quebec

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Now for the National Geographic post I had attempted back on the 12th:

Restless Genes, by David Dobbs

At first, I thought that this would be a rehash of what we covered back on June 29, 2016 or that the magazine would cover again in June of 2013, depending on your perspective. The thesis in that issue was that people take risks because they get a dopamine rush from it.

Instead, though, we talk about the possible genetic impetus and benefits of exploration. Dobbs discusses how unusual homo sapiens sapiens is for our desire to explore and to cover new territory. Other species may travel with us (rats and cockroaches, for example), but it’s doubtful whether those species would have spread out that far without us. Even our other homo sapiens cousins (such as the Neanderthal) didn’t spread out and conquer the world like we did.

We start out with one gene, DRD4, which controls dopamine (this is where I thought the two articles would overlap). A variant called DRD4-7R seems to correlate highly with exploration. But for all of the studies that seem to make that correlation, there are others that refute it.

One of the scientists who discovered the 7R variant believes that it is a collection of genetic changes, not just that one, that leads humanity to explore. We are better-suited than our primate cousins to walk far distances, and our brains take longer to develop but end up larger than theirs are. And even the long time it takes us to mature may help. Our long childhoods lead us to develop imaginations, which feed our curiosity and lead children to naturally become scientists and explorers. Some of us retain those tendencies into adulthood.

And explorers tend to breed new explorers. A community in Quebec spread out into the wilderness and as they progressed farther into the wilderness, the communities they founded had different traits. They married younger and had more children, and those children married younger and had even more children. Lawrence Excoffier, a population geneticist, believes that this sort of sorting happened over and over throughout human history, leading explorers to perhaps have had more children, and thus had a stronger impact on the human genome in general.

We start and end the article, and possibly also the story of human migration, with the population of the South Pacific. These peoples were the descendants of some of the first to leave Africa. Once they reached the end of the continent of Asia going westward, they started moving from through the islands in small canoes, always within sight of another island. But when they reached the end of the chain of islands that were “intervisible,” they stopped until centuries later, when people from somewhere else, perhaps Taiwan, brought a larger boat that could travel farther distances. And after that, nothing stopped them from conquering that entire part of the world.

Crazy Far, by Tim Folger photographs by Stephan Martiniere

We begin this article with a discussion of the NERVA project, which was an attempt to get humans to Mars in a nuclear-powered spaceship. The original plan was to leave for Mars in 1981. Obviously, we never got there.

In this article, we discuss the technology that could, someday, bring that old dream back to life, including nuclear fusion or a giant sail that would catch solar winds (Hey! I was just reminiscing about that Classic Doctor Who episode!)

The article concludes with the idea that before we can build a starship, though, we will need to build a society that will build a starship. That seemed like a good prospect in 2013. In 2017, I think we’re likely to take a big step backwards before we can even start on that project.

I’m currently in the process of rethinking our upcoming travel schedules.  Not for 2016; those are paid for and thus graven in stone at this point. Rather, I’m rethinking 2017 and following years.  Originally, we were planning to go to Europe in 2017, but then I discovered the SAIL Amsterdam event, which is an event where tall ships converge on Amsterdam every five years.  The next one will be in 2020.  I really wanted to take Alex for this, however, SAIL Amsterdam is held in late August, which would interfere with his school schedule (even though Alex will be in college by then).

When I was considering taking Alex to SAIL Amsterdam, I thought about taking Alex to Canada in 2017.  Then I discovered that SAIL Amsterdam was too late in the summer, so I was back to Europe in 2017. However, when I was researching other tall ships events, I found that there is a tall ships thing in Quebec City during what would be my normal window for our big vacation (from the Monday after the second Friday in July until the fourth Friday in July) in 2017.  This is perfect.  I had also hoped to return to New York City in July of 2017 anyhow, so we could fly out to New York, then take the train from there.  It would probably be easier to take the train from New York to Toronto then go in a circle, coming back to New York from Montreal, but we wouldn’t be able to spend much time in Toronto that way, not and make it to Quebec City in time.  Maybe Montreal, then right to Quebec City and then take our time coming back through Montreal to Toronto and back to New York?  That’s got some potential.

I’m not sure what will happen with Europe now.  2018?  We usually go to see a volcano in even-numbered years, and there are three volcanoes in Germany, so we could do that.  Or we could stick with our current plan to go to Seattle (Mount Rainier would be our volcano in that case) in 2018 and go to Europe in 2019.

If we do the New York to Canada and back to New York thing in 2017, both times I’ve flown out of Terminal 2 at JFK, I’ve had terrible vertigo, so don’t let me forget my Benadryl.

This is one of those days that make me wish I had pictures of this trip available to me more than most. This is because Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I don’t remember seeing much in the way of sightseeing, but my family and I spent all day just walking around.  I do remember spending a few hours on the
Île d’Orléans, though I think we just drove Route 368 around the perimeter of the island.

The city is what made the real impression on me (I’m a city girl, after all). We wandered the streets of the Old City, which is like visiting a 17th century European city. There weren’t even any cars there, that I can recall. We also walked the walls of the citadel. We walked at least ten miles that day and I would have been willing to spend more time there, but we were scheduled to go to Montreal and had to leave.

I always intended to return. In fact, I kind of dreamed of having my honeymoon there.  Instead of Quebec City, my now-ex and I ended up going to Indianapolis (more on that trip once we get to 1991).  We got married in November, so going north was not a good idea, plus he had only been out of college for three months at that point, so he hadn’t earned any vacation time yet.  He took two days off without pay, so we had to stay fairly close to home. I may get married again someday, if I ever get to a point where I want to date again (we’re coming up on the sixth anniversary of our divorce and I haven’t felt that desire yet) and, once I do, if I ever find someone I love well enough to marry again and maybe we’ll go to Quebec City for our honeymoon.  I’ve heard of people “dating themselves” (in the sense of going out and doing fun things alone and not in the sense of revealing how old they are) so maybe, someday, I’ll take myself on a honeymoon.