Personal landscapes and the contents of a map

What would you put in a map? It’s an important question to ask, because when you pick up someone else’s map, you are dealing with their values and priorities, not your own. Would you make a map that described the topography? The Ordinance survey is very much about getting an accurate sense of the geography onto the flat surface of the page. Most of the maps you will find otherwise are road maps, and are entirely about the places cars can go. Wild places are just patches of emptiness, with little or no detail offered. Perhaps the ultimate in transport maps is the London Underground map – which gives you no sense at all of the geography of London, but makes a beautiful, easily read representation of where the trains go.

Would you draw your maps as pictures, like map makers of a few hundred years ago? Or would you make a narrative map like a Saxon perambulation, a story of a journey rather than an image of the place?

Would you put wildlife sightings on your map, or really good views? Would you put in pubs, or ancient sites, or especially good places to duck out of sight for a quick pee? Would your map have seasonal information on it, or notes about the wind so as you knew which walks would be best depending on where the wind was coming from?

I was walking in some very popular local fields, when I passed a local archaeologist who was chatting to someone else. A fragment of conversation reached me. He said “Everyone could draw their own map of the Heavens, and they’d all be different, depending on which bits were important to you.”

We aren’t encouraged to make our own maps, but to use official ones, on which no one has written ‘here be dragons’ or ‘the swinging tree where Eric broke his leg’ or ‘where granny fell off the horse’. Making your own physical map is a way of finding out what’s important to you.

We all have the potential to make maps inside our heads as well. Most people who drive have inner maps for the routes they habitually take. People who walk for leisure will often have a few favourite routes mapped out in their heads as well. Taxi drivers are legendary for their ability to map vast and complex cities in their heads. However, aside from taxi drivers, most of us do not set out to build maps inside our heads, and we aren’t taught how to map a landscape. We pick up routes by use, from signposts, from official maps, and the like. It’s worth noting that back before there were signposts, drovers took animals over vast distances from the places they were reared, to the urban markets where they were sold. We have a capacity for inner maps, far beyond anything most of us normally explore.

To have an inner map is to know where you live. It’s to have little anxiety about ever getting lost. It is also a consequence of relationship with a place, and as such it has a massive rooting influence. When we make our own maps – on paper or in our heads, what we plot onto them are the things that matter to us. This changes your relationship with the things that matter to you, as well. Part of my personal mapping is a mapping of wildflowers, noteworthy trees, and wildlife sightings, so when I’m out and about, I have a greater awareness of what I could see, and thus more chance of seeing it again. My local maps are full of stories – family stories, local history, folklore, and things of my own. I can never feel lonely in a place where there are so many stories.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “Personal landscapes and the contents of a map

  • Norman Andrews

    I once read that the Apache Tribe taught their youngsters when coming to a place they had not visited before, to stop and look around to take everything in, then they could recall it in the future , and instantly know where they were.

    Norm.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    I often look back when I walk through an area so I will know the landmarks coming back. As a result I rarely ever get lost anywhere.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s such a god strategy – I have to do this a lot, especially in urban spaces where the landmarks seldom last for long.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        Well, it is a necessity for me as I cannot remember names hardly at all, and that includes street names. I notice the changes as well as to business closing, or a new business opening up in a formerly empty store. What with the big box stores, Wal-Mart and such, we tend to see small business buildings stay empty for years at a times. Meanwhile only a few of the new businesses survive. When you see store front churches and Payday loan companies on your main streets, that is never a good sign. Most of the local working people have to be on welfare as well, so welfare is actually a government subsidy of corporations being allowed to pay poorly. Even many of our retired people are being forced to go back to work, so unemployment is a major loss as well for the economy, but even so 87% of those on welfare are working full time one, two, or more jobs, and still unable to survive without welfare.

      • Nimue Brown

        It’s going the same way here – not good. I mostly map verbally, I’ve really had to work on visual mapping.

  • cardsandfeather

    This was a beautiful post. What better way to get to know the land you live upon than to set out to create an inner map. It takes repetition and attention to detail. It means minding the changes in the world around you but remembering how it still remains the same. It means going out and actually being within the flora and fauna (or pounding the pavement and navigating its markets) to gain such an intimate knowledge and history.

    That tied to the stories we connect to each place…very moving.

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