To meander, wandering this way and that, like the ancient Greek river Maiandros, by way of the Latin Maeander. The word itself has meandered down to us. There was no guarantee it would ever arrive here after its strange journey.
That river was in Phrygia, Anatolia, now Turkey. The province also bequeathed us the the cap of liberty, the bonnet rouge, through, evidently, some confusion with the pileus, the conical hat worn by the manumitted in Rome. It was a revolutionary American symbol before it was Revolutionary French one, by the way. Absurdly, however, about the only vestige of it here is in the U.S. Senate, a house designed to contain democracy, which sports a red Liberty cap on its seal. But I meander…(2nd Century CE marble of the young Attis, sporting a Phrygian cap; picture from Wikipedia.)
One can meander in thoughts, among books, especially dictionaries and encyclopedias, on streets, in the woods and meadows and along rivers and, endlessly, the shore. This is a wandering course. It is good for thinking, the solvitur ambulando, solving your problems by walking them out. The flâneur—who wasn’t supposed to have any issues to resolve, being a wealthy idler—is the 19th century’s ideal of the meanderer, Seine-ing all about the town.
Interestingly, meander’s earliest uses in English suggested confusion, intricacy, dare we say byzantine? Mazes, labyrinths, convolutions. Meandrine means to be characterized by convolutions, used in describing brain-corals, and, of course, the coral-complicated brain itself. Meandrous means winding, a word that broken in two suggests the habit of raptors seen outside my window: wind-ing.
Today, though, meandering signifies a kind of liberty, like its coeval cap once did. The straight and narrow is no match for the convoluted trail: what’s your hurry when death is the end of the race? Meandering is the course of the world.
In “Walking,” Thoreau writes “Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past,—as it is to some extent a fiction of the present,—the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology.”