Follow the Lines

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

The author of a book I read in college claimed that Indians were never lost. They were always at home, wherever they trod upon the earth.

Reading those words prompted me to try to emulate Indian ways. I walked heedlessly into the big woods to become one with the forest.

It worked fine. I stalked, rambled, observed, turned over logs to see what resided underneath and crushed plant leaves in my fingers and inhaled the odors. During the course of a whole day, I never once gave a thought to classes, my unstable checkbook or my destiny in the world of literature.

Certainly, I didn't give a thought to where I was going, and when the sun started lowering toward the horizon and hunger began reverberating through my belly, I didn't have the foggiest notion which way led to my old Pontiac.

That made for a rough evening. Oh, I survived, although I was pretty achy the next day from all the walking, and I scratched my arms pretty bad while shinnying up a tree in the dark to look for car lights that would lead me to a road.

What I remember most about that woodsy experience, however, was the panic that threatened to overwhelm me. Although considered a pretty mellow guy, I broke a cold sweat and started running through the woods, even though I didn't know which way to go.

I remember shedding tears of frustration.

Modern day Indians needn't feel that way, even if they absolutely have to be home by five for supper. Thanks to more than a half dozen generations of "explorers" and another generation of satellites, we now have maps available that pinpoint exactly where we are and how to get home.

Maps describe counties, cities, countries, the planet. We've even mapped the moon, Mars and Venus. Those large scale maps may help space travelers, but more useful to us are the maps of small sections, conservation areas, corner woodlots, lakes - the areas you hike, hunt, bike and fish.

Some people admit to having trouble enough unfolding maps, much less reading them. That's understandable - maps speak a language of their own, representing physical features with nothing more than lines and symbols. However, with a little practice anybody can learn enough about maps to put them to good use.

Maps are necessarily smaller versions of what they represent and the amount smaller can be expressed as ratio, referred to as the scale of

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