I have a file on my computer labelled “route finding”. I suppose it was started sometime in the last year when I was feeling lost in life. There’s a document titled “fucked” and another called “letters to myself”. Now I’m wondering: Is this really my life, feeling fucked and talking to myself? Am I even finding the route at all? Is my map entirely out of date? Or am I traversing the world with a medieval drawing, a messy sketch that is lacking order and teeming with dragons?
Maps provide wonderful metaphors for life, of course. I was alone and lost and I looked for sign posts. I followed the path. I checked the compass. These thoughts make valuable links between the writing on the paper and the life that is lived. I’m looking still, however, for the truth beyond the metaphors, the secret the trees tell me as I pass them in the forest. It’s the piece of one’s being that the map never coherently organizes, the experience of the world that is fleetingly lived.
Hiking in the mountains, I find a delicate flower that is stuck between two rocks in the middle of a trail. It’s beautiful, with white petals and fuzzy stem. There it is, all alone, living its life leaning out towards the sunshine. I stop. I’m thinking to myself that I’m losing time. I should move on quickly. The hike must be done. I drop my backpack to the ground and take out my device to snap pictures. The flower resists. Only one picture is good and I delete all the others. Then I move forward, wishing I could have taken the flower with me.
This flower haunts me days later. Why is this flower not on the map? Instead, its type has been properly categorized elsewhere, in the wildflower field guide, one entry among similarly lovely specimens, its beauty only a matter of comparison to other types. The field guide would say nothing about the rocks that are its companions. It would say nothing about the trail on which it lives. It would say nothing about the love the flower gave me that day in the sunshine. I send the flower picture to a few friends who hike the mountains and I tell them to look for it. I want them to see this flower and to be surprised by its steadfast endurance lodged between rocks on a trail. They will never see it. It blooms and disappears. And, they are not seeking for directions from a flower.
Shelly Vye is an avid hiker, gardener, and thinker. She is a contributing author for The Adventurist