The Map and the Compass

I’m sitting in Lowell’s Brew’d Awakening. The music that’s playing is typical of many cafes — an odd mix of pop, rock and the unexpected. After some horrible, Auto-Tune heavy song, John Denver drifts forth from the speakers. What would have sounded corny in my teenage years now sighs like a cosmic sinking into a comfortable chair. The world grows still for a moment.

I find my peace where I might. I’m making an effort this season to get into the woods more. Part of this is for me — there are countless salutary reasons for wood wandering — but I’m also thinking of family activities I’ll be doing with my daughters. Yes, daughters, plural — another is due this January.

I risk seeming a stereotypical old man before my time when I find myself hoping my daughters will be able to use a map and compass. I hope for this not because I have some apocalyptic fear that hackers will wipe out the GPS satellites, but because I want to raise a family that is active outside the home. People like to knock millennials for their overreliance on technology, but we have easily forgotten that my generation, and those immediately before it, were numbingly addicted to what once was called the idiot box. No one ever had such harsh words for the common baseplate compass. 

The pressure isn’t merely abstract for me. I think a lot about TV and its effects because of my mother. She descended into dementia a decade ago and is now in the later stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Long before she showed symptoms, she stopped reading, she stopped exercising, she retreated inward, and did little more in her spare time than watch TV. 

Then, I had no data to suggest the damage screen media might be inflicting on physical or psychological well-being but my intuitive sense was that so much compulsive viewing was not healthy. As my mother’s condition worsened and she could no longer work, her waking hours were spent staring mesmerized at that constant, glowing screen.

Science does not yet know the causes of Alzheimer’s disease. It likely results from a complex of diet, genetics and lifestyle. Genetics, I can’t do anything about. But diet and lifestyle are within my control. Even if I can’t hand down my predilections, at least I can hand down skills. Competency in map and compass is an important skill to have — it is a skill that has other, wider applications, in that it involves a rational, methodical means of orienting oneself in the face of the unknown. It is nice to think we can face the unknown with the appropriate tools at hand. Beyond survival, such tools might lead one to choose woods over couch and endorphins over opiates. I have a hunch that neural and woodland pathways have much in common.

Speaking of the unknown, much lies ahead. This fall, the makers of MVM will launch a new sister publication, The Bean Magazine, which will take what we do best and share it with folks who live beyond the Merrimack Valley. TBM, for short, will be a coffee and culture magazine that will focus on travel, food and adventure. I have a lot to say on this matter, but my cup is empty, my parking meter is about to expire, and it’s time for me to get my bearings and face what awaits. 


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