Spring/Summer 1997, Volume 14.2


W. Scott Olsen

The Love of Maps

W. Scott Olsen teaches English at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. His stories and essays have appeared in Kenyon, North Dakota Quarterly, Ascent, Willow Springs, and Kansas Quarterly, and others.



"So," I ask him. "Why are you here?"

I am standing with Martin Tobias at the Klondike Korner, at the beginning of the Dempster Highway, in the Yukon Territory. Overhead, the sun is bright and warm. Both of us are smiling. A hundred yards to our north, a small single-lane bridge crosses the Klondike River where bright red salmon break the surface of the shallow, tumbling stream.

I have stopped at this corner to gather my breath, my luck, my courage. This is the beginning of the end, the last road, the road I'd heard stories about more than two thousand miles away, the fundamental reason I am here. A sign tells me "The Dempster is the only public highway in North America that crosses the Arctic Circle; beyond this point is a world that many of you will have never seen." Another sign, labeled "Some Tips for Travellers," says: "Don't Forget! In summer, bring: mosquito repellent, first aid kit, water carrier, emergency flares, spare gas." I can taste the adrenaline.

I had watched a light blue minivan rumble over the bridge and come to a stop by the sign. A bearded man, heavy-set, somewhere in his forties, got out, took a breath. At the beginning and the end of the Dempster Highway,—more than seven hundred kilometers of single-lane gravel traversing arctic tundra, two large rivers and a half dozen mountain ranges, with only Eagle Plains, the half-way point, providing gasoline, maintenance and food—introductions are easy. Tobias is from Oregon. He'd just seen what brought me here. Not so long ago, he stood here himself wondering what would come after that bridge.

"So," I ask him. "Why are you here?"

"Oh," he answers me, with a grin. "I saw it on a map."


Begin in your driveway.

Don't get killed.

Put the car, the truck, the minivan in a forward gear and there it is. Somewhere just beyond the first stop sign, somewhere in the back of your brain, somewhere in the "If just a few things were different," you hear that voice. Keep going, it says. Pass the daycare, the grocery store,

the job site, the office. Just keep your foot on the floor. This road ends somewhere, and you don't know where that somewhere is.

There is a connection already. Pavement runs from your driveway to New York, to Key West, to the Bay of Fundy, to the tall-grass prairies, to glaciers and deserts and evening-time stories you have not heard. You've followed the red and blue map lines at rest stops, on gas station walls, in your own garage. As if you've put your head to railroad tracks to hear an oncoming train, you can feel the faraway places in your tires.

So go! Begin in your driveway. Don't get killed.


This story, like all stories, begins with a map.

While this particular road trip begins with countless hours spent over an old and coverless dog-eared, coffee-stained edition of a Rand McNally Road Atlas—wondering where roads began and ended, needing to know how to get from Fargo to Charlottesville, imagining myself toward Glacier National Park, toward Crater Lake, toward the Tetons and then the Blue Ridge Mountains, tracing my fingers over the red and blue map lines leading from home to anywhere and everywhere else—the story of this trip begins much earlier, in the Middle Ages, when the corners of the world had not been seen and mapmakers believed in monsters.

The story of this trip begins with a map, which is to say the story of this trip begins with a need.


I begin in my driveway. Start the car. Back out, turn right under the midsummer canopy of bright green elm leaves. These trees are fragile, as old as any tree on the Midwestern prairie. Each day, I find myself touching at least one of them, a physical contact with the things surrounding my home. The early morning dew still hangs in their moss.

Put the car in first gear. The neighborhood is quiet, hushed in the way that a room filled with people can be quieter than the same room empty. In a few hours, every doorway and driveway here will issue people toward work, school, the routines and patterns of everyday living. But now, the houses and yards only glimmer in the new daylight. Ready.

Roll south. Stop at the stop sign. Turn left onto Seventh Avenue. On the right, the college dormitory is as quiet as the neighborhood. An early morning thunderstorm has just left town and the threshold between campus-lawn and building-wall still seems fluid. Robins and sparrows and nuthatches begin to fill the air with singing. A red squirrel chases a grey squirrel across the street.

At the stop light, turn right. Roll south, past the college, the cemetery, the apartments, the pharmacist, the other neighborhoods, the mini-malls, the veterinarian. Stop in to get some coffee, to fill the thermos as well as the mug. Stretch the legs one more time. Look around, gather the town in this one morning into a still-life memory. Then get back into the car. Roll toward the Interstate Highway, I-94. Begin the trip.


