No one—not Dr. Trump, not Dr. Birx, not Dr. Fauci, not even “Jake” from State Farm—knows what lies ahead. There’s a lot of wishful thinking such as “the virus will dissipate when the weather gets warmer,” but science isn’t so sure abut that, or much else, for that matter. The fact is we’re in terra incognita, uncharted territory, sailing into either hope or fear. You choose.
While hardly a scientist myself, I prefer facts to guesswork. However, out here in terra incognita, facts are hard to come by. Try as they might, the epidemiologists, mathematicians, and statisticians who are studying the coronavirus phenomenon are not really sure if the covid-19 curve is flattening, or, if it is, whether it will stay flat for the foreseeable future. For all we know, this deadly virus may come hurtling back at us with the vengeance of a tiny asteroid bent on destroying life on earth as we’ve known it. So far, no superheroes have stepped forward to save the day, except, of course, all the brave souls on the front lines of emergency medical care, as well as all those who jeopardize their own safety by working overtime to keep us fed and safe. As safe as we can be, anyway.
Various drugs are being touted as having effective properties against the coronavirus, but until a verifiable vaccine is available at an affordable price, we’re at the whim of this small-but-aggressive protein molecule that has been seeking to do us harm for the past several months. Still, we’re trying hard: we wash our hands, we self-quarantine, we adhere to social distancing guidelines, but nevertheless I get the feeling that we’re whistling in the dark. International agencies and governments at all levels are grappling with this vexing problem; some are more successful than others, but all are moving through the jungle of this terra incognita trying not to get eaten by something we can’t even see.
The stress and strain of not knowing much of anything about the landscape of this bizarre place makes matters worse. Maybe if we had a map or could follow a trail of breadcrumbs, we’d feel a little better about our plight. Alas! By definition, terra incognita is exactly that: unknown territory. All we can hope for is that if we are smart enough and careful enough to survive this pandemic, we’ll have learned something about this strange new virus—and something about ourselves in the process.
Once upon a time, cartographers labelled uncharted regions on their maps with “Here Be Dragons.” In their time, the Romans were only a bit less dramatic: they labelled the darkest corners of their maps with the banner “HIC SUNT LEONES” (“Here Be Lions”). It wasn’t until the early 19th Century that these phrases and the depictions that accompanied them no longer appeared on maps because by then, the coastlines and interiors of all the continents had been mapped, had been “known.” Maybe that’s why this new unknown land is so disorienting: we thought we knew every corner of our planet. Turns out we were wrong.
We’ve explored the expanses and depths of the oceans, We’ve sailed through space to the stars. Like Lewis and Clark, we’ve plumbed the interiors of continents. All the great and brave explorers who took up the challenges of terra incognita have helped to name the unnameable, helped us know and understand the shape of our world. I have no doubt that someday soon, other great explorers will make their mark on this new terra incognita. After all, we’re on a new voyage of discovery.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.
Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com