Saturday, August 20, 2011

Maps: discovering the minute and grasping the breadth

I move fairly often. Each time I settle into a new place my room takes on a slightly different look. In this apartment my theme is maps. I love maps. Even as a kid I remember studying a map of California. I read the names of places. I looked at the highways wriggling like veins over the state. The topography fascinated me. I liked seeing where the mountains pushed up in rigid triangles and where lakes dotted the state. Several years ago I bought a three map set from Costco. The first is a standard map of the United States. It shows major roads and some geographical features. It is brightly colored with large squarish states in the west and smaller squiggly border states in the east. It is familiar. I can trace the path of at least four cross country trips on it, recalling fondly what we ate where and what historical sight we just had to see. I remember the Dairy Queen someplace along the Kansas portion of  I-70 where we stopped on a summer long road trip and my dad bought us all a treat. Years later when driving through Kansas I drove through a little town that I'm sure is the same one. This map represents my country.

The second map is one of North America. This one broadens my view of the world. I see how country lines are arbitrary and the Rocky Mountains that start way up north in Canada leave a distinct ridge all the way down through Mexico. Everything east of the Rockies looks so flat, like flour leveled with the back of a knife. I think about the Bay of Biscay. It looks so large that it might be able to swallow all of Texas. Mexico is the odd country of the large countries in North America. It is quite a bit smaller than both its northern cousins. It's relatively narrow and hooks up to one side. Mexico looks like the tail of a mermaid. Even further south are the small countries of Central America. These tend to blur together on the map, yet each one is distinct. The countries trail down and meet South America.
The third map, which is probably my favorite, is the world map. I always hang this one up some place in my house. Sometimes I stick pins in it to show all the places I've been to. I can look at it for hours wondering about different places, dreaming about where I want to go next. It shows a world of diversity where each country has its unique shape and is home to people that have a separate identity from all others. Huge land masses cocooned by masses of water and islands that look like they will be swallowed up speak of exciting places and new things to see. At the bottom of the map are the flags of the world. I wonder about flags, how do you come up with a flag for a nation. Who decides what it should look like. Some flags are quite unique where as others follow a similar theme of stripes. Red is a dominate color amongst the flags. If I had my own country what colors would I pick for my flag? How would I make mine cooler than the rest?
These maps are my happy companions. I can spend large amounts of time just looking at them and speculating. along with my maps, I have mementos hung that I brought home from various places. I have three banana leaf pictures from South Africa of a lion, an elephant and a village. I have two bird feathers framed from Costa Rica. The blue one has a toucan painted in astonishing detail. The orange one has a monkey. There is a painting of the Santo Domingo church in Oaxaca, Mexico that my sister did for me. I took a picture when I was 17 in a little coffee shop overlooking the church. I always liked that picture. I asked my sister to paint it for me. There are other places I have traveled that aren't represented on my walls, but I fondly remember each one when I look at my maps. I anticipate where I might end up next. I look forward to whatever adventures lie before me. Until then I will look at my maps and dream.

1 comment:

  1. Maps are fun! The other day in the car waiting for mom, I took out a small set of maps for each state and traced the major routes I've taken across the states.