TAoN No. 95: Alastair Humphreys on the unexpected joy of staying on the map. Plus a new icebreaker, and more.
A while back, I connected with Alastair Humphreys, a writer and self-described adventurer. I immediately admired his curious and exploratory spirit, and I have mentioned him before. He’s written more than a dozen books, including one called Microadventures that is maybe particularly in the TAoN spirit of engaging with the everyday. More here.
I’ve been particularly keen to learn how hardcore super-travelers have coped with the Covid era — how to satisfy the kind of curiosity that craves loads of novelty, when your movements are restricted, either by choice or by law or some combination thereof?
Humphreys seemed like a perfect person to ask about this, and indeed he told me about one project he came up with that addresses this question head on — and that is something others could try, too. The project is called A Single Map Is Enough.
He tells me:
“I thought that I had been paying close attention to my local area through years of microadventures. Then I committed to spending a year exploring only the single local map that I live on (the big fold-out paper maps hikers use, covering an area of 20km x 20km).
“At first I worried that after years of global adventures — cycling around the world, rowing the Atlantic, walking across southern India etc. — my one small, suburban patch outside London would be agonisingly claustrophobic, boring and limiting.
“But I was wrong! (Surprise, surprise, as you are reading this on TAoN.) I have discovered places I never knew existed, and been astonished at the wildness, beauty (ugliness, too) and history I have discovered. If you find somewhere new within a few miles of home then you are exploring the world just as much as someone trekking across the Empty Quarter Desert in Arabia...”
Here are Alastair’s specific suggested parameters, in his words:
2. Each week select a 1km grid square at random. Then go out to walk or cycle every footpath and street on that square. Look around, take photographs, and dare yourself to be interested in everything.
3. I found the Seek app and the BirdNet app invaluable for paying attention to scruffy little plants and tiny, elusive birds. Suddenly, once I learned their names, I realised that I was surrounded by a wild universe, even on the boring fringes of a city.
4. When I came home I would fall down a Google rabbit hole looking up all the things I had seen — I felt halfway between David Attenborough and 99% Invisible as I learned about nature and drains with equal enthusiasm.
I love the grounding of this idea in an analog map — there’s something so reassuring about that context! And obviously, this is a great new-year endeavor. I’d say it’s a tempting one even though (please please please) more traditional travel options may become routine again in 2022. It’s a great inspiration for finding adventure nearby.
Noticing is about other people, too. The Icebreaker series aims to help with that. There’s a central collection spot for all the icebreakers to date, here.
This week’s icebreaker is from reader Daniel Seymour:
What dream have you never forgotten and why do you think this remains a conscious memory?
Some people find dream talk boring, but I happen to find dreams fascinating. Or maybe I just find my own dreams fascinating? Anyway, I like this question, it really made me think. Thank you, Daniel!
As usual, I’m still working through the disorganized backlog of icebreaker submissions. But as always, I want more:
Please send your favorite icebreaker (whether you made it up or found it elsewhere) to firstname.lastname@example.org
Upcoming Thursday posts for paid subscribers include: getting interested in what bores you and thoughts on how to struggle in 2022. (How’s that for a sales pitch??) Plus The Heard, sharing music that’s caught my attention (in a good way) lately.
Last Thursday’s post was a new year prompt on learning how to learn, and over the weekend I chatted with subscribers about our “guilty (dis)pleasures.” A paid subscription gets you access to past subscriber issues as well as future ones.
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In Other News
“The Adventurer's Glossary is a word-nerd exploration of the theory and practice of all sorts of adventure.” From the ever-dazzling friend of TAoN Joshua Glenn, whose accomplishments and creativity are exhausting to keep tabs on!
Nice Texas Observer appreciation of Pauline Oliveros
Something haunting and even unnerving about these pictures of an abandoned dental office on the always amazing Abandoned Southeast. “For decades, this small family-owned dental clinic served the local community in Birmingham, Alabama. After retiring, it appears the dentist locked the door and never returned.” I would read a book of short stories inspired by speculation about these images.
Kinfolk now has a spinoff, Kindling, that “explores the new ideas and fresh perspectives that come with raising a child for.” More at: It’s Nice That.
Design responses to the pandemic, at Cooper Hewitt.
The Prelinger Library streams one of its LOST LANDSCAPE films (made from “home movies, government-produced and industrial films, feature-film outtakes” and more), with live chat discussion, Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 9 PM Central. These are always amazing. More here.
Okay that’s it!
As always, I value your feedback (suggestions, critiques, positive reinforcement, constructive insults, etc.), as well as your tips or stories or personal noticing rituals, things we need a word for, and of course your icebreakers: email@example.com. Or use the comments!
—> Or just click the heart symbol. That always makes my day.
And thanks for reading …
All this by Rob Walker PO Box 171, 748 Mehle St., Arabi LA 70032
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