Places That Aren’t There

wessex map
Map showing the Wessex of Thomas Hardy’s novels.

‚ÄúIt is not down on any map; true places never are.‚ÄĚ
– Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

There are places that we have heard of, read about, and perhaps even seen on a map, but they don’t exist. Or, at least, they don’t exist in the world we walk through today.

These places appeal to me. You are reading now about a place called Paradelle that exists online but cannot be found (yet!) on maps. Maps and imaginary places have fascinated me since I was a kid. It started with places in novels (like Treasure Island) which led me to love maps, which led me to draw maps and write about my own imaginary places.

When I was teaching middle school, I had my students create maps of the fictional settings of novels they read. Even if the setting was a “real” place or based on a real place, the maps needed things that you wouldn’t find on existing maps – the empty lot or the church that burns down in The Outsiders; the roads and ranches in Of Mice and Men; Scout Finch’s hometown and Boo’s tree in To Kill a Mockingbird or where Romeo, Juliet, Benvolio or Friar Lawrence lived in Shakespeare’s play.

I started a novel years ago that was set in Camptown, New Jersey. That is a town that did exist on maps at one time. It changed its name to Irvington. But my Camptown is a blended town that mixed my hometown of Irvington with other places I have lived along with things I wish were included in the place where I live. The river that runs through the town is all the rivers and creeks and streams I have known. It is the Elizabeth River that I knew as a boy, the Peckman River that runs through where I now live and the Passaic River. That river cuts across New Jersey and is sourced from a now-swampy glacial lake that dinosaurs edged up to for a drink. It spills spectacularly over the Great Falls in Paterson and on to Newark Bay, New York Harbor, the Hudson River and out to the Atlantic Ocean.  As I wandered along riverbanks and paths such as the Lenape trails around me as a child and adult, stories were always coming to me from the past.

All this came to mind back in 2015 when I saw ads for the film Paper Towns which is based on a novel by John Green.  You’ll see the novel and maybe even the film labeled as for “young adults” but that is a term I never liked. Are Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird young adult novels just because they are often read by young adults? Green is a very popular novelist among teenagers, but a lot of adults know his writing either from his book, The Fault in Our Stars, or the film version of his bookJohn Green tweetedCelebrating the release of #papertowns with a road trip to a place that wasn’t, then was, then wasn’t, and now…is?”

In that novel, the character Quentin loves, loses and searches for Margo.  Clues lead Q to believe that Margo may be possibly hiding out (or buried) in one of the many abandoned subdivision projects (also known as “pseudovisions”) around Orlando, Florida. Those turn out to be dead ends, but he does find a map in an abandoned strip mall which he then connects with another map he made in an attempt to locate her. He matches up the holes from the pushpins in the mall map to his map and this leads him to believe that she is hiding in Agloe, New York.  He and some friends skip graduation and head to Agloe to find her.

I read the novel and since I first wrote this post in 2015, I have seen the film. I liked both of them and it led me to dig deeper into these imagined towns.

map
Fictional “copyright trap” showing Agloe, New York. This is a real 1998 Esso state map of New York, United States.

The Agloe in the novel is/was a fictional place in Delaware County, New York, that became an actual landmark, if not a real town.

In the 1930s, two mapmakers (Otto G. Lindberg and Ernest Alpers) made an anagram of their initials and placed it as a town at the intersection of NY 206 and Morton Hill Road, north of the real town of Roscoe, New York.

Were they merry pranksters? No. The town was meant as a “copyright trap.” It turns out that mapmakers sometimes place a fictitious place on their maps so that if someone plagiarizes it, they have a way to easily check.

However, in the 1950s, a general store was built at that intersection and was named the Agloe General Store.

agloe store-001

The fictional town appeared on Esso (now Exxon) gas station road maps that were widely distributed. Agloe appeared on a Rand McNally map and Esso threatened to sue Rand McNally for copyright infringement. But that never happened because Rand McNally pointed out that the place had now become “real” and therefore no infringement could be established.

