Analog, Part II: The World on Paper

Last week in Part I, I told you how I had purged a giant pile of analog media that I’d accumulated over several decades, including all of my old slides, negatives and photographic prints. I can get by just fine with the digitized versions of those hard copies, which are now residing in the landfill. However, there are two analog collections I’ll be keeping indefinitely. The full effect of these items can be realized only on paper; their electronic cousins fall well short of the mark.

Books

I’m not a fan of eBooks or audiobooks. To me, reading is much more than absorbing the author’s words…it’s a sensory experience involving—among other things—the feel and the smell of well-aged paper and cloth-covered boards. Those sensations may be inconsequential to many readers, but they greatly enhance my enjoyment of books.

I’ll say no more about the allure of hardcover books because I’ve already addressed the issue in one of my earliest blog posts, which you can read here: Kindle? Not In My House

And you can browse the following link to see other books from my shelves that have been featured in this blog: Carl’s Library

Now, on to what I really want to talk about today…

Maps & Atlases

Frankly, I didn’t read fiction or fantasy in my youth; I was drawn to the encyclopedia, to dictionaries, and to books dealing with science and nature. And for no particular reason that I can point to, I became fascinated with maps. More than just the occasional glance, I would actually read an atlas, visiting it repeatedly, poring over every inch, memorizing place names, studying topographical features. In grade school, I scored highest in the class at naming all the states and all the countries of the world on blank maps that simply showed the shape of their borders. Long before I first drove a car, I knew where most places were located and which roads connected Point A to Point B.

Enter the Pontiac in 1990, and my exploration of the continent moved from the printed page to actual roads and highways. On my earliest trips, I kept the navigation simple with the classic Rand McNally Road Atlas, handed out for free each year by my auto insurance agent. Hiking in remote areas was the next ingredient to be added to my adventures, and it was immediately clear that I needed much greater detail than the road atlas could provide. So I began buying rolled topographic maps (aka “quadrangles”), which I had to order by mail from the USGS and the Geological Survey of Canada.

Detailed topo data became much easier to haul around once the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer line hit the market. They were released slowly, one state at a time over several years, until all 50 states were represented. No longer did I have to buy those rolled quads; here in one handy atlas was all the key data for an entire state—all the topography, every place name, every dead-end dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

Then I discovered the beauty of our national forests and grasslands, which led to a whole new collection of maps—the Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUMs) provided by the US Forest Service and available at ranger stations near each grassland and forest. And I’ll give you three reasons why these maps are indispensable; three key pieces of information you can’t obtain by looking at the desolate prairie that surrounds you:

1. Our national grasslands are a chaotic jumble of private and public land, with heavily checkerboarded boundaries. There are no signs marking these divisions; the MVUM is the only way you’ll be able to differentiate the public grassland from private property.

2. No signs once again for the areas approved for dispersed camping—my favorite way to spend the night when traveling in the West. The MVUM shows you the location of the dispersed camping zones.

3. The MVUM is your best tool when trying to identify the exact location of Forest Service “roads,” many of which are nothing but the hint of an indentation angling through the dry grasses of the plains.

Now I’m fully equipped with all of the navigation data I could possibly need. On any given western road trip, my vehicle carries about twenty pounds’ worth of atlases and folding maps…even today, in the age of GPS. Why?

First off, let me note that I’m using the term GPS in this post as a catch-all for its numerous forms: vehicle-integrated GPS, dashboard GPS, handheld GPS, Google Maps and Apple Maps and other digital maps, whether in a browser, in an app or as downloaded files, whether on a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, brain implant, etc.

And my goal here is not to deride GPS; it’s a great tool for its intended purpose. Visiting a city for the first time, looking for an unfamiliar address, trying to reroute around a traffic jam, finding a restaurant, gas station or hotel while traveling…GPS is very helpful in these situations, and I use it myself now and again, such as earlier this year while visiting friends on the East Coast. But there’s another way to travel…the Riding with Carl method of wandering aimlessly along lonely, dusty roads, seeking silence and solitude in the unpopulated corners of the Great Plains and the boreal forest of Canada. And in that context, GPS is the wrong tool for the job.

GPS wants to lead you to a specified destination via the fastest and most direct route possible using heavily-traveled highways and streets; it will not help you in your quest to intentionally “get lost” in the backcountry. Having analog maps and the ability to read them will allow you to find that two-track road which leads to the backside of the mesa; chart a course—by vehicle or on foot—to an unnamed pond or the headwaters of a creek; discover places of interest that most people would bypass. My habit of scanning atlases just for fun has allowed me to visit several intriguing, out-of-the-way locations. No one told about these places, nor did I see them mentioned somewhere online—I found them simply because they were noted on a map.

