Tag Archives: Field Guide to Getting Lost

field guide to being lost


What does it mean to get lost, be lost, or feel lost? And why do we hold such  negative connotations with these ideas?  Rebecca Solnit explores these questions in her “Field Guide to Getting Lost” and I have pondered the concepts more and more each day here on the island.

In this 7th month of Living Chapters I am just now starting to do what I intended this project to do and I am beginning to feel like I’m actually letting go of the reigns and giving over control. It’s as if my environment itself has taken on the role of the chapter writer and is leading the process.

This month I have been asked to create my own field guide to the island of St. Croix. Chapter writer Ashley Duffalo and Wild Card Dave Schott both generously provided me with tools on how to create such a guide. They suggested I take walks, collect objects, record interviews, and make photographs. I am grateful for these guidelines. Following them has made me feel more grounded and has brought a bit of structure to my days.

Instead of an island field guide though, I feel as if I have begun to create my own personal guide for “being lost”.  Adapting to a this new environment, has been an exercise in allowing myself to be ok with the feeling of not knowing where I am exactly or where I am going.

When dropped in a new environment either for a short time or an extended stay, I always gravitate toward finding the things that are familiar or that I feel comfortable with: a routine or structure.  Upon arriving in a new place, starting a new job or meeting a new friend, I immediately want to uncover the unknown. I map out my surroundings, problem solve, or seek out answers to my list of questions.  Although these are great survival instincts when encountering new situations, I do believe that rushing to solve all the mysteries and wanting to know all the answers right away is not the best system for me. I must allow some time for learning in the uncovering.

We all desire to work from the knowledge we possess or the set of personal reference points we’ve identified but I am finding that it is counteractive to rely on that knowledge. Why try to prove what it is that we know when there is opportunity to learn something that we don’t know?

If I truly desire to learn something new and navigate new territory, I must become at ease with the unknown.  Navigating only with knowledge and reference points from maps I’ve drawn before will not help me reach new territory.

In Solnit’s “Field Guide” she comments on how getting truly lost has less to do with geography and more to do with questioning identity.  Depending on how you look at it being lost can be a bewildering or a wonderful opportunity.  It’s a time for one to “shake off the shackles that remind you of who you are, who others think you are” and allows you the opportunity to become who you want to become.

I’m taking my time, learning how to become lost here first before discovering every inch of the island. Letting go, I am not worried about knowing everything about where I am right now and trying to take the opportunity to work on learning about who I am right now.

I am still following my Living chapters guidelines though, tracking what I see, mapping where I walk, and soaking in my surroundings but enjoying it even more knowing that there is no wrong way of wandering when your quest is to become lost.


Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.

Grace Lichtner has been a great partner for experiments and expeditions into being lost. Below are photographs of plants, objects, and creatures that we found in the lost parts of the house, our backyard and the North Shore that have explored thus far.

All photographs taken by Grace Lichtner and Beth Barbush.

escape to the tropics


We left Western Maryland with a one-way ticket in hand to the tropics. What could go wrong? Well… a lot if you say something like “what could go wrong?” I’ve learned to never utter words like that when leaving on a trip to go anywhere. However I found myself breaking this unspoken rule and subsequently a pawn in the musical airplane game that the east coast plays when caught amidst a winter storm.

It took us four days in total to finally reach St. Croix (a trip that normally doesn’t take more than 10 hours by plane). I did say I wanted an adventure, I just didn’t realize it would start before reaching the island.

I actually don’t mind traveling and airports in general. I find them to be fascinating places (outside of the poor color scheme choices and bad decor). They act as crossroads for many of us – a place where a metaphorical life path decision becomes a physical reality. Or in my case maybe the physical diverted path became the metaphor that in a sense gave us a preview of what the lifestyle might be like moving to an island. This difficult travel itinerary was just breaking us in? Acclimatizing us for how life could be? Testing our flexibility?

We had plenty of time to ruminate on what this four day long process could mean for us. Thinking about the delay in this way made the time much easier to pass and less stressful. We had reflective conversations with each other and met a handful of kind, helpful and unique individuals, including a cosmic Bangladeshi cab driver, a wizard of all traveling tips and stories, and a financial analyst named “Blessing”.  In each airport, hotel, and form of transportation we gained valuable perspectives all making up for the inconvenient snow, ice, delays, lost baggage, angry passengers and the general chaos that entails when thousands of people congregate all vying to reach different destinations.

In this time, I also began reading Ashley’s suggested text for the month Rebecca Solnit’s “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”. It seemed appropriate, as our travel itinerary map had been abandoned by day one.  Solnit says there’s an “art of being at home in the unknown so that being in it’s midst isn’t a cause of panic or suffering” So I guess it takes a certain amount of practice to feel at home while being lost. I have been crafting this skill, my entire life and needed to be reminded of this sentiment at this precise moment.

It was perfect timing to remind myself that reaching the destination, as always, was not the important thing. The destination you are traveling to will not bring the sense of peace or the feeling of home that I seek. The only thing that could conjure that feeling would be my own reaction to my environment, (the people and actions around me) and my response to the unknown itself.

I have to agree with Solnit when she says that getting lost “seems like the beginning of finding your own way or finding another way” It’s a clean slate of how to make decisions coming from a new place in a whole new way. I am very happy that we have finally reached St. Croix, but am also aware that arriving is not the goal in the field guide to getting lost, its the wandering, connections made and lessons learned from accepting that sometimes we just don’t know where we are or exactly or where we are going.


 Just finding this blog today? Read the prologue for more details on what Living Chapters is all about. Check out the Chapter Summaries Page to get caught up to date.