charting a course

When I was growing up my parents had a huge map of Nashville pinned to a wall in an upstairs dormer of our house.  It was there for as far back as I can remember, but I really only started to pay attention to it when I learned to drive. Having lived there all my life, by then I knew the routes to get to various parts of town. But what intrigued me then, and surprises me still, are the ways that all those places connect to one another.

It’s as if our home was in the center of a wheel, and I knew where the spokes all led, traveling away from the middle and toward the rim. But the learning was in how there were also routes across the spokes, providing shortcuts and new sights to see, rather than having to travel back to the center and then turn around and go out again.

Maps are curious things.  I am often still amazed by the ways the lines on a flat piece of paper can so accurately represent our real, three-dimensional world. Some of my favorite books have maps on their end papers, giving yet another insight into the imaginary world created by the author, and bringing that world to life.

I love the colors that consistently stand for water, or highways, or back roads, and I am particularly fond of maps with elaborate symbols and map keys. It is fun to compare old maps with modern ones, and see the differences in perceptions through time.

One kind of map that always gets my attention is an older-looking one. Often these are sepia-colored, with beautiful script writing. And even black and white maps catch my eye. When we first got our cabin at the lake, we bought a large marine map of the lake, river, and surrounding land. There is very little color, but it has more new kinds of lines and symbols for me to study and try to understand.

When I taught fourth grade, each year my students chose a state to learn about in depth, and they were guided in completing several learning experiences about that state. One of the students’ required projects was to make a salt map, and our local pizza company donated pizza boxes for them. This made the maps easy to carry, and convenient to store until we presented our “Parade of the States” to display our work.

I’ll always remember the family that came back to me the year after I taught their son. They told me about their family vacation over the summer, and how their son knew so much about Arizona because of his project. And just last year some friends brought their now grown sons to our Christmas Open House. Part of our conversation that night was about how the mom still has those salt maps in her attic.

Of course, one benefit of a salt map is the 3-D quality it possesses. Some of the most memorable fourth grade state maps were those of states that had mountains for quite a contrast in landforms. And you could definitely spot the Grand Canyon on that map of Arizona.

We are so fortunate that both of our own now grown children live nearby in Nashville. Our daughter is quite the explorer, and frequently talks about or takes me to places that this Nashville native hasn’t seen in years – or maybe ever. That nagging thought of how places connect started tickling my brain again.

So last week I bought a map of Nashville. It’s not as big as the one my parents had, but there are a lot more lines for roads on it.

As I looked at familiar places on this map, in my mind I could actually see those physical landscapes that were represented on paper. And I have already plotted out some courses for a few new exploration trips to take myself. No doubt I’ll discover some new connections along the way.

a different slant

This time of year the sun may be in its weakest form in our northern hemisphere, but its low spot in the sky is still powerful.

While driving to work in the mornings it is sometimes almost impossible to see the road. All that is there in your field of vision in an all-encompassing brightness. It doesn’t shine down from above, but sits just barely above the horizon. Strong and intense.

Late in the afternoon it feels like there’s a spotlight shining directly at you, highlighting your strengths as well as your weak spots, the light clear and strong. There’s no blurring of the edges or that golden tint that comes at the end of the day at other times of the year. Just a dazzling light, right at eye level. Zeroing in.

Thankfully, there is at least one redeeming quality of this light and its shadows.

Pictures from my college days show me and my friends with slimmer figures, sleek and trim. A friend once said, while looking at these photos several years after they were made, “Look how long our legs were.”

In the winter, the long rays of the sun have returned those long legs to me at the end of a long day, as seen in this photo of me and my shadow leaving school.

long shadows