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Tag Archives: A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“The nomadic Chemehuevi navigated wide expanses of this arid terrain with songs. The songs gave the names of places in geographical order, and the place names were descriptive, evocative, so that a person who’d never been to a place might recognize it from the song. Carobeth Laird commented, ‘Nowadays when a song is sung, it takes great leaps from one locality to another, because there is no one who remembers the route in its entirety.’ ‘How does that song go?’ meant ‘What is the route it travels?’

Men inherited songs from their father or grandfather, and the song gave them hunting rights to the terrain it described. The Salt Song describes the route of a flock made up of every sort of land bird in the region, and it ‘travels all night, arriving at Las Vegas about midnight, at Parker towards morning and back home to the place of origin by sunrise. If the night on which it is sung is very short, the Salt Song may be shortened so that it will not outlast the night.’ The Mojave people just to the south had a turtle song that also lasted the length of a night or several nights.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “One-Story House,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

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“It’s okay to realize that we do need help, that calling out for help is a very generous act because it allows others to help us and it allows us to be helped. Sometimes we’re calling out for help. Sometimes we’re offering help, and then this hostile world becomes a very different place. It is a world where there is help being received and help being given, and in such a world this compelling determined world according to me loses some of its urgency and desperation. It’s not so necessary in a generous world, in a world where help is available, to be so adamant about the world according to me.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “One-Story House,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“A runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds. For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Gravity is about motion, weight, resistance, force, the most primary experience after all the touches on our skin, of being corporeal. And so it may be that gravity is a sweet taste of mortality and our strength to resist it, a luxuriating in the pull of the earth and the pull of muscles against it, in the momentum the two create, and in how close you can cut it.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Arrowheads,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“I was alone in the house writing. I heard a raven fly by in air so still that each slow stroke of its wings was distinctly audible. I wondered then and wonder now how I could give all this up for what cities and people have to offer, for it ought to be less terrible to be lonely than to have stepped out of this sense of symbolic order that the world of animals and celestial light offers, but writing is lonely enough, a confession to which there will be no immediate or commensurate answer, an opening statement in a conversation that falls silent or takes place long afterward without the author. Maybe writing is its own desert.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Arrowheads,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“The world from which the blues came is largely vanished. Not half a century after slavery it came out of severely limited choices and limited movement, and to read the early biographies is to collect pictures of sharecroppers; of prisoners, children, everyone at hard labor; of dust; of a society in which people who had once been slaves were still far from free.

“The blues are a kind of captivity narrative, but the white captivity narratives often told of people who capture was either temporary or become full acceptance into a new society. The blues defined a kind of perpetual exile of people who couldn’t go back, though leaving the South is a subject of a lot of blues songs, without white country music’s hankering for the places left behind. Even nostalgia and homesickness are privileges not granted to everyone.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“…nomads, contrary to popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far from being the drifters and dharma bums that the word nomad often connotes nowadays. This meant that it was all home. I have come to long not to see new places but to return and know the old ones more deeply, to see them again.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that make you navigate more slowly and steadily. But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is already loss.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Abandon,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“She had the nonchalance and style that mean so much to adolescents, who are urgently constructing a persona to meet the world, and this achievement is the antithesis of the openness that might make clear to self and others what one wants and needs.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Abandon,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Beauty is often spoken of as though it only stirs lust or admiration, but the most beautiful people are so in a wa that makes them look like destiny or fate or meaning, the heroes of a remarkable story. Desire for them is in part a desire for a noble destiny, and beauty can seem lik ea door to meaning as well as to pleasure. And yet such people are often nothing extraordinary except in their effect on others. Exceptional beauty and charm are among those gifts given by the sinister fairy at the christening.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Abandon,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“…like most aesthetics this one contained an ethic, a worldview with a mandate on how to act, how to live.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Abandon,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“They came out with their wings packed down like furled parachutes, like crumpled letters. Even as they emerged it seemed incredible that their wide wings had once fit in so slender a space. As they emerged, their bodies were visible as they would never quite be again, and during those moments they looked like bugs, like insects, instead of what they would be when they were all brilliantly colored wing. Their bodies were still plump with the fluid they had to pump into those wings in the first minutes of their emergence to make them the straight sheets with which they flew. Some did not get quite free, and their wings never fully straightened.

“One flailed frantically, trying to drag itself out by crawling onto adjacent unopened chrysalises until they too began to thrash, a contagious panic. That one finally dropped free, though it may have been too late for its wings to straighten. The process of transformation consists mostly of decay and then of this crisis when emergence from what came before must be total and abrupt.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“There are those who receive as birthright an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or for satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch, even as a psychological metamorphosis. As a cultural metamorphosis the transition is far more dramatic.

The people thrown into other cultures go through something of the anguish of the butterfly, whose body must disintegrate and reform more than once in its life cycle. In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.’

We have not much language to appreciate this phase of decay, this withdrawal, this era of ending that must precede beginning. Nor of the violence of the metamorphosis, which is often spoken of as though it were as graceful as a flower blooming.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Some things we have only as long as they remain lost, some things are not lost only so long as they are distant.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Gary Paul Nabhan writes about taking his children to the Grand Canyon, where he realized ‘how much time adults spend scanning the landscape for picturesque panoramas and scenic overlooks. While the kids were on their hands and knees, engaged with what was immediately before them, we adults traveled by abstraction.’

“There is no distance in childhood. Whatever is absent is impossible, irretrievable, unreachable. Their mental landscape is like that of medieval paintings: a foreground full of vivid things and then a wall. The blue of distance comes with time, with the discovery of melancholy, of loss, the texture of longing, of the complexity of the terrain we traverse, and with the years of travel. If sorrow and beauty are all tied up together, then perhaps maturity brings with it now what Nabhan calls abstraction, but an aesthetic sense that partially redeems the losses time brings and finds beauty in the faraway.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths… This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.

“The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and of desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “The Blue of Distance,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession. You still know where you are. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become large than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control… And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Open Door,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost

“As far as the animals are concerned, the suburbs are an abandoned landscape, and so they roam with confidence. Children seldom roam, even in the safest places. Because of their parents’ fear of the monstrous things that might happen the wonderful things that happen as a matter of course are stripped away from them. For me, childhood roaming was what developed self-reliance, a sense of direction and adventure, imagination, a will to explore, to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back. I wonder what will come of placing this generation under house arrest.”

– Rebecca Solnit, “Open Door,” A Field Guide to Getting Lost