In 1991 the library at Shippensburg University hired me. I worked in the multi-media arts section; a corner of the library buried in the basement. We housed the oldest, antiquated technology. Outdated school curricula and microfiche and stamped manila index cards rained down upon us from the upstairs, like sad, worn out confetti.
The media arts section also housed some of the most advanced technology for 1991. We held video tapes (VHS AND BETAMAX!) from all disciplines…comedy, documentary, drama, action thrillers, foreign films. If a teacher decided the library needed the video, we had it.
Sandwiched in this dichotomous zone, hidden from the casual observer, stood a collection of the U.S. Geological Survey maps. The collection sat in a handsomly drawered cabinet that never collected dust (because that was a part of my responsibility…to dust off the things that no one ever touched.) Occasionally, I stood for few moments and pulled out a sheaf of map. I located Emmaus and traced the streets I knew so well with my finger. I explored the surrounding Cumberland Valley and wondered how far I would go…metaphorically and literally.
The detail of those underused maps appealed to me. The USGS maps are pieces of art. You should frame them and hang them on the wall.
John Noble Wilford wrote The Mapmakers as an ode to cartographers. He pieced together history, biography, and geography to knit a beautiful story. He chronicled the history of mapmaking from antiquity to GPS. Each turn in the story of cartography is filled with the quest to know more.
I have a paperback copy of the book. I have exactly two sentences highlighted in 473 pages of sentences. The first sentence lies in the preface—which is unusual because I don’t usually read prefaces and they generally don’t have anything quotable—which is why I don’t read them in the first place. Wilford writes in the preface to the second edition, “It is that mapmakers through time have communicated a sense of where we live, where we have been and want to go, and where we are when we get there.”
Navigating these days grows more and more difficult with each passing day. We have left behind the territory we knew. We all want to arrive at the destination. WE ALL WANT TO ARRIVE SAFELY. Strangely, given the ridiculous precision of global positioning systems, we don’t know where we are. We are muddled in unknown territory. Mapmakers, the figurative ones, will lead us. They will let us know where we are and when we get there.
In a chapter dedicated to the exploits of Lewis, Clark, Fremont, Nicolet, and Preuss, Wilford offers a line worth the price of the book, “Why they went west involves a complex of human drives, glory and greed, curiosity and escape, but most of them plunged into the unknown because they believed that there was something there worth knowing.”
Sit with that for a while…they went into the unknown because they believed that there was something there worth knowing…
There IS something over there worth knowing. I believe that with all that I am. I don’t know what it is or where it is, but I know it as fact and truth. It may take us a while to muddle through the unknown, but one day we will regain a sense of where we live, where we have been and want to go, and where we are when we get there.
Until then we must be patient and tender with each other. We must be kind and respectful. We must be understanding and compassionate. We may find that the virtues we needed here are the same virtues we need there.
I love you.
[I need you.]
I hope for you.
Please be safe.