Get out the map

Map of the District of Assiniboia (1811)

(Photo credit: Manitoba Historical Maps)

Sometimes I’d be hard pressed to find my way out of a paper bag.

My sense of direction is not all that bad as I know the sun comes up in the east. My directions favour orientations based on elevation, not north and south. If you head in a direction away from a mass of water, the route is up. If your route ascends from your starting point, naturally the direction is up. Take a ninety degree turn from this and I’ll give you the same sort of direction, up and down in relation to water and hills.

A map is a more economical, practical, clearer and more memorable way of giving directions and expressing spatial relationships than writing the same information using only words and sentences. — Black Cockatoo Publishing.

Maybe I come by this honestly. I didn’t grow up with my bearings anchored my water, but my mother was keenly involved in maps as a professional draughtsperson. She started when everything was drawn by hand: shading, contour lines, roads and waterways. Her ability to make a map is flawless; her ability to read and comprehend directions is poor. I remember we were in Austria once, traveling by car to reach the famous Schoenbrunn Castle in Vienna. It took us 10 minutes to get there from our hotel, and then an hour and a half to get back. Granted, there were a lot of one way streets that we suddenly couldn’t access on the way back, but it prompted my younger brother to proclaim that my mom had ‘a sense of direction like a rock.’

Relative direction...

Relative direction… (Photo credit: Danny Perez Photography)

I do get disoriented easily. I can enter a building in one door, take the elevators up three floors, come back down and leave through a completely different exit. I did that once after a root canal and spent 20 minutes looking for my car. I failed to recognize that I was no longer in a parking lot, and that I had not parked on the street. I could say that it was the drugs affecting my sense of judgement, memory and basic positioning, but this would be excusing myself. I could easily be lost, not at all compromised, within a half block’s distance from where I’d left my car.

Technology these days is a great enabler. You can find a map on your phone and it can show you how to get where you want to go. You do, however, need to be able to read the map. This is where the ‘up’ and ‘down’ of my direction sense fails me. I assume that if I am looking at a map, it is always oriented with north being at the top. Ergo, when you are traveling forward in your car, you must be going up the map. How is it that I can hold the map upright and we travel downstream in our car?

I plot and map-out all my runs that are not the same, routine routes. I write out my directions, but have to turn my head to pretend I am actually on a street to correctly identify a direction as Right or Left. Even so, I do get this wrong at times and lead the group astray.

I think I am simply cursed. I rely on my phone to give me directional information even if I don’t understand it completely. I don’t really feel a need to learn either. If I point in the wrong direction either someone will correct me or I’ll eventually realize I’m going the wrong way, and go the other way. Perhaps a little time-consuming, but the result is the same. The irony of this inability to read a map correctly is that I’m quite fascinated by orienteering. I suppose then it would not just be a map to contend with, but also a compass. Maybe too many props would just lead me into water.

Maybe I’ll just stay home and watch “The Amazing Race.” Then I can watch others get lost instead.

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10 thoughts on “Get out the map

  1. I love maps…my mom worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and I grew up going to her office and watching how they printed and made maps of all sorts. And my dad taught geography. Some people are visual and that’s how they find their way. Signposts, landmarks or a certain bump in the road that tells you where you are. Sometimes it’s good to lose your way though, to explore and find unexpected treasures and hone your intuition and sense of direction (like where you’re going in life).

    • We used to use discarded maps as wrapping paper because it was so colorful.

      I loved your last comment. Sometimes we do have to get lost to learn how to navigate our internal compass and learn where we are going.

    • I don’t like it when trails merge and the name changes- if the trail is marked at all. I’ve had 10 mile runs turn into 15 just because I took the wrong fork in the road.

  2. Hey, I’m totally with you on this. Couldn’t even find my way into that proverbial paper bag, let alone out of it.
    In Vancouver, it was easier so long as I could see the North Shore mountains.
    But I still love maps – they have always seemed so romantic to me – perhaps the result of too many adventure stories and pirate treasure maps as a child.
    I’ve never forgotten that old adage of map-reading: along the corridor and up the stairs.
    And I share the delight of others in those old full-color, geographic, survey maps.
    But I still have to turn a map around when retracing my footsteps, because I can’t do the 180 degree thing in my head.
    Visual vs mental?
    I guess I’m visual – but it still works best for me to actually go and see and do
    rather than simply relying on a map to get me there.
    Wonder what will happen with the next generation who find their way thru’ GPS devices and voice prompts?

    • I love maps and I’m also visual. I think I “see” things in my own skewed perspective that doesn’t always take into account reality. Perhaps that is just my reality then. ‘Who moved those mountains -they weren’t on that side the last time I looked?’

      GPS can fail, as I’ve found, and connections and signals can be lost. I think we all have our own intuitive inner compass, it just depends on how well honed it is as to how effective we are when we are “lost.”

  3. Hi, I just found your blog. Cool post.
    I love to look at maps but I can’t use one to navigate the woods or anything. Put me on a highway and give me an exit and I’m okay. The other day I tried two different doors before I found the right one to leave my doctor’s office! Yikes! Senior moment or what?
    Like you, I know the sun rises in the East and sets in the West. But I have 0 sense of direction. If I was in the Army my platoon would end up in the dead end of a canyon someplace!

    • Hi Runner2012,

      Thanks for reading and your comment. Glad that you found my blog.

      I often use trees as markers in the forest but this often proves to be useless. “Turn at the tall tree” is not really a good set of directions.

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