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Desire Lines

“When aims differ, trails do too.

These overlapping and crisscrossing trails,

created by countless living beings

pursuing their own ends,

form the planet’s warp and woof.”

—Robert Moor, On Trails.

As my husband and I readied for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe, we were urged more than once to get lost. Along with our long-time friends and traveling companions, we did just that, though not intentionally at first. The urge to follow Google Maps’ directions was strong, and it did come in handy when heading for an airport or driving in Italy (utterly useless though in the hedgerow-edged lanes of Devon). Yet during our days of wandering we were surprisingly and often led elsewhere than promised, or passing by a certain alleyway or park or doorway one or more of us would be irresistibly drawn to meander away from straight lines and computer-generated advice. Redirected, we were always delighted.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the word desire is in part defined as originating from the “Latin desiderare, its original sense perhaps ‘await what the stars will bring’ (de sidere)." As we stayed open to what came from the stars, chance meetings, friend’s suggestions, and the pull of beauty and the uncommon, curiosity took the rein.

My internal clock slowed down, and a much-welcomed acceptance of not knowing took hold. The old need to control faded to a pale gray as I kept noticing desire lines—dusty paths across sidewalk-bordered grassy areas; worn steps to the left instead of toward the arrows to the right; the quiet, almost empty beaches only five minutes walk from the crowded, noisy ones closest to the train depot in Monterosso al Mare. My feet gladly walking the over one hundred and twenty miles to wherever and whatever was whispering. “This trail, that ferry, down these stairs, sit here.”

In his book, Moor writes of physicist Richard Feynman once watching an ant travel along the rim of his bathtub, a path he called “quite wiggly.” Continuing to observe, Feynman noticed that as more ants followed the original ant’s trail, it became straighter. Following this story, Moor quotes James Danoff-Burg, an entomologist: “All things optimize in nature, to some degree.”

Back at my desk and writing this, optimization looks like this to me now: I want to follow the stars more than my phone. Trust my desires more than my fears, and heed the whispers more than the rules. Listen to and act on less of the shoulds, and more to the messages from the unknown. Embrace the wiggly as well as the tidy, my own knowing as well as the helpful wisdom of friends. The years I have left on this planet woven from the intersecting threads of curious desire.

(This blog is dedicated to Suzie, Brent, and Barry for their generosity, intrepidness, and for making this trip possible.)

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Calming Practice: Unplug

Choose a day and leave all electronic devices at home.

Be curious. Let go of control.

Welcome the unknown.

See what happens.


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