It’s not always easy to live a Slow life in a city that wants you to speed up. I discovered that paying attention to the natural world helps me step back and enjoy a more leisurely pace. In fact, these are the very ideas that I’m exploring here at Slow Nature Fast City.
I use these techniques to help me see my everyday world in a new way:
- I try to notice nature outside my front door and my workplace
- I focus my senses during my daily commute to see and hear what I might normally miss
- I slip “nature breaks” into my day — even if it just means a 10-minute excursion at lunchtime or a twilight meander at the riverside
But sometimes I want to escape the everyday and long for something new. That’s when I shake things up with this experiment. If you’re out of vacation days, have burned through your budget, or have a bad case of wanderlust, I recommend that you try this. All you need is your MetroCard and a sense of adventure.
Explore By Chance
If you can, enlist a like-minded friend to participate in this adventure. You can also do this solo. Here’s what you do: Get out a subway map. If you have an actual dart handy and a flair for the dramatic, throw the dart at the map. Or you can just close your eyes and randomly point to a stop.
You’ve now chosen your destination for the day.
The technique of random exploration has been used by many artists, writers, and philosophers. The Situationists, a group of avant-garde artists and political theorists, use the term dérive (“drift”) to describe “an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relation and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.”
Let Yourself Drift
I first tried this experiment seven years ago. I remember the day vividly as my cohort and I explored a new-to-us neighborhood in Brooklyn. The sheer novelty of traveling by chance made the experience memorable.
When you travel to your randomly chosen subway stop, let yourself drift. Follow your curiosity for the natural world in this new terrain. What is the landscape like? Go slow and imagine taking field notes. Examine the trees, birds, wildlife, flowers, front yards or stoops. Are there green spaces like gardens, parks, cemeteries, and roof gardens to explore? Is there a coastline or a body of water? Sketch or take pictures. Collect mementoes from your random walk.
Go to the End of the Line
You can also try this variation: Close your eyes and randomly choose a subway line. Travel to the end of that line. You can flip a coin to decide which end you will visit.
This method will almost guarantee that you will explore an interesting landscape. Some of my favorite areas in NYC (like the tide pools of Pelham Bay ) are at the end of the line.
Tip: Don’t forget Staten Island. There is a subway there too.
If you live outside of NYC, you can also try methods of chance to discover new areas. You can point to areas on a map and, if you must, drive to the destination. It’s important to explore and “drift” on foot. For further reading, I enjoyed Keri Smith’s delightful and instructive guide to aimlessness, The Wander Society. She also describes this technique and offers other interesting wandering experiments.
Let me know if you throw a dart at a map. I’d love to hear how it goes.
I leave you with this existential question from the MTA’s MetroCard machine: What would you like to add? Add Value. Add Time.
Add time & value! They’re interwoven, just like Einstein said (er, more or less).
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It does seem like a false choice, doesn’t it?
This blog gets better and better. Today’s is epic. A delight!
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Thank you Joan! I’m so glad you enjoy the site and this post about random exploration. I really appreciate the encouragement.
What me and my ex in the Philippines used to do was write down all the places we wanted to visit, put in a hat, and pick one. We always stick to what we picked. It’s spontaneous and fun. Wherever you go, you should always get a kick out of it, and make the best of it.
Rommel, I like this idea! I’m going to try your hat trick for new places to explore in NYC.