Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Sunset, wide open spaces

You are probably familiar with this quote, even if you can’t place exactly where it is from. I’ll get to that. The point here is to talk about my need to wander. I am seldom lost, especially when I wander.

This quote is part of a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

This is only half of the poem. The rest is specific to the plot of the story. But these 4 lines are golden. I may write about each line sometime.

This time I am drilling in to the second line: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Get lost

I am admittedly weird. I intentionally try to get “lost”, in the sense that I end up in places few people visit, that aren’t apparent on maps, and I don’t know what I’ll find when I get there. One characteristic of this kind of place is that there are few if any people around.

Perhaps I am just an anti-social loner, but this kind of place invigorates me. I experience a kind of freedom I don’t feel in well populated areas.

No, I don’t think I am dangerously deranged. As a matter of fact as I’m writing this I have to leave in a few minutes to meet with a group of friends. As much as I like friends and companionship, I will leave them for times to seek out the “off the map” experiences I crave.

So far I find that these times of solitude are best experienced alone. I am shy and quiet. If people are around I find the “noise” drowns out the voice of the wilderness I am trying to listen to. With people around I feel compelled to “get on down the road” or get to dinner at a reasonable time. Not so when I am alone.

One of my joys is to get an extremely detailed map and try to explore the tiniest, most remote roads I can find. And that is paper maps – a lot of the places I like to go don’t have cell phone service, so forget Google Maps, and I often can’t trust my Nav system in the car. They are seldom detailed enough.

Don’t be foolish

I am painting a picture of just heading off into the wild randomly and getting into all kinds of predicaments. When you go out to explore barren areas, don’t be stupid. Even though I generally travel alone, I have a good 4-wheel drive vehicle (with a large gas tank), food, water, and winter or summer survival kits. And I try to give someone a general idea of where I am going and when I should be back. And I’ve done this type of travel for a long time.

Getting stuck in some of these places can be dangerous, even life threatening. Know what you are doing and be prepared. Ease into it to get a lot of experience before heading off solo.

So, what’s it going to be — safety, or freedom? You can’t have both. – Louis Sachar

I personally am willing to take a fair amount of risk to live a more free and rewarding life.


I find that getting away and taking time to “listen” to that part of the world is refreshing and renewing. It does not have to be a conventionally beautiful place. I can easily be as renewed in the barren plains of eastern Colorado or Wyoming as I am in the mountains. The image at the top of this post is in eastern Colorado.

When I come to one of these places and I feel a connection to it, I have a better chance of getting images I love. Ones where I feel I have something to say. I find I am usually missing that deep connection in a place that is just beautiful and where other photographers often record the same scene.

Even if I do not get any great images, the renewal of my mind and soul is well worth it.

Get found

We live in an increasingly noisy world. Our jobs demand almost full time engagement. The giant media companies demand we be “plugged in” 24/7 because of fear of missing out. Learning to be content in solitude is an antidote to this. It is a way to take back control of your mind. Don’t be afraid of missing something. Those things actually don’t matter much compared to the benefits of our mental health.

I don’t fully understand it, but there is something about the wild or neglected places that are uplifting to me. I don’t really know what it means to “find yourself”, but I often experience something that must be like it when I spend time in some remote places.

Right now it is not as important to me that I understand the why. It is sufficient for my psyche that I know how to get found. And when I am found I can do work that calls to me, lifts me up, and pleases me.

I hope it calls to you, too. Try it sometime. You might not know until you unplug for a while and try. Let me know what you find.