Yesterday I spent a couple hours lost in the woods.
I was with Daniel, which made it better, and I had a stomachache, which made it worse. The stomachache came on just as we were deciding whether or not to take a shortcut home, so we took the supposed shortcut. But the shortcut turned out to be a very long and circuitous loop that, after a lot of walking, eventually brought us right back to where we started.
It wasn’t so bad, once we realized we were on a loop. Daniel launched into a series of bawdy marching songs he learned in the Army National Guard 30 years ago. He stopped every few minutes to take note of the direction of the sun and collect a fistful of wild raspberries. Daniel is a gifted berry picker and quite a good singer—especially of off-color songs. Between the dirty lyrics and the sweet raspberries, he successfully distracted me from my stomachache till we returned to the main road.
I used to get lost in the woods with some regularity.
There are a number of ways to be lost. Sometimes I simply took a wrong turn. I arrived at a place I hadn’t intended to go, or reached a definitive dead end and realized that, wherever I thought I was going, this was not it.
A few times I lost my path. I thought I was on a reliable trail and stifled my growing suspicions that the track I was on was disappearing before my eyes. Finally, at the intersection of Deer Trail 66 and Bunny Hop Junction, I would be forced to admit that I was at the mercy of a rambling game trail and not on a path at all.
But I think the worst way to be lost is when I would realize with a sickening lurch that I was going in a circle, entirely unaware, until confronted with the unmistakable evidence.
“I have seen that rock before. I know that tree. I saw this all before—and I was walking in the same direction as I am walking now.” There is something deeply disturbing about the sudden knowledge that I have gone nowhere. “I have been here before.” That is what scares me the most—wandering lost in a circle.
The familiar becomes menacing, as it is further confirmation that I am really and truly lost. I thought I had traveled a great distance, only to realize that I have gone nowhere at all. How could I have been walking all this while and gone nowhere? I was so fixated on thoughts of the path ahead that I didn’t notice the steps I was taking now. I didn’t see the landmarks that should have guided my way.
Yesterday, when we returned to the main road, the ground immediately felt more solid beneath my boots. Once I have been lost for a time, and recovered my bearings, everything seems clearer, I suddenly see things in sharper focus. I look around me at the familiar and see what I have not noticed before.
So this is what I am trying to do these days. I am combating the fear of walking in circles by paying more attention, stopping to pick more berries, looking around me with more care. I am trying, every day, to take more careful note of what I see.
I try to stop thinking about the path ahead long enough to get my bearings. I stand still for a moment, with raspberry seeds in my teeth, and enjoy being exactly where I am.
Till next time,