Re: Compass

There is a compass rose on the sidewalk at the busiest corner of our downtown. I found it helpful when I first moved here to orient myself on the street grid. It provided a sense of place for the wayward way I was feeling while I settled into my new home. A compass rose is normally a feature on a map and as a kid I loved planning imaginary adventures while tracing the outlines on maps. I got hold of maps of ancient mariners like Vasco da Gama or Francis Drake so I could follow their routes around the world. Most youngsters enjoyed comics yet I also found pleasure leafing through an atlas, which gave me an all encompassing view of what might be possible, at least in my imagination.

The compass is one of the four great inventions that came from the dynasties of China. The device was modified through the ages from a simple lodestone beginning. Navigation over great distances became possible. It helped fulfill our innate urge to go somewhere; to boldly go where no one had been before. I was given my first compass in Boy Scouts. I learned how to use it on rambles through the woods and while canoe tripping. Having one in my pocket gave me confidence that I would not lose my way. Later I would teach the use of the compass during a fun outdoor activity called orienteering. Using a topographical map and compass bearings, students in teams could find the quickest or most efficient way to a fixed point. Somewhat like this sport is a newer craze called geocaching; this international activity uses a GPS device to discover treasure drops left by others, uniting geography with community.

I love the way the word Compass is part of the word Compassion. This was surely by the coincidence of matching letters, yet compellingly accurate since the act of compassion can show us the way to meet others in life. Being compassionate is akin to being kind and is promoted by all religions and creeds. I was once given a translation of the Bible called ‘The Way’.

Merely holding a compass in your palm can be philosophically profound. As the needle naturally settles to magnetic north, you become aware of the 360 degrees which encompasses your position. This suggests a moment of unlimited potential as you choose which direction to face, then take your first step. You are the centre of the world, have a unique vantage point and fundamental choice regarding which way to go. The cliché of ‘the way forward’ becomes a shallow expression since your options, by degrees, are in the hundreds. You can go back from where you started, veer to the northeast, or, in Peter Pan speak, “Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning. ”

Technology continues apace with digital devices like the commonly used GPS, which has become invaluable for modern day adventurers.  It does position you globally in a very precise way, however, perhaps paradoxically, it only shows you where you are, it doesn’t tell you where to go. That is up to you.

Re: Mission

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” Says the self-destructing audio tape given to agent Jim Phelps at the beginning of the television show, Mission Impossible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TiqXFssKMY. It was one of my favourite shows as a kid. I loved all things relating to adventure. I loved drawing detailed maps in elementary school of early explorers: Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Shackleton, Cook. I remember being fascinated by the twin tales of Stanley and Livingston: Reporter Henry Stanley was sent on a mission by his newspaper, The New York Herald in 1871, to find the presumed missing missionary David Livingston.

In the Kama Sutra of sexual positions, ‘missionary style’ (male dominant facing female) is reported to have been promoted by white African missionaries as the acceptable way for natives to procreate. This sexual act offers the promise of creation; a mission by two people to provide an individual to further the continuation of humanity. A lofty mission that has had many motives and several potential outcomes.

Most corporations, of the business sort, have well defined mission statements. The intention of the mission mantra is to focus investor imagination and provide a set of achievable goals. I worked with school principals in the eighties when societal managers were hungry to adopt a business model of operations. We were advised to see an educated student as our product so therefore could create a mission document focussed on that outcome. I fear our children’s education will become even more like an assembly line process as we move ever closer to the merging of biology with AI technology

During my career, I met many colleagues who considered education as their mission in life. For me, however, my job was not the singularity of my life. I would never have referred to my work in schools as a calling. Some people do seem born to do what they do. Recent films about Fred Rogers suggest that his teaching about love and acceptance rose to the level of a mission. In the final scene of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Mr. Rogers is shown at a piano while other crew members of his children’s show are packing up to go home, their job finished.

Missionaries bring a message to the world. Their prophet-like work needs support and accommodation from the rest of us. Many individuals throughout history have been heralded as innovators; their missions lauded yet doomed to fail when public opinion has swung the other way. I don’t believe that any individual with a creative vision can succeed alone. I’ve been supported when I’ve had an idea. I suspect those who support great leaders feel their role is to enable the mission: They become Sanchos to their Don Quixottes.

A timeless film, The Mission, tells the story of several characters on personal, political, military, corporate and religious quests in eighteenth century South America. Their chosen missions come into serious conflict. They discover for themselves how missions are huge burdens that come at great cost. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ui91q7Y9xPk

Re: Border

I have donated to ‘Medicine Sans Frontier’. In English this band of brave men and women are called Doctors Without Borders. They believe bordered countries prevent medical equity. Some human issues are borderless. My wife loves to suggest: For the unity of all human kind we need an attitude of People Without Borders.

I’m fascinated by how borders are created. On the desktop map I had in my room as a youth, I would skate my finger through Germany, France and Spain on my way to Italy. My digits had no need for a passport as I straddled the 49th Parallel, testing the waters on the U.S. side of the continent. I’d love my family’s once a year camping trip to Maine as much for the thrill of crossing the border into New York State.

After one particular trip to the seaside we returned to Canada via the New Hampshire forests. It wasn’t our usual route since it took an extra day and Dad only had so much holiday time. It was Mom’s idea since she had always wanted to see Lake Champlain so a route was planned that included a night at White Mountain National Forest. While the camp was being set up I was told to monitor my younger sister as she rambled through the hardwoods. She found a turtle! It was about a quarter her size as I recall, so it took the two of us to carry it back to our site. Much oohing and aahing ensued. We constructed a sort of corral out of firewood for the hapless creature. I think my folks were suspecting Mr. Tortoise would be gone by morning but he had retreated into his shell so now what to do? My sister said, ‘please, please’ so arrangements were made for his transport accommodations: A bed of leaves inside our large metal Coleman cooler which was always placed in the middle of the back bench seat of our Plymouth to separate the siblings. As we came up to the border crossing Mom repeated the warnings to “Look straight ahead. Don’t say anything. Under no circumstances open the cooler.” At the customs gate I kept thinking the words, Turtle, Turtle, Turtle with such intensity that I was sure I was yelling them out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t speak (although several years later while at a similar checkpoint, family lore has it that I told the border guard my name was Mr. Wetsuit on account of the undeclared contraband I had bought with my life savings). Back at the apartment, Dad put the home made car-top carrier on one end of our balcony and filled it with leaves, fashioning a wee pond from an old metal basin and our Mr. Turtle seemed happy. Until the first winter frost came.

Natural or man-made borders exist and more boundaries are created every day in the belief that we can keep things out, or keep things more safe within. Yet here we are on a finite spinning ball bordered by a thin atmosphere surrounded by space.

Re: Map

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.
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/jan/08/off-the-chart-the-big-comeback-of-paper-maps-stanfords-print-any-map?

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.