Here be Dragons


Things have been a little quiet here recently.  The reason?  Mr S and I are planning a three-week trip to south-eastern Canada and north-eastern America and the preparations have purloined the lunchtime slot previously dedicated to these musings.

That’s the negative.  The positive is that dealing with the logistics of it all has enabled me to unite two great passions; organisation and maps.  We will be travelling across two countries, six states and counties so numerous every time I count them I get a different number, all of which requires a modicum of route mastery.  And this is where the maps come in.

Having broadly identified our itinerary with the help of guidebooks, advice of local friends and travel forums, and taking in to account the dictates of flight times, said local friends’ availability or otherwise, and the sheer volume of miles driving that Mr S is prepared to do in a day, I plotted an A – B – C – D route of key destinations on Google Maps, setting loose a red snake to chase its tail across the screeds of greens and blues like the eponymous mobile phone game.

But A to B is too proscriptive.  Map Set 1 will have its uses, allow general gathering of bearings, point to the quickest way out in an emergency, but there is no romance, no allocation for wandering, for spur of the moment visits, for last minute recommendations.  Enter map set 2, delinators of paths less travelled; obtained from state highway agency websites they list not only the fast straight roads, but the slow and windy, the one way tracks to beauty spots, the linking routes, the small towns’ arteries.  These maps contain secrets, locations of campsites, waterfalls and vistas but also petrol stations, food shops and medical centres.

Map set 3 is less about the getting there and more about the doing there.  Here, the vast swathes of colour in map set 1 become tent pitch locations, forest tracks, walking routes, covered bridges, lobster shacks and lighthouse trails.  They are the most detailed but also the most prone to inaccuracies.  Major road networks are unlikely to vary much in the years since a map is produced but businesses close, private access rights become disputed, even rock formations erode.

Map set 4, the final set, is uncharted territory.  Consisting of a pack of notebooks with reproduction atlases on the covers, they lie blank, waiting for the first co-ordinate to be plotted, the first mark in the word map of our journey.  And this is the true reason why I love maps, it is because they show us so much more than how to get from one place to another.  They tell stories.

Take a look at a map of a foreign land.  What do you see?  Place names familiar from home, given to frontier settlements to make their inhabitants feel safe, to tame the unfamiliar, to conquer the wild if not in reality then at least on paper.  There too are descriptive names, Big Cedar, Ravenscliff, Apple Hill, breadcrumbs in the woods to guide the travelling stranger or to mark out territory, you are now entering Poland, Micksburg, Jones Falls.  You’ll find place names full of the hopes of their first inhabitants, names that welcome; Newbliss, Zephyr, Mount Pleasant, Cape Rich and names that warn you to stay away; Arrowhead, Thunder Bay, Wreck Island.

Read a map correctly and it will tell you not only how to find your path but of the people who have come that way before, those just passing through, those that stayed, and those that were there in the beginning.  I’m looking forward to learning more and to adding my footsteps and my stories to theirs.



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