Americans are, by and large, not very geographically aware on either the larger or smaller scale of things. As long as we can find our way home from the mall and know where our yard ends and theirs begins, we pretty well have all the bearings from the landscape we need to navigate in the smaller world. And if the airline pilot or GPS can get us across the larger expanses, we’ll read a magazine while the world goes by. After all, if you’ve seen one planet, you’ve seen them all.
And I point the finger at myself in this as well, except that sadly late in life (my early twenties) I discovered the wonder of maps. And since those days, I’ve been both fascinated and enriched by mind-traveling over the lines and squiggles of a map. Any map, really.
From it will come troves of grounding and place-orientation in imaginary travel that places one town accurately in relation to another; follows the course of creek to river to sea.
If it’s a topo map, all the better. I can begin to understand why a given stream will curve and twist they way it does, guided and hindered by the hard rock core of old mountains, or having channeled its way through some less resistant extrusion of limestone or such.
A case in point: I spent a full day in Patrick County last week near Stuart, and a few weekends before had a book table in Meadows of Dan in the same county down below the Blue Ridge. A month from now, I’ll be spending the better part of a day in Danville, down near the North Carolina line and east of Floyd.
Meadows of Dan. Danville. It has to be the same river for which these communities are named, I reasoned. But how does it get from the Pinnacles of the Dan near Meadows of Dan to Danville, and where does it go from there? I confess, I hadn’t a clue. And now, I do. More, later.