The Joy of Maps

tidal map

I love maps.

I collect their printed painted pages.

At the recycle center, residents dump atlases by the dozen. The beauty of their organic folding contours and urban fretworks captivates me. Thrilled, I dash home with salvaged prizes. Hoorah!

A map is like a tidal pool, filled with infinite textures, colors and life. The printed streets and canals reflect a mosaic of life witnessed remotely. I hover over a tidal pool similarly, examining and enjoying a surreal world without immersion.

The universality of maps allures. Every map is a deviation of familiar elements. The burgeoning roads, altering color gradients, and the misshapen shift of previous generations invites inspection and comparison.

Sometimes I pull out a page and to alter and make my own. I find that I cannot leave the lines of rivers untraced by paint, nor can I ignore the calling of latitude lines and mountain ranges. My interaction with my cartographic world may be odd, but it pleases me. Trundling anywhere with paint is an adventure.

On sleepless nights I think about rescuing maps. I want to save them all. In attics and basements, lovely annotated treasures lurk, expecting disposal by GPS sophisticates. I want to erect a “Put Your Maps Here” bin next to the local Planet Aid containers. I could spend a few more sleepless nights imagining the logistics of such a map recovery project.

Am I becoming a middle aged antiquarian, distressed by this generation’s turnover of cherished conventions? I don’t think so. We all share nostalgia for the obsolete articles of our lifetime. Me, I just love maps.

16 thoughts on “The Joy of Maps

  1. The printed streets and canals reflect a mosaic of life witnessed remotely.

    Lovely! Beautifully explains the beauty of old maps – which I never thought of before.

    I used to make my own maps over fictive worlds with fictive countries, mountains, oceans, swamps e.t.c. But there weren’t many roads on them… more like inland Australia with one road crossing through in one direction, perfect for a simple adventurous journey.

    1. How delightful!

      I LOVED making maps a s a child. It was a major occupation. I made all sorts of elaborate maps up into my teens.

      It is interesting that you mentioned using a single road to connect your lands. Looking back, I don’t recall ever making roads! I suppose this was because most of my journeys were alone or with animals.

      My fascination was primarily with the different physical characteristics of each land or its indigenous inhabitants. Areas populated by people were to be avoided at all costs. 🙂

      1. That sounds like lots of fun. Do you still have the maps?

        I liked to write fiction stories where the main character (usually a fictive version of my pet) found a hidden entrance to a secret world and undertook a journey through amazing & dangerous landscapes, meeting various obscure characters. There was naturally a map in the middle of the book to visualise the journey, elaborated as the story evolved. and a index cataloguing the world’s creatures in the back. Now I come to think of it, I also read up & recorded the chapters on cassette tapes with some dramatic theme music. So the map of a story was the visual backbone, overview and frame of the narrative.

    2. Mados!

      I think the old maps are hidden away at my folks place. My mother does not like to throw family stuff out. Unearthing them would be a challenge!

      It is unspeakably awesome that you wrote stories and narrated them on tape. I wrote a bit of fiction myself, but I could never contrive a true plot. My work has always been descriptive.

      I also had a cassette recorder. Alas, I filled it with ribald songs about the reproductive glories of newts. I had an aquarium full of newts at one time. I collected behavioral data on them and hoped that they would reproduce, thus the songs! 🙂

      Being different is delightful. If you have some old maps of your handy I’d love to see/learn more. I think I need to write post about this!

      1. Hello Lori.

        I also had a cassette recorder. Alas, I filled it with ribald songs about the reproductive glories of newts. I had an aquarium full of newts at one time. I collected behavioral data on them and hoped that they would reproduce, thus the songs!

        That is hilarious…

        If you ever decide to do a PhD on the reproduction of newts then you can attach the songs in the appendix;-) That should make the PhD above-average entertaining. (If fellow researchers happened to have a rock band, they could theoretically end up as hit songs amongst newts-enthusiasts)

        I think I said this before: It puzzles me that you have such a vivid and narrative writing style while you prefer non-fiction over fiction. I thought reading and writing fiction was how to learn to tell stories… for everybody.

