Eavan Boland tells us “That the Science of Cartography Is Limited”
“–and not simply by the fact that this shading of
forest cannot show the fragrance of balsam,
the gloom of cypresses….”
She’s right, of course, about the limitations of maps. They hardly ever indicate what we actually see, never mind what we smell or feel or experience. And Boland’s poem goes on to trace the failure of maps to represent the past, especially the famine roads from 1847–the roads which starving Irish worked on until they died and the roads disappeared.
Pictures are a touch better at times. And when the experiences are positive, pictures are a pleasure to view.
But we of course know that maps are awesome and can do things that images cannot. I am easily lost, so maps are vitally important to me, and I grew up with a dad who loved figuring out all the possible routes to a new destination; as a matter of fact, he loved talking with people about the best way to get from point A to point B (he, of course, always knew the best way, but more from having driven it himself than from relying only on maps).
When I visited the school in Sneem, in addition to a jump rope and a basketball court, I noticed the playground had some educational paintings on the blacktop.
I got to thinking. The compass helps us chart direction relationally. In order to discern north, south, east, and west, we need to have a starting point. And often we even have a destination. The compass is not about a place per se, but instead it’s about the relationship between places. And the relationship between places often means the relationship between communities…between people.
The solar system chart, too, is a way of helping students see where they are–where we are–in relation to the universe. There’s something to this, isn’t there? Maps are not cold and sterile pieces of paper but instead are lined with ways to move from place to place, to understand where we are and where we want to head…maps help us find ways that we might connect in criss-cross chaotic patterns that play with river and mountain and sea, that have everything to do with not just planning to move but actually moving, advancing towards and retreating from one another, in a kind of dance that the paper map may trace but will never determine.