A mist had rolled in after breakfast, so thick it was practically opaque, a silver brume that blurred the horizon between loch and sky and spirited away the fir trees. It was a day most would no doubt have categorized as bleak, one voted best to be spent inside the atmospheric old hotel with a silver pot of Earl Grey at the ready and a fat Sunday paper within easy reach. But we had never been able to resist such days, so naturally we were off by mid-morning, hats pulled down low - boots laced up tight. Narrow as a needle, the road laced itself through the hills above Oban, deeper and deeper into a landscape quite foreign to our eyes and we followed our noses till before very long we were hopelessly, helplessly, deliciously, lost. We met no one on the serpentine pavement, we had no cell phone, no one on earth knew where we were. We could have disappeared in a puff of Scottish fog and it would have been days before we were missed. It was utterly delightful. After several hours we eventually found ourselves in a town that we knew, where we had a tasty lunch by the sea, later finding our way back to the hotel without any trouble. I would take nothing for the romantic adventure of being lost in the fog that day.
I thought about that Scottish adventure just last week when I was thumbing through Time magazine and came across one of those lists they are so famous for. This one concerned itself with the group of children just now starting school for the first time, and all the things that this new “Class of 2014” will never know - things that have been commonplace for most of our lifetimes. Reading through this list of things so soon to be but a memory, there, just after camera film and landline phones, were two simple words that caused my heart to sink. “Being Lost”. I’d never even considered this, but with the universality of smart phones and GPS devices, I could see how this dismaying fact could well be true. There will soon be no reason to ever be lost, I suppose. These days, detailed directions are constantly in the palm of one’s hand. Take a wrong turn and, much like Hal, that dispassionate computer of Mr. Kubrick's film, one’s automobile will coolly point out the error.
Now I realize, and not for the first time, that I may indeed be in the minority, but this sounds perfectly dreadful to me. To always be connected, answerable, in reach. To always know where you’re going. To never be truly away, in the middle of nowhere. To never sit at a crossroads and wonder which way to turn next.
Unthinkable, to me at least.
How can one’s spirit of adventure, and the creativity it fosters, flourish in a world devoid of even the possibility of being lost?
If Robert Louis Stevenson had used a GPS to navigate the journey from Edinburgh to Samoa, never once losing the way just a bit, with his curiosity and daring replaced by the cold calmness of certainty, would we have had Treasure Island to read on a snowy night?
If Daniel Defoe had used an iPhone to instruct his every footfall across Europe, would Robinson Crusoe have been what it is?
Middle Earth and Sleepy Hollow, Shangri-La and Oz.
How different would these places be had they been dreamed up by authors who were never allowed the enticing possibility of being lost.
Much like poor Gulliver was knitted to the ground by the Lilliputians, I sometimes think that, rather than freeing us up for great things, all this remarkable technology is instead, slowly but surely, lashing us to the earth, hobbling free, individual thought, forbidding adventure, and banishing chance. For just as “being lost” can often be a wonderful state for the body, it is vital to the heart and the mind. To let one’s thoughts roam, to work out the answers for oneself - to ponder, to dream - to not know everything at once, all the time.
To be a bit confounded, a bit lost.
Isn’t that how true knowledge is gained?
Isn’t that the place where the most wondrous ideas are born?
The view from the car window the day we were lost....
Back at the hotel after the fog had lifted....