In the middle ages, the western world was big enough to need a picture of itself, a mappa mundi, a map of the world. The question wasn't "Where are we?" The question was "How does this place, this house and this field and this tree fit into a larger picture? I know there are things I cannot see." Imagination is older than any map, but a map can answer the wondering of the imagination. "What's over there?" we muse. "What's it like?"

Christian Scripture said Jerusalem was in the midst of nations, so the mapmakers put it in the center of their maps. The closer you were to Jerusalem, the closer you were to Christ. Beyond the walls of Jerusalem were the other cities and places of the then known world. And at the end of the known world, the mapmakers drew monsters. Abarimon, with backward-turned feet. Amyctyrae, with a lower lip large enough to be used as an umbrella. Astomi, with no mouths and living by smell. Blemmyae, with their faces in their chests. Cynocephali, with the heads of dogs.


Accelerate. Merge. Join the westbound flow, the cars, the pickup and semi-trucks, the men and women who are not at home. Exceed the speed limit. As it traverses Moorhead, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota, I-94 is six lanes wide—too much space for the lightness of early morning traffic. Look around a bit more than normal. The storm cell moved out of town heading south. A small though brilliant rainbow falls away from the back edge of the cloud. The town looks washed. Leave the radio off. Listen to the sounds of tire and wind and water and road. Roll a window down, then get ready to exit. Pull to the right. Exit I-94 west and join I-29 north. North!

North is the direction for this story.

Glance at the passenger seat, the open map resting there. Scan the roads that will lead north, west, north, west, north, north, north. North takes the car out of town, out of the county, out of the country. North will cross the arctic circle, in a land filled with grizzly bears and polar bears, caribou and moose, ptarmigan and gyrfalcon. North will enter a land where the people call themselves Gwich'in and Inuvialuit. If all roads begin at the end of my driveway, North leads to the farpoint, where the road finally ends, where the only tool I have is imagination.


"You are here."

What a wonderful piece of information! Of course, the answer is oftentimes depressing as I discover I'm standing in front of a mall directory, between a shoe store and corn dog counter, but to know for just one brief moment exactly where I am is seldom less than thrilling. Science tells me that my body is spinning on the surface of this planet at nearly 1,040 miles per hour, that the planet is spinning around the sun at nearly 66,640 miles per hour, that the sun is spinning around the galaxy, that the galaxy is spinning around the universe, all of us racing away from wherever we started. Then again, Einstein tells us that speed and location are relative, given the position and speed of multiple observers, and phenomenology argues that everything I can possibly know is really just a good guess anyway. So when I am told "You are here" with a little arrow pointing to an even littler dot, I often want to sing.

There is a moment, psychologists tell us, when an infant discovers he or she is not its mother, that the infant is a separate being. And at this moment, Desire is born. Desire for the Other. D. W. Winnicott called the imagined distance between the Self and the Other a Potential Space. Yet, there is another way to look at this moment. When an infant discovers its Self, what other question is there than "Where am I?" And, when the infant sees the mother, what other question is there than "Why aren't I over there?" If Desire is born at the moment of self-awareness, I believe it is a desire to travel.

Locating ourselves in terms of a physical geography and in relation to other people is the first human task, the first question of an infant. Certainly, "Where am I?" is also the question we ask as life slips from us and we enter whatever comes next. And perhaps this one question, in its first and final forms, in the myriad forms it takes during the course of a life, during the course of a civilization, is why we are so in love with maps, why we pause in front of them, linger over them without a prior question. A map is a promise, a pledge to pin something down just long enough to see it.


In the Middle Ages, "Where am I?" or "Where are we?" found its answer less in geography than in theology, philosophy and politics. Maps had nothing to do with finding your way. Instead, there were Noachid maps, often called T-O maps, which sprang from the post-flood story of Noah sending his sons out to the new lands—Japheth to Europe, Shem to Asia, and Ham to Africa (Friedman 39). T-O maps put North to the left and imagined the solid ground surrounded by ocean at every horizon. The ring of ocean formed the letter O. The Mediterranean was the stem of the T; the Tanais River and then the Nile formed the letter's top (38).

And there were the more theoretical Macrobian zone maps, divided into broad bands from top to bottom. The top and bottom bands were uninhabitable places because of cold. The middle band represented a place uninhabitable because of heat. The not too hot and not too cold places were "Nostra Zona," our zone (39).

These maps were popular, well-known, stained on the glass of church windows and woven into tapestries. They had titles like De Philosophia Mundi, Concerning The Philosophy of The World.