        My heart has always been in story telling, even when I wrote non-fiction…

        E.g. when I wrote a report about a specific crop in farm school it was a story in disguise. I prioritised the information I chose to include according to its dramatic appeal. Since I could describe a certain important pest bug’s behaviour and life cycle in an entertaining way it figured prominently in my report with a hand-drawn illustration. I think my reports were well appreciated for their structure and entertainment value 🙂 and they were also correct, so they got good marks.

      2. Re. maps and other old stuff: I am not sure. Maybe there is some in my mom’s cellar (but it is a small place), I’ll check next time I go there (next year?). I only took basic necessities and books I though would help with the studies when I moved to Australia.

        I would love to see your old maps too:-) If you happen to come across them.

    3. Thank you complimneting my narrative style. 🙂

      I do read fiction, but I am very narrow in my choices. I have several novels of magical realism. I like them for their descriptive qualities. I also read short fiction, specifically dark fantasy, horror and psychological collections of short stories.

      I am not a vampire/werewolf/zombie sort of horror fan. I prefer atmoshperic, picturesque shorts about dread, anxiety and fear. I’ve probably read over 600 collections. I like these works because I can easily relate to the characters.

      I get lost in long complex fantasies–too many characters. I can’t visualize them or process all of the motives. I become confused by chapter 3.

      Storytelling is a wonderful gift and to have it naturally at your fingertips is a blessing. And when you can entertain! Hurrah! 🙂

      1. Then it makes more sense:-) and I agree, story telling is a blessing, great for both self-entertainment and sharing of imagination & facts.

    1. I forgot to say, I also have an antiquated obsession: FOUNTAIN PENS!! I think you are insightful to notice everyone’s need to hang on to something obscure that has meaning for them only, in that secret place in their heart.

      1. I remember! It seems that you had quite a lovely collection when i visited with you last!

        I admire you adoration of fountain pens. I bought an old fashioned pen and ink kit to doodle with. The scritch-scritch of the pen on paper was a lovely sensation, like eating something salt and crunchy, but with your fingers.

        Actually creating something with the media is a challenge for me. Circles take a special technique, but the actual feel of the pen is very satisfying.

  2. Three thoughts:
    1. The WordPress daily post challenge today has to do with maps… Do it!
    2. I’ve thought of using maps as wrapping paper. They are so beautiful, and that could be a good way to reuse abandoned maps.
    3. Have you read a book called, “The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet”? It’s about an unusual little boy who maps everything and goes on a coming-of-age journey. It’s riveting and most of the margins of the book are filled with his clever maps. It’s a great book, and I get the sense that you would love it. (Also, it’s apparently being made into a move:

    1. Kylie,

      Thank you for the heads up about the maps.I would need six months heads up to do anything, however–with the last four months being filled with performance anxiety!

      I am intrigued by the book you suggested. It sounds just like the sort of thing I’d love to read!

      You mentioned that wrapping paper would be a good use for abandoned maps? Love that idea! I collect atlases and abandoned (love that word!) maps. It’s good to know I can do something else with them aside from alphabetize them on a bookshelf!

      Thank you for visiting and commenting! It’s good to meet you!


  3. As a child my bedroom walls were covered, not with posters of bands or movies, but maps from National Geographic. I would spend hours studying them, following the roads past exotically-named places I had only encountered in books, traveling in my mind up rivers and across mountains. Thank you, Lori, for evoking that happy memory.

    1. Ah! Thank you so much for taking the time to share that with me! I completely understand, in fact I have little goosebumps just recalling my own love of childhood maps! The smell of old pages and twisting down roads imagining intersections. For me, maps represent possibility, growth. Half of any journey is positive expectation! 🙂

      Lori D

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