From elves of fairy tales to Santa’s flying reindeer, mystical creatures entranced me as a child. My most gripping obsession was with Pokemon. I was quite literally in love with the shimmering scenery and the mentality that a ten-year-old and his friends could set out to capture and befriend powerful creatures. Looking back as a man in his 20s, I notice the crude Japanese elegance in the artwork, portraying both people and bright-eyed, magical “pocket monsters.” LOOK, I’m aware this is whimsical diction, but I’m using Pokemon as a bridge to make my perspective of the world relevant to you.
Ash, the protagonist, saw a legendary Ho-oh fly over a rainbow in the first episode and no one could tell him what it was. He and his friends once discovered a rare moon rock surrounded by nymph-like Clafairy (their name is both singular and plural). A lurid scientist explained the peculiar connection between these small pink sprites and outer space. It was an enchanting episode.
Mew, the simplified design of a levitating house cat, had massive glistening eyes and made a whimsical “pinging” noise as it floated through time. Along with being the cutest thing a kid had ever seen, Mew was also, at the time, the most rare and most powerful Pokemon in existence, with roots back to ancient civilizations.
My surreal dreams of Pokemon adventures were innocent and beautiful. In my youth, I couldn’t bear to acknowledge that Pokemon were not real. I feel a bit disgusted with myself for even typing that sentence, as I reflect on my pseudo-scientific debates, eagerly trying to prove their existence to my grade school non-believers.
I still dream about magical creatures with super-powers. Today’s dreams are not fantasy, but rather, excited preparation for real-life encounters. From my work at a chimpanzee sanctuary to my trips around the world, I now devote my free time to experiencing fantastic creatures that give me the same giddy amazement as a child watching Pokemon.
My pet flying squirrel is named Feathertail. She has the agility of your average tree squirrel, but is a quarter of the size, has night vision, and glides through the air like a swift paper plane. Sounds like a Pokemon, right?
The animals on Earth seem more miraculous every day. This planet is home to sharks—massive, prehistoric fish that continuously grow teeth for the sake of efficient killing, putting them next to our orange-stripped jungle cats and snow-white arctic bears—all designed for being bad-asses. These would be your strongest 120 HP Pokemon for all of you who played the card game.
The colors and patterns of ocean fish could inspire a 70’s hippie poster. Dart frogs, along with most amphibians and reptiles, could have been designed by a third-grader with a rainbow paint set. Have you ever seen a cassowary? Or any bird, really. Some parrot’s intelligence rivals that of a three-year old human. They can speak, and are capable of understanding some words and their context. How likely is it that a chameleon looks the way it does? A color-changing reptile with a prehensile tail and a missile for a tongue? An adult male Panther chameleon looks like concept art for a James Cameron movie.
I learned that people committed suicide after the release of “Avatar” because they felt that our planet could never be as cool as the movie’s planet, “Pandora.” We are floating in space, on a planet covered in oceans, swimming with some creatures science has yet to identify. We have deserts with dinosaur fossils yet to be discovered. Why are we not packing our bags and exploring our planet? What an honorable position we’ve inherited from our forefathers: Earth Explorers – seeking the secrets of our planet and finding the secrets of our own history.
I’m not emphasizing the mountains, rain forests and other astonishing geographical settings. Let’s simply focus on how much beauty, danger, and wonder is hidden right here, under the leaves in the park down the street. Fantasy is free. We can atrophy as we live in our heads, but I prefer to emulate the Pokemon masters I looked up to as a kid, and capture moments of wonder.
My trip to Australia begins in T-40 days.