Yes, all of the paper maps I carry are available in digital form (you can access MVUMs for free on the Avenza Maps app). Additionally, there are several hiking and trail apps out there to help you navigate in the wilderness. So why choose a paper map over a smartphone? Here are some practical reasons why I don’t like to rely on GPS in the field…

One very basic issue involves sunshine. Of all the smartphone models available, I’ve yet to see one that can compete with direct sunlight; even jacked to 100%, the screens simply aren’t bright enough to display all of the detail that I’m able to see on a printed page.

Connectivity may not be a problem for those of you who live in metropolitan areas, but I can testify that there are still large parts of the desert, the plains, the Mountain West and the Canadian wilderness where cellular and data signals do not exist. That’s fine with me. It feels good to be offline while immersed in the wild, and I don’t want to see a cell tower erected on every butte and mesa. True, some navigation apps allow you to pre-download all of your mapping data so you can access it while offline, but that’s not the case with every app or device. Personally, I think that digital mapping is great as a backup option, but I prefer analog navigation as my primary source of info—a source that’s not at the mercy of a missing data signal or a depleted phone battery. (And with tech being prone to freezing up or losing its connection or running out of juice, I also recommend carrying a rugged analog compass—something I always have with me whenever I’m in the backcountry.)

What I dislike most about smartphone navigation is that it offers such an impractical field of view. In a navigation app, the map data is presented in layers. Let’s say I’ve zoomed in to get the fine details of a very small local area. If I pull back to see that area in the larger context of the surrounding terrain, the detailed layers below vanish one by one. This means I’m constantly pinch-zooming in and out to determine where one point or feature is in relation to significant trails, roads, towns or other landmarks; I’m unable to view the entire picture at once. Maps and atlases give me everything in one convenient package…the big picture and the fine details, all available at a glance. With my many years of map-reading experience, I can gather the information I need much easier and much faster than I can when working with images on a tiny screen.

Interesting to note that DeLorme is more than an atlas maker…the company was an early player in the market for digital maps on CD-ROM and then went on to produce their own GPS units. In 2016, they were acquired by Garmin—one of the biggest names in the GPS business. And Garmin knows they have a good thing going; the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer line is still in print and still selling very well. I’m glad that Garmin and their customers respect the enduring relevance of analog maps.

Mapping our route to Pawnee National Grassland.
Photo above by Sarah S.

Like the appeal of hardcover books that I mentioned at the top of this post, there’s something about paper maps that I find fulfilling…an aesthetic quality that is lost in digital representation. More than just navigational tools, maps can be appreciated for their beauty, as with a painting or any other work of art.

My large wall maps showing the Pontiac’s North American travel history, 1990-2021.

 

Never Lost

The Great Plains in those early days were solitary and desolate beyond the power of description; the Arkansas River sluggishly followed the tortuous windings of its treeless banks with a placidness that was awful in its very silence; and whoso traced the wanderings of that stream with no companion but his own thoughts, realized in all its intensity the depth of solitude from which Robinson Crusoe suffered on his lonely island. Illimitable as the ocean, the weary waste stretched away until lost in the purple of the horizon, and the mirage created weird pictures in the landscape, distorted distances and objects which continually annoyed and deceived. Despite its loneliness, however, there was then, and ever has been for many men, an infatuation for those majestic prairies that once experienced is never lost…

Henry Inman
The Old Santa Fé Trail
1897

Carl’s Library: The Kindred of the Wild

It’s sad to see a beloved used bookstore close its doors. But the bright side of such a farewell is the opportunity to do several years’ worth of shopping in a few short weeks. When the owner of the bookstore in my neighborhood decided to retire, I was able to add dozens of vintage books to my library at generous clearance-sale prices. I didn’t walk in with a wish list; I just browsed the shelves featuring books on history, exploration, the American West and wilderness fiction and came home with a wide assortment of unfamiliar titles.

I was not acquainted with The Kindred of the Wild, nor its author, Charles G.D. Roberts. Since reading the book, I have learned that it was wildly popular in its day, selling very well the world over, and that Roberts is highly regarded as a writer of prose and poetry—much of his work dedicated to natural history.

