Children reviewed scenarios. What to do when you are lost in a wilderness with no aid and no promise of its coming. A book might say if they found the right one, how to leave a trail by walking through what is soft. To stop at intervals to write HELP in the snow in the sand in the mud with an arrow pointing in the direction of the feet. How if the course is reversed. To travel back over the prints. To alert anyone who is looking, if anyone is looking, not to go beyond the tracks. To follow the lines of roads and rivers and listen well. If a party calls, they will use an unusual word. Three syllables. Internet! Coconut! Spaghetti! Leave personal items behind. But who has the book.
You can learn to look this way, scanning the horizon for smoke signals, for mirror flash, to train the ear to hear the distant cry. But how did you learn to meet it, children wondered, of the expectation that anyone grown would know where to go when it was time, and when? When the wind comes. Who ties it all down. They cut the books of questions into strips, folded each line into a basket. They would need more for the carrying.
One theory is that you know you have arrived when you can get yourself good and lost without worry over getting home. This assumes no one is waiting for your arrival, or the meal you would make, or the rent––difficult to pull off in a given day, and yet in the suspended space of making what we make, I suppose it happens all the time. But just as I am starting to think, here is something, I am back to thinking of the birds falling from the sky, whole flocks of them discovered in the aftermath––but also once a snowy owl, living, in a tree near the local library, and the punk defiance of the tiny nest that once appeared on the electrical box, and the lizard that looked back as we crouched to see him beneath the cabinet, the cat and I, and maybe the point is only to lose the trepidation over being fatally human––into a wider web, woven of strands this limited sight is still unable to detect.
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, And you must treat it as a powerful stranger, Must ask permission to know it and be known. The forest breathes. Listen. It answers, I have made this place around you. If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here. No two trees are the same to Raven. No two branches are the same to Wren. If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you, You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows Where you are. You must let it find you.
— David Wagoner, “Lost”
I am here to let it find me. To listen, with you. That is enough, or should be, but I am not always as strong as my intentions. So I carry breadcrumbs in my pocket, just in case. I look for more, just in case. I share, just in case. Because someone else is always looking, too.
Wake, make coffee. Open notebook. If the familiar bogeyman shows up, growling that there’s “Nothing” to offer, call the monster out, and offer anyway. Try memory. Try looking. Try a walk. Try a photograph, a work of art. An old story. Try typing in today’s date. Notice what happened on this day. Notice how you can, if you want, see flickers of all of history in a given day. Blake’s eternity in an hour.
Gather crumbs: historical events, feast days, holidays you didn’t know about. Who was born, who died. Who did both and then was listed here before you ever knew them. Follow the breadcrumbs they left for you. Trust that they are there. Make notes of what you find. Not forever, just for a few minutes: 5, 15, 30. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.
If an historical figure is involved, you may converse with them. Arrive not at an end, but some beginning. Or a natural pause. Share the conversation not like a lecture but like dancing in an open field. No explanation needed.
Go about the rest of the day, noticing how you are changed in a small but meaningful way, from that small dance in that open space, how doing so, reminds you of something vital, something about this wild, single life that the machine would train you to forget. Be grateful for the change. Repeat.
This is all. A simple act of faith, connection, communion. Essential in the unknowingness of it because the point is to be reminded back to the mystery.
We are here to build the spaces that let us live inside it. We are here to welcome others to come in. To say, Here. Look. This is where we are. In the presence of a powerful stranger.
This is me, bowing to you, in this strange space. I see you. I honor you. Let’s begin.