In the days that followed, I’d often catch my son on Google Maps with pen in hand, jotting down increasingly specific bits of information that he considered essential to his plans: the names of bridges that span the Susquehanna River, the phone numbers for motor inns in Greater Pawtucket, the best things to eat while watching the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. (The stadium’s clam chowder has received lavish online praise.) As I watched him get lost in the pleasure of these tasks, I realized that he was under no illusions about the trip’s actual odds of taking place. He was immersing himself in Google Maps not because he expected we’d be attending a Norwich Sea Unicorns game anytime soon, but so he could build himself a sanctuary—a space where he’s in charge of how an uncertain future will unfold.
Getting lost in maps is an activity I expect a lot of us recognize, and have done ourselves, though the particulars are probably unique to each of us. (Random thought: Is this one reason why fantasy novels come with maps? Are the maps doing more of the work than we thought?)
I mentionedAtlas Obscura’s call for readers to submit maps of their perfect dream island, but I neglected to post a link to the results. Atlas Obscura: “We received submissions from readers young and old, all full of fun and creative details. Entries included islands full of cats (there were several of those, in fact), political strongholds, simple sandbar paradises, intricate hidden bases, guinea pig sanctuaries, and poetic dreamscapes.”
If you could make an island to your exact specifications, what would it look like? What would make it unique—the true island of your individual dreams?
Maybe your island is made entirely of recycled bottles, or only accepts currency featuring Darth Vader. Perhaps your island is set up as a villains’ lair, or populated with magical creatures that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Is your island an expansive paradise that will take years to explore, or a simple spot of sand surrounded by boundless ocean? Does it have a treehouse? A mansion? Is there a skull-shaped cave? A water park? A hidden base in a volcano? Mischievous monkeys? Pirate ghosts? A lost society of evolved super-beings?
You’ve got until, uh, tomorrow afternoon. Atlas Obscura will publish their favourites on Friday.
Daniel Huffman and John Nelson have launched A Cartographer’s Story, a website that collects personal essays from mapmakers.
While our community has a rich culture of sharing project walkthroughs and clever tricks, our colleagues also need to hear about the personal and emotional relationships we have with our maps. We invest ourselves in creating works that are meant to stir the hearts and imaginations of others—and in return our works invest in us. What are your stories? How has mapping moved you or changed you? Did it encourage you through a tough time? Teach you something about yourself? Represent a significant relationship in your life?
I was three years old when this map was released. When I was at Moore Elementary (home of the fighting Armadillos!) in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, I specifically remembered this map because it was huge! The Natural Heritage Map of Texas is 4-feet by 4-feet, and it hung in the school cafeteria, to the left of the stage where so many school assemblies had occurred. The map is colorful, big and filled with animals. To be honest, at the time, the animals are what drew my attention, but the map always stuck in my mind because it was the first large wall map I had ever seen. More than anything, though, there was an ocelot in my face, and in the face of every other elementary student in the building who walked up to look at this map. At the time, I thought an ocelot was kind of like a mix between a house cat and a lion or a tiger, and a lion or tiger was really cool. I was hooked! I would always look at the ocelot, as well as the other animals, and the map, and think about what it all meant.
Oftentimes in Japan, I had no idea where I was going. The moments when I did felt like a perfect alignment of puzzle pieces that made the in-betweens worth it. I imagined myself like those ancient cartographers, trying to make sense of the jumble of crepes and onigiri, shrines and skyscrapers, neon and origami. I made my own maps, rewriting them over the ones I had hastily constructed on the flight over. I began to understand how mapping a place, even sketchily, can feel like owning a piece of it.