Friday, April 1, 2016
Old School Navigation
Recently I read Gladesmen: Gator Hunters, Moonshiners, and Skiffers (Florida History and Culture) by Glen Simmons and Laura Ogden
It was a first person account of life in the Everglades during the years before Everglades National Park was established. Having been down the Glades a few times I found it to be an interesting read.
One of the things that struck me was the similarities between the people who lived and worked in the Glades and the old woodsmen from the same time period in the Great North Woods. The environments are only similar in their isolation. That being said, the men shared similar mindsets and methods.
The men from the south and the men from the north both had a system for navigating the wilderness in the days before GPS. In Gladesmen they had memorable names for certain natural features and camping places. It reminded me of when I was a little boy learning from my father and uncle how to navigate the woods.
They had names for places that never show up on maps: The Old Double Decker, Alcohol Springs, The Horse Hovel, Henry Ridge, Desolation Hollow. The Double Decker was the name of a big two story camp that used to be in the area. Desolation Hollow was the name of another camp way out in the middle of nowhere. The Horse Hovel was where logging horses were once kept. When I was very young a few timbers had yet to melt into the forest floor. Alcohol Springs was a real spring, but it got its name from when moonshine was made from its cold waters. Henry Ridge was named for a guy who did something notable on that ridge, but what exactly he did had already been lost to time.
The names are colorful, but that serves a purpose. The way to remember something is to make it part of something else. Those places all had colorful stories attached to them. Human beings love stories. When you know the stories of a place you know your way around. You also become part of the story. Your deeds can get added to narrative. For example, the fact that my uncle shot a huge buck near the Old Double Decker became part of our family narrative.
GPS and Google Maps is great and all, but it lacks good stories. Personally, I rather enjoy being able to walk though the woods without looking at a tiny screen the whole way. It's a lot more fun to walk with my eyes open for the landmarks with the good stories attached.