There is a way to ask "Where Am I?" which means "How do I get to where I am not?" This need for an answer gives rise to road maps. Yet, there is a way to ask "Where Am I?" which has nothing to do with leaving home. This need gives rise to De Philosophia Mundi.

Theoretical or theological, medieval maps had Grace in the center and monsters at the frontier. Yet, the edge is as often as attractive as repellent.


What do you take when you've never been to where you're going? In my office, I'd shown my route to Per Anderson, a religion professor, a friend. My finger pointed to the highways joining British Columbia, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories.

"You going to carry?" he asked me.


"You going to take a gun?"

"A gun?"

His own finger pointed to the red line called the Dempster Highway. "Scott," he said. "That's grizzly country. There are bears up there who could think of you as lunch."

"Oh." I said. Looking at the flat white map on a table in my office, I saw mountains and rivers and ways of seeing the sunlight not possible near my home. Per, looking at that same map, saw bears.

"You know," I told him later, "only a religion professor asked me if I was prepared to kill something."

"Yeah," he replied. "It's a complicated life."


How is it possible that strangers can understand each other, can know each other in ways more intimate and personal than lovers, than husbands and wives, than parents and children? We've all had that feeling. In the quiet of an after-midnight reading, curled up alone in a chair, on a couch or in bed, a character suddenly hits a chord in our soul. Standing in front of a painting, we see more than colors and patterns; we see the depth of a creator's ways of knowing. Listening to favorite music, the physical world supporting our feet becomes invisible, irrelevant, and language loses any application to the longings and affirmations spoken by string, by air, and by drum.

Art connects humanities. The work of the artist is the work of shouting "Here I am! This is what I believe!" And those of us who listen come to know the worker as well as the work. I know Shakespeare, what he believed, what he felt, what he loved and what he feared, better than I know my neighbor. And my neighbor knows Shakespeare better than she knows me. So the sensibilities of a man who died in the Renaissance continue to make Community possible as the millennium closes.

Likewise, I have come to know a man named John Norden, who walked the Renaissance streets of England during the days of Shakespeare. John Norden was the Queen's Mapmaker. In 1593, or thereabouts, he began a survey of Britain—"not merely from business motives" according to M. St. Clare Byrne, "but prompted equally by his own real love of the countryside itself" (117).

John Norden lived when Walter Raleigh lived, when Francis Drake lived. And while Raleigh and Drake returned with exotic stories of the world's corners, where monsters had been replaced with gold, Norden gave light to a landscape made invisible through familiarity. It seems that he, and only he among his peers, understood not only what a map could do, but what it could be. Again according to Byrne,

[W]ith the sole exception of Norden the topographers were all too interested in imparting their knowledge of an England that had been, to take the time to describe for our delight the England that lay around them. Here is that interest in humanity and in his own day that gives Norden his unique position. (118­19)

Here, he says, is my map. Here, on his map, says the scholar, is his interest in humanity.


Interstate Highway 29 north out of Fargo. The traffic this early morning is not heavy. Often, there's no one else in the rear view mirror or on the road still to come. The light rain is constant while downpour cells move over fields of sugar beets and grains and sunflowers like checker pieces on a gargantuan scale.

One hundred and fifteen miles north of home, I pull off at some lonely exit, pause at the top of the overpass to taste the rain and wind and temperature—the constitution of the prairie this day.

Nothing on my road map tells me the land here is different. No picture, no words, no legend tells me all water here flows north, that I am driving deeper into the bed of the Pleistocene Lake Agassiz. No markings on my road map tell me about the hundreds of intercontinental ballistic missiles housed now a stone's throw to the west. While the historical and political questions and curiosities travel with me, the historical and political and other maps—the historical and political and other answers—remain behind. This is a choice. Every answer is a partial answer, and to carry a partial answer in front of a new question in a new land is to enforce a blindness.

On the surface, the land here looks like it does at my front door. And my road map tells me this place is connected to what I know. So in my personal map—the one etched out on the walls of my inner eye—I have a way to start. I am making my own map here, the map of my own history, my own explorations in a limited time.

Tighten the seatbelt. Go over the inventory. Jeans. Shirts. A sweatshirt. Two sweaters. Raincoat. A good pair of hiking boots. Emergency medical kit. CB radio. Stop-Leak for the radiator. Jelly beans. Hat. Fishing pole. Sunglasses. Money.


