A Field Guide to Getting Lost: Book review by Andrea Hartley

Andrea Hartley     Just as there are a  chain of circumstances which lead to the perfect storm; there were a many factors which lead to my intense involvement with the text of Rebbecca Solnit’s  A Field Guide to Getting Lost.   The very day that I picked up the book, I had watched Stg. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,  a movie that, if I had seen at all, it was only once, many years ago.  It left no particular impression on me at the time.  On this day, however, I whimsically noticed the styles of the early 70’s.  I did  more than reminisce about the clothes I wore when I was in my early twenties.  I seemed to be transported in my mind, back to the time when most things were big.  Men’s hairstyles were big, or ample, reaching below the earlobe.  And cars, well, they were certainly big.  Then, the music of the film, ….I thought of how expansive the lyric, melody and beat were.  These musical and artistic renditions of thought seemed to me to be superior to the new music we hear today.  But it was really so much more than those observations and getting lost in the past.  It was a desire to “Get back, Loretta, get back to where you once belonged.”  Tears came to my eyes as I remembered the early 1970’s version of me, and knowing that there was no magic looking glass, or yellow brick road  which could lead me back to me. The chasm of time between us was just too great.  Memories of times back then flashed through my mind in no particular order.  Seeing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was not the beginning of a desire to “get back” but was more of a climax.  For many years the longing or desire to reach back in my life has been there.  It sits silently waiting to have its say until the opportunity presents itself.  An opportunity such as an old song or something else that triggers a memory.

Then as I read Solnit’s chapter, “The Distance of Blue” I learned that “Blue is the color of longing for the distances you never arrive in…” One thing that immediately caused me to be interested in what she had to say was her scientific definition at the beginning of the chapter.  My long-time journalistic self-resonates with statements of fact.  She writes on p 29, “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost.  Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us.  It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water….”She added that she has been moved by the “blue at the far edge of what can be seen, that color of horizons, of remote mountain ranges, of anything far away.  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 mountain.”  Hmm, the color of where you are not. This description accurately reflects so much.

Blue is also a word used for sadness.  So, one can be very blue or sad longing for  “there” when one is “here”.  Yet, Solnit points out that the beauty of the color blue, like the blue of the horizon, vanishes when one actually arrives at the place where they saw the blue at a distance.  So, even if it is possible to go from here to there, much of what we see here, we find, is an illusion when we get there.

She described exactly what I had been experiencing.  She writes on p 39.   “A person in her twenties has been a child for most of her life, but as time goes by that portion that is childhood becomes smaller and smaller more and more distant more and more faded….  “Since three decades have passed since I was in my twenties, even those years have faded.  It’s true that when I was in my twenties, there were challenges and there was pain.  It was not all just great times.  In fact, there were some pretty awful times, so I can agree with Solnit in her idea of never being able to grasp the beauty of blue.  I have put down the illusion that all was great back in my twenties because further reflection reveals that to be false, but if I had a chance to be 27 again, would I?  First thought is, “You bet!”  Second thought is, “Well, if I could change some of the choices I made, I would, but I would not want to go through some of the things that I went through as a result of some of my choices again.

Solnit vividly contrasts the difference between an adult and a child’s perception, on page 39, “ There is no distance in childhood; for a baby, a mother in the other room is gone forever, for a child the time until a birthday is endless”  This fact is known to all and cannot be denied. “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.”  This point is not so easy to accept.  She then really asks us to stretch ourselves by asking us to consider that if sorrow and beauty are related, can that which is lost be somehow redeemed by finding beauty by what is far away. Thinking of the lost love of my teen years, I wonder.  We didn’t separate because of a lack of love, on either side, but because of unfortunate circumstances.  The memories of what was, and the dreams of what might have been remain in my heart forever.  Yet, as I ponder Solnit’s words, it underscores the familiar question, “If we had gotten together would we have had a successful union or would we have split up and would I have lost all those wonderful memories.” She writes, “Some things are not lost, only so long as they are distant.”   If I had the chance to see if we could successfully unite today, would I take the venture?   I would, realizing the risk, and moving at a very slow pace. But then again, as we age, it seems maybe we have less to lose. After all, life is short and getting shorter, why not jump in there and live it? Right?

The Dallas Morning News says, “ For Ms. Solnit, getting lost is more than a matter of, mere physical circumstances.  It’s a state of  mind to be embraced and explored, a gateway to discovering more about yourself in relation to the rest of the world.”   If this was her goal, she succeeded for me in this second chapter of her book.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I plan on spending some time getting lost in observing the vast, blue sky, where it meets the deep, blue sea at the horizon where I will contemplate the blues of my life’s journey and learn what steps I will next take.