybe that would have been an improvement.

In the novel, the protagonist is on a five-day alcoholic binge. He’s also a would-be writer (he uses foreign phrases and Shakespeare quotes, so he must be). A famous scene (parodied in The Simpsons) is when he tries to pawn his typewriter for drinking money.

I was on a seven-day work binge. Just too much to do last week after a week’s vacation. Do you find that whatever recharge you do get from some time off drains much too quickly when you return to work? It must be my human battery, because the charge seems to be shorter every time.

I was a week without the Internet and did not feel any withdrawal symptoms. I had queued up 15 blog posts on different blogs that I do, so that things would appear “normal”  for the week. That worked. But writing anything last week was painful.

This week, this month, doesn’t seem too much better.

But here I am drinking my morning coffee and typing, trying to write a post before I head out to teach a class and then head to my office to work on a big report that’s due in a week, try to prepare two presentations for conferences this month and do my day-to-day work. Hopefully, I get to finish this post sometime today…

And that’s just work. What about home and family? Spent a chunk of the weekend helping my mom deal with all that being 92 means. (I dread getting old.)

And I ‘d rather be walking a beach, or even working in the yard clearing out the frost-zapped vegetable garden, raking and mulching leaves. But no time for any of that.

I wrote a post here called “Getting Lost” back in July and since then it has consistently been in the top 3 read posts on this blog. I don’t know if it’s the title, the book that inspired it or my tales of feeling lost literally and figuratively. Something connected with readers.

I wrote another post as a kind of answer to that post and I called it “Getting Found: The Tracker” which was ostensibly about the well-known tracker from New Jersey, Tom Brown. Still, that post was also about “finding yourself” – which you can do with a compass, but you can also do by wandering aimlessly in the woods.

Now, it’s a weekday evening in Paradelle and I shouldn’t be writing on this blog. Not because there’s any law against it (I do post full moon posts during the week already), but because I have so many other “more important” things to do.

More important. There’s the rub. Is my homework for my classes and bill paying more important than writing? Yeah, I guess so. If I don’t do those things, bad things will result and my life will worsen. If I don’t write on my blogs… nothing good OR bad happens. My butterfly flutters it wings.

If only I didn’t so much enjoy writing online. So much so, that I would sell my laptop in order to be able to write on it.


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