One of the small talents I have which many people don’t have a clue about is reading maps. This ability has taken me down many a strange road to find wonderful places that might not otherwise have been found.
How I gained this skill is perhaps the combination of having a father who was a sailor and loved the art of navigation and having a girl guide leader who made me work to get the Navigator Badges.
Dad also thought I had a built in compass in my head because I always knew where north was. It didn’t matter where we went to visit or what direction the bed I slept in was facing, my head would be in the due north position in the morning. I still sleep best when my head is pointed north.
At age of eight I was often found in my father’s little home made, 14 foot, sailing catamaran, floating about on Lake Erie’s north shore. In this modest craft it was important to learn how to find home. A hand held compass was it’s most complicated equipment but I had to learn how to read the signs to home even without it in case it was lost. My Dad taught me well. We never sailed at night but we would lie on the grass of our lake front property with him pointing out stars that might help to get me home if I were lost.
At Girls Guides, Sally Maytham, was our leader. She was a peculiar woman who was incredibly intelligent and innovative. She was also a woman ahead of her time and insisted we do things not considered particularly “lady like” in the day. One of those things was rigorous learning of orienteering. We learned how to read a compass, to pace off distances, to determine the direction of the wind and gauge distances. I learned at 14 how to get from A to B by saying the direction rather than whether to turn left or right. Our final test for the badge was being sent to a particular spot in town and then having to find our way back to the home base with Sally’s directions. I was the first back and one of the few who actually grasped the concept.
We didn’t have much money to travel far but because I could read road maps and topographical maps (Thanks Mr. Hurst of Grade 11 Geography) I could find places that were interesting even close to home. A friend who went on a trip with me once to the “near north” (Barry, Midland area) was amazed I could get us to strange and wonderful places and back on the road again.
Now map reading is a simple as knowing how to plug a destination into an app on my phone but my map skills have gotten me out of a couple of mistakes that Google Maps have made. They are not infallible.
The only terrible trouble I have had with feeling disoriented is when I moved to Ottawa. I grew up with the lake shore to my south and in Ottawa the river is to the north. I was all turned around for about two weeks and kept wanting to head to parliament hill instead of to my home further down Bank Street. To add to my confusion the small single bed in my apartment had my feet pointed to the north and my head going south. There were no options.
In my work as a supply bus driver over the past two years my skill with maps and finding my way has stood me in good stead. The only real issue was when the sun wasn’t shining and I had gone around in circles so many times I had no idea which was north.
Finding north when the sun shines is easy if you know what time of day it is. If I can determine East and West by the movement of the sun I can use my old saying, “If my left is west, my nose is north.”
Google maps are a wonderful invention and provide wonderful information. I can not only see where I am headed on the map but I can even look to see what the place will look like. I can also know about how long it will take to get there, what the distance is, whether I want to take a route with no major highways and if there is traffic to avoid. On occasion I have an argument with the woman who is giving the directions but for the most part we get along fairly well.
I miss the paper maps. I even know how to fold them back to their original slim and easy to carry glory. That was something Dad insisted on.
Have a great weekend and don’t get lost.