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Old paper maps still help you see the big picture

Oct. 11, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

"Even before you understand them, your brain is drawn to maps." Ken Jennings

I spent a great deal of time this past summer traveling. The first trip found our family driving to Bonny Bay, Ontario, for a family fishing adventure. My second trip found me flying for the first time to New Orleans, La. Our final trip began with three long days of driving to Prince Edward Island, Canada, former home of Lucy Montgomery, author of "Anne of Green Gables."

Each trip was unique, but there was one "thread" woven through each -- maps.

Yes, we do own a GPS. Yes, we do use it when we travel. Yet, the disadvantage, I think, with the GPS is the inability to see the big picture. Sure, you can zoom in and out on your GPS screen. However, for ease of travel, it is certainly best to keep the screen focused on the narrow strip of road on which the vehicle is traveling. Despite the technological advantage of the GPS, I still find myself drawn to maps as we travel.

Maps are visually appealing to me in an orderly way The purposefully printed lines, curves, jig-jags, dots of interest and stars of capitals, drawn to scaled perfection, makes sense to me. Plus, the blues of lakes, rivers and oceans appeal to my sense of balance. Basically, maps offer order, distinction and succinct view of any given location.

Driving to Bonnie Bay, Ontario, I would, from time to time, pull out my favorite laminated, fold-up map of the United States. This map allowed me to see the bigger picture of the towns, rivers and lakes that were blurring past our windows. I especially loved, as we drove through Superior, Wis., and Duluth, Minn., looking at Lake Superior on the map as we sped around this great lake. Relying solely on observation, Lake Superior would not have seemed as impressive. Yet, looking at it on the map allowed me to see that our family was traversing along a small finger of the lake, taking my imagination to soaring heights at the impressive vastness of Lake Superior. Additionally, the map allowed me to view the numerous other bodies of water by which we were passing in the "land of 1,000 lakes," providing me with a new perspective of this part of our country.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, on my first flight heading south toward New Orleans, that I discovered an electronic map attached to the seat in front of me. I was able to see, in real-time, the flight of the plane superimposed over a map of the United States. With amazing speed, I watched states lines and rivers pass as the plane flew quickly southward -- Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, oh my. My mind was better able to come to terms with our flight seeing it unfold before me on a map.

Yet, it was our trip to Prince Edward Island that took using maps to new heights. In fact, it required three maps. My laminated map of the US worked until we reached Holton, Maine. Crossing into New Brunswick, Canada, I realized we would need another map. Luckily for me, we didn't need to travel too far before we reached the Canadian equivalent of a roadside rest stop. This travel plaza was filled with the usual facilities, gift shop, snack vending and, ta-da, free maps of New Brunswick! Yes, I was in business once again.

Crossing the expansive Confederation Bridge into Prince Edward Island, I was ready with a map the tourism department mailed us months before. My eyes followed with amazement as we drove over what I would learn was the Northumberland Strait, home to the warmest waters in Canada and some of the warmest waters north of Virginia. I could see that the island we were about to enter was crescent shaped. Additionally, I saw that the capital city of Charlottetown was situated on a large body of water, across from our vacation cottage. Yet, given the fact that the Hillsborough River and the Charlottetown Harbor nearly cut the island in two, the map allowed me to see it would take some round about driving to reach our cottage.

I think there is a lesson buried in all this map reading. What if our life could be viewed from the perspective of a map? What if neat lines could box in the different time periods of our life? Perhaps, infancy might look like Rhode Island. Primary school years might be drawn like the boundaries of Connecticut. Those tumultuous teen years might resemble the jagged upward lines of New Hampshire, and those early adult years might resemble even more serrated and upwardly climbing state of Idaho. Maybe, those middle-aged years of life might resemble the consistent boundaries of North Dakota. Finally, those senior years might resemble Florida.

While I'm certain each person's map may not fit the images I just described, I am confident that no matter your maps' lines, edges, and appearance, there is an order, reason and clarity to our lives that the great Cartography has purposely arranged. However, it is only when one steps back from the daily GPS screen and views it like, well, a map, that those lines, no matter now straight, jagged, rounded, and despite the number of mountains, valleys, deserts, plateaus, rivers, streams and even oceans, have been forged to create a unique map that only you, along with your Creator, could have drawn.

Therefore, I ask you, what will your map look like today? Will it contain closed borders or wide-open spaces, mountain top views or treks through the desert, meandering streams of curiosity or vast expanses of deep water that must be swam aggressively. Choice wisely as you listen to the mapmaker's voice.

May we all create our own unique life map worthy of viewing.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.