Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The beauty of being lost

This weekend I went for a several hour hike, at least half of which I ended up spending laying in the dirt and leaves on some northern California hillsides (which should be soggy and green but are instead brown and crunchy) alongside a path I'd not been on before. I realize in retrospect that I needed to be lost for a bit so that I'd give myself time to wander and to rest.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I think one of my favorite books, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, must have been rattling around. My copy is so well-loved that it is both highlighted and dog-eared. You may be familiar with Solnit because her essay "Men who explain things" brilliantly pointed out, many years ago, the phenomena of what has become commonly known as "mansplaining." Or you may love her many books that, at least for me, require so many death defying leaps of faith as a reader that they leave me breathless, exhilarated, and deeply moved.

I think of that particular book now because the sun has been shining so goddamn much in California lately that we don't seem to be able to tell which end is up anymore. People nervously talk about their weekend plans saying "I mean, I know it should be raining, but I guess if the sun is out, I should enjoy it, right?" And yet, the collective relief in the air when it rained twice last week was incredibly palpable, with a side of anxious "will there be more?" Meaning, "can we stop holding our breath?" Meanwhile, the coast I moved away from last year from seems to be experiencing an unusually bone-chilling freeze.

All this is to say that I'm pretty sure we are lost, even though we may not have physically gone anywhere. As I said in my last post about California's drought - we are in both a physically and emotionally altered landscape, which is totally discombobulating. The phenomena that Solnit describes throughout her book - in stories of the indigenous and settlers and captives and refugees in both inner and outer worlds - are really the many paradoxes of being lost: that we cannot really be "found" without first being "lost," that a destination that looked one way from afar looks so different as it draws near, and that we have often come to deal with feeling lost by pretending that we are not. She describes early maps of the world with huge swaths of land labeled simply as "terra incognita" - the unknown - saying:
"To imagine that you know, to populate the unknown with projections, is very different from knowing that you don't, and the old maps depict both states of mind, the Shangri-la's and terra incognitas..."
Just like with grief, we can have a complicated relationship with the unknown. A beautiful piece in the New York Times over the weekend, "The Dangers of Certainty," describes a similar paradox, which is that certainty is unattainable (and in reality undesirable) and indeed "The goal of complete understanding seems to recede as we approach it."

It feels like even though we're still here, here has once again become terra incognita, and nothing is certain. But, the old, familiar truth is, it never was.

Related posts:

No comments:

Post a Comment