I’ve just finished reading Stephen Graham’s splendid book, The Gentle Art of Tramping that Alastair Humphreys recommended in his interview. The Gentle Art of Tramping, which was first published in 1927, is a delightful meditation on the themes and values of the vagabond and, more broadly, on the gentle art of living (or the art of living gently). In the last chapter, Graham describes what he calls the “Zigzag Walk” – a little set of constraints he designed for himself to allow for chance and serendipity to guide his explorations. I’ve just arrived in San Francisco, where I will be staying for the next month and can’t wait to give the Zigzag walk a go in this lovely city.
g e t l o s t, e x p l o r e & r e t h i n k . . . *
A frequent wish of the traveler and wanderer is to obtain genuinely chance impressions of cities and countries. He would trust neither his own choice of road, nor the guide’s choice, nor the map. But if he goes forth in aimlessness he inevitably finds himself either making for the gayer and better-lighted places, or returning to his own door. The problem is to let chance and the town take charge of you, for the world we travel in is more wonderful than human plan or idle heart’s desire.
One day in New York, wishing to explore that great city in a truly haphazard way, I hit on the following device–a zigzag walk. The first turning to the left is the way of the heart. Take it at random and you are sure to find something pleasant and diverting. Take the left again and the piquancy may be repeated. But reason must come to the rescue, and you must turn to the right in order to save yourself from a mere uninteresting circle. To make a zigzag walk you take the first turning to the left, the first to the right, then the first to the left again, and so on.
How unusual and real and satisfactory were the impressions obtained by going–not the crowd’s way, but the way of the zigzag, the diagonal between heart and reason.
At the same time, it may be said that you will not know the name of the place until you get there. You can put no destination label on your rucksack, and if anyone asks where you are going, you may tell him in confidence, whisper the dreadful fact in his ear–“honestly, you do not know.” The adventure is not the getting there, it’s the on-the-way. It is not the expected; it is the surprise; not the fulfillment of prophecy, but the providence of something better than prophesied. You are not choosing what you shall see in the world, but are giving the world an even chance to see you.
I am still on that zigzag way, pursuing the diagonal between the reason and the heart;
. . . *
Source: The Gentle Art of Tramping by Stephen Graham