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reading log . The Wander Society

Dead poets. Cryptic messages found in old book shops. Underground publications tacked to light poles. Faces blacked out in old black and white photographs. Mysterious hieroglyphs. Collages of artifacts and inspiration.

The world of The Wander Society by Keri Smith is a mysterious one with a call to explore the unplanned and the unexpected. The book begins with an experience in a book shop where the author finds a dog-eared copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and discovers a hand-written reference to “the wander society” with the directive, “Solvitur Ambulando” — Latin for “it is solved by walking.” In a short 175 pages, Smith describes her pursuits to discover more about this mysterious organization, encounter thinkers and writers who have espoused the precepts it embodies, and develop the practice of wandering herself.

Reaching back to some of the most prominent literary figures of the past several centuries, and including a great many naturalist authors and thinkers, The Wander Society offers a kind of “suggested reading” list for those interested in the pursuit of meandering and the transcendentalist approach to living connected to the present moment and the natural world of one’s surroundings. Part arts and craft instruction and part camping handbook, the book also includes an eclectic mix of how-tos, like how to find a “talisman,” how to pack for wandering, how to make a “wander station”, and how to carve a wandering stick. Beyond that, Smith offers a collection of wandering exercises to help Society members notice their surroundings in new ways, research and document their environment, and grow in their tolerance for unscheduled exploration. In addition to the instructions and literary inspiration, The Wander Society treatise also includes a subplot of chance discoveries of artifacts and handmade zines left by wanderers before, clues to finding wanderer hang-outs, and even a mysterious professor researching the organization.

Whether the existence of The Wander Society as a secret organization is factual or just the very creative product of Keri Smith’s vivid imagination and curiosity, the effect is the same. It’s a mesmerizing collection of visual images and ideas to inspire the reader to forge connections with the physical world around us, and indulge in the discipline of letting go of time and schedule constraints. Although I’m not a subscriber to the book’s suggestion that those stops along the wanderers path and the mystic talismans found there should be elevated to a sacred status, I loved its premise of setting aside opportunities to simply allow ourselves to go where the next step takes us. As we’re surrounded with what seems like a thousand channels and devices feeding us information, each one has an ability to schedule our every moment while removing nearly every element of uncertainty or surprise from our radar. The result is that the value of quietness, wonder, and exploration are sometimes overlooked.

This concept of wandering played a wonderful role in some of our summer together this year… even down to the fact that we began to rename some of our experiences as adventures! Although we didn’t spend much time wandering by foot in this Mississippi heat, we enjoyed several automobile adventures, giving ourselves the freedom to take unexplored highways and roads through scenery and towns we’ve never visited. We set aside times to let the French concept of “flanerie” govern our travels, stopping from one town to the next, wherever an interesting building or shop or hand painted sign captured our attention. I don’t know if that makes us unofficial members of The Wander Society, but I know it helped us make memories and find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. I’ve been wandering in a different way through some of the many photographs I took on our adventures, and I can’t wait to share some of the sights and inspiration from our wanderings. Stay tuned for upcoming posts to the sojourn field guide, my Frog Kisser category archiving some of our backroads, rural adventures, and wanderings.

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