That store went out of business, but Agloe continued to appear on maps until about 25 years ago when it was deleted.

But – update –  it appears in Google Maps and the very official United States Geological Survey which added “Agloe (Not Official)” to the Geographic Names Information System database in February 2014.

Places that aren’t there are nothing new and there are lots of examples.  There are the ones created by writers, such as Stephen King’s Castle Rock and Derry, Maine, and Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. In my abandoned novel, I considered placing Camptown in the county of Wessex in New Jersey as the western portion of the real county of Essex.

There are also places created by mapmakers.  Besides the paper towns, another copyright-protection technique is to include a “trap street” on a map. This fictitious street on a map, often outside the area the map nominally covers, has also been used as a way of trapping copyright violators. Alternatives are nonexistent towns, rivers or perhaps a mountain with the intentionally wrong elevation inserted for the same purpose. Of course, you don’t want to add something that confuses users or just looks like an unintentional mistake. The mapmaker may add nonexistent bends to a street, or depict a major street as a narrow lane, without changing its location or its connections to other streets.

Phantom settlements are settlements that appear on maps but do not actually exist. They can be accidents or copyright traps. Some examples are Argleton, Lancashire, UK and Beatosu and Goblu, Ohio, USA.

map
The Zeno map of 1558 shows Frisland ‚Äď a phantom island in the North Atlantic

As a lover of islands, I have always had an interest in “phantom islands.”  They are islands that appeared on maps for a period of time (sometimes centuries) during recorded history, but were later removed after it was proven not to exist.

These are not copyright traps. They often came from reports of early sailors exploring new waters. Some were purely mythical, such as the Isle of Demons or Atlantis. Sometimes actual islands were mislocated or just a plain old mistake. The Baja California Peninsula appears on some early maps as an island but was later discovered to be attached to the mainland of North America. Some phantom islands were probably due to navigational errors, misidentification of icebergs, or optical illusions due to fog or poor conditions.

An interesting subset are islands that existed and were destroyed by volcanic explosions, earthquakes, submarine landslides, or rising waters and erosion. Pactolus Bank, visited by Sir Francis Drake, may fit into this category. It was discovered by Captain W.D. Burnham on the American ship Pactolus on November 6, 1885.

It has been postulated that this was the sunken location of Elizabeth Island, discovered by Sir Francis Drake’s ship the Golden Hinde in 1578. Drake anchored off an island which he named “Elizabeth Island,” (for Queen Elizabeth I) where wood and water were collected and seals and penguins were captured for food, along with “herbs of great virtue.” According to Drake’s pilot, their position at the anchorage was 57¬įS. However, no island has been confirmed at that latitude. A map was drawn by a priest that accompanied Drake, Francis Fletcher.

Elizabeth Island might be a good setting for another novel – or for my Paradelle.

Francis Fletcher’s¬†map of Elizabeth Island

In this video, John Green talks about finding Agloe on an old Esso road map

Wandering Imaginary Places

watership down
View from Watership Down towards Nuthanger Farm || by  Peter S and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

When I was teaching, I often had students create maps for fictional “imaginary places.” Some settings in novels are so real that we might think they exist in reality. Many authors create imaginary places but base them on real places they know. We did some quite detailed maps of the half-real/half-fictional Tulsa, Oklahoma in the young adult classic The Outsiders. Creating settings maps required very close reading and a lot of critical thinking and sometimes some research into an author’s life and real maps.

The mystery writer Harlan Coben was a student of mine when I taught in Livingston, New Jersey. He often uses that town and part of New Jersey (he still lives not that far away) in his writing, but things are changed as needed. I recognize names and people (including my own) on those pages. When he describes a street he’s driving down, in my mind I can see that street.

I know from my child psychology classes that the creation of imaginary worlds and people is an important part of child development.

