Once Upon a Time. . . and They All Lived Happily Ever After
The Good Offensive

Map in the Mind

MapIn Robert MacFarlane's epic compendium of journeys on foot, The Old Ways, he observes that maps of the Holy Land and West Bank made by the Israelis (or, before that, the British) "each had its own colonial biases of self-interest and misreading."  No doubt cartographers face numerous decisions about what to include or exclude, the relative importance of detail, and the value of notation.  It would be inevitable, I suppose, that each would bring to the task their own predispositions. Their maps are filtered through their minds and their own presuppositions about reality, through "legends" true and untrue.

Naming is, after all, an important and God-instituted means of our knowing and taking dominion over Creation, of obeying the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 and 2:15, to "fill the earth and subdue it," to "till it and keep it."  As theologian Loren Wilkinson reminds us, these twin verses both state in unequivocal terms the rule of man over nature and the role of man as servant of nature: humankind is the ruler of Creation not for self-interest but to help bring to fulfillment all of its potential.

 That humble rule is marked by a sympathetic "naming."  God brings the animals to Adam so that he can exercise his rule by naming each animal.  To name them, he must know them.  He must have observed their unique characteristics and given them a now unknowable name, one fitting them, one they could grow into.  Though we are not told of it, surely Adam also named the plants and trees of his garden, the places where he walked.  He was, indeed, the first cartographer, the first taxonomist.  So, we come by naming honestly.  We make maps.  They make us.  They are our way of taking dominion.  To leave that task to professional cartographers is to abandon our own place-making and, ultimately, to neglect our role to rule over what God has entrusted us.

 The developers of my small puzzle-piece of suburbia named its streets proper English words fitting its 1970s Williamsburg architecture, names like Winthrop and Gainsborough.  They no doubt sought to market the development in part via its courts and lanes, providing an illusion that one was buying into a quaint, English village.  I live in the map of their making, one that I have to adhere to for sake of public clarity, so the postal service can find me, so you can find me.  And yet I don't believe its the only or best way to map the place I call home.

MacFarlane walks the hills of Palestine with his friend Raja, using Raja's "map in the head," one signposted by personal memories and references.  Raja made his own hand-drawn map as well, one marked by pictures and event-captions, like "Where Penny and Raja came under gunfire, "Where I found a dinosaur footprint," or "Where Aziz picked up the unexploded missile."  MacFarlane is reminded of his walk on the English moor with Anne Campbell and her similar event-mapping: "Where the dragonfly had laid its wings out to dry."  "Where the eagle had preened."  Each notation bears a rich association with a unique spot, a Global Positioning System of personal observation.

I too have a map in my head.  There's "Where my children played in the rain," as I remember my then small ones splashing in water from a Summer shower.  Or "Daisy's house," for the good-humored golden retriever that greets me as I round the corner.  There's the" Last Lonely House," where in the wee morning hours a woman sits alone at a breakfast table, "Pooh-Sticks Bridge," where my stroller-bound son watched a sometimes trickling, sometimes rushing stream.  Kill Devil Hill.  Raccoon tree.  Mockingbird sings.  Albino fox crossing.  The Three Trees (all that is left of the old couple's home).  The Forest where the Fire burned.  The Gutter Geese.  Silent Chimes. Where I fell over a tree root.  Cactus Garden.  Pink house.  (Thank God, no missiles or gunfire.)  It's all there, in the map in my head.  I even wrote it down.  By doing so, I better know my place.  When I talk to my wife or children, we have some of these markers in common, a shared legend, a common story.  I might say "I saw the raccoon today," and they see that vine covered tree, or "over by the The Three Trees," and they know the place, the old house replaced by new homes, the forest cleared, the three trees the still visible reminders of another, a couple and their life.

One day, no doubt, we'll leave this rude Garden, and you won't find me out walking here.  My then grown children may return, find the map I've drawn, or summon up the one in their mind, and remember.  The impressions I've made may summon up the past in a way that  grounds them and propels them onward toward their own place-making.  The map in their minds may just help them find their way.