The Art of Map-Reading

Vancouver is right across the U.S. border on the Canadian side, but rum, how it gave us a unique experience, just by not having access to our cell phones while out and about there. I’ve written about how our generation’s boon and bane is the smart-phone.

The simplest of things can bring on a pang on nostalgia. For instance, free Wi-Fi was not as easy to come by, and the first thing the husband did was pop into a store to buy a good old fashioned paper map of Vancouver and its surrounding areas. He was thrilled with this map and reveled in the joy of looking up routes, and roads. I was thrilled that he could not badger me to see if the traffic up ahead is red, or yellow, (2nd paragraph here) and could peacefully drink in the beautiful scenery.

Paper map of Vancouver
Paper map of Vancouver

While there, the daughter sat up front while her father drove and gibbered away at his ear.

It was time to figure out the best way to go from Point A to Point B and the task fell on the daughter. “I am no good at directions!” she moaned, but it held no water. With Privilege Comes Responsibility, we said and shoved the map in her hands. Her reaction was one her 16 year old self would have approved of.

We are all creatures of habit in some ways. I remember one time sitting for a Mathematics paper in school, only to find that the question paper drew a right angled triangle upside down. We are all used to seeing the right-angle in the ‘L’ position, so when drawn in the ‘7’ position, it required re-orientation and I chuckled at how our brain gets befuddled for a moment before acquainting itself to recognize a familiar Pythagorus problem.

Why drag poor Pythagorus into a post on Vancouver musings? I’ll tell you. Whilst on our vacation, we went to a lighthouse. Just a whim. Lighthouses have a way of looking welcoming to folks a-visiting and we made a beeline for it. This one let us climb a rickety staircase to the top and see a non-functioning light. Obviously, this excited the children to no-end and they took us on guided tours up the rickety stairs exhorting us like we were 82 year olds with a wobbly sense of balance.
* Step sideways! *
* Hold on to the railing! *
* Careful, you can fall down all the way down from here. *
I must say my 82 year old self would have been happy at the care and consideration.

Lighthouse : image Source: commons.wikimedia.org through Google Search
Lighthouse : image Source: commons.wikimedia.org through Google Search

Inside the lighthouse, there was a museum of sorts downstairs and the caretaker inside was itching to talk to somebody. It was a glorious summer day outside and no one had bothered to come inside the lighthouse. He must have had a morose sort of day being couped up inside when folks outside were flying kites, running, jumping, climbing up slopes while letting the sea breeze rustle their hair. So, when we went in, he let loose a torrent that would have had his lighthouse forbearers proud. He told us about the different frequency lights, and the size of the lanterns, how far away they could be seen and on and on he went. My friends and I were reduced to “Hmm”-ing and “Aah”-ing. When he drew breath, we could say, “That sounds marvelous.” but nothing else.. He spoke to us about the different types of lights used in the days of yore and how the current lighthouse is not functional. A small voice in my head went off: If it is not currently functional, why have this poor man sit here and do nothing? I was not left to ponder on these thoughts for very long, for the sail winds had deposited me in front of a wall. The wall had a large map and on this map, the poor man pointed out three spots that formed a sort of triangle among lighthouses.

Thus far in the proceedings, I could not be classified as anything but blasé. I had been a polite head nodder and took in little of substance. I could not, for instance, hold fort at a lighthouse if the demand arose, in spite of the extensive information I had been given by the kind man. Yet, the map shook me. You see, the lighthouses seemed to be in a triangle, and what was worse, it seemed to be overlooking land. But that could not be right, since we were on an island.
“So, anyone trying to attack the Puget sound…” he went on, but I was not listening.
I stopped him, ”So, were there any land-based attacks?” I asked still fogged. I had to get to the bottom of this mystery.
“No…no. This was a Naval Base, and as such designed to protect us from attacks from the Waters.”
“So, when you say this was a Naval base and there could be attacks from the bay, how could these lighthouses have detected them?” I asked him totally unable to understand the whole thing.

The poor man. If he had had a day where people were agog at his work, he would have swept me out to sea then and there. But as it was, I was the only person who had shown the remotest interest and he sighed a bit and then adopted a kindly tone that was at once slower and louder. “You see this? “ he said waving his hand at the map. “This is one point in the triangle, and this is the second and this is the third. Only three points in a triangle.”

“Yes. I see the triangle.” I said stung.
“Good! Yes, so you see the Russians could not get to us.”

“But this is an island, right? How would the Russians coming on land be detected by the lighthouse?”

I could feel my friends inch away from me a bit. But I was intrigued now and nothing, not even looking like a fool, could stop me now. The man at the lighthouse mopped his brow. (It was a hot day), and tried explaining yet again. He had learnt his script by heart and had, apparently, not yet taken the Daft Questions Training. He simply repeated the whole thing. It was when he reached the great part this erstwhile lighthouse had done to protect the shores of this great land that I figured out something.

“Wait a minute! What is that brown patch? Is that the Puget Sound?”
“Yes it is. You see there is point #1 of the triangle, and there is point #2…”
I stopped the man mid-sentence and beamed at him. “No need to explain anymore my dear man! I have understood all! “ I told him. He beamed at me, thinking to himself that that script must be marvelous and that he only needs to repeat it multiple times everyday and all his problems and of those visiting his lighthouse would be solved.

Reading a map
Reading a map

We all know Land is depicted in Brown color, who depicts Water in Brown? I flashed back to this and narrated it to general hilarity in the car, and assured the daughter that she could not fail, and that if she tried hard enough, she could ensure we stayed on land and not plunge into the ocean near Vancouver.

There is something about humor that acts as a stimulant. She sat there figuring out which street we were on and by that finding out which road we needed to get onto and got us there without dragging us through the city unnecessarily. Which is more than can be said for some people who cannot bear to see the traffic back up for more than 2 minutes.

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