I call it Timbuktu Syndrome. You have the desire to travel to some far-off destination you have never been to before and know little about. The assumption behind this desire is that you will taste the exotic.

Well, of course, there is some truth to this. Distance can get you some novelty. But after many years of having to settle for local neighbourhoods near my many residences, I am here to write that you can find the unexpected and uncommon within a few blocks of your abode.

Many years ago, when I was just out of college, I made a habit—and habit is definitely the word—of travelling along a certain sidewalk along the Mississippi River in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It was somewhat scenic, with stately elm trees overhanging the walk, the river in the background and the occasional cosmopolitan pedestrian or two.

The thing about it was that I always knew what to expect. I knew how far I was going to walk, the type of people I would see and where to look for beautiful views. I even remember inspecting familiar cracks in the cement sidewalk as if they were old friends.


Then one day during the winter, I noticed a set of footprints in the snow meandering from the sidewalk down towards the river. They went into a shallow ravine that I had never really noticed before. Mildly curious, and probably a little bored with the usual, I followed the trail into the ravine. 

After going a couple of blocks, it met up with a large drainage pipe that angled downhill. I followed the path parallel to the pipe for a few more yards, and then suddenly encountered the end of it and the most amazing sight.

It was a little Shangri-La: warm water from the pipe meandering down the incline and catching in little reflective pools; green grass growing on either side of the stream, in stark contrast to the surrounding snow; vapourous steam wafting up to the branches above. And up above, on one of the branches close to the pipe, was an orange-breasted robin presiding over it all. I couldn’t believe such a cool place had been so near and accessible to my usual haunts.

Another time, I was working at Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell in Utah. For months, I lived in the vicinity of the lake and thought the only thing worth checking out was the body of water; the rest of the area could have been the moon, it was so bare.

One day, I noticed a crevice in a rock formation not far from my room. I walked over to it and discovered a miniature canyon in the rock. I continued up the canyon, which narrowed and meandered this way and that until I came to its end, where a beautiful young cottonwood tree was growing out of the rock and sand.

A sense of adventure

Then there was the time I was living in Saint Paul near Como Lake. For the longest time, I would always go running around the lake on the walking path, thinking the closer I was to the water, the more scenic the view would be.

One day it was very congested, so I took the roads and sidewalks that surrounded the lake from above. Lo and behold, the view was much better and I had the area to myself. I remember wondering why it had taken me so long to discover that.

It is possible to discover novelty near your home. It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box and breaking up your conservative energy patterns.

Yet another time, I was walking in the neighbourhood I grew up in, and just for the heck of it, took an alley I had never really explored before. I discovered an Alaska Malamute in someone’s backyard that was friendly and reminded me of the dog I grew up with. We had a great time visiting back there.

It is possible to discover novelty near your home. It’s just a matter of thinking outside the box and breaking up your conservative energy patterns. To find something new, it is necessary to do something new.

I can imagine many a reader thinking that they are, in fact, already very familiar with the immediate environs of their home. This may indeed be the case. It isn’t necessary to go far to have an avant-garde experience, as the area one walks in increases exponentially according to the distance one ranges from their home.

If you usually range out two miles or kilometres from your home in any direction, go an extra mile or kilometre and you will have more than a 100 percent increase in the number of possible sites to investigate. You could spend a lifetime exploring the area within just a few miles or kilometres of your residence.

Before booking that expensive flight to Timbuktu, consider walking around that distant bend, or taking that faint trail through the woods, or ducking into that unfamiliar alley. You may well be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

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image 1 Pixabay 2 Pixabay 3 Fishing pier at south end of Lake Como, Como Regional Park, St Paul, Minnesota, USA by McGhiever via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 4.0