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.