One Map at a Time

It takes a couple false starts but finally, I find the tax office for our county and inquire about maps. The topographical ones, it turns out, are located one county over where the Forest Service headquarters are. But the tax office has the property maps, fire districts, townships, and so forth and this is just as fascinating to me. I shake hands with two gentlemen behind the counter who seem very curious to know who I am and where I’ve moved to within their district.

I offer the address and the older of the two gentlemen tips his hat up above his forehead, looks at my squarely, and addresses me. “Oh, up thataway, yup, Fork Mountain. That’d be map 0865 now, let me just see here…” He turns around and heads toward a wall of shelved maps, pulls a cluster of them from a lower rack, and lays them across an oversized drafting table. “This here, right? That’s your road.” He traces the road from the state route, across the bridge, past two cemeteries, and on up the mountain to the end of the line. “And the property line is right here, see.” His fingers are yellowed and worn, but slide effortlessly across the seams of the map. When he points to the property, his fingers tap the odd shape affirmatively as if to seal the deal. My eyes are drawn to the vast area of white beyond his fingers. The property I’m on has the last residence for miles if you keep going up and over the mountain. I see a small dot just a bit lower than the dot that marks my new home but I know already that it’s the small, abandoned shack up the logging road past the driveway. Beyond that, nothing. Beyond that, the other side of the mountain and different map. I see, too, that there are large tracks of land, some over one hundred and two hundred acres apiece, with hardly a dot on them. Who are these neighbors? What history does their land hold and where do they live if not on their own acres?

I pay the gentlemen five dollars for a copy of the map (it must be three feet by four feet), grab a free Tinytown map on my way out the door, and hit the road.

And on the walk home, oh, the way the purple-faced geraniums bob their heads in a crowd of green up the slopes of the mountain. And how the painted trillium bow their heads at dusk, setting their petals to rest with the sun each evening. And later, how I spotted new blooms of a multi-petaled white, wildflower (whose name escapes me now), it’s miniature blooms like explosions of fragrance from the earth. The mountain is waking up, stretching beyond its many hidden husks, growing upward with the rise of each day and exhaling slowly into the winds of each night. Soon the forest will fill completely, part of the view will be obscured by branches sagging with the weight of their labors. Small jungles will be born here, colonies of insects beneath every other boulder, the succession of wildflowers always giving way to brilliant growth, each stage a object lesson for life.

Inside the house, I set my backpack down and pour a glass of springwater from the faucet. I rummage through a box to find my tacs, and set to arranging the property map along one of the west walls of the main floor. It takes a bit of figuring to hang it straight and level, but once its set, I tack it down and find my road. My fingers trace the thing blue line up the shoulders of the mountain then stop where only white space remains. I tap the map with a smile. This, this is where ideas are born. Where I regain my faith in putting words on the page. Where I remember all that I have been given.

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