Lynn Darling spent her life losing her way. She used to love the adventure, but by the time she’s into her fifties, a widow of ten years with her daughter off to college, getting lost has lost its allure. In order to find her way, both practically and metaphorically, Darling runs away to the Vermont woods only to find more ways to be lost.
Out of the Woods: AMemoir of Wayfinding is Lynn Darling’s deeply felt story about finding her way. I found her prose both off-putting and entrancing. The pace mirrors the faltering steps of her inner and outer journeys. Within the first six pages Darling sits in a cornfield asking a scarecrow for directions, tells what she was doing five hours earlier—dropping her daughter off for her first semester of college—divulges that her daughter was only six when her husband died, and explains that later she would come to learn about route delusion. Like that, Darling rushes forward and loses her way, stumbles and recovers. With determination and the help of many teachers she learns that wayfinding is a skill that demands time and practice.
Darling’s aloneness is lonely, falling into self-pity and rising into self-understanding as she grapples with house repairs and disrepairs, the allure and darkness of the woods. Her new neighbors tell her she’s brave. She wonders why until one of them explains, “You’re woman living alone in the middle of nowhere. Brave is polite for crazy.”
To me she seemed both crazy and brave. I was impatient with her. I admired her. I was drawn in and pushed out as Darling confronted loneliness alone, grieving for her daughter who’s going her own way now, grieving belatedly for the husband who died young. She has to learn when to rely on others. Hiring workmen to make the house livable. Dating with the help of online services. Fighting through breast cancer by giving her body over to doctors and technicians. Working with her siblings to cope with her mother’s loss of independence. relying on tips from workmen and neighbors on how to live in the woods. And, most importantly, learning from woodsmen the secrets of a flint, a compass, and a map. Not only learning, but practicing the skills needed to find her way.
Admiration, fascination, and exasperation. Those were my main responses to the memoir. The something extra was the explanation of the information embedded in a topo (topographical) map. I need to know that as I find my way to my own life in the woods.
How do you get from Point A to Point B? Hint: The answer is not always a GPS. Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding (2014 HaperCollins) will point the way.