Kindred is a collection of short stories about the lives of wild animals, set in the woodlands of Atlantic Canada, where Roberts grew up.

Some stories describe prey/predator relationships, while others tell of encounters between animals and humans. Death appears often in this book, but escape, survival and freedom are also present. And on page after page, the reader finds beautiful descriptions of the sights, sounds and tranquility of the forest.

Accompanying each story are several full-page illustrations by artist Charles Livingston Bull

As Roberts acknowledges, Kindred is a work of fiction. The stories are not anthropomorphic in nature; the creatures are not affixed with human names, nor do they speak English. These are simply tales of animals doing what animals do. Roberts was a proponent of realism when writing about animal behavior.

Nevertheless, the book became involved in the so-called “nature fakers controversy,” in which naturalist John Burroughs and President Theodore Roosevelt criticized the work of authors such as Roberts, Ernest Thompson Seton, William J. Long and Jack London, condemning their stories as “sham natural history.”

Whether or not such allegations hold any truth or relevance, I’ll leave for others to decide. In any case, I appreciate Roberts’s writing style and I truly enjoyed reading this book.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1902 by L.C. Page & Company, Inc.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Mina Benson Hubbard

This autumn’s long road trip gave me my first look at Quebec and The Maritimes; I made it as far east as Port Morien, Nova Scotia. I was asked by a few people if I would be continuing on to explore Newfoundland & Labrador. No, my first visit to that province will be a monster of a trip all its own. At some point in the next few years, I’ll embark on what will likely be the Pontiac’s greatest challenge: driving the Trans-Labrador Highway—probably the most remote and loneliest highway in all of North America. Should I reach the Labrador coast, I’ll be far closer to Greenland than to New York City.

To this day, Labrador remains a vast boreal wilderness with very few inhabitants; only 27,000 or so live there, mainly along the coast. It is a land of rugged terrain, dense brush, fierce weather and legions of biting insects. Life is hard there, even for the Indigenous Peoples of the region. Few visitors see Labrador’s interior.

Imagine traversing this daunting landscape in 1905, with no map to guide you…

Warning: This report contains spoilers…

Leonidas Hubbard, Junior set out in 1903 to chart a course through the harsh interior of Labrador—said to be the least-explored region of North America at that time. His party became lost in a labyrinth of lakes and swamps, and the cold air and snow arrived early that summer. They were unable to secure sufficient game to feed themselves as their supplies dwindled. Too weak to travel, Leonidas died from starvation, alone in his tent, after his two companions had raced off separately to bring back food and a rescue party.

Mina Hubbard, now a 33-year-old widow, grew determined to complete her husband’s journey. She was an absolute novice regarding this type of travel, and most people were shocked at the idea of a woman participating in an exploratory expedition, let alone leading one. But she planned it well, teaching herself navigation and mapping skills, researching equipment and provisions, talking with trappers and sportsmen who knew the territory, and assembling a reliable crew: Joseph, Job, and Gilbert; the fourth man, and the greatest asset to the team, was George Elson, a survivor of her husband’s expedition.

In late June of ’05, they loaded two 19′ canoes with their gear, which included plenty of flour, rice, coffee and other staples; meat, fish and berries would be procured as they traveled. Leaving the Northwest River trading post, the expedition began its long slog up the Nascaupee River, struggling against the swift current and making several portages along the way.

They finally came to the sprawling Lake Michikamau, and shortly thereafter, to the river’s source, which Mina named Lake Adelaide (zooming out from this aerial view will give you an appreciation for the ruggedness and isolation that this wilderness offers). Crossing over the height of land (the present-day boundary between Labrador and Quebec), the team descended the George River. They soon found themselves in the midst of the largest caribou herd in the world—hundreds of thousands of beasts in migration mode. Farther on, the expedition passed through the great Barren Ground of northern Labrador, and in late August, arrived at the Ungava Bay trading post, where they waited for the final southbound ship of the season—Hudson’s Bay Company’s steamer, Pelican—to return them to Rigolette.

All told, they canoed and portaged 576 miles from post to post during those 62 days in the summer of 1905, and gave us the first accurate mapping of the Nascaupee and George Rivers.

Mrs. Hubbard’s book is not a cold play-by-play of each day’s progress, but is written in a storytelling fashion that allows her to expand upon many aspects of the adventure. She writes of their successes and discoveries, their worries and critical decisions, their near disasters. She describes their friendly encounters with the Montagnais and Nascaupee tribes of the interior. She writes of animal behavior, thoughts of home, thoughts of her late husband, the personalities of her companions, their moments of joy along the way, and her appreciation for the beauty of her surroundings.

