Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Dangerous Allure of Google Maps

If I were only single, I'd be driving to Gray's Lake National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow. By way of Bone, Idaho, which is so small it doesn't even have a population. On the way, I'd see Wayan and Henry, two other little frontier Idaho towns stuck in the mountains I can see from Idaho Falls or Pocatello but have never visited. They may as well not exist, as far as I'm concerned. I don't need to be trapped in Truman Burbank's Sea Haven. I'm trapped in a world outlined no longer by creek washes or ridgelines, but by state highways and interstates and that insensate fear of driving off the beaten path and getting lost and devoured by wolves.

And it's a fair bet, in these mountain ranges named (sadly, I'm having to look them up) Snake River, Blackfoot, Chesterfield, Caribou, and Ninety Percent, are little boles and vistas, peaks and gorges, forests and plains beautiful enough to make one weep. And I've never seen them.

So I go to Google Maps and start plotting routes. I'm not rube enough to believe that these are all paved roads, or indeed roads at all. I've heard the stories if witless wanderers with their GPSs wandering off the beaten path and getting stuck, lost, frozen, and worse. But the allure, the dangerous allure of wandering, even if it's wandering in a Pontiac minivan, is strong.

I'll go there. Oh yes I will. Dad did. Or tried. He liked wandering as much as I do. I don't remember it, but Dad once put us all in our old Oldsmobile Delta 88 and we drove off into the mountains, the same mountains I dream of now. We got lost. Butt lost. Mom was livid, but since that farmer happened by and set us back on the straight and narrow, all was eventually forgiven. The straight and narrow, of course, led back to town. I don't know that Dad got to do much wandering after that.

So I've had Google Maps out, studying it. The terrain. The names like Kepps Crossing, Camas Flat, Brockman Road. I want to go there. I will. I will. Someday. It'll be like descending into a Mandelbrot set, one of those psychedelic mathematical constructions that, deep within, conceal a complete replica of the whole. I'll descend deeper and deeper, road after road, flat after flat, ridge after ridge, until I find that lake and then descend into its marshes, each step or paddle taking me deeper into the heart of the Mandelbrot bug, past Seahorse Valley, until I find the singularity which is the whole. Then I'll go home, happy to have visited. Ready to go back.

No comments: