January 31, 2016

A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Th one thing I have missed most over the past few weeks, as I have been healing from my herniated disc, is the ability to stroll. While previously I would spend hours a day on my feet, journeying on sidewalks and in parks, never moving in a direct line to get from A to B, but instead wandering in indefinite directions and on undefined pathways to eventually find myself somewhere, now I am rarely a pedestrian. When I must go to a certain place, I take transit and taxis; my strolling has been replaced with purposeful walking, a maximum of five minutes at a time, when my destination is close enough and I can quickly sit down when I arrive.

My propensity to walk everywhere, before my injury, meant that I was always discovering somewhere and something new. I made an effort to rarely duplicate my routes, and to allow serendipity guide me towards new locations and experiences. On these rambling strolls, I would rarely be lost in place — my impeccable sense of direction emerges even in foreign and strange cities that I have never before visited, but can navigate within minutes — but I would be lost in time and mind. I may have always known where I was, but I never really knew how I got there and where I was going next.

It’s that feeling of being lost in mind and in time that resonated most with me upon reading Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. The stories of being lost in place were more illustrative of the meditative power of ambling, while the stories of being lost in time and mind were resonant of my favorite kind of exploration: of discovering something new in places that are familiar, of being lost in experience and not necessarily in location.

As if illustrating its commitment to the idea of aimless ambling, A Field Guide to Getting Lost does not present a tight, cohesive narrative, but is instead constructed more loosely, a collection of stories and illuminations that are held together more by a sense of wonder than any commitment to structure. It is a book that allows you to get lost in it, and to subsequently find yourself, dozens of times.

This ambling and rambling narrative, and Ms. Solnit’s incredible ability to craft poetry in every paragraph, is what makes A Field Guide to Getting Lost so meditatively appealing. It is a book that can be devoured in one sitting, and then re-read in bits in pieces, in highlighted passages that evoke some kind of emotion, whether it be nostalgia or excitement.

There are few authors that can manipulate prose the way Ms. Solnit can, and she does so deftly in this book. The lyricism of each paragraph reminds us of just how beautiful it is to get lost — each word I read, and re-read, reminds me just how anxious I am for my back to heal, so that I can begin my strolls, my aimless ambling, again.

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