Malevolent Cartography

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Knowing A Place

2021-02-18 by Quinlan Pfiffertravelwriting

Last September I packed everything I wanted to keep and left Portland. M left even earlier, in May, for Bellingham. We took different channels in the same river but ended up at the same place. We’ve been to Taos and Pinos Altos, both in New Mexico. We went to Colorado for half a month. Now we’re in Flagstaff, Arizona and it’s been almost seven weeks. This means I’ve had no permanent home for almost six months, and her for longer.

It’s weird to think that. Recently, in an anti-distractionary effort, and a vain attempt to slow down time, I’ve adopted a morning hour-or-so where I just sit and think. I’m allowed to have a pen and paper, but nothing else. You can write or you can think, or you can sit there and do nothing. I stole this shamelessy from Neil Gaiman, who talked about it on podcast with Tim Ferris. I’ve found it to be really productive, until the coffee kicks in and I’m tossed into a dark hole of obsession and randomness (which is actually pretty fun).

The self-reflection time is really nice, but so is just being able to sit and think and feel what my passion is, and I’ve found that right now it’s heavily tied to knowing a place and exploring it and knowing what the details are. We’re butted up right against the National Forest here in Mountainaire, which means I literally open a gate in the backyard and there are miles and miles of wide-open trails, sparsely forested tundra and a ton of limestone boulder formations.

I had the feeling the other night as I was skinning home from a random solo adventure that it’s really nice to feel your dead-reckoning kick in and know where you are- to know that this draw is over here, that this gully is the one I did blank in that one time, that if I walk in this direction I’ll eventually come to a road that will take me back home or farther out towards mystery.

When you start to fill in the gaps in the map in your head, a place really comes alive. Even the little things, like knowing how to get to the grocery store and then get home without navigation, give depth to a place. I don’t know how to explain this to people, it’s one of those micro-philosophical decisions I made a long time ago. Depth is important. Depth and confidence in where you are.

Being anchored in place also anchors you in time, and maybe that’s the whole point.