Through my grade school years I did my homework on a desk that had a world map on its top surface. Oh the dreaming I did, the places where I vowed I would travel, the adventures I would have while trekking from country to country.
Last week I was at a symphony concert when, to my amazement moments before the maestro was about to appear, a woman took a folding paper map out of her purse to show her friend where they were going next. I’m not the only one to whom paper maps matter. Indeed there are reports that cartographers are still in need to create that tangible passport to adventure.
My wife presented me with a small world atlas after I complained that the hotel we stayed at had a Bible in the bedside drawer, but no book of maps. A planner like me enjoys mapping things out before venturing into the great beyond. Maps provide a great visual for the places I’d still like to explore, if not in reality then at least in my imagination. That grand desk map of my youth gave me all I needed to picture a train trip across the vastness of the U.S.S.R. or a sailing adventure to the Galapagos Islands or an exploration of the icy realm of Antarctica.
These days, both Google Maps and GPS systems are helpful as long as the power is on and you can remain plugged in. I like to check a photo or video map on my device so I can have a virtual view of the area where I’m intending to visit. I get the sense of already being there (which mystics will tell you is 90% of the trip). My son once gifted me with a TomTom directional device for my car. It made some trips easier, however I wish the automated voice would congratulate me, just once, for making a correct turn.
Natural world maps have rivers, mountains or oceans for borders. I enjoyed teaching my students to use topographical maps and compasses while orienteering. They learned that their environment was filled with intersections. Places where fields become forest, land becomes water, hillside becomes pasture. These ecotones, riparian and littoral zones have an abundance of life, shelter and sources of food, yet danger may lurk. Travel in these areas is both rewarding and risky.
Political maps have borderlines. A country is conquered; draw a line. A region is colonized; draw a line. A government changes hands; consult (maybe), draw a line, build a wall even. When I’m crossing these borders I take satisfaction in feeling that I am stepping over an arbitrary margin. Line in the sand eh? Life at the edge eh?
All borders have intersection points. Any confluence can suggest both challenge and opportunity. My finger traces my route on that tactile paper map. I put my feet on the ground. And I go.