With Raleigh and Drake, Shakespeare and Norden, there were also Mercator and Ortelius. And each man shared one thing, which was not a love of place. Farmers can love a place. Tax collectors can love a place for entirely different reasons. Saints and sinners can love the same place equally. Love of place is personal, unspoken, deeper than language.

Yet, someone in the Renaissance, maybe everyone at the same time, discovered that Place also means Story, that a map is an invitation to follow a story in a global language. "Look at my map," says the farmer, "this is the story of what will grow." "Look at my map," says the tax collector, "this is the story of wealth."

Story creates Community. And someone else's Story creates Desire.

I am in love with maps. All maps. Topographical maps. Road maps. Maps that show population density, divorce rates, educational levels, habits of watching television or how many magazines are delivered per household—sociological trends. Census maps. Very old maps, showing trails long since covered or replaced or removed. Weather maps. Two and three dimensional maps. Campus maps. City bus route maps. Mineral maps. Maps of the ocean floor and maps of high altitude wind patterns. Harbor maps. Shopping mall directory maps. Maps for pilots. Maps for SCUBA divers. Maps for fire departments.

And not only those maps which can be put on paper or a video screen. There are linguistic maps, cognitive maps, and the directions offered from local resident to tourist on the best way to get to the beach. Each morning I walk into my son or daughter's room, and their first reaction to being awakened provides a map of that morning, whether the distance between their rooms and daycare will be smooth and dry and paved, or rough and gravel in a midnight windstorm. Each day, each person and each corner provide a map of what lies ahead, a promise or portent of what most likely will come.

We make our plans from the maps we are given and the maps we seek. Not only the best roadway to work or the grocery store, updated by helicopters or radio reports, but when to approach others with good or troubling news. When to tell a joke. When to shut the door and let others pass by the self-construction zones.


At the border, the rainfall is briefly torrential. I wait behind a white sedan and then a motor home with Michigan license plates, each of us approaching a low brown and white drive-through Customs station. It's mid-morning now and we all have our lights on.

We are leaving the country, entering a place in our heads with more shape than earth. On the other side of the raised traffic island, Canadian cars enter the States. The drivers on both sides sit somehow straighter because the rules have changed. When I get to the booth, where a uniformed man leans on one elbow out a window to talk to me, the questions are perfunctory.

"Where are you going?"

"Inuvik," I say, trying not to smile, "then Tuktoyaktuk."

Inuvik. Tuktoyaktuk. Surely, I think, these names would cause even a border guard to raise an eyebrow. These places are three thousand miles away, at the edge of the continent. It's all I can do not to reach over to the passenger seat and grab my atlas, hold it out the window for him, and point. "Here," I could say, half my finger on land, half my finger in the Arctic Ocean's Beaufort Sea. "Here! Here is where I am going!" But his questions aren't really important. Somewhere, a guard I cannot see is putting my license plate number into a computer, checking me against some list of the desperate, the wanted and the not wanted at all. I could tell this man I was driving to Kathmandu. The permission to let me enter a new country will come from someone and something else.

"Do you have any pets with you?"


"Do you have any weapons?"

"Just my fishing rod."

This gets a smile. "Go on," he says. "Don't forget to buy a license."

A short distance north of the border, with a large parking lot, canary yellow walls, bright red doorway arches, banners and flags and an immaculate lawn, the Travel Manitoba Visitor's Center waits for people with questions. But I am stopped at the door by two signs on white paper. Large red block letters at the bottom of each page read "Tourist Alert" and there is an exclamation mark running the entire height of the page.

"JOHN & DOREEN SEMKO, of Wadena, SK—travelling through Southern Can. or Northern USA from Yellowstone National Park to Brandon, MB. PLEASE CONTACT BARBARA SEMKO." And then two phone numbers.

"MR. FREDIRICH AUBREY HELD from Goldlake, Alberta—travelling to Maine, USA in a white 1985 Ezlo trailer pulling a 1989 Yellow Jeep. PLEASE CONTACT ANNE GREGORY IN MAINE." And then just one phone number.

It is impossible to know if these signs imply disaster or simply a change of plans. And it is impossible not to imagine Barbara Semko and Anne Gregory, whoever they are, standing with a cup of coffee over some map of their own wondering, "Where are they?"

Inside the welcome center, enthusiastic women offer currency exchange and information. Brochures and maps fill an entire wall. I ask about John and Doreen Semko, about Mr. Fredirich Aubrey Held, but the women shake their heads. "We just put up the signs," one of them says.

"Don't you ever want to call those phone numbers, just to see how things turned out?" I ask.

