Not in a desert, not in an ice field, not in a forest, but in the middle of Economy Parking Lot Number One at the San Jose airport, in the exact section where I’d parked my car, I was lost. Or my car was. Which was pretty much the same thing. Daniel Boone once remarked, “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” That parking lot was not where I wanted to spend the rest of the day and certainly not several weeks. Dragging my suitcase behind me, I walked up and down row “J” for I’d-prefer-not-to-admit-how-long before I found my silver car amongst the many other silver cars. At least I was sort of in nature—out in the open air—and not enclosed indoors.
When I’d parked the car just over twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been in a hurry, wrote down my parking row and rushed to catch the approaching shuttle bus. In search of my car, eager to get home, the details of the lot came into focus as if I had, not x-ray, but x-tra vision: the lot was rectangular; no cars nearby had been backed in to their spots; silver cars where in abundance; the exit was to my left; each shuttle stop was painted blue; the air was without much scent and comfortingly warm when the sun hit the back of my neck.
When my car magically appeared, I was relieved, indeed, but glad to have lost it for that while because of coming to realize this: When we’re lost, we’re more attentive to the particularities of our surroundings than at other times. We need to be. When looking for something we recognize, we slow down and become acutely observant of our environment, the details of place, in the parking lot, even the texture of the asphalt stood out.
But we don’t have to get lost to have this kind of awareness. In the forest—whether I’m physically lost or lost from myself or lost in connection to the larger world—I ask the trees to talk to me. Then I get quiet inside and wait for my pesky, perpetual chatter to stop. The forest speaks. I look and listen.