A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Wonder

Sigrid Johannes is a student, journalist, aspiring writer, and unabashed Pinterest addict. Follow her on Twitter @Sig_Johannes and Instagram @sigridjohannes.

“Leaves! I can see the leaves!” is is one of my clearest memories of wonder, when I was about ten years old and exiting an eye doctor’s office for the first time with glasses on. As my mother and I walked home, I was utterly mesmerized by the clarity my new specs aorded me. The leaves on the trees, the texture of the paved roadway, the dimensions of the clouds. All these details were brand new to me. With a little help and a new perspective, amazement and delight had come from the simplest of sights, things that I walked past every day.

As we grow up, most of us do not nd amazement in things like asphalt and leaves. Like a riverbed in summer, our wonderment dries up to nothing but a trickle, cutting the fun short. Not all of this receding is inexplicable or wrong. Adult life aords many wonders that childhood does not – the peace of holding a newborn baby for the first time, the exhilaration of landing that job, the bliss of losing yourself in love for another person; these are feelings of wonder that sharpen with age. Squaring o against life milestones like these, however, leaves seem to lose a little of their charm. Yet milestones are special precisely because they are few and far between. If we let our childhood wonders evaporate, what will sustain our spirits from day to day? Placing myself back in my ten-year-old shoes, I see two solutions: put on a new pair of glasses, or pick a new way to walk home.

There are many ways to alter our view. For some people, it means stimulating the mind in a new way. Reading a great book or having a rich conversation with a friend can spark thoughts you have never had before. Each new idea cuts a new facet in the lens of your mind and before you know it, you are walking around town with a brand new pair of mental glasses on. ings begin to jump out at you that never seemed special before. Perhaps you rediscover the commonplace, everyday things that make up a cherished relationship. For other people, a fresh perspective means laying something down. Grudges and anxieties can cloud our view, blurring the outlines of truths that once were certain. Trauma can smash your glasses altogether, leaving you blind. Groping through life with no clear vision, clinging to the ragged shapes of experiences, is a hard way to live. ankfully, the mind is as resilient and adaptable as it is powerful. Prescriptions change, and the glasses you wore when you were ten may no longer suit you at thirty. Take them o, thank them for their service, and put them away. Fashion a new pair, a new way of looking at the everyday landscape of your life. You may be astonished at what appears.

Finding a new road to walk can be even more challenging than altering one’s perspective. After all, most of us face some constraints in life that prohibit us from carving new paths at will. We have jobs to perform, families to care for, and dreams to pursue. Travel fascinates because it oers a temporary reprieve, a new path with the promise of home at the end. Dropping everything and backpacking across Southeast Asia is realistic only for a very few of us. And do not be fooled by the Instagram posts or the travel blogs. No matter where or how you travel, it does cost money and time. It is a privilege that many cannot attain. In many ways, I think social media has cheated us of some of the wonder of travel. Scrolling past dozens of photographs of breathtaking vistas can inspire, but it can also desensitize. If you want to get any wonder out of your travel, remember why you are going in the first place. The new path is for you. Not your followers or your boss or even your family, but for you. No one else has your pair of eyes. So how can we expect numerous dierent pairs of eyes to see the same way? e new road you are craving might be a remote hiking trail in the Andes, or it might be a new park on the other side of town. Wherever your feet take you next, go with fresh, clear sight and a set of goals to match. With those tools, you will never fail to nd wonderment.

I have a trip coming up the weekend after next. It is the first trip I have ever planned on my own, without the opinions or advice of others. Asheville, North Carolina is beckoning. Is it the most exotic locale? No. It is a mere (and affordable) four hour drive away. But it is still dierent, and a new road is what I need right now. I cannot wait to look at the mountains, and rediscover my love for our country’s diverse landscapes. I cannot wait to sip beer and people watch. Most of all, I cannot wait to enjoy the things that I enjoy, without apologizing or explaining to anyone, embracing my unapologetic delight. In the days to come, I will be cutting those new lenses for my mind. Clearing out the old and welcoming in a new perspective. I will lay down the baggage that is getting in the way. I will carefully comb through the practical concerns, but avoid any list-making. I am an obsessive crafter of to-do lists, and with dozens of Asheville articles online, it would be all too easy to model my trip after someone else’s. Checklists are not as fun as challenges. I will go my own way, and when it’s all said and done, I hope I get some time to just marvel at the trees.