Mapping it out
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
May 28, 2022
I remember traveling with my family on a 1,200-mile vacation, holding a big road map unfolded in my lap. I used a crayon to trace our progress and would mark off each town we passed. Then, I would look for the name of the next town ahead. Sometimes I would calculate how many miles we had left to drive for the day and how many miles left to finally reach our destination. It took several days to get there and I enjoyed the process.
My love of maps started long before we ever took a vacation. I studied any map I could get my hands on and I treasured the globe my parents gave me for my 10th birthday. I was ecstatic. All those cities and countries fell into perspective around the world and unleashed childhood desires to dream, search and explore those far away places. Maps were the door to the world and astronomy maps full of the stars and planets, a roadway through the universe. My imagination reached into infinity.
I recently came across a book about maps, “The Cartographers” by Peng Shepherd, and decided it was a must read. It is full of map lovers. Characters who draw maps and study maps and preserve maps with reverence. They gathered together as a group of students early in college and remained together mastering the art of maps in all forms. Before they dispersed into jobs and life after university, they gathered for one last summer together, working on a special project. Stumbling across an anomaly in a map was by accident and it literally changed everything.
Life is sometimes stranger than fiction, and Peng Shepherd utilizes this phenomena by weaving facts about map making, using a fictitious town actually printed in a travel road map from 1930. What consequently occurred drew several map companies into court and wove a real story that seemed like fiction. Shepherd’s brilliance is then weaving this story back from fact into an imaginative adventure, bringing the reader along for the ride.
There is a town found on the map of upper New York. A fictional town that does not really exist. When the group takes their map to the exact coordinates, the open map allows them into a town that can only be seen and entered when this 1930s map is present. Intrigued? I sure was and enjoyed the story to the very end.
One of the companies involved in the factual event about this 1930s map was the Rand McNally map company that still creates road maps to this day. Not folded like the ones of my childhood, their maps now come in book form but are still easy to use in the front or back seat of the car. I know that GPS is the big thing now. A voice can even be activated to not only plan the best route possible to your destination, but also tell you each twist and turn in real time on how to get there. So many people are really happy with this app and depend on it daily. But understand…you cannot find any secret markings on GPS, or dream about names of the towns you are approaching, or ever find a town that does not really exist but maybe would be there if you had an old fashioned travel map unfolded in your lap. Choices always come with pluses and minuses when settling on convenience rather than indulging imagination. Such is the practical life we now live!
Yet, wouldn’t it be fun to create a town from scratch? Children do just that, using their imaginations and the mixed treasures of nature and discarded objects in the children’s book “Roxaboxen” by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney. It was the main character, Marian’s creation. Their curved road she named River Rhode. And across the river, was a hill. Not just any hill, but the hill that held the town of Roxaboxen where rocks and cactus and old wooden boxes transformed into a lively cozy town where everyone could have both a car and a horse if you could find something round for a steering wheel and a good stick and piece of string for a bridle. Days of childhood imagination were carved into their memories for life.
And surprisingly, as the town in “The Cartographers” became real, Roxaboxen is a real place as well, found in Yuma, Arizona on the southeast corner of Second Avenue and Eighth Street. The events of this story really happened to Marian, the mother of Alice McClerran, and Marian’s childhood friends. The children now grown, who played there all those years ago, have made pilgrimages back to Yuma from time to time, to find the hill still standing with some rocks vaguely forming the streets and houses they built. Readers of the book have also made pilgrimages to Yuma, to see the actual place where imagination lives on, proving facts and real life can be stranger than fiction. Thankfully, both facts and fiction can survive and thrive with the help of faithful imaginations. Imaginations forward, my friends!
*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.