a field guide to quiet courage

literary inklings

literary inklings

notes from a bohemian library

The Wander Society by Keri Smith


“Society wants you to speed up, to produce, to seek material wealth. In a system that requires never-ending growth (at the cost of limited natural resources), to slow down seems anti-progress in nature. Who are you if you are not trying to ‘get somewhere’? Who are you if you are not actively working toward something? As a wanderer, you’re not subject to the narrative forced on you by society. You do not fall prey to trends that have nothing to do with your talents and desires. You do not strive to conform, but instead follow the life that springs from inside. You walk your own path. In this sense, you’re truly free.”from Keri Smith's The Wander Society

Walt Whitman wrote to "dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem." Henry David Thoreau wrote of his wish to "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." Such profound thinkers, whose ideas feel utterly radical in our technology-driven, fast-paced society, are the totem figures of The Wander Society, a secret "anti-"society and the mysterious subject of Keri Smith’s new book. The Wander Society is the brainchild of no-one-knows-whom, stumbled upon by Smith through clues left in an old Walt Whitman volume: a sideways lightning bolt, a Latin slogan, the vague and enchanting words, "W.W. will show you the way."


“The more we follow our intuitive urges, the more we are inhabiting the life we are meant to lead, the life that will fulfill our innermost desires.”

Something of an uncollected collective, The Wander Society offers itself as a solitary meeting place, a point of universal connection for anyone inspired to pursue a life of simplicity, fulfillment, and knowledge. With such suggested members throughout history as Virginia Woolf, Søren Kierkegaard, and Thich Nhat Hanh, the society mandates only a capacity for curiosity and a reverence for the natural world in order to join. The result of one’s wandering – whether exploring the world around us, foraging through woods and taking new notice of city streets, maybe even venturing into the wilds of the self – is to touch on a transcendent connectedness to life, an enlightenment of sorts that was best described by Thoreau when he expressed his wish to "not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." This is echoed on a somewhat more soul-searching note by Mary Oliver in her poem When Death Comes: "When it's over, I want to say all my life I was a bride married to amazement."


“How little do we need to lead a life that feeds our soul? What if we altered our value system so that priority was placed on soul-enhancing endeavors such as skill building, self-sufficiency, exploration, research, mind-expanding tasks? Imagine how different our society would be if we placed priority on these things instead of wealth creation, technology, and material acquisition.” from Keri Smith's The Wander Society

Still, The Wander Society remains a mystery wrapped in a riddle and peppered with enigmas: wanderers announce their anonymous presence by leaving vaguely direct evidence in the public places where they’ve wandered. A sideways lightning bolt scratched into a telephone pole; a sticker of the beloved W.W.; a box of pamphlets, zines, and newspapers printed by members of the society; a wander badge; one of many coded symbols known only to fellow wanderers; perhaps even a few illuminating scribbles in an old volume of poetry. Many of these things are explained in Smith's book through how-tos and indexes; also available to aspiring wanderers are a selection of assignments that will take the reader out into the natural world with the objective of creating – painting, journaling, recording, photographing, or otherwise documenting what new things they discover there.


“Wanderers believe in the ability to exist and flourish wherever they are, using what they have.”

While Smith gathers what she has discovered of the invisible Wander Society, the unanswerable questions of “who” and “why” begin to lose their importance. Planted, instead, is the seed of an inspiring and creative way of life: one tied not to technology and societal norms, but rather married to the more romantic notions of morality, curiosity, and discovery. Ideals that feel as though they have slipped unnoticed off the surface of our culture as our collective awareness has abandoned them. As such, the precepts of The Wander Society begin to create in its members a sense of nostalgia for a time one never lived, a lifestyle at once simpler and infinitely more abundant.


Smith’s book is a manifesto of sorts, for the daydreamers and the soulful creatives – the wanderers of the world – and in this compendium of curiosities she offers readers challenges and opportunities to expand their awareness, to find both creative play and soul-work in the simple art of walking, of seeing the world through newer and younger and more joyful eyes, of "encouraging our own wild nature", of wandering through their city or town or even their own imagination. The wanderers are everywhere, they say; and everywhere is precisely their destination.