Pages filled with hopes & dreams

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

Sitting in the doctor’s office, I fell in love.

It wasn’t a young girl with the flu or a pretty-young-thing wearing a cast on her leg.

Yet, within minutes, my mind was totally captivated by what I had just seen.

On the glossy pages of an oddly thick magazine were beautiful photographs of the waterways, jungle and animals of the Amazon. There were also magnificent pictures of the mountains and glaciers of Alaska.

For a while, instead of waiting to be seen by our family doctor, I was transported to distant lands of beauty and adventure.

I had just fallen in love with the National Geographic magazine. The words in each article accurately and beautifully described the landscapes and the people that were captured in the vibrant, clear, crisp photographs. Sitting in that office, nearly 60 years ago, I decided that I no longer wanted to grow up to be a cowboy. I didn’t want to be a fireman or a policeman. I wanted to be a photojournalist.

I came to realize that the National Geographic Society was all about adventure. The magazine’s cover became their trademark. You always knew that the wide, yellow boarder that framed a beautiful, often exotic picture was a certain gateway to adventures that awaited you inside the magazine.

I loved the cover of the National Geographic magazine. It always prepared me to enter a place of adventure.

The National Geographic Society was established in early 1888. Their first magazine was published just six months later.

After that doctor’s visit, I became familiar with someone else — the amazing Lowell Thomas.

Thomas was well-known in radio and was occasionally featured in movie shorts and on television. His writing and commentary were always crisp. He even had an exotic look about him, with his slicked-back hair and pencil-thin mustache. Despite having been filmed in faraway locations, you felt like he was speaking directly to you.

Those faraway places felt like they were within reach when described by Lowell Thomas. You could feel the heat of the Arabian desert.

When he wrote about Lawrence of Arabia, you knew that he had met the famous British Army Captain. You could tell he wasn’t talking about someone unknown to him. He was describing conversations and adventures that he had had with a friend. I felt transported.

Watching the nightly news was a well-established habit in the Riley household. Throughout the 1960s, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley of NBC would report the news to us every evening.

When they retired, our household switched to Walter Cronkite on the CBS channel. A regular feature of the Cronkite program was a feature entitled, “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.”

With his beautiful writing style and rich voice, Charles Kuralt would visit, then describe simple, out-of-way places. Kuralt and his crew traveled in a motorhome. They avoided interstate highways in favor of the backroads of America where fascinating tales were waiting to be told.

Charles Kuralt found those stories and told them to America. I loved those simple, Charles Kuralt, adventures.

Early in life, I wanted to experience the adventures I had seen in the National Geographic magazine. I wanted to write about jungles, mountains and faraway places.

Although the realities of providing for a family kept me in Ohio and the job of providing respiratory therapy replaced the dream job of traveling and developing stories for magazines, the urge for adventure never completely left me.

On scuba-diving trips, I have frequently stepped off dive boats into shark-filled waters. We have searched for old ship wreckage in remote areas of the Caribbean and, although we didn’t find treasure, we found artifacts. Debbie and I have stood together on the brink of an active volcano in Masaya, Nicaragua.

Traveling with a medical group from the University of Cincinnati, I have spent a few weeks in the Amazon. Besides treating hundreds of natives, we trekked through the steaming jungle and fished for piranha.

The urge for adventure that was born between the pages of the National Geographic magazine and was nurture by the reporting of Lowell Thomas and Charles Kuralt grew within me and never went away.

In a doctor’s office somewhere, is a well-worn copy of a National Geographic magazine. It might be relatively new or decades old. Regardless of the age of the magazine, it can still inspire the hopes and dreams of people as they wait for their doctor.

I just found out last week that my grandson, Clayton, wants to be an astronaut. He wants to go the moon.

After that, he says he is going to Pluto. When asked if I could go with him, Clayton said, “Sure, Pappy. That would be fun.”

Trust me. I would go in a heartbeat.

Randy Riley is former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist