Why do I love maps?
Why would I never use GPS?
It’s all about the story.
For me, the journey tells a story – as important as the destination. GPS is just about the destination – its clinical precision can be both boring and utterly wrong. When you can read a map well, you are able to tease out the stories in the landscape. You can see how the new road follows an old riverbed, skirts an iron-age fort, or marches ramrod straight along a Roman road. You can see how a town lies on a raised beach, even though it is now 10 miles inland.
In my work as a doula, I see each woman as a having unique body map for each pregnancy. My job is to read the map of the woman and help her navigate the journey. How does her past inform her present body and its response in labour? I read the tightness here, the release there. I follow the path of the acceptance or the fight. The emotional wounds rise up like a raised beach. It is all visible and easily read unless a piece of the map is missing. I can search for months for that missing piece. I read the journey of the body and the baby, the traveller.
Where did this love of maps, of the landscape and of the body, come from? It all started (as it always does) in childhood.
I was trained in map-reading by my dad. He was a cartographer and artist (with a love of geology), and I remember sitting beside him at his drafting board adding trees to the UBC map he was working on. He taught me how maps were created, how he would layer transparencies over the base. He taught me how to read the layers like a story, and how to make the two dimensional world turn into 3D in my mind.
Whenever we went on road trips, he would put my brother and me in charge of the map and the AAA book, and we would act as navigators from the backseat. We could read contour lines, tease out the glacial effects on the landscape, call out igneous! and sedimentary!, then point out all the 3-star motels with swimming pools. In the winter, we would read Country Life magazines, and write longhand letters to faraway places (aka England) to request information. We would write to the British consulate and visit the BCAA to collect maps, and study study study. I can still smell those new maps. I could visualize (and connect with) what a bird must see and feel flying over the British countryside. My dad’s descriptions and the map contours turned into real images in my head. Then, when we landed in the UK in 1966 (after an emergency landing in sulfuric Iceland), I remember seeing the patchwork green fields and being amazed that it was exactly as my dad had described. “Look at the tiny cars!” he would say, as we were circling the airport. “They look like ants!” I was hooked on maps, hooked on getting outside my own small world, hooked on travel.
My dad told stories of escaping grimy Manchester and cycling through Derbyshire with friends in the late 1930s, following metal signposts to places like Pott Shrigley (all signs point to Pott Shrigley – I know!), camping in farmer’s fields, then riding up to the Cat and Fiddle Pub on top of a peak and watching the smokey towns below. He would show me the map and tell me stories that brought the Peak District to life, from the plague village of Eyam, to the moveable landscape of Chatsworth House. My mother would add stories of the midwives (who taught prenatal yoga in the 1950s) riding their bikes from house to house in the village, and I would trace my finger over the lines on the map and imagine myself riding my bike along those lines. (Did my wish to attend births start then?)
Fast forward to 1982, when Bob and I took our first overseas trip together. By that time, we both felt like veteran European travelers (with 8 trips between us, he had also spent a year in Europe with his intrepid family in the 1960s). So we combined our passions and skills and headed off. We went to the places that we had loved as children – to “Squirrel’s Wood” in Elstead, where he had lived, to the Yorkshire Dales where his dad had been stationed during the Second World War, and to the Peak District, where my dad would ride, where my heart still lives. Bob mowed my gran’s lawn in Manchester, and ate chocolate eclairs on her path in the sunshine. We stayed on a farm in Somerset at lambing season (I’m never far from birthing mammals), and had a stand-off with a large cow on a bridge in Dorset. We took a ferry to France, stayed in high-ceilinged creaky hotels for 20 Francs and ate tureens of Potage de Legumes in Laon and the Loire (epic)! Our Renault (which we filled with diesel once – seriously) had been bought just for us by a small garage in Crawley, and after an epic repair, that little car took us thousands of miles across the roads of France and Switzerland. We ended the trip with Bob dreaming of owning a sheep farm in Scotland, and me dreaming of helping the sheep birth in the middle of the night.
When I do my client visits, I draw from their stories of their travels to India, Italy, or Guatemala. Each physical journey that they have taken teaches them something about their own bodies, their responses, their patience, their strength. They climb mountains one step at a time. They cry, “I don’t think I can do this!” on the West Coast Trail, but they do it! I add each of their stories to my own map of their body for later reference. My own daughter says she was kelp in her birth pool in labour. I add the new word “kelp” onto my map of her - connecting her labour to the water of Boundary Bay, the beach at Point Roberts, her cousin Graham dragging giant strands of kelp up to the cabin, then her sons Jack, then Finn, diving into the world headstrong then feet-first.
So, these days, when I stand with Bob on a path in the Luberon, listening to the sound of les cigales, I look down at the map in my hands and see all the possible routes before us. I see the traced path, and below that, I see a layer of the red soil, and, below that, the geological history of the land. But, I also see the layered stories and histories of all those who have stood on the path, see their labours and births, see children running ahead to that cave over there, see our children climbing to Fort Buoux, see my parents chattering to each other as they drive along the road to Apt, see my brother and his wife cycling towards Bedoin in the distance, and see all the lines that each person has traced on this particular spot.
There’s no need for GPS.
It is the journey that tells the story, in life and in birth. Maps are drawn on our bodies layer upon layer… and are held within us.