Saturday, March 24, 2012

On the Map

I LOVE MAPS.  I always have.  Geography, as well.  I remember having such a wonderful high school geography teacher – Mr. Anderson.  He played “The Map Game” with his class regularly.  We would be called in pairs to the large hanging map in the room and he would call out in his monotone, nasal-y voice “Find Pango Pango” as his hand slowly swept across his body – a gesture repeated many times per class.  Today, I play “The Map Game” with my students – all year long.  We start easy and get progressively more difficult.  If time permits we move from just the USA to the World map.  They love it.
In college I remember briefly considering a career as a cartographer, but the trend towards digitally created maps was in full swing, and I wanted none of that.  I was compelled by the precision of maps drawn by hand.
I have recently wondered what it is about maps that fascinate me so.  What exactly is the appeal?  Why did I pour over them in the back seat of the car on family vacations?  Why do I stop to soak up the beauty of a particularly elegant hand-drawn map?  Why must I immediately look up the location of a place unfamiliar to me?
I’m not sure I’ve really stumbled upon the root cause of my infatuation, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

•Maps are first and foremost a work of art to me.  Whether they be drawn or computer-generated, I find the colors, forms, designs and even textures to appeal on many levels.  I especially love the old maps with their weathered yellow paper, over which beautiful sketches of boats or sea creatures float.  Some even have scenes painted along the borders of gods and goddesses, birds, stormy seas.  Their creative charms demand attention and appreciation.
•Maps tell a story – and for those of us drawn to literacy in all its forms – who could pass up a great story.
•Maps represent a sense of place to me.  Everyone has a home somewhere – we can find ourselves and connect to our home or roots through maps.  We know we BELONG in the world.
•There is order and structure to most maps – neatly defined borders, clearly labeled locations, symbols explained in keys, ornate compass roses pointing directions, roads and rivers that lead somewhere.  I am drawn to this organization as I am to most orderly, organized things.
•Maps appeal to my natural curiosity of cultures and traditions.  I studied International Business in Graduate School, and focused on cross-cultural communication.  The languages, customs, apparel, beliefs and ceremonies of the peoples of the world enthralled me.  Maps invite me into these other cultures to explore and learn and journey.
•There is a sense of mystery and discovery inherent in maps for me.  What might that place look like?  Where does this river lead?  Has anyone been to the top of that mountain?  Would I like it there?  What stories does this place hold? Maps pique my curiosity and spark my imagination.
•Maps depict connections.  Roads connect.  Cities connect.  Regions connect. Landmasses connect.  Oceans and seas flow into one another.  Mountain chains ignore man-made boundaries.  Ultimately we are ONE.  We belong to each other.  Our future depends on one another and our lives can only be enhanced through the connections we make with one another.

I love maps….

Quote for the day:     We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our
                                    exploring will be to arrive where we started and know
                                    the place for the first time.   ~T.S. Eliot 

1 comment:

  1. Maps are intriguing because they represent so many things in such a small place. I often wondered how mapmakers did it. Interesting subject to explore.