The explorer and his faithful companion from a different cultural group left the main party at base camp and set out on the last lap to the North Pole. As they traveled steadily across the arctic wastes, the usually reserved explorer became more and more excited, expressing his feelings by shouting the hog calls of his youth. His lifelong North Pole goal was at last within reach.
When they made camp that night, the explorer looked out across the desolate wastes in puzzlement, sensing something was wrong. His faithful companion told him what it was. The wastes were OK, but the stars were suddenly the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere. The explorer checked his instruments. The instruments said they were very near the South Pole. The explorer cried, dry heaves, like a man. The faithful companion suggested that they might as well follow the instruments through the antarctic wastes, or whatever, to the South Pole, or wherever.
They traveled on and planted the explorer’s special flag on what the finest navigational equipment available at that time indicated was the South Pole. Soon after, the explorer’s fierce rival found the special flag at the North Pole and conceded he’d been beaten, fair and square. When the explorer and his companion rejoined the main party, they were on arctic wastes again, complete with stars.
They returned to a hero’s welcome, but the explorer was never the same. He immediately mounted an expedition to go to the South Pole because he thought he might find the North Pole there. He wanted the North Pole desperately; the South Pole meant nothing. On the final push across Antarctica, he kept looking up, waiting for the stars to change. They never did. When he got to the South Pole, his flag was waiting for him.
He missed the hero’s welcome that time because of his breakdown. After he recovered, he went around the world meeting other explorers. He tried to see if they had found the wrong place too, but they gave him no more clues than he gave them.
He decided that it happened often, always would. Probably when someone finally climbed Everest, they would end up on top of some obscure peak in the Andes. It wasn’t that much different than anything else. It wasn’t that much different than marrying your true love and finding yourself with a different person, an opposite person. He’d gotten used to that and he’d get used to this.
It was mainly a matter of getting used to it and not talking about it. If you talked about it, you might make some other people feel they hadn’t gotten there either. If they hadn’t noticed, he didn’t want to tell them. But he thought the people in the other cultural group had a funny look in their eyes like they all knew. They looked like they knew and could talk about it and go on.
Years later, the explorer left all he valued and all that valued him and moved to his faithful companion’s village. They were civil to him there and intermittently kind. The village wasn’t the right place either, but the food was good. He tried to understand their songs. He didn’t know they were meant to be enjoyed.