Today, I did something unusual. At least, it’s pretty unusual in this day and age: I got lost.
I’d gone for a walk in the woods with our elderly lurcher-lab cross. Both she and I know these woods fairly well; they once formed part of the ancient Selwood forest and cover over 650 hectares, with trails and footpaths. A sign said there was an event ahead (probably mountain biking or horse riding), so I decided to turn down an unfamiliar track.
It was rutted but manageable at first, and soft under the dog’s paws. However, some time later, having carried the dog over tangles of bramble and rotting logs, it dawned on me that the track had in fact petered out a while ago. Here I was, lost, with a half-blind, elderly diabetic dog for company.
There was a drop of rain, then another. My hands tingled.
For me, tingling in the hands is a sign of adrenaline – like the feeling you get after a near miss in traffic. Standing there, knowing I was lost, felt odd both physically and mentally. Besides the unease, I was suddenly hyper aware of my surroundings.
I could, of course, pull out my phone and get my bearings (if there was a signal, which there often isn’t in this part of the world). Now, though, checking my phone felt like cheating.
I caught a glimpse of bright green through the trees, and thought I recognised a field where there’s a path nearby; but it was too far away to reach through thick undergrowth, down a steep slope. The only sensible thing to do was to turn round and pick our way along the route we came, so back we went – me carrying the dog when the going got tricky, she gamely following where she could. At a couple of points I had to decide which ‘path’ to follow, and was hugely relieved to recognise signs – a tree stump, a spill of puddle, a fallen branch – showing we were on the right track.
The experience of being lost made me think about all those stories in fairy tales, folklore and literature of straying off the path – from ‘Hansel and Gretel’, William Blake’s ‘Little Boy Lost’, to fantasy and horror. More than this, I made me realise how hard it is to get truly lost today, what with all our modern gadgetry.
Yet, without getting too Zen koan about it, if you never allow yourself to get a little bit lost at times, then how will you ever know what it feels like to be found?