Keri Smith’s The Wander Society begins with a mystery. While reading a used copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Smith discovers a curious hand-drawn mark of a thunderbolt with a circle around it and the inscription “The Wander Society.” Her curiosity piqued, Smith begins a search for the enigmatic group.
The Wander Society (Public Library) is the result of her investigations. Smith shares her personal discoveries of what it means to wander. It’s a delightful and instructive guide to aimlessness.
Keri Smith is the author of Explorer of the World, Wreck This Journal, and many other books on exploration and creativity. In her latest book, Smith proposes a philosophy of wandering and experimentation in random navigation.
My only objective was to journey with my eyes open. This was to be my new practice, every day. Open to the unknown, completely awake, I would wander. – Keri Smith, The Wander Society
She discovers a key phrase of the Wander Society is Solvitur ambulando, translated from Latin as “It is solved by walking.” (I later learned this phrase is also a favorite of Lewis Carroll, Henry David Thoreau, Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, and Dr. Oliver Sacks.)
Smith finds the society has a manifesto of Wandering Precepts:
- Wander every day.
- Do not plan your wanderings. Start in any direction. The location is not important.
- Use whatever you have. (You have everything you need.) Use your senses.
- Collect and gather. Document experiences and findings.
- Remain open. Breathe deeply. Ask the question, “What can I discover?”
- Allow ideas to come in. Write them down.
- Question everything you have been told.
- Use your imagination in your wanderings.
- Use your intuition. Follow hunches. Go toward what you are drawn to.
- Encourage your own wild nature. What makes you feel truly alive?
Admittedly, many people feel that their To Do lists are too long to include a daily wander. Smith responds with the benefits of unstructured time. She also explores the mystical nature of wandering and the importance of randomness.
She points to the work of fellow wanderers like Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, John Muir, Thich Nhat Hahn, Tom Brown, Walter Benjamin, Georges Perec, and Rebecca Solnit for inspiration. I found her suggested reading list worthy of further study.
She offers assignments to encourage wandering like “track one color during a session,” “document the wind,” or “find something that has been transformed.” If you are looking for new ways to discover or observe familiar surroundings, these exercises are helpful.
She also outlines how-to projects like making a wander badge, a walking stick, a wrist cuff, a neck pouch, and a field notebook. These DIY projects may not be everyone (at least they weren’t for this reader), but may inspire those who want to craft personal tools for wandering.
I whole-heartedly believe that shaking up one’s daily routine can help one see more deeply. The Wander Society is a beautiful and whimsical call to the unknown.
If you would like to read further on observation, check out the fascinating book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.