The men were very protective of Mina and constantly worried for her safety; to their dismay, she had an adventurous streak and loved wandering off alone to hike up hills and mountains, smiling and happy as she walked along. In addition to her revolver and hunting knife, Mina armed herself with one Panoram Kodak Camera and one 3.25″ x 4.25″ Folding Pocket Kodak Camera…

I discovered A Woman’s Way Through Unknown Labrador by a reference in another book on northern exploration (although the title of that book escapes me). I learned enough about Mina Hubbard’s expedition to know that I definitely wanted to acquire a copy of her book, and I was lucky to find this 1908 first Canadian edition. This particular book was the obvious choice for a cartophile like me, as it came complete with its original color copy of Mina’s map, detailing the routes of the two expeditions. The map is stored in a pocket within the back board, and is in remarkably good condition for its age…

Mrs. Hubbard’s map became the benchmark for this region, as recognized by American and European geographical authorities. Several of the lakes and land features along the route still bear the names that Mina affixed to them in 1905.

Included in this book is the diary that Leonidas Hubbard kept during his expedition, along with George Elson’s account of those final days, his harrowing solo journey to find help, and his return the following spring to retrieve Mr. Hubbard’s body.

I don’t purchase books as investments; I buy them to read, and I look for sensibly-priced copies. Yet, for whatever reason, I felt that I needed a premium edition of this title, and it is indeed the most money I’ve ever spent on a single book. Even so, no regrets here…it is a beautiful book and a great reading experience.

Photographs, map and text: Copyright 1908 by Mrs. Leonidas Hubbard, Jr. (Mina Benson Hubbard).

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Carl’s Library: Salamina

Our friends at the Rocky Mountain Land Library have been sharing photos of a few of the wonderful books in their vast collection, set against the scenic backdrop of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Though my own library is much, much smaller, and the view from my apartment is not nearly as inspiring, I’d like to follow their lead and occasionally show you some of the beautiful old books occupying my shelves—particularly, books about exploration (that is, exploration back in the glory days before GPS, digital cameras and North Face jackets). I have many books about the American West, Canada, and the high latitudes of the polar regions; books about journeys of discovery over unforgiving terrain and survival in dangerous weather conditions, books about boundless tracts of wild land and the flora & fauna therein, books about Indigenous Peoples living in harmony with nature, books written by those who have successfully explored and charted unmapped territory, and books about those who died in the attempt. I’m able to experience the wilderness for only a few weeks out of each year; I’m happy that I can read and dream about it during my time at home.

~ ~ ~

Recently, during an email conversation about books, my friend remarked that a book she’d read at a young age had just popped into her head for some reason. It was a story about life, love, nature and culture, accompanied by striking illustrations. She revealed that the book had changed her life. That book was Salamina by artist and writer Rockwell Kent…

I was surprised that I had never heard of this book, or the author. From my friend’s glowing description, I knew that I had to see it for myself. And because the artwork is a key component of the book, I decided that I wanted to get a nice copy; thanks to the internet, I was able to find a 1935 first edition in great shape, and reasonably priced. It is the most recent addition to my library…

The book tells of the author’s life among the native population of Igdlorssuit, Greenland in 1931-32. He went there not just to live and explore, but also to paint and draw. Like my friend, I enjoy the pen & ink drawings opening each chapter and the many full-page portraits done in Conté crayon…

I hadn’t gone far into the book before I realized that I was very happy with my purchase, and grateful that my friend had brought this title to my attention. And I knew that I would be acquiring more books by Rockwell Kent the moment I read this wonderful passage:

Let all your dreams have been of warmth and tropical luxuriance; let what at last is given you be bare, bleak, cold, in every way unlike your thoughts of earthly paradise, your chameleon soul cries out, “By God, I love this barrenness!” Why otherwise have men gone out from comfort, from the pleasures of city life, from all the cultivated beauty of a developed countryside, and in hardship and poverty, in unremitting labor, in all the hard conditions of some frontier life, found happiness? Why do men love the wilderness? For its mountains?—there may be none. For its forests, lakes, and rivers?—it might be a desert; men would love it still. Desert, the monotonous ocean, the unbroken snow-fields of the North, all solitudes, no matter how forlorn, are the only abiding-place on earth of liberty.

