Map Reading: An Acquired Skill

I know I’ve mentioned my love of chalkboards, but I also have a bit of love for maps. I love the look of maps, the soft colors of blue and green and yellow, but also the black and white antique maps and the bold colors often used on the USA map. And not just maps, but globes, too. I would love to have a variety of globes adorning the mantel one day.

But what fuels this love? Is it because I often dreamt of living in other places when I was a kid? Of expanding my horizons far past the little town I grew up in? Maybe. Or it could simply be an aesthetic one. Maps are pretty.

I can tell you it is not because I am an expert at reading maps. I am the person who decided that the best way to get to Texas from Maryland was not to consult a map, but to drive west and then eventually south, guessing I’d see a sign that would direct me the further I got from Maryland and the closer I got to Texas. Luckily my mother intervened and forced a road atlas into my hands minutes before I hit the open road. (I say luckily because I did use the map to get me to my destination which the Adult Me recognizes as the best result, but really might have my plan worked also? The Free Spirit Me believes it might have made for a far more interesting trip!) Granted, I was 19 at the time, but I’m pretty sure that today if there was no Mapquest and I didn’t have a GPS in our car I would be more inclined to trust there would be signs and not consult a map.

I suppose I learned map reading skills sometime during my education, but somewhere between longitude and latitude and identifying countries in front of the entire classroom…well, it coincided with having to wear glasses and being embarrassed at wearing those awful brown glasses and so having no idea what was going on in the front of the classroom because I couldn’t see…well, you get the idea. I’m pretty sure I missed out on acquiring decent map reading skills out of vanity.

It was on one of my subsequent cross country trips when I was driving west with a friend of mine that I learned map reading was a skill. And I say that because I’d never given it a thought until that trip. I’d handed my friend the map and asked her to navigate and it stressed her out so much I had to pull over and give her a pep talk. She always referenced that trip, about how I helped her to see that she could, in fact, do something like read a map, which I guess had at one time been an issue in her childhood. My husband would probably think this is funny because I’m pretty quick to hand him the map or to call him for navigational advice!

What about you, dear Reader? Any life skills you’ve found yourself lacking as you navigate the bumpy road of adulthood?

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The Mighty Mississippi

Yesterday I took a road trip. Drove from Birmingham, Alabama to Vicksburg, Mississippi just to see the Mississippi River.

I think it was about 9 1/2 hours of total driving and I wasn’t alone. I had my three kids with me (ages 6, 4 and 2) and my in-laws.

To be honest, it wasn’t my idea. My in-laws wanted to go, to drive over the mighty Mississippi, a goal off their bucket list, although they never referred to it that way.

I’ve driven cross-country seven times so I’ve done this before. And actually crossing the Mississippi is one of my favorite parts of the trip. It’s strange, I suppose, but I love how the state line is in the middle of the bridge. The last time I crossed the Mississippi River I was with my father. He was helping me move from California to North Carolina. We were in a big rental truck, towing my car and it was not an easy trip. My apartment was empty, the truck was packed and as we had a quick lunch at In-N-Out Burger on Van Nuys Boulevard before hitting the road, I was queasy, uncertain if I was making the right decision. The further from town we got, the grumpier I became. And when we crossed the state line of California into Arizona, I knew I was making a terrible decision. I loved California so why in the world was I leaving it? And I also knew there was no way I could tell my father what I was feeling, no way I could suggest we stop, turn around, head back.

Eventually I napped and when I awoke, I consoled myself with thoughts of being on a road trip with my dad, seeing fun and interesting things, starting a new adventure. I waited for the Mississippi, waited for the sign in the middle of the bridge announcing a new state. Shouldn’t we be coming to it by now? Finally, I had to ask. And sure enough I’d missed it!

If I’d only mentioned to my father the bridge we’d cross, the sign I’d like to see, he would’ve woken me up, made sure I didn’t miss it. But I didn’t mention it. I was too busy being self-indulgent, wallowing in my unhappiness, which was all my own doing. I’d inconvenienced my father, needing his help getting back to the East Coast. And like a good Dad, he was helping me the best he could while staying out of range of my stormy mood, probably relieved when I napped so he could enjoy the ride.

So I was back to being grumpy, back to stewing on my rash decision to move to North Carolina. It wasn’t until we were about 20 miles outside of Wilmington, NC that I finally felt good about my move. It would be okay. I had made a good decision and I would be fine. Besides, I could always move again. I was getting pretty good at it.

And although it was a very tough first year there in the Old North State and I was the poorest I’d ever been, helped by my $2,000 truck rental that quickly escalated into a $20,000 credit card debt, it ended up being a good thing. I married the guy I’d moved there for, which brings me back to my crazy road trip with three small children and my in-laws.

Soon after leaving Birmingham, the landscape opened up. We’d left the town with buildings and billboards, with traffic and stoplights, and it was just the road ahead. ┬áTrees and tall grass followed alongside the stretch of asphalt in varying shades of gray and the blue sky above was indicative of a sunshine-filled day. I could feel my soul start to breathe. Oh, I’d missed this. It was a little different from my previous state-line crossing trips. The soundtrack had changed to Elmo Goes Potty and I Stink and such. There were more potty breaks, demands for snacks and drinks, questions about where we were. But still, I was on the road and free to think and dream and compose in my head.

There was a moment when I thought what if? What if I kept going? Where could I potentially end up if I didn’t turn around once I’d crossed the Mississippi? (This is actually the kind of thought that prompted the novel I’ve been working on, although it is nowhere near being ready.) And then the moment passed and the thought receded. It wasn’t an idea that formed because of a wish to escape my life, just an idea born from an adventurous spirit. I’m happy with my life, with my husband and my children. Wouldn’t want life to be any other way.

Turns out the bridge that crosses from Vicksburg, Mississippi to Louisiana is not the bridge I took every time I drove across the Mississippi. There was no sign in the middle of the bridge indicating we’d crossed state lines. I suppose that must’ve been in Arkansas? I probably took I-40, not I-20, but then again, maybe it was a different bridge with a different river altogether. I can’t promise my memory is accurate. But I wasn’t disappointed. This trip reminded me of something: the open road is my muse.

Maybe I should’ve been a truck driver.