Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lost in the Wild, Redux: Sometimes You Must Get Lost To Be Found

--Susan, every other Sunday

I'm not precisely lost in the wild, but I am in the mountains of Hakone this weekend, hoping to summit seven peaks (all near or over a thousand meters high) in three days. My ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) is lovely, and almost a century old, but has no wi-fi - so since I can't get a new post up this week, I'm checking in by phone-based-mobile-hot-spot to share a post from early 2017 that resonates with me particularly right now, for many reasons.

I hope it will re-resonate with you as well.

It took me more than 40 years to embrace the person I am inside, and I had to go halfway around the world, and lose myself, to do it.

Iga castle, Iga-Ueno, Japan

Like many writers, I often felt like a misfit toy. I was happier in worlds of my own creation than in the real one, where I felt I never quite belonged.

I sat in my room and created adventures to replace the ones I lacked the courage to pursue any other way.

And then, in the summer of 2015, I boarded a plane with my family and flew to Japan on a research trip that would change my life.

The Great Buddha at Nara - even bigger in real life than I'd imagined.

After years of devouring mountain climbing books, I finally stood at the peak of one I actually climbed.

Summit marker at Mt. Mizen - my first Japanese mountain.

After decades of gazing in awe at National Geographic photographs of Japan's iconic Great Torii, I took my own.

The entrance to a sacred space.

In fact, I took a whole lot more than one.

A dream come true, and a calling found.

I had never felt so close to any place, or so certain that I'd made the right decision in writing about Japan. Wherever I stood, whatever I saw, the country sang to my heart and inspired my soul.

When the time came for me to go home, I watched the landscape fall away with longing, nose to the airplane glass and wishing desperately to return.

Me, watching Japan fall away beneath the plane.

The following year I returned--this time, alone. I screwed my courage to the sticking place and did what I never dared to do . . . I traveled the length of the country by train, staying in new hotels and thousand year-old temples.

I watched the sun rise over the rice fields of Shikoku:

Dawn in Tokushima

and the moon rise over the alps.

Moonrise in the old post town of Magome.

I hiked on the Tokaido and Nakasendo - feeling the weight of history where tens of thousands of feet had walked -- and wandered the paths of Okunoin, where 250,000 people lie in silent, peaceful graves.

Okunoin, Mount Koya, Japan

To my surprise, I never once felt lost or homesick, even though I'd never gone so far or spent so long alone. Each morning felt like a new adventure, each night the end of a lovely dream. The more I hiked, and climbed, and saw, the more I understood that this ... the life I'd been too scared to live, the world I'd been too scared to see ... this was the life that I'm supposed to live.

The gateway to adventure, and to home.

Instead of feeling separate, I felt a part of something, close to something, in a way I'd never been. I love my family, my friends, and my home, but I also felt the need, the call, to share this lovely country and its history through my stories (and through photographs, as often as I can).

Autumn at Okunoin.

I always knew I would love Japan--I've loved its history, language, and culture since childhood, and that hasn't changed. If anything, it's merely spread to my son . . . a generational love.

My son and me at Ginkakuji (the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto.

What I didn't expect is that traveling there--a place I expected to feel lost--would leave me feeling found.

I'm not sharing this to brag about myself (or Japan, though if you like what you see, I do encourage you to go), but rather to issue an invitation to anyone else out there who's feeling lost, or scared, or powerless. The world is big, and wild, and terrifying, but it's also ancient, beautiful, and beckoning. Sometimes, you have to step outside your comfort zone to find yourself.

Not all who wander are lost, indeed. And sometimes, you need to get lost to find the place where you belong.


  1. Repeat or not, a lovely, moving post to which many of us will resonate.

    1. Thank you so much! :) It still resonates with me as well.

  2. I couldn't agree more with Stan. Thanks, Susan.

    1. Thank you!! I'll be back with more in two weeks!

  3. Keep trekking on, resonating for as all as you do!!!