Joined at the Heart · Writers Write

The Heart’s Cartography

My Dad

I’ve always loved maps. Road maps. Treasure maps. Those maps of fantasy places in the front of books. Oz. Narnia. Middle Earth. Before we adopted Cherry, I bought a map of China at Barnes & Noble. It was overpriced, but foldable and laminated. Bacon and I poured over that exotic cartography, puzzling out Pinyin names of places where our baby might have already been born.

When I was in elementary school, the good old Iowa Test of Basic Skills always had a map skills test, and I aced it every year. I loved the simple codes in the legend, calculating distance by measuring with the little ruler at the bottom of the page.

When I was a teen, I once convinced my dad to let me navigate. He handed over the Colorado Department of Transportation’s official road map, and I led him on a wild goose chase. (His words not mine.) We twisted through the slope-side suburbs, west of Denver. Towns named Evergreen, Genesee, Kittredge. He was furious. I might have been too if I’d been driving a car pulling the 1970s equivalent of The Long, Long Trailer.  The story became family lore, told for years around the Thanksgiving table. “You got us lost.”  “No, I didn’t. I took you that way on purpose. I wanted to see something besides more of I-70.” I wanted to know what was there.

A paper map doesn’t reveal the heart’s cartography. The Colorado road map showed the stream the state highway followed, but not the spiraling ringlets that fell down the shoulders of the Rocky Mountains. The Barnes & Noble map of China couldn’t show me the expanse of sunflowers, cultivated without a plow and tall as an elephant’s eye, that waved up the foothills of the Himalayas near my daughter’s birthplace.

Those places can only be measured with the eye, understood with the heart.

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