"No," the women say. "We put up too many of those."

Get back in the car. Drive north.


Everything, it seems, is mappable. And we have the desire to map, it seems, everything.

Like all people, I need to know where I am. Physically. Morally. Intellectually. Historically. To know where I am, I need to know my place in a larger world. Maps detail the world for me. At the shopping mall, a red sign on the directory tells me "You are here" and points to a corner by a coffee shop. The body language of my colleagues says "You are here" and points to a corner in their day. A book in my office maps the migratory patterns of birds found in Minnesota. A textbook on Logic maps how conclusions are made. Books map the nervous system, the history of the Grand Canyon wall, the physical causes of romantic love, the hierarchy of Heaven. Maps give me a set of choices to make, a set of possible pathways.

All people share curiosity. No matter how far apart we may be in terms of gender, class, race, geophysical locale, we all have a love of Story, which is a love of the forecast. What will happen next? Which road will be taken? And for the forecast to mean anything, we have to know what's at risk—how the past has led to the moment, now, we are looking forward. In every culture since the beginning of time, story tellers have been the elite. Story tellers are the actors, the authors, the anchors on the evening news, the comedians, the friend down the hall who's heard a good one. Story tellers lay out the map of the past and the map of what is still possible.

Storytellers and maps tell us what might happen. But sometimes they are wrong.


My friend John Wheeler is a storyteller, a mapmaker, a weatherman. He's one of the men and women who fill that mid-section of our local evening news to tell the ongoing story of what will move from heaven to earth, the wind and rain and hail and bright summer sunshine. Our lives often depend on them.

Each evening they put maps on the television screen that we read much the same way we read detective stories. The pressure map details the location and strength of the approaching front. What will happen? Will it flatten the local crops with hail? Will that storm we see on the radar map spawn a tornado? Will I need a parka, a raincoat, boots?

Each evening the story ends with a cliffhanger, an ellipsis, a set of possibilities, a promise of more maps tomorrow.

John's office is set just to the side of the stage used for broadcast. One wall is covered with North American and World maps: Surface Analysis, 850 Millibar Analysis, 700, 500, 300 and 200 Millibar Analysis. A computer model map is called the MRF map, the medium range forecast. There are the NGM or Nested Grid models and the new ETA models. Another short wall holds books on physics and chaos theory. The third side of his office holds the computer screens and keyboards and light pen panels. The fourth side is open toward the stage.

We are talking about the weather I will find on my trip, and John tells me it should be fine. He's been to the Arctic himself, following polar bears near Churchill. He calls up the current temperature for Inuvik on a computer and it's seventy five degrees Fahrenheit. "You know what that means, don't you?" he asks me. "It means you'll be breathing mosquitoes."

I ask John where the maps he gives to us come from. The satellite pictures come from NOAA. The local radar comes from NOAA, too. The national radar comes from a company in Boston that collects all the local readings and makes a composite, then sells that composite as a commercial product for television stations.

The picture of the country placed underneath the radar and satellite images comes from satellites, the boundaries of states is a map drawn by the Central Intelligence Agency. "We have geographic data for the United States," John tells me, "but not for Canada or Mexico."

"John," I say, pointing to a television screen showing the underlay picture, "then why do I see mountains here, in Canada and Mexico?"

"My computer has a paintbox program," he says. "I made those mountains."

With a light pen, John draws a frontal boundary over and along a series of pressure lines.

"How many maps do you put up in the course of a three and a half minute report?" I ask him.

"That depends on how you're counting," he tells me. "Each animation is really a collection of seventy or eighty still picture maps. But if you count each animation as one, then I put up about ten or eleven different maps, not counting other graphics."

"How many maps go into the making of those maps?"

"In the course of a day, I scan about one hundred and fifty new maps." "And how many acts of interpretation are involved with those hundred and fifty?"

"Thousands," he says. "Maybe even tens of thousands—all of it based on experience. See the local radar over there? See that big wedge-shaped blank thing heading northeast? We have no image for there right now. I don't know why. But that doesn't mean that part of the universe has suddenly disappeared. All over the world, small and large corrections are made all the time. We always put what we see with what we know. Let me give you another example. When they were first put together, the computer models of weather coming over the Pacific Cascade mountains never worked the way the weather did. The problem was the height of the mountains. The only way they could get the model to work right was to move the mountains, broad instead of tall. In that model, the mountains extend miles out into what is really the Pacific Ocean—but it gives us an accurate picture of the weather."

