I love maps. The intrigue of unknown roads stirs me every time, and our ability to navigate to any earthly destination based on accurate mapping is a modern miracle. I do not take it for granted.
Still, I love maps most deeply for the things they’ll never be able to show. No paper or electronic map will ever be able to tell me what I’ll see or experience once I reach a chosen point. Maps may accurately represent the back roads of Colorado and Utah, for instance; but they’ll never be able to tell me what a particular afternoon’s sky is about to look like. Exactly what form will those summer thunderheads take? What will the smell of the impending rain be, if it happens to reach out in my direction? How will the heat feel, pressed against my skin? Into what vivid living forms will the sunset clouds resolve?
Neither will maps ever be able to tell me what those experiences will make me feel inside. What insights will I receive in new places, when distant from the dulled senses of usual routines? Maps will never predict what fascinating strangers I will meet there, nor which may settle into enduring memories or even enduring friends. Maps cannot measure the surprising satisfaction of silent solitude. They cannot always warn against trouble along the way, either, even if they make remote heat and waterless chasms clear. What stories will the journeys produce from the challenges, which fade from trouble into good stories later, as part of the residue of risk and adventure?
Maps are only a small gateway; a mere hint of possible places and ways to be. Still, like a small secret removable wall stone that reveals a hidden passageway, the folded paper simplicity of a map hides the endless depth of experience to which it may lead.
Returning to Oregon now from the scorching summer of the Southwest, I lovingly fold my paper maps and leave them to rest again until the next time—hopefully soon—when I’m free to answer their beckoning call. I wonder what other memorable moments are waiting to be celebrated above and beyond the maps—perhaps at the end of this little dirt dead-end road here: the one with the odd name and the open space that beckons beyond it in the blank, unnamed space on the map.