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The Pike Log: Random Entries About Making His Story Mine

Where the GPS Are We?

Thanks to Peter Lucia for this illuminated version of the Upper Connecticut River Valley at night
“Why don’t you have a Tom-Tom attached to your windshield?”

Odd question from Carolyn Kinne Grass as she climbed into my SUV Thursday, armed with an oversized atlas left-over from the era of open touring cars, goggles and silk scarves.

“Why would I need one?” I retorted.

“I know where we’re going….do you?”

“Well, I suppose you do know. It’s not like the Connecticut River Valley is foreign to you. But what if you weren’t from here?”

I’d stick with my M.O.: Life’s an adventure. Be alert. Embrace the environment. And, gadgets are not guarantees. Think of all that’s missed hunched over a device. Intricate architecture. Poignant monuments to those lost by accident, natural disaster, war. Spectacular landscapes. Funny signage (see my FB album for a few). And all that window shopping!

Worse, be a kid today, sitting in the back seat, maybe watching a DVD. When I do elementary school presentations on “know your hometown” the exercise about what civic buildings, houses of worship, parks, leading employers or attractions make their zip code unique prompts a disproportionate amount of suggestions for golden arches and pink-and-orange donut signs. The police station? Not a clue. Library? Rarely. This is the next generation “from here” yet they aren’t present in their surroundings. No wonder the world can be a scary place for them. They don’t recognize where they live.

GPS dependence and what it means to brain improvement is explored by psychologist Julia Frankenstein in her New York Times essay "Is GPS All in Our Heads?"
Her best line is: Developing a cognitive map from this reduced information is a bit like trying to get an entire musical piece from a few notes.

Can you imagine trying to “get” an entire Springsteen song from a handful of chords? You’re cheating yourself of the experience when you don’t listen to the whole score.

Once, after a Preservation New Jersey tour of Camden, I got lost as I went back to take more photos of some sites we had toured. I didn’t have a map. To get unlost, though, I kept the setting sun at my back, knowing that as I drove east - at the very least - I’d eventually hit the Atlantic Ocean. Or at least the Garden State Parkway where I could hang a left and go north.

Another time I went hiking with 11 other adults on Bear Mountain in New York. Consensus-building wasn’t our forte. We didn’t have maps and we couldn’t agree which path to take to get down from the mountain top. But never once did I feel fear. Part of being alert meant not buying into the anxiety radiating from my Manhattan friends. Eventually, we did agree to follow the setting sun down a path in hopes of finding the valley floor. Call it luck or call it divine intervention, there were our parked cars.

Last fall fellow Waterford Historical Group member Jamie Cross, his wife Carolyn, and I went off road along the Connecticut River, trying to piece together the paths that connected the former villages that lie under Moore Lake. Jamie loves his GPS, but what flummoxed us was the designation for a road that doesn’t exist and never has, somewhere above the Mosquito Hollow schoolhouse. While we’re waiting for an answer to solve that will solve that mystery, click this link if you want to see some of Jamie’s topo map work on the site maintained by fellow history group member Beth Kanell: "Waterford, Vermont, History"

As for my adventure to Hadley, MA, I had to laugh when Carolyn Grass and I missed the last of five left turns off the interstate. A Verizon service truck and a police car obscured our destination driveway. Only when the numbers got too high did I realized where the access to Grey Matter was. Great store, btw. Love the landlord's ducks! "Grey Matter".

Unfortunately, a busted muffler thwarted a post-book itinerary that would have kept us off the interstate and photographing ice-fishing shanties. We were ready! We had maps!
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