In her fourth chapter Solnit writes about people getting lost, and children being captured by strangers. There is the story of the Spaniard de Vaca who got lost on his expedition to the Americas in 1527, about Eunice Williams who got captured by Indians in 1704, and Cynthia Ann Parker captured by Comanches in 1836.
All these people got lost, but survived. Solnit is interested in why, in how they managed to survive in a totally new environment and culture. And also why some of them didn’t want to return to the life they led before being captured. She writes:
Reading these stories, it’s tempting to think that the arts to be learned are those of tracking, hunting, navigating, skills of survival and escape. Even in the world of the present, an anxiety to survive manifests itself in cars and clothes for far more rugged occasion than those at hand, as though to express some sense of the toughness of things and readiness to face them.
But the real difficulties, the real arts of survival, seem to lie in more subtle realms. There what’s called for is a kind of resilience of the psyche, a readiness to deal with what comes next.
These captives (the above mentioned) lay out in a stark and dramatic way what goes on in every life: the transition whereby you cease to be who you were.
There are those who receive as birthright an adequate or at least unquestioned sense of self and those who set out to reinvent themselves, for survival or satisfaction, and travel far. Some people inherit values and practices as a house they inhabit; some of us have to burn down that house, find our own ground, build from scratch - …
This long quotation from Solnit exemplifies in a very clear and fine way what I like about her way of writing. She jumps easily from major to minor stories, showing us how the personal experience of living our everyday life is as interesting and strange as stories we read about in novels and the history books. But she also shows us how reading, how gaining knowledge about “the others”, can make us better in seeing and understanding our own private life.