Tristan Gooley: The Natural Navigator

Featured image from Goodreads

Being connected to the natural environment may seem like something foreign to the typical city dweller or suburban denizen, but, as Tristan Gooley demonstrates, it isn’t actually so far-fetched after all. Hiking enthusiasts, city explorers, and travelers of every stripe would benefit from reading this book. Full of worldly knowledge and stories from the author, The Natural Navigator explains how to use details one might not otherwise notice to an extreme advantage.

In a world of GPS, Google Maps, and plenty of easy, accessible ways to get from point A to point B, it makes sense that traditional navigation techniques would be put to the side in the modern world. Gooley teaches readers that, even if they are not necessary to finding your way, the natural methods you may use to do so also help one forge a connection to the physical environment surrounding you. This book provides its readers with the opportunity to learn, hands-on, how to really perceive nature’s effects on their everyday path.

Gooley may be describing the scientific explanations for the growth patters of trees, the movement of the tides, or the effects of wind along a desert landscape, but his use of language is sometimes far from technical. The words he chooses expose a feeling of wonder that is too often found only in the realm of poetry. In between explanations, Gooley often mentions his many adventures, and the ways that navigation connected him to both the natural world and the people living in it. There’s a certain passion for this subject that you can feel from the way he writes.

By revealing to his readers the myriad ways people have been reading clues scattered throughout the land (and sea, and sky), he shows us the history and universality of these methods. People all across the globe, from all cultures and regions, have used the sun, the stars, and the tides to find their way. They were adventurers, just like many of us, and their knowledge remains, ready and accessible. What a perfect way to connect with such a beautiful human tradition!

In The Natural Navigator, we learn that the answer to most navigational techniques is the sun. It is the source of life on Earth, yes, but it is responsible for many other things we can use. It makes trees and flowers grow in specific ways; it melts the snow beneath our feet; its reflected light allows us to see the moon in phases. When we employ simple observation and a little scientific knowledge, the sun’s effects on the world become the key to finding our place. During each new step, Gooley assures us that it only takes a bit of practice to understand.

After reading this book, I did just that: I practiced. After a short amount of time, I gained a wealth of knowledge about the streets I thought I knew so well. I traced the sun’s arc, I saw the spider webs in their concealed corners, and I felt the wind change its direction around me as I walked to work or school or nearby shops. Originally, these were occurrences I took for granted and, as a result, barely noticed. As promised, however, all of these things painted a new, more detailed picture of the place I call home.

If you enjoyed this, try:

Walter Moers: The City of Dreaming Books
Interview: David Marley


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