For one of our exams, we were instructed to drop a dime in the grass. Then the teacher gave us a complicated instructions:
Go 72 yards at a heading of 290 degrees
48 yards at 46 degrees
91 yards at 198 degrees . . .
. . . and so on. He designed the directions so that if I followed them correctly I would end up standing on my dime.
The first test was easy. I found my dime in the grass on the first try. The exercises grew more complicated. I learned a trick: in order to get an A on the test, it helped to have a few extra dimes in my pocket.
With the invention of GPS, you just enter the location you want, and the device points the way. It requires about the same skill as filling out a crossword puzzle with the answer sheet in front of you. But at least you end up where you wanted to go, and you don’t need to carry extra change.
Compasses are sexy. The invisible forces of magnetism are harnessed by your magic needle, gleaning clues from the unseen.
Maps are like that too. They tell the future. They’ll tell you a town is two miles over the hill and beyond the next left turn, which you can’t even see. You go over the hill and around the corner and—oh my God there it is! It’s like tarot cards that actually make sense.
I haven’t plied such sorcery for years. I recently went on vacation in the Black Hills, where you can hike to unimaginable views. I bought a topographical map for ten dollars, cheaper than one visit to a palm reader, and with more lines. I brought my trusty compass, a transparent orienteering one that lays over a map and reveals secrets.
I pointed the compass at Harney Peak, the tallest mountain east of the Rockies, and took a reading: 45 degrees. Then Little Devil’s Tower, the scariest cliff I’ve ever peered over: 64 degrees. Cathedral Spires, a craggy, spiky formation that will give you religion, 72 degrees. On my map I drew light pencil lines through all three mountains using the measured vectors. The lines converged on one spot. Me.
Three mountains, each over 2 billion years old (6000 in Fundamentalist years), agreed that I exist. My head swirled at the thought. I marked a dot on the map. Me.
I looked up at Laura. She was eighteen feet away at 48 degrees, sitting in a chair atop a high cliff, looking down upon layers of blue-gray South Dakota hills fading into an imperceptible seam with the sky. She had wrapped herself in a warm wool blanket, and had book in her lap, a margarita in her hand. Laura can enjoy the view without maps.
She smiled. “I love to watch you geek out like that.”
“I’m on the map,” I announced. “I’m right here.”
“I knew you would be.”
“Will you marry me?”