I remember the first and only time I’ve visited the Mojave Desert. A roommate and I drove there on a break, all ready to spend the night stargazing. We drove out in the warmth of the afternoon so we could do a bit of hiking. The Seuss-like Joshua Trees were something I’d never encountered, and the energy of the place was dense, despite the naturally sparse architecture of rocks and spikey-leafed trees.
We stopped at a marked area where there were other cars, got out and wandered about. Every few inches, there were holes in the ground, deep and narrow. Carefully we walked over and around them, until we noticed the other people just looking at us.
These were rattlesnake holes… and we were in the middle of a field of them… aggressive and highly venomous. We’d missed the nature sign prominently posted informing us they nap in these holes during the heat of the day… and to avoid walking near them.
We looked at one another, gingerly walked to the car and silently agreed to change our plans. We turned the car around and went back.
This memory came to mind today, perhaps in juxtaposition to all this wayfinding I’m reading about. There are so many signs I’ve missed, so many times I’ve had to turn around, and no amount of planning beforehand seems to keep this from happening. I could say something pithy like, it’s all part of the journey, but I know better. Somewhere along the way, I stopped paying attention and missed a crucial bit of information.
What’s amazing is that all of these books about how to find your way using nature as your guide, say that we all have this innate ability. Or rather, we all have the capability to develop this skillset. What it takes is awareness, focus, and the will to direct where you place your attention.
Useful skills to possess in pretty much any situation.
In M.R. O'Connor's book, Wayfinding, I’m on the chapter that discusses the difference between traveling over the land via snowmobile versus dogsled. According to the observation, the faster we go over terrain, the less information we can take in. The practicalities of these two methods of transportation are touched on, but what caught my eye was the information about the communication between the driver and the Inuit sled dogs:
The optimal relationship between the driver and his team is based on the concept of ‘isuma,’ an Inuktitut word that means something like ‘mind’ or ‘thinking,’ and in certain contexts it can mean ‘life force.’ The driver guides and directs his team using his mind, focusing his will on the team. The lead dog is the ‘isumataq,’ which means ‘the one who thinks,’ and is the most responsive to the will of the driver…’
The chapter goes on to talk about how these dogs have an uncanny ability to navigate despite the intense conditions. The drivers have no idea what the dogs are using as their guide during blizzards, it's possible they, like wolves, have the ability to form cognitive maps…
There is some great, deep irony, and also incredible comfort to read this book as the impeachment trial is going on... It gives me hope to know that the capability of profound communication and exceptional means of navigation that is almost magical in how it defies human understanding exists in our world...
In my modest wanderings on any given day, what might I practice in regards to focus, awareness, and clarity of will…
Apparently the Inuit also have a term for the 'capacity to unfailingly know where one is regardless of external conditions... aangaittuq... 'ultra-observant...'"
always in motion,