All Who Wander

All Who Wander

Photograph by David Avazzadeh / Connected Archives


words by willow defebaugh

Welcome to The Overview, a weekly newsletter in which Editor-in-Chief Willow Defebaugh offers an aerial view of the latest events in climate and culture—and how they all fit together.

Photograph by David Avazzadeh / Connected Archives
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“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains.”

Rebecca Solnit

It is always a mystery to me how this newsletter comes together. Most often, it is simply a process of observation—a threading together of small happenings throughout my week. On Tuesday afternoon, I was wondering what the subject of this edition might be. I decided to sit for tea and see if anything might come through. Frustratingly, nothing did. But I have learned by now that forcing it is futile. My mind was wandering in every direction, too busy trying to find a way out of its own maze to think clearly. Something in me said to go for a walk, so I listened.


I’ve been staying in upstate New York for the past few weeks housesitting for friends. The land they live on is lush and verdant, with trails unfurling through the forest like vines. As I began to follow them, I realized that my meandering was a dialogue between me and my surroundings. Every sound was a syllable, every step an unspoken word. The land was teaching me about what it is to wander. The first lesson, I knew, had already been given to me: start walking. The mind loves to invent every reason not to try, every worst-case scenario. This can be especially true in the climate space. But until we begin, we can never really know what awaits us.


Continuing my journey, something caught my eye: a bright blue feather that had fallen to the ground. As I bent down to look, I noticed a lizard lurking just inches away. It was the most beautiful burnt orange, blending in seamlessly with the freshly fallen foliage on which it walked. Less than a foot over, I watched a spider leaping from blade to blade, and I wondered what else I might be missing underfoot. It was then I realized the next lesson: tread lightly. In environmentalism, we often speak about our footprint. But treading lightly is about more than being aware of our planetary impact; it’s about walking with intention in everything we do. 


My eyes now fully open, I wandered on. I stumbled upon mushrooms sprouting from the earth, and I imagined the mycelium I couldn’t see beneath my feet. I came across a pair of fleeing fauns that must have mistook me for a predator, and I thought of how rare it is that anything is as it seems—especially when we are afraid. Not long after, I saw a stretch of trees that were unlike any I had ever seen before. Upon closer inspection, I realized that their bark and branches were covered and connected by vines. What I had assumed were individuals were actually a latticework of intertwining species. In all these observations, I heard the woods whisper: look closer.


What I love most about these particular paths is the way they wind. They are nonlinear, constantly crossing and circling back on one another. Many times, I found myself retracing my steps in different directions, noticing familiar flowers and milestones I had already marked. And each time, I saw new sights as well—pathways previously hidden from view, now unveiled from new vantages. Progress is like that, too: a few steps forward, a few back. It often looks like getting lost only to realize that we never were. Wandering requires us to trust the trail.


Eventually, I reached my destination, which was of course where I began. Walking this path asks us to be both patient and present, to not be so focused on where we are headed that we miss everything there is to learn along the way. In The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho writes of “the universal language” that the world is always speaking. The trouble is that in our culture of constantly trying to get from one place to the next, it’s easy to stop paying attention. Looking back on my journey—starting with the voice that told me to embark on it in the first place—a last lesson occurred to me. It was the one that led me to all the others: listen carefully.


I have been wandering for a while now. I suspect that you have, too. I wish I could say that it has all been as easy as my afternoon amble. What I can say is that I have found these adages to be true more times than I can count: that nothing can be achieved until it is started; that intention is everything; that there is always a deeper meaning; that we are never lost; that our world has a language for anyone who is listening. As for where our journeys end, perhaps it’s just a little closer to home—to ourselves. As Rebecca Solnit writes in Wanderlust: A History of Walking, “When you give yourself to places, they give you yourself back.”

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