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Maps: A Love Story

Detailed Hand-Drawn Maps Say ‘I Love You’


Monday, November 19, 2012

Some people keep love letters. I have maps — beautifully detailed hand-drawn maps made for me by my husband over the years whenever I was about to set out on a solo adventure or one with my girlfriends, either bicycling, hiking, or driving. It was an era before cell phones, Google Earth, and GPS, and my sense of direction has always been notoriously bad, so before I left, Monte would equip me with his meticulous drawings and instructions written in a way that even I could understand. These maps went with me on many trips, and I referred to them often. It was one of the ways he took care of me in those days, and I’ve never had the heart to throw them away.

I recently came upon the maps in a file box in the garage, where the years have left them faded, yellowed, and soft as tissue paper. Torn and taped and folded many times, most of them outline dirt road loops, trails, and mountain climbs, and many provide a fascinating at-a-glance view of Orange County’s (and northern San Diego’s) open space and unincorporated backcountry and the preferable ways to access it as it was in the early 1980s. Memorable landmarks are included to help me get oriented, grades and riding surfaces are noted, and potentially confusing choices are explained. I can read “I love you” in every painstakingly drawn squiggle and curve.

It’s amazing, too, how many stories these little maps tell and how many memories they evoke. I am remembering pedaling up Soapstone grade the day we met our good friend Steve, and how Cuyamaca’s mountains and meadows smelled of pine and fern and flowers. I remember trespass adventures on the Irvine property, epic rides in the mountains behind Fallbrook, long expeditions on bike trails and roads to the farthest stretches of Orange County. It’s especially fun to discover Monte’s little reminders for me, such as these from a map of the hills behind Laguna: “road that you and Alice ride on” or “place where my mother took that picture of you and Miranda”…

In West with the Night, Beryl Markham expressed her own fondness for maps with these words: “A map says to you, read me carefully, follow me closely, doubt me not … I am the earth in the palm of your hand … without me you are alone and lost.”

I didn’t feel alone or lost when I carried Monte’s maps, his familiar handwriting having demystified the segment of world I was about to navigate. I like maps in general … the colors of them, the overview one couldn’t otherwise grasp, the revelations of how the pieces fit together and where you are in the scheme of things. I like journeys plotted out with fingers and marked in felt-tip pen, and I like contemplating the shape of land and water and the ways in which they meet. I like how maps enable us to soar above a place in order to become more truly part of it.

Most of all, I like knowing that someone made me a collection of customized maps to tuck into my backpack. I need no further evidence that I have been loved.

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