John's business is mapmaking. He has maps on his walls, in his computers and in his head.

"Out of all this," I ask, "What's most important?"

"The words," he says. "The story is what people listen to."


West of Saskatoon, a broad, bright green and yellow valley appears on the northern side of the Yellow Head Highway. The prairie swells every other direction. A small gravel rest stop is built so drivers can take in the view. For humans, seeing any distance at all is always a cause for pleasure.

An interpretive sign offers a map and explanation of the migrations of whooping cranes. "Saskatchewan serves as an important feeding and migration area for the graceful and endangered whooping crane. It is fascinating to see a whooping crane flying overhead with its neck and legs fully extended. Spiraling upward on warm air currents then gliding towards its destination on its migratory path through Saskatchewan (shown on map), the whooping crane relies on Saskatchewan's marshes, shallow creeks and agricultural land as its source of food."

Another sign maps the story of the Doukhobors. "In 1899, a group of Doukhobors from Russia established the first village of Kirilovka one half mile west of here—these settlers, seeking religious freedom, thrived despite severe hardships, deprivations and cold."

In the valley, the North Saskatchewan River glides brightly by a railroad line, while overhead the sky is clear and sunny.

How many maps are possible? How many questions can be asked about any one small individual spot on this planet? If I ask "Where am I?" how many different versions of "You are here" are possible?

Standing at the edge of the river valley, I know I am in the middle of a map of bird migrations, standing in a map of human migration as well. I know the rail company has a map of its tracks, as the highway department has its own maps of this road, detailing not only where it goes but its repairs and future. I can assume there are mineral maps of this valley, questions about oil or rock. I can assume there are topographical maps, and hunting maps, and census maps.

But as I type these sentences about that valley, I am in my office. The number 308 is on the wall outside my office door, which locates me in the progression of numbers in this third floor hallway. Somewhere, there are a set of plans or blueprints which show my office in relation to the others on this floor, to the others in this building, to the pipes and wires and windows and doors and fire escapes and closets that make up the possible transit choices in what collectively is called Academy Hall. Academy Hall is located in relation to the other buildings on the campus directory, which is printed on white sheets for the visitors who make it to the campus information office as well as set in stone and concrete near the front door parking lot. And if I let the circle grow, the number of maps explodes.

So, where am I? I am in the psychological map of ascending or descending office numbers students and others carry in their heads. I am in a set of building plans (and, actually, several differing versions and sets of these plans, as plans are also drawn to predict or answer a fairly specific needWhere is that pipe? You want a telephone line put where?). I am on the campus maps. I am near the North Saskatchewan River, a few hundred feet above and south of the waterway. I am in a place where whooping cranes feed and Doukhobors settled. And, I am in your head, dear reader, wherever you may be right now.

Can any map say "You Are Here" and get it right?


Maps do not come from God. And, according to Mark Monmonier,

Not only is it easy to lie with maps, it's essential. To portray meaningful relationships for a complex, three-dimensional world on a flat sheet of paper or a video screen, a map must distort reality. As a scale model, the map must use symbols that almost always are proportionally much bigger or thicker than the features they represent. To avoid hiding critical information in a fog of detail, the map must offer a selective, incomplete view of reality. There's no escape from the cartographic paradox: to present a useful and truthful picture, an accurate map must tell white lies. (1)

Little comfort as the rain returns, a storm cell strong enough I will hear about it again tomorrow morning, in a hotel room, watching CNN. How far to Edmonton? The map said nothing about the oil refinery at the Saskatchewan/Alberta border. The map said nothing about gigantic buffalo feeding near the fence line.

Trace the maplines with a finger, try to judge distance, equate distance with time. Compute the gas mileage and the need for sleep.


Head west into the deepening evening light. The Yellow Head Route into Edmonton. Signs on lamp posts and billboards give the details too fine for a road atlas. Turn off at this exit. Turn right at this street. The world's largest shopping mall is here, with sharks and dolphins, waterslides and more submarines than the Canadian Navy, with a rollercoaster that has killed and a hotel named Fantasyland.

Trust your sense of direction as well as your sense of self. Look for all the signs that say, You are Here.


Works Cited

Byrne, M. St. Clare. Elizabethan Life in Town and Country. 1925. London: Methuen & Co., 1970.

Friedman, John Block. The Monstrous Races in Medieval Art and Thought. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.

Monmonier, Mark. How to Lie With Maps. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991.

Rouse, A. L. The England of Elizabeth. New York: Collier, 1970.


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