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.”