The art of ‘getting lost’ in the 21st century
Once upon a time there existed human beings without smartphones. They were intelligent creatures, just like us, only they were capable of finding their way to somewhere new without consulting Google Maps, a GPS or even a printed map (if you’re old school). How they managed this remains unknown, however scientists credit this phenomenon to a heightened ability at reading their surrounding landscape and consulting the stars as well as people who they met along the way. Not to mention an acute sense of direction.
On a serious note, we’ve reached a time where it is simpler to turn on your 4G, tell your phone to find out where you are, and type in where you want to go rather than follow street signs or ask a stranger. When was the last time you went somewhere new without consulting any form of map? The last time where you wandered to the point where you lost all control over where you were heading and how you were getting back? We are so caught up in getting from A to B in our hectic lives we’ve neglected the joy of losing ourselves within our environment.
There’s a field within nature writing called psychogeography (if you believe this sounds like a white middle-class, middle-aged male academic kinda term that’s because it is) which draws upon the older French tradition of a flâneur (a similar such term). Pushing aside all fancy-pansy terminology, they are traditions of writing focused on the discovery of ones surroundings, with no other intent or purpose than just that. My favorite literary example is Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Man of the Crowd,’ portraying two individuals flowing through the city as seamlessly as water, moving wherever the crowd allows them to.
It’s a map of discovery without the using actual maps. It’s allowing chance the ability to intervene and show you all the amazing things just beyond your normal path simply waiting to be found. It’s an opportunity to challenge your own perception of your surroundings.
I’d recently moved into a new house in a different part of my town. It seemed irritatingly far away from the center and everything I usually on a weekly basis needed to reach. In a desperate search for shortcuts I’d wander down random streets in hope of finding a quicker path only to end up further away from my home than I intended to. As much as I felt isolated and out of place in my new property, it was all about to change.
My boyfriend at the time, a keen walker, came to visit for a few days. Together we put on our walking shoes and decided to find out where one of several pathways by my house led. Within minutes we were standing on a cut field with football goals and two giant trees. A few minutes later and we were crossing over the nearby motorway on a bridge, at the end of which we found a hidden away parish church lulled beneath a vault of tall trees, and further on we’d stumbled into another town. It didn’t take long before we found ourselves walking through a pear field with our shoes in our hands in the drizzling rain. And you know what? It was magical.
After he’d left I decided to revisit the fields in order to enjoy the view it granted over my town, bask in the sunlight and write in my new journal. Not to mention the fact I was getting restless while preparing for my flight home and needed to escape the house. After completing that peaceful writerly task, I noticed a pathway continuing further into the field and wondered what was at the other end, so I did what Alice did when she spotted the white bunny and followed on.
The first thing that met me on my wander was a group of eighty year old apple trees, their pre-mature green apples dropping onto the grass where the brown bunnies feasted. Fascinated, I stepped into the green oasis only to discover another hidden path leading further on. I found myself passing between a high wooden fence against a local school and a metal fence cutting me off from a large green field as white fluff drifted lazily in the breeze. I could hear voices in the distance but beyond that I was utterly alone. Soon the path developed into a dark tunnel of trees bringing me further down to a small wooden bridge crossing a creek before bringing me back up again and spitting me out into an unknown residential area.
Having no clue where I was or why I’d ended up here, yet not wanting to finish my meandering with something as common as a row of homes, I decided to continue on and see where the road lead on. Once I’d reached the end of the street I found that not only had I fallen into another town, but that I was at the entrance of a nature reserve I’d attempted to find before but failed. I wandered in, greeting an older couple on their afternoon walk, a young male jogger and a group of school children repeating rhymes spun by their teacher. The entrance was marked with different coloured arrows signalling different paths. Impatient as I was, I couldn’t be bothered learning which lead where, so I just started walking.
It was gorgeous. I wandered between high trees and low bushes, with scattering sounds along the ground from skipping creatures and tweeting birds. Soon I was half an hour deep into the forest with no clue regarding how or when I was getting out again. It was me and the trees, and they weren’t ready to surrender their secrets.
So I kept on walking.
After a while I began to feel tired, my limbs warning of their exhaustion and my tummy making bubbly sounds of hunger. I was ready to get out yet my phone was practically dead with no remaining gigabits and there were no signs offering a clear way out.
I was as lost as one can be without actually being lost. I knew I’d get out eventually, however the forest has managed erase whatever perception of orientation I’d attempted to keep.
A little further on I found myself tracked down by a small, fluffy black puppy named Poppy who raced over to greet me, jumping up on her hind legs and licking my hand. I heard an apologetic shout in the background from the owner. She was still being trained, he explained. I said I wasn’t bothered. Soon I noticed the various pathways gathering together into one. I was getting close to the end.
Once out I began back-tracking my steps. By the apple trees I stopped and plucked one of its green glowing fruits, the sourest thing I’ve placed my teeth into, but I kept taking some bites until I decided to donate the unfinished half to the wheat fields overlooking town. I was back on the streets near my hew house, though unsure of which one led me back to a street I recognized I was doomed to take my chances and explore. On my way I came across Grannies Kitchen, a small stall of berries and vegetables propped up outside someone’s home, with courgettes and cabbage for sale. It made me smile and I made a mental note to return in the future.
Right before reaching my new home, on the final stretch, I had the pleasure of meeting not only one, not two, but three different neighborhood cats, the first of which ran over meowing, ready to be petted when I kneeled down and called it over.
I was home again, my phone placed on charge and my legs exhausted from my wanderings and the accidental 3.5 km trek into the nature reserve (got a map of it afterwards). Though my explorations may appear small, they did something wonderful. They helped me settle into an area which I’d previously felt uncomfortable within and allowed me to discover things far more fascinating than the quickest route out.
Katrine Lynn Solvaag is a PhD candidate in Poetry at the University of Kent where she is currently attempting to rewrite the entirety of Melville’s Moby Dick as prose poetry. She has performed at an array of festivals, including Brighton Fringe, Wise Words and UKYA City Takeover. Her debut collection Broken People was published in 2018 by Burning Eye Books.
Instagram & Twitter: @katrinepoetry