Titled borrowed from Dora the Explorer who always carries her map …
Perhaps you spent childhood Sundays as I did – morning church followed by delicious pot roast and veggies then an afternoon drive in ‘the country’ with the whole family in tow.
The back roads in Michigan are unparalleled rural beauty – hilly, curvy dirt roads with borders of massive tree trunks hoisting broad green canopies so thick it’s like riding through tunnels. Looking back to see the cloud of dust in our wake; following Dad’s finger pointing out a deer, a fox, a coyote in the field beside the road.
Occasionally as we backed out of our driveway, we kids would scrunch down in the back seat – below window level – with our eyes closed. Dad would turn out of the driveway and about 15-20 minutes later, he’d stop by the side of the road and we’d have to guess where we were. Although I suspect it might have been his ploy to keep us quiet for a stretch, his stated aim was to help us develop our sense of direction.
Dad’s ability to know where he was, and how to get home, was uncanny. It came from his years of living on a farm outside of town where he and his 11 siblings spent their time after chores wandering miles along streams and through woods, developing a sixth sense for navigational accuracy.
Despite Dad’s skill, we’d often end up on a road no one recognized. Alarmed, Mom or one of us would say, “Dad, are we lost?”
“No. We’re just taking a short cut.”
No matter how convoluted that ‘short cut’ was, Dad eventually delivered us home without consulting a map.
I couldn’t internalize Dad’s directional aptitude in Michigan. My dilemma was three-fold. Because the terrain all looked the same and there weren’t any distinguishing markers on the horizon, I didn’t know where I was hence I couldn’t figure out which direction I should head and, even if I did, I couldn’t discern that direction from nature’s clues.
The sun, even when it wasn’t obscured by tree tunnels or cloudy skies, never seemed like a marker I could read. Sure sunrise was east and sunset was west, but during the daylight hours, I had a hard time discerning anything from the sun (or from the moss that supposedly grew on the north side of trees, for that matter).
Colorado is different. Not only does the sun more distinctly position itself in the northern sky in winter and the southern sky in summer, but WE HAVE MOUNTAINS! A mountain range I can see from anywhere on the plains. No matter where I am, I can head for the mountains and sooner or later I’ll come to a north/south road at the base of the foothills. I know which way to turn because I know which mountaintop rests miles above my next-to-the-foothills abode.
Nevertheless, my consistent use of maps – a stress saver in Michigan – has carried over to Colorado. Not so much because I need one, but because I have developed a fondness for maps that goes beyond finding my way from here to there.
Maps are both literary and visual art (more on that in a future post).
They lend themselves to time travel. Have you ever spent time at the library looking at old census maps or comparing a regional map from a decade ago with a current one?
Maps provide off-the-beaten-path routes. They invite exploration in towns with culturally intriguing names. Do you like to take ‘the back way’ down an unfamiliar road or spontaneously divert to a town whose name intrigues you?
They offer geographical lessons. Do you ever spend an evening with a map of your country – refreshing your memory about which states, provinces or regions border others? (I’m always flummoxed by where Connecticut and Rhode Island are in relation to the bigger surrounding states.)
Maps jog our memories. Do you point with delight to a long-forgotten vacation spot and spend an hour reminiscing about the highlights of that trip?
Maps promote dreams of future travel. Who hasn’t browsed an atlas and identified several ‘musts’ for your bucket list?
I am very happy with my GPS, Silvia, who has reconciled herself to the fact that I often ignore her sage directions, even when I’ve asked for her help. Secure in the knowledge that Silvia – like Dad – will eventually lead me home, I can even sneak in a stress-free, solo ‘country roads’ drive during my annual Michigan visit.
Silvia gets me where I’m going when that’s all I need, but there’ll always be a place on my bookshelves and in my travels for my maps.
What about you? What part, if any, do maps play in your lives?
And finally … Can you fold a map along its original lines or does yours look like this?
Coming soon … Bemuzin on the artistry & creativity of maps.