For more than 20 years, the British adventurer Alastair Humphreys roamed the planet. He rowed across the Atlantic, traversed India on foot, cycled around the world. In his lovely essay “A Single Small Map Is Enough for a Lifetime,” published last month, he writes that climate change and familial commitments have caused him to narrow his horizons of late, to seek diversion in his own backyard, “on the fringes of a city in an unassuming landscape, pocked by a glow of sodium lights and the rush of busy roads.”
To begin this exploration, Humphreys orders a map of his neck of the woods from Britain’s Ordnance Survey, which, for a fee, will create a map of any 20 square kilometers of the country at 1:25,000 scale, where four centimeters is the equivalent of one kilometer on the ground. Each hyper-detailed map includes not just roads but footpaths, vegetation and variations in terrain.
(I’ve looked for a similar mapping service in the U.S. but the closest I’ve found are the topographic maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, which aren’t nearly as intricate. If you know of anything better, drop me a line.)
Humphreys commits to deeply exploring one small segment of his map per week, to getting intimate with his immediate environment, by walking or biking every millimeter. “I wanted it to be serendipitous, not governed by my preferences,” he writes. “I hoped to see things I would not ordinarily come across. I decided to treat everything as interesting.”
The first kilometer he undertakes to explore is purposely devoid of any exciting landscape features. He wanders a former marshland, contemplates the seasons, communes with crows and, with the aid of a smartphone app, geeks out on common reeds. His journey is quiet, and contemplative, but still riveting, even in the absence of any drama.
Although Humphreys has made a career of traveling on a grand scale, locating magic in the miniature comes easily. In 2012, he popularized the idea of the “microadventure,” a short, local outing that nevertheless provokes a shift in perspective (picture, for instance, camping under the stars in a nearby wood.)
In a 2015 interview with The Times, he extolled the merits of the “5-to-9 adventure”: “After 5 p.m., you have 16 hours that are all yours,” he said. “So you can ride your bike or take the train out of town, sleep outside somewhere and come back to work maybe a bit rumpled but feeling great.”
Humphreys’s hometown project is inviting, a reminder of Thoreau’s wisdom that: “It matters not where or how far you travel — the farther commonly the worse — but how much alive you are.” Now seems like a ripe time for neighborhood micro-exploration: In winter, the landscape is denuded; each segment of tree branch and skyline available for scrutiny.
A high-resolution map provides a satisfyingly orderly way to make sense of the environment, to catalog what’s here now and what was here before, to pay close attention to what’s going on in the world. Is there some kind of analog we could apply to our interior lives, territory that feels far more vast and ungoverned and in need of organization? Is there a way to shine a flashlight upon the disused bridleways of the mind?
Meditation suggests it might be possible, but the rapidity with which our internal terrain changes makes the possibility of any definitive guide all but impossible. This necessitates, I suppose, close attention. A commitment to visit and revisit our intimate landscapes, mapping and remapping the contours of home.
THE WEEK IN CULTURE
🎥 “Lisa Frankenstein” (Friday): First loves are often complicated. Especially when your crush isn’t technically alive. In this horror-comedy riff on Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” — which was, in its own way, an adolescent angst novel — a grieving teenage girl (Kathryn Newton) acquires an undead boyfriend (Cole Sprouse) and makes a man of him. Zelda Williams directs a script from Diablo Cody, who previously wrote the giddy, gory, tragically underrated “Jennifer’s Body.”
📚 “Fourteen Days” (Tuesday): It’s difficult for many of us to remember the early weeks of the pandemic. Nearly four years distant, it’s all a bit of a panicked, sourdough-scented blur. But one hopes that the literary supergroup edited by Margaret Atwood and Douglas Preston have better — or at the very least, more creative — recall. Set on the rooftop of a Lower East Side building in March 2020, this collaborative novel features dozens of characters, each written by a different author, Tommy Orange, Celeste Ng and Diana Gabaldon among them.
RECIPE OF THE WEEK
Dumplings With Chile Crisp
Lunar New Year is on Feb. 10, ushering in the year of the dragon in all its strong-willed glory. Feasting on dumplings is a traditional way to celebrate, and Genevieve Ko’s homemade dumplings with chile crisp are a deeply flavored vegan option. Assemble them this weekend, pop them in the freezer, and then cook them, still frozen, just before serving for good luck, not to mention an excellent meal.
Runners camp: Long Covid symptoms forced an endurance athlete to rethink his life. So he turned his home into a fantasy camp for runners.
“Destination dupes”: Taking affordable wellness trips and trying out under-the-radar locations are among these frugal strategies for saving money while traveling in 2024.
Sad songs: Dating today happens at a faster pace, and with heightened emotions. Several melancholy ballads nominated for Grammys this year seem to reflect that.
ADVICE FROM WIRECUTTER
A $20 antenna to watch the Super Bowl
When you stream live TV, it’s not really live. Services like YouTube TV, Hulu and Fubo generally deliver video about 30 to 60 seconds slower than cable or satellite. That lag probably matters most on days like Super Bowl Sunday, when you really don’t want incoming posts or texts spoiling the game-deciding touchdown drive. The cheapest, easiest way to avoid this? An antenna that picks up broadcast TV signals. Wirecutter’s favorite indoor HDTV antenna costs only $20, boasts a super-simple, one-cord setup, and delivers a crisp picture at a speed no streamer can match. — Rose Lorre
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New York Knicks, N.B.A.: The Knicks are the hottest team in the N.B.A. They went 14-2 in January, and had the league’s best defense during that span. Jalen Brunson, their point guard, just made his first All-Star Game; he’s scoring nearly 27 points a game, and sinking 42 percent of his three-pointers, both career highs. Some fans may still be wary, considering the heartbreak the team has put them through over the years. But consider this: The last time the Knicks won 14 games in a month was in March 1994; a few months later, they were in the finals. 8:30 p.m. Eastern on ABC