Check Your Map
Upon discovering my hunting pack, loaded and stashed for the morning, my 3 year old ignored the knife, the saw, the lighter, the rope, the Snickers, the Fritos, the laser range finder, the flagging tape, the camelback, the .30-06 cartridges and other tempting tools of mess and mayhem. He went instead, straight for the maps. When I found him, he was crouched above the Lake Clark U.S.G.S. topo quad – which he’d unfolded neatly onto the floor – tracing a route with his finger and reciting it to himself in hushed, conspiratorial tones.
“You go along the Sweetwater, and then you cross it here… and then…. and then ummm …. you cross it again and you go down Sinks Canyon here … uh huh… yep… and you climb up the Big Teton Mountain here and you see the elk … and you shoot the elk!”
It sounded like he had a plan, and like any good hunter, he wanted to keep it to himself.
In one way, his interest isn’t that surprising. I was obsessed with maps as a kid. I still am if the truth be told. When, in the sixth grade, my folks let me decorate my bedroom, I covered the walls and ceiling in National Geographic maps. And I can still blow an evening with an atlas, my eyes at home on the page, my mind off on a distant adventure. So he’s predisposed and he’s had an example. Fair enough.
What I don’t get is how a 7.5 minute quadrangle can have enough meaning at this stage to hold his imagination. It’s a technical map, a rectangle, filled edge to edge with squares and squiggly lines. He’s illiterate, so the place names can’t do much for him. And aside from blue meaning water and green meaning trees, there’s almost nothing intuitive on there. It has no pictures, no outlines, no recognizable symbols, no alluring X’s marking the spot. The concept that these markings relate somehow to a piece of physical geography is tough enough for many adults to grasp. He can’t possibly “see” the mountains in it. So what makes this piece of paper different from a page torn from his princess coloring book? What on there is evocative of an imagined elk hunt?
I have to chalk it into the happy mysteries column – somewhere between contagious laughter and the place crossword answers come from. In any case, it beats finding him engrossed in Angry Birds.
“Hey Bud.” I interrupted “Found my pack?”
“Are you going hunting?” he replied without looking up.
“I am. First thing in the morning.”
“Can I come?” he asked, turning to catch my eye.
“No. Not this time. I’m leaving really early, and it’s going to be a long hard day.”
“OK. Can I use this map?”
“Sure.” I told him.
It was a map from Alaska. I’d only packed it to daydream over anyway.