My literal worldview has recently taken an interesting turn.
I live a few miles east of a very distinctive mountain, an outlier of the Blue Ridge. Not quite a monadnock, more a malformation of the main ridgeline. It sits below and to the east of the Blue Ridge’s spine, and has a unique silhouette—our very own Gibraltar.
Decades ago, I hiked to the summit of this mountain with a friend, a hike certainly more significant in the journey than the destination; its summit is completely wooded and without a view to speak of. Most of what I remember from actually being on the mountain revolves around gathering acorns in a Euell Gibbons-esque fit of stalking the wild whatever. Later, I wrote about the relationship of the broad protective flanks of the mountain with the tiny village nestled beneath it—one of my first little essays.
When we flew west a year or two ago, I could look out and watch the mountain slowly sliding past the left wingtip, squashed by altitude into a mere crumple in October's multicolored carpet.
Now I see this mountain in the morning to my right as I leave, the horizontal sun just beginning to light its flanks; I can gaze across the piedmont at it from where I work. My whole world is encompassed in that glance.
Coming home, I notice it oddly misplaced to my left along the main highway—a highway I always thought of as straight. How in the world did it get over there? Now I realize how extreme the cumulative effect of countless minor bends in the road are, and can instantly reconcile the map in my head with the map on the printed page.
When I turn down our lane, I look directly at the mountain, often with the mottled sunset splashed across the sky behind it. With this magnificent reference point in mind, I can now understand and organize, in three dimensions, the landscape in which I live. I can trace the roads, the rivers, the long low rolling hills, and piece it all together.
The map geek in me finds that very satisfying.