Maps

I’m always rather startled when I hear someone say that they don’t know how to read maps. I was taught how to do so in elementary school and it has definitely come in handy over the course of my life. Even in this era of GPS, it’s quite valuable to be able to find your location on a map and be able to determine how to reach your destination.

Maps and atlases and the like have always fascinated me. I can look at them for hours. Over the years, I have often used them as artwork on my walls. I think this has to do with my love of travel. If I look at a map, I can imagine myself being there. It also has to do with my love of reading. If a book includes a map, I can take the journey with the main character. I find that exciting.

Maps can also teach you a lot about a place. Why did they name that street in that way? Place names often reflect history. They make you want to learn more. I often wonder who named Purple Cow Road, and what they were smoking at the time.

Now that I rely on GPS and/or Google Maps so much, and since I moved to the Seattle area after I built up that reliance, and since the hilly terrain means that streets don’t always adhere to the strict grid pattern I was used to in flat Florida, I tend not to know where I am with relation to other parts of my city or state. I don’t have that map image in my head anymore. It’s pure laziness on my part, and very unsettling.

I do recommend that everyone carry local maps in their cars, because you never know when your GPS will go kerflooey. There was a recent week of sunspot activity where my GPS kept thinking I was miles from my actual position. I cannot tell you how frustrating that week was.

If you don’t know how to read a map, there’s no shame in that. You just weren’t taught. But you can still learn. I have total faith in you. I suggest you start by checking out this very informative article on wikiHow entitled, “How to Read a Map”.

Whether you know how to read a map or not, I hope you’ll find your way back to this blog again and again, dear reader!

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Another Non-Existent Island

I’ve written about an island that never actually existed. I also recently wrote about an entire mountain range that was a figment of someone’s imagination. Since then, a friend told me about another fictitious island. I seem to be on a cartographical roll, here.

The island in question is Cali Fornia. According to Wikipedia, this place was supposed to be some sort of paradise, which one man said was inhabited only by black women who lived like Amazons. Some maps even show it as stretching the entire length of the western coast of what is now the United States, from Mexico to the Puget Sound. Imagine the waterfront property opportunities that would exist if that were true.

The first time anyone heard about this island was in a 1510 romance novel. That’s where the Amazon-like women are described. It seems that one explorer, who was in the neighborhood of Baja California, and didn’t quite make it to the northern end of what’s now called the Gulf of California, assumed it was instead a strait, and that therefore Baja must be the island mentioned in the book. Quite the leap.

After that, many explorers disproved this concept, but others perpetuated it by mistaking it for, of all places, the island of Vancouver. Cali Fornia still showed up on many maps as late as the 18th century. Some map makers continued to perpetuate this inaccuracy simply because maps used to be printed from copper plates, and making the change would be too expensive.

Finally, an explorer named Juan Bautista de Anza traveled from Sonora to the California coast in 1776 without having to cross any strait, and maps were never the same again.

It’s kind of funny to think that our founding fathers lived in a world where Cali Fornia still existed, at least on paper. All I can say is, Thank God for Google Earth.

Insel_Kalifornien_1650

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My Love/Hate Relationship with GPS Girl

She lead me across the country and she helps me find my way around this new befuddling city of mine, so I’m really extremely dependent upon the voice that comes out of my GPS. I’m truly grateful for all she does for me. But there are also times when I want to slap her silly.

She has a cruel sense of humor. I think she knows I’m mildly dyslexic. She loves to say, “Turn left” when her map is clearly indicating that I need to turn right. I have learned the hard way that when that happens, you must ignore her voice and follow her arrows.

She has also led me to open fields and insisted there were roads where no roads have ever been. Once she led me to the edge of a cliff. GPS Girl is not to be entirely trusted. But she knows she’s all I have. I’m also weirdly connected to her because she was a gift from my late boyfriend.

Yesterday GPS Girl and I were deep into the hate portion of our love/hate relationship. I was trying to get to a building downtown where they were giving city employees free flu shots. Oh, she got me there all right. But how do you explain to her that the parking in downtown Seattle absolutely SUCKS? Getting me to the front door isn’t good enough. I then have to find a place to dump my car. That’s not her fault, technically speaking.

But as I drove around and around and around, hearing her smug tone as she said, “recalculating” was setting my teeth on edge. And then at one point I turned into a tunnel under a building, assuming it was a parking garage, and it turned out to be an on ramp for the interstate. Who builds a skyscraper over the top of an on ramp, for crying out loud? And since I was in a tunnel, GPS Girl went silent. She hates tunnels. I didn’t know where the hell I was until I was across the canal and miles away from my flu shot. When she woke up again, she tried sending me the wrong way down several one way streets, and up off ramps. I was beginning to think that she was seriously effing with me.

I had no choice but to ignore her instructions. She started to sound increasingly irritated. “Turn around when possible.” Why? So I could go back to the wrong way street? We were at an impasse. So GPS Girl pulled out the ultimate trump card; something I had never seen her do before. “There is no route to your destination.” In other words, you can’t get there from here. You’re on your own, Choochie.

So I did the only thing one can do when one has seriously pissed off one’s partner. I aimlessly drove around in circles, keeping quiet, until GPS Girl had a chance to calm down and reconsider her actions. Finally she told me how to get back downtown.

It was probably my imagination, but she sounded a little sheepish. Apology accepted. For now.

sign

Fantasy Island

I just got through reading an article on the NPR website entitled, “Pacific Island, Bigger Than Manhattan, Vanishes.” I assumed it was going to be about global warming, and that maybe it had sunk below the rising sea level, but no. Based upon studies of the sea floor, this island never existed in the first place. Apparently this “island” has been on maps and charts since around 1772. And now they’re looking at other questionable islands in other parts of the world in order to update maps.

fantasy_island_by_tessig-d4w7qz5 (Credit: Tessig.deviantart.com)

Can we just take a second to absorb this? In this day and age, with all our global whosawhatsis, how does this happen? It makes you realize how vast the world is, and how much we want to believe what we’re told. But I still find it vaguely unsettling. If we can’t count on our geography, what can we count on?

Here’s the thing. When my mother died when I was 26, I felt as though there was no longer any solid foundation beneath my feet, as though everything that I counted on had suddenly vanished and I was adrift. It took me a long time to get over that. A very long time. I will never forget that feeling.

Without getting into a debate about quantum physics, we count on things to be solid, to have substance. And we expect islands the size of Manhattan to stick around. This is why I could never live in an earthquake zone. To have something solid suddenly start rippling like water? I’d have a nervous breakdown.

There has to be some fundamental…thing that you can hang your hat on, and build from there. Without that, how do you know what’s real? It reminds me of a quote from the Spanish dramatist Pedro Calderón de la Barca, which translates as, “Life is a dream, and even the dreams are dreams.”