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Hummel Column: Common sense vs. the human spirit

The temperature was 23 degrees. The wind was howling from the north at about 15 mph. Snowflakes the size of dimes were blowing from north to south. The date was November 17, 2008. The time was 12 noon. One word would describe the out-of-doors experience at that hour: raw. I looked out at the lake that would be covered by ice before the week was over and there he was: a lone figure out there in his boat, standing up and fishing.

There are two ways to react to that scene. One is to say that common sense dictates that no sane person would be out there standing in a boat fishing on a cold, windy, raw pre-winter day. No way, not a chance. If a gust of wind pushed that guy overboard, he'd be dead of exposure in 20 minutes. On the other hand, assuming he was properly bundled in cold weather gear, knew what he was doing and was exercising caution, the guy was probably having the time of his life. If anybody deserved a huge success in fishing, this was the guy. Somebody has to be the last fisherman on the lake before it freezes and he was the man.

I don't know who said this, but this is what he said, "man was not made for safe harbors." Consider the truth of that statement.

Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world, stands 29,028 feet above sea level at its summit. Most men would die from lack of oxygen in the rare atmosphere at that level. What normal person would defy common sense and risk his life trying to climb such a monster? Edmund Hilary, an adventurer from New Zealand, a man not made for safe harbors, climbed part way to the top in 1951 and 1952. Then in 1953 -- along with a Sherpa tribesman from Nepal named Tenzing Norgay -- Hilary climbed Everest.

Why do men climb mountains? The answer has become a cliché: because they're there. On one level, man seeks food, shelter and rest from his labors. Millions of unfortunates never realize these basic necessities. At the next level, the human spirit is curious and seeks expression out on the windy waters beyond safe harbors.

There was a time, not long ago when only so-called freaks ran marathons. After all, running 26.2 miles all in one effort defies common sense. What are they trying to prove anyway? What good does it do? Now there are hundreds of marathons all over the country, including one in Fargo. Thousands and thousands of ordinary Americans are running marathons. They're trying to prove to themselves that they can do it. And when they do, there is a thrill of achievement, an exhilaration, a triumph of the human spirit -- an Everest climbed. Side benefits? These folks are helping win the battle against smoking, the battle against obesity, the battle against heart disease, the battle against boredom and the battle against apathy. They are raising the level of American fitness. Pat a marathoner on the back.

Orville and Wilbur Wright rented and sold bicycles and later they manufactured them. When they began their studies and experiments in flight they weren't dreaming of starting an airline, they were dreaming beyond common sense. They were dreaming of flying. And that's what they did on the December 17, 1903. They flew. You could call them dreamers because that's what they were. It turned out they were pioneers. And most pioneers start out as dreamers.

The recent movie "Bucket List" is about two duffers with diagnoses of fatal diseases. One has money, the other has a family; both have lived good lives, but they both want more. Both want a big bite of excitement before they die, so they jointly assemble a bucket list of things they want to do before they kick the bucket. They were looking beyond safe harbors. Jumping from planes was only one of the adventures that defied common sense. There were others, but the movie was also about life beyond excitement as well. I recommend you see it.

So the moral of today's lesson is this: life is short; there is more to it than the common sense necessities of everyday life and safe harbors. There are dreams of the spirit. Don't ignore your dreams -- live them -- go fishing in icy waters.