Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Maphead (copy)

A co-worker teases me because on vacations I carry a book of constellations. I love looking at star charts and seeing them from another point of view. While staying at a B&B in southern Oregon, we were so enshrined in pines we had to go out into the road to see the stars. We spent (what felt like) hours figuring out what we were looking at through the narrow swath.

My love of aviation also centers on charts. At the airport we had this huge chart of the area hanging on the wall under Plexiglas. At the center was our airport, Smyrna, with a pin stuck in it and a long piece of string with a marker attached at the end. One takes the string and pulls it taut towards the destination then figures distance, time in the air, fuel consumption, etc.

On rainy days, when flying was out of the picture, we would stand by the chart and go to exotic destinations like Muscle Shoals, AL or Bowling Green, KY. Speaking of Muscles Shoals, that was our first destination in training for a private license.

I remember my flight like it was yesterday. My grumpy, WWII fighter pilot, instructor smoked a pipe in the airplane requiring the vents remain open during flight. He pointed out the landmarks as we neared Muscle Shoals. Tower here, interstate over there, grassy strip off to the east, and amazingly the chart and the ground really did correspond.

After our perfunctory nabs, we climbed back into the Cessna 152 and took off for Smyrna. Once level, Col. Haun fell asleep. Being a cold day, the vents were pumping out heat from the engine that made him drowsy or so I thought.

I kept quiet and with chart in hand, I identified the landmarks in reverse order: grass strip to the east, interstate over there, tower going directly under us. My pride oozed as I smacked the plane on the tarmac and Col. Haun awoke. What a feeling!

Ken Jennings, author of “Brainiac,” has written another quirky book that will enthrall readers for hours. In “Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks,” he describes his love of maps and the fascination others have with our innate need for them. Did you know that the Library of Congress has a whole basement with 8,500 cases, five drawers per case, chocked full of every imaginable map?

Oh, and quick tip. If you find yourself lost in the air, find a town and circle the water tower. The town will be spelled out in huge letters. The “you are here” moment is priceless.

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