By the stars, sun, wind and ocean swells

The Lost Art of Finding Our WayJohn Edward Huth was kayaking off the Cranberry Islands in Maine when he got bound in by fog. He panicked – he had neither a map nor a compass — and then took notice of the direction of the wind, water swell and surrounding sounds. These are what guided him to safe harbor.

Two months later, he kayaked in the fog off the coast of Cape Cod. This time, before taking off, he had carefully observed surrounding natural elements that could guide him. He writes in his new book, “My prior paddles in the area gave me a mental map and a sense of direction that guided my progress through the seascape. If the fog obscured the sight of land, I could steer to the coast using the wind and waves to orient me.”

Unknown to Huth, two girls were kayaking at the same time in the Cape Cod waters. What was supposed to be a quick 10-minute paddle for them, however, turned into tragedy. They never returned. Huth writes, “What happened? No one really knows, but they probably got disoriented in the fog and mistakenly paddled out to sea rather than back to shore.”

The Lost Art of Finding Our Way is dedicated to the memories of those two girls, Sarah Aronoff and Mary Jagoda. It is Huth’s response to the incomprehensible loss, a book that provides a life-jacket in this GPS-dependent world by explaining and interpreting way-finding using natural elements: stars, wind and sun; weather patterns; ocean waves, as well as tides and currents and much more.

I haven’t read The Lost Art of Finding Our Way cover-to-cover. It’s one of those books that fascinates me by how it defines the world around us. I’m reading it in sections and find myself picking it up at random to look at the illustrations. It’s enticing! How cool to be able to understand one’s outdoor surroundings well enough so they can tell you where you are and how to get where you want to be.

Characteristics of an approaching warm front

Several years ago, hiking in Glacier National Park, there was a moment I was completely alone, separated from the group, on a path somewhere high up in the mountains. I stood quietly to hear the wind and the movement of the brush, entranced by the pure sounds. No airplanes overhead. No traffic. No human voices. Nothing but natural sounds. It was as if I’d stepped through the wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories and into another time dimension. I felt a rush of thankfulness, experiencing the earth in its pristine beauty. And then, the panic hit.

Even though there were guides and hikers in my group far ahead of me and far behind, I realized, if for some reason I got disconnected from them, I’d be lost without any way of knowing how to get back to civilization. No longer overwhelmed now by the beauty of what surrounded me, rather by my helplessness in it, I hurried to catch up with everyone, staying on the path until I saw my fellow hikers.

The Lost Art of Finding Our Way contains nearly 200 specially prepared drawings and is described on the dust-jacket flap as part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Among its 18 chapter titles are “Maps in the Mind,” “On Being Lost,” “Where Heaven Meets Earth,” “Reading the Waves” and “Against the Wind.” Simply put, it’s an interesting book I like having. Maybe some day I’ll also have the time it takes to learn what Mr. Huth explains — and be able to navigate by the stars, sun, wind and ocean swells.

2 thoughts on “By the stars, sun, wind and ocean swells

  1. I had heard about this book and that he figured out how to survive and the two girls did not. I was living in Maine when this happened. The fog is so heavy it is eerie and you really cannot see anything around you. I don’t think even our most distant ancestors liked being alone – they may have certainly known how to navigate by sun, moon and stars, even in featureless desert area but in the end I bet, like you, they were glad to see a fellow friend.


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