I’ve got this notion of a “lost terrain” and think I might discover it through my wanderings. Hiking with a walking stick or fishing with an artificial fly, I imagine there’s a special place that’s close at hand, mysterious but attainable with a mix of luck and effort. It could be a sanctuary with a natural contour that’s beyond all human constructs.
I might hike to see it from a ridge top; I might catch it with another long cast of the line or stumble on it while inspecting riffles up around the bend. I’ll listen to an unfamiliar bird song or inspect the colors of a brook trout in my hand. It’s there– something that beckons the inquisitive spirit from the heart of wildness or the realms of backyard nature.
Voices seem to call us from the landscape. They might speak to us of freedom and of wildness, matters that are only words to most of us. If we heed the voices and proceed in their direction, we’ll be stopped– unless we’re careful and acknowledge our humility. Almost by definition, the lost terrain cannot be found, and yet it’s there. My effort to unveil it might be just an after-thought that follows outdoor recreation. It might feel imminent but unavailable through conscious effort. I think of the terrain as uncivil ground, an entity unto itself, indifferent to our cares and wishes.
In the quiet woods, beside an ocean dune or windswept lake, in the recess of a mountain slope or upon a river valley, there are places that were home to us before the rise of civilization. They call to our modern lives through dreams or kindred spirits of the wild. Our hunting, fishing, hiking, and exploring are activities that strive to keep us on the path to our original home.
Occasionally the lost terrain seems underneath our noses. It’s paradise regained, or as close to paradise as we will ever get. The gritty, chartered streets of William Blake’s “London” (1794) seem in synch with an ethereal “Waterloo Sunset” of the Kinks (1967). We’ve absorbed a wider view of home by catching fish or by feeding dried wood to a campfire at the dark end of a trail.
Our “home” might be found by rambling on Thoreau’s “Old Marlborough Road”:
“When spring stirs my blood/ With the instinct to travel,/ I can get enough gravel/ On the old Marlborough Road… If with fancy unfurled/ You leave your abode/ You may go round the world/ By the old Marlborough Road.”
We’ve hit the river or the trail, thinking to find a place of interest. We’ve discovered that enjoyment of a lost terrain is proportional to the effort made in getting there. We’ve found it, surely, but there’s more. There is always more.