Sunday, November 05, 2006


George Eats Old Grey Rats And Paints Houses Yellow.

That was the way I remembered how to write the heading on my grade-school Geography papers. (There was another phrase for ARITHMETIC, but I don't remember it now. My sister always wrote MATH, instead.) The highlight of fifth and sixth grades was making relief maps out of salt and flour dough.

That was the beginning of my life-long fascination with maps. First it was ordinary road maps. Then U.S. Geologic Survery maps, the more detailed the better. When we built our house in 1970, we covered the floor of the family room with USGS maps showing the area surrounding our house and oriented by the compass. While researching family history I learned about the British Ordnance Survey maps, the German Topografische Karten and the very detailed Wandrekarten. I loved plotting old family homesteads and churches.

Assembling a collection of maps was the prelude to travel. I'd study the maps to get oriented, and once at the destination, had a pretty good general sense of direction. It's one of my greatest pleasures to explore an unknown city neighborhood by neighborhood, walking up and down the streets then making a sudden and satisfying connection with a previously known area. We discovered the state-by-state Delorme atlases and followed our route on Amtrak from Denver to San Francisco. The Internet brought Map-Quest and Yahoo Maps and the magical Google Earth.

Now I've discovered that geocaching brings a new dimension to geography. Most of the time I've used maps to get an overview of an area and to navigate while driving a car. Sometimes I've looked for small details like footpaths and springs. But geocaching brings to me an intimate knowledge of a very small part of the earth: the underside of a specific park bench, the crook of a certain tree, the cavity under the flange of a lamp post, a loose brick in a wall. When I pass by a place where I've discovered a cache, I think, "I know that patch of woods, I know were that turn-off leads, I know there's a deserted beach over there." These are places I would never have gone and I may never go again. But like the secrets we somtimes exchange with perfect strangers, geocaches add little points of intensity to my view of the world.

(By the way, my geocaching name is Moon Lady's Elder Sister.)


Anonymous Diana said...

A Rat In The House May Eat The Ice Cream.

8:34 AM  

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