Occasionally when I would explain my concept for my year-long flower project, which involves getting to know the plants I encounter in the eight blocks between my apartment and my work, people would say, “Oh, like The Path by Chet Raymo.” And I always replied, “No, not like that.” I thought I had read The Path (I was mixing it up with another book) and my book was nothing like it.
Well, I finally got a copy of The Path and I’m thrilled and enchanted by the comparison. Raymo’s book is similar to mine in that we are both interested in using this device (the daily walk) as a framework on which we can hang all sorts of interesting information (he manages to incorporate architecture, history, botany, astronomy, etc.) His writing style is gorgeous, playful and supple. I hope mine is equally delightful.
One difference is significant. Chet Raymo’s path is linear–he proceeds along the same path every day and his book moves along that path in segments. My path is more like a maze. My work is five blocks south and three blocks west of my house. I haven’t really worked out the math but I figure there are probably at least 45 ways I could walk those blocks, depending on which block I turn at, and that’s not including the occasional alley (I love alleys).
One consequence of this is that I’m always getting lost, a habit praised by another favorite author, Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. (She’s also an advocate for walking in the city.) And I lose track of where I saw the plants as well. That’s partly because the landscape is always changing as the seasons pass. And partly because I walk a different way every time.
Last spring I encountered a fragrant rhododendron within blocks of my apartment but I’ve never been able to find it again. And a few weeks ago, the lovely aroma alerted me to a new linden tree, which I then lost for almost a week. This getting lost, and discovering new plants, helps create a sense of mystery and magic in my life. And I hope it adds depth to the stories I am writing about my floral adventures.