Thursday, 14 February 2013

What Google’s for

Can you remember back in school when you were in geography class and had to copy the maps of the continents? I had the hardest time getting all of those little inlets and river deltas in the right places. I eventually could draw a fairly decent Canada, the great lakes and Hudson’s bay. I often forgot to include James Bay and my maps never had Lake Winnipeg on them. I knew that there were mountains and a really big Island on the west coast, but I think I must have been fjord blind. I think those things on the west coast are fjords, but maybe they are inlets.
I was much better with Europe, Russia, China, India and the Indian Ocean. When I say I was much better, that isn’t true, I was better at Eurasia than I was with North America, but that isn’t really saying much. I remember the Ural Mountains and the Volga River, but I don’t have much memory of anything else.

What really amazed me was how those cartographers hundreds and thousands of years ago could have drawn such fantastic maps. They were pretty accurate too, even without the use of satellites or airplanes. I tried to draw a map of the lake that my Gram’s cottage was on once. Lake Eugenia is pretty small as far as lakes go so I figured I could row out to the middle of the lake and pretty much see the whole shoreline. The problem that I ran into is that the farther away from the shore that you get, the shoreline begins to blend into a green and grey mass. There were no inlets or isthmuses, no indication where the streams and rivers emptied into the lake. Basically I drew an egg shape with an oval in the middle to signify an island.
 Eugenia Lake
I still can’t imagine how they did it. Sure they had a lot more practice than I did and perhaps they were under the threat of death, but they would see such a small portion of the coastline as they were sailing by. No cameras of course and I am pretty sure they couldn’t just call out to the Captain “Hey! Turn around I was having my coffee and I missed a part.” They did it on the fly in all kinds of weather and I couldn’t copy the map with an atlas in front of me.

It’s funny just how little I have retained from all of those years spent in geography class. It was one of the classes that I couldn’t drop until grade 11 I think. That gave me 11 or 12 years to absorb locations of important places on the planet and most of them I couldn’t even begin to guess where they are. I know the big countries in Europe, some of the rivers and mountains, but Eastern Europe is just a mish mash of countries that end in  “…icstans”.

Every now and then I will look at Google earth with the intent of teaching myself where I am in the world and where the rest of the countries are. Inevitably, I’ll end up looking at my house on Google earth, or the Grand Canyon. Perhaps if I travelled more all of these wondrous countries would come into focus and I would know where they are in the world. I still wouldn’t be able to draw a map of where I had been, but that’s what Google’s for.

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