Walk completed August 16, 2014

Monday, February 3, 2014

Maps and Me

Maps have fascinated me ever since I was a young boy.  I remember having spent many hours one summer in our public library, flipping through the pages of the oldest books I could find because somehow I thought I would discover a long lost map to buried treasure.  I didn’t discover a treasure map, but I probably convinced the librarian that I was a fast reader.

My elementary school geography textbook had maps with blank portions (generally at the polar regions) labeled "terra incognita.”  Nothing stirs a boy's imagination like a mystery, and I couldn't help but imagine myself exploring and filling in the map.  Of course, before I could start exploring I needed to get myself to that terra incognita, which wasn't going to be easy since I barely knew the way to school.

While the other boys would sneak behind the magazine rack at our local soda fountain and peek at pictures in girlie magazines, I hid behind the Rand McNally rack and looked at maps.  While the other boys quietly giggled at how women's shapes differed from men's, I puzzled why on some maps my hometown was shaped like a dot, while on others it had asymmetrical borders.  Eventually, the other boys grew up and stopped giggling, but I neither grew up nor stopped puzzling over maps.

As you may know, maps are a relatively recent invention.  Before there were maps, explorers had no way of knowing what direction they were sailing, which probably explains why so many of them sailed over the edge of the Earth.  You might think that sailors could have told direction by the position of the sun, but in order to do so they needed to know whether it was morning or afternoon. Back in those days nobody had watches. (Asians were making watches, of course, but until Marco Polo initiated trade with the Orient, they had no way to ship them to the West.) Columbus was the first explorer to actually use maps, but his weren't very accurate because North America was mislabeled as India, which is why he called the natives Indians rather than Native Americans.  Just imagine if his maps had labeled North America as terra incognita.

Nowadays, maps are reliable, and despite the "Sir Lost-a-lot" moniker given me by King Arthur, I rarely get lost. My most common navigation errors are due to holding the map upside down. My aged eyes require assistance, but I'm sometimes too lazy to switch to my reading glasses. Perhaps I should hike only in the southern hemisphere where everything is already upside down.

On dreary winter afternoons, I sometimes sit by the fireplace with a warm drink in one hand and a map in the other. I find a trail on the map and follow it across green meadows, through fragrant forests, over rippling streams.  I feel a warm summer breeze touching my face as my mind calls up memories of past hikes and visions of future ones. I can hardly suppress a giggle.  I wonder what the other boys are doing.

(c) 2014 Ken Klug


  1. Hello Ken, not knowing much about rivers (except sometimes they overflow!) does that mean you might be putting in an appearance in our domain - what about the Taw & Torridge River, Roger says?? Hopefully, you will??? Lots of love to you and Janet from Pauline, Roger, Oscar, Ruby and Nora Too! xxxxxxx