“Personal GPS”

I grew up in a neighborhood completely free of any commercial enterprises, full of woods, paths and shortcuts. My friends from school were scattered around over several miles. No one ever gave any of us a map and we certainly had neither phones nor any type of GPS device. How on earth did we know how to get to one another’s houses?

A few years ago my husband and I, relying on a phone for directions, got totally lost in Western Connecticut. In fact we reached New York State before we were sure we had headed the wrong way. I vowed after that to always carry a paper map in the car, not wanting to once again rely on a device needing a signal which might or might be available.

But what if we had been paying active attention as we drove? Maybe we might have noticed things like signs, landmarks and geographic features. They might have provided us information to help us navigate. In fact that is just what we used as kids. We got a feel for the area from looking and moving through it. We knew the ways through the woods avoiding the roads. We knew how to get down to the river, walk along the railroad tracks, and come home from school.

Sometimes as I dream I still walk through my childhood neighborhood. I can feel each bend in the road, touch each hedge, wait for traffic to clear on the highway, and head down our driveway, pictured above. I have an internalized GPS formed by walking. As Theodore Roethke the poet once put it “I learn by going where I have to go.”

26 thoughts on ““Personal GPS”

  1. I grew up in the crowded streets of inner London. Our landmarks were corner shops, main road junctions, and pubs. We could travel a considerable distance without getting lost, and always found our way home too.
    Even now, I do not own a Satnav, preferring a paper map for unfamiliar areas.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I will always love and use hard maps. They show you the big picture. If we want to see more than just where are, a hard map is a goldmine. Those walks through the woods brought back many memories. We figured out our own GPS. Wonderful post, Elizabeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve thought about this since I retired. I used to teach a big unit on mapping, but so many people just rely on their phones to do everything these days. I am not anti-technology, but there is a flip side where we don’t have to use our thought processes as much.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have a terrible sense of direction. I never traveled off our suburb block as a kid. Once, years ago. when visiting my cousin in the “country” she told us right turns and left turns at specific landmarks. No GPS back then. The funny part was when she told us to take a left at the three cows in the pasture.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I also have a terrible sense of direction, but I could find my way home as a kid (pre-ten years) if I’d walked somewhere. Put me down in my old London street now and I probably couldn’t remember my way to Clissold Park or to Stoke Newington Library or Hackney Downs.
    I don’t have a view in my head of my car journey, but I know when I get to a certain crossing or roundabout I’ll know where to go next.
    Except I don’t after a few years away.
    Thank heavens for Google Map on my phone.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post resonates with me, Elizabeth. I think directions became muscle memory for us because the twists and turns had been traveled so many times. Even when I travel back home now, years later, I ‘remember’ every turn.


  7. I agree Elizabeth I like to rely on my own sense of direction & discovery which keeps the little neurons stretching themselves!
    Also paper maps make a great partner which I use beforehand to map out the journey. Memorizing the route needed.
    It makes for a much more adventurous trip! 😉


  8. I’ve always felt that satnavs were for people too stupid (or lazy) to read maps. However I have to (or used to have to) do site visits for work, and driving somewhere unknown on your own is a lot easier with a satnav than trying to read a map and drive at the same time…


  9. Reading this post made me feel the warmth and familiarity of being able to recall the sensory details of one’s “internalized GPS.” I haven’t got the knack of using electronic GPS – I feel resistant, I suppose, despite their “convenience” (when they work!!). I enjoy what you’ve written about as “getting a feel for the area from looking and moving through it.”


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