A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit
The Book in Three Sentences
Free flowing thoughts inspired by memory, dreams, cultural history and place attachment, Solnit speaks of personal growth by way of loss and rediscovery. When you get lost, she says on page 22, “the world has become larger than your knowledge of it”. Over the course of our lives we have the opportunity to traverse great distance, and some people travel further than others.
Summary and Favourite Quotes
"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 lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it.” (pp22).
“The question arises that arises with many works of art: does the work mean what the artist intended it to mean… for it is not, after all, really a question about whether you can know the unknown, arrive in it, but how to go about looking for it, how to travel.” (pp24)
"Emptiness is the track on which the centred person moves”, said a Tibetan sage six hundred years ago, and the book where I found this edict followed it with an explanation of the word ‘track’ in Tibetan: shul, “a mark that remains after that which made it has passed by—a footprint, for example. In other contexts, shul is used to describe the scarred hollow in the ground where a house once stood, the channel worn through rock where a river runs in flood, the indentation in the grass where an animal slept last night. All of these are shul: the impression of something that used to be there. A path is a shul because it is an impression in the ground left by the regular tread of feet, which has kept it clear of obstruction and maintained it for the use of others. As a shul, emptiness can be compared to the impression of something that used to be there. In this case, such an impression is formed by the indentations, hollows, marks, and scars left by the turbulence of selfish craving.” (pp50-51, where she quotes “Emptiness is the track” in Stephen Batchelor’s 1997 book Buddhism without Beliefs).
“Sometimes an old photograph, and old friend, and old letter will remind you that you are not who you once were, for the person who dwelt among them, valued this, chose that, wrote thus, no longer exists. Without noticing it you have traversed a great distance; the strange has become familiar and the familiar if not strange at least awkward or uncomfortable, an outgrown garment. And some people travel further than others.” (pp80).
“The places in which a significant event occurred become embedded with some of that emotion, and so to recover the memory of the place is to recover the emotion, and sometimes to revisit the place uncovers that emotion. Every love has its landscape. Thus place, which is always spoken of as though it only counts when you’re present, possess you in its absence, takes on another life as a sense of place, a summoning in the imagination with all the atmospheric effect and association of a powerful emotion. The places inside matter as much as the ones outside. It is as though in the way places stay with you and that you long for them they become deities—a lot of religions have local deities, presiding spirits, geniuses of the place.” (pp118).