Beautifully stated, Mr. Kent. And quite true.

Illustrations and text: Copyright 1935 by Rockwell Kent.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…


The latest issue of the Rocky Mountain Land Library newsletter is out. I’m grateful to the staff for selecting one of my photos for the banner image. This shot was taken during my October visit to the ranch. You may have noticed that many of the photos I’ve posted on social media over the past several weeks have a South Park, Colorado tag. All of those images are from the Buffalo Peaks Ranch, future home of the RMLL. It’s a beautiful parcel of land in a mesmerizing corner of the West; the scenery and the silence are stunning.

Though I was only there for a single afternoon, this place really got its hooks in me. I hope to stay longer on future visits to the ranch, and I hope those trips will become more frequent. I’m especially keen on spending some time there in the dark of night; I was excited to learn that one of the buildings will house an astronomy library and a small observatory.

I am also very happy to announce that my book collection will one day reside at the RMLL. That provision is going to be added to my will now that my offer to donate the books has been graciously accepted.

Download your copy of the newsletter by visiting www.landlibrary.org .
Click the “Land Library Newsletters” tab at the top of the page, then select the “Winter 2015/2016 Newsletter” link. Also, be sure to read the articles and watch the videos that appeared in the media this year. I hope many of you will follow and support this project.

Kindle? Not In My House

book1a

As I’ve aged, I’ve become more and more keen on minimalism within my living space. I hate clutter, and I’m not a fan of owning stuff; if I don’t need it and use it, out it goes. Also, I’m not a collector…that is, not in the hobby or investment sense. There are, in fact, two “collections” in my home: my maps and my books. Since I do need them and I do use them, they’re not going anywhere. When my maps and I are not exploring the wonders of the world outside these walls, it’s likely that I’m indulging my love for the printed word.

book2a

My library is not overloaded with obvious titles…the classics that are known to everyone; I do have many of those, but I also have a boatload of obscure material. There are millions of old books out there worth reading, even though the titles aren’t familiar to most people, or to me. I take chances. If a book is truly awful, I’ll trade it in at my favorite bookstore. That doesn’t happen often; most of them, I keep, as I enjoy reading a book more than once and finding things that I didn’t fully appreciate the first time through, and I’ll often use a book as a guide when I want to visit interesting places that the story brought to my attention.

I love the process of discovery; one book leads me to another book by that author, or to another author that was referenced; one book introduces me to a place or a person or an event, and I seek out other books on those subjects to learn even more. And my library grows.

book3a

Nearly every book I own, I purchased used. I don’t shop at chain bookstores and I’m not interested in “best seller” lists. I buy the occasional used copy of a recent release, if the subject appeals to me, but I especially love old books…books written before my time. The majority of my collection falls in the 1875 to 1975 range. And I do like tracking down the oldest copy of a title that I can find. Mind you, I’m not a fanatic about it; I don’t scour every corner of the globe looking exclusively for pricey first editions. I have several firsts, and I have plenty of second, third, sixth, and Nth printings, but they were located through a simple search process, either from local used bookstores or from eBay, Alibris, et al, and they were purchased at reasonable prices. There are only two books in my collection that were priced above $99.

Paperbacks have never appealed to me; the ones I have are only there because a hardcover edition was never printed. They just don’t hold the same magic as a well-read hardbound beauty. For me, reading is not solely a process of absorbing information; I’m also charmed by the romance of the book itself…its weight, its scent, the feel of the boards, the texture of high-quality vintage paper and printing, the delicate fold-out maps in my books on exploration, the beautiful plates and illustrations on thick, glossy paper.

And there is the occasional thought of others who have held this same book…people long since gone. How did they get the book? Did they enjoy it? Reminders of their presence range from simple inscriptions inside the front cover to the beautiful note I found, written on monogrammed stationery, still tucked between the pages of one of my books, from Julia to her brother, dated December 25, 1911.

An old book has a personality, something which no digital device could ever capture.

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Recently, a friend shared this link to a wonderful story about the Rocky Mountain Land Library. Reading about this project made me realize that I want to make arrangements for the disposition of my books; I have no kids to leave them to, and I’d rather they not end up in an estate sale. Perhaps this library, or one of a similar nature, would welcome the donation; my collection contains many vintage books about the Old West.

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Copyright 1898 by The Macmillan Company, Assigned 1899 to Crane & Company, Topeka.

(Posts about my library are archived through this link: ridingwithcarl.wordpress.com/tag/library.)