As a young reader, I loved books that had maps in them. Some books had a map on the inside covers. I had a Treasure Island and a Lord of the Rings that had maps. I also had a copy of Richard Adams‘ 1972 novel, Watership Down, that had a map.

picture book
Page from a picture book adaptation of Watership Down

That book is about a rabbit named Hazel who leads a group of his kind out of a dangerous place through an even more dangerous place. Their original home was being taken over by humans. The dangerous place they travel to is dangerous because of the rabbits that live there.

I love that novel and read it multiple times. I have always felt a connection to rabbits. It has been more than just liking these cute, fuzzy creatures. I feel some higher connection to them.

The rabbits finally reach Watership Down which is a chalk hill in England’s North Hampshire countryside. Adams lived in the nearby town of Whitchurch. He would take walks with his children to the top of Watership Down and, like some other authors such as A.A. Milne with Pooh – he told them stories about the rabbits who lived there. Eventually, he wrote them down and so the book was born.

All of the locations described in the book are real places and you could do a tour of the settings using the map in the book.

I have looked the place up online and apparently, it is a popular spot with cyclists, walkers, and exercising horses along Wayfarers’ Walk. A section of¬† Watership Down is a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Going way back, the Down is in the midst of an area is with Iron Age burial mounds, enclosures, and field systems.

There is a tree that was planted at the north end of the wood to mark where the rabbits choose to make their new warren. That tree replaced a beech tree that was destroyed by a storm in 2004. The roots of that beech tree is where the rabbits’ warren is in the novel.

I have read that the wooden fence protecting the tree has been, perhaps understandably, “vandalized” by visitors who have carved the names of some of the rabbits from the novel, such as Bigwig, Fiver, and Hazel.

I had a shelf in my classroom with some novels that had maps in them and a few books about imaginary places and creating imaginary worlds. (click on the book covers below for info).  I always had a few students who would fall into those books and linger longer than necessary in them and sometimes ask if they could borrow one over the weekend.

I was such a dreamer thinking and sometimes drawing maps of Atlantis, Xanadu, Shangri-La, El Dorado, Utopia, Middle Earth, Treasure Island, Wonderland, Freedonia. These days I’m sure readers and watchers have been imagining Jurassic Park and the world of Harry Potter – although movies kind of ruin imaginary places by making them seem “real.”

I always thought that one day I might walk Watership Down with Karen, my longtime friend and fellow rabbit person. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe just in our imagination.

               

A Sense of Place

Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere https://www.flickr.com/photos/60712129@N06/
Original photo by Kenneth Spencer, enhanced by Dianne Lacourciere via flickr.com

About 10 years ago, I read a book called Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. Place-based learning is an educational philosophy. It is also known as (or is related to) pedagogy of place, place-based education, experiential education, community-based education, education for sustainability and environmental education.

The term Place-based Education was coined in the early 1990s by Laurie Lane-Zucker of The Orion Society and Dr. John Elder of Middlebury College. Orion’s early work in the area of place-based education was funded by the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and I received a grant from the Dodge back then to do a project with a community and elementary school in New Jersey using this philosophy.

Here’s an excerpt of that book that gives you an overview. It was written by¬†David Sobel, who teaches in¬†the education department at Antioch University New England in New Hampshire.

Back when I was teaching in a middle school and working on that grant, I had used another book ¬†by him,¬†Mapmaking with Children. ¬†It’s definitely related¬†and concerned with having kids get a better “sense of place”¬†for their community.

child's map

I’m a map fan and for me this is more than geography education. You can work with kids and start with mapping¬†close to home in their known world. Then it can “zoom out” to nearby neighborhoods, bordering towns and beyond. I saw this as visual literacy and critical thinking.

I know that many educators use it along with community projects involving the environment or service projects. In the project I did for that grant, we had set one of the goals to be having every kid work with at least one parent closely and we did a day of field trips around the town and area with them,

I saw the mapping as way beyond a  social studies class. I had a lot of fun having students make maps of imaginary places and setting from books they were reading.

Place-based education is more aimed at solving community problems. It uses the¬†students’ local community as one of the primary resources for learning¬†–¬†the unique local history, environment, culture, economy, literature, and art of a particular place. The community can be just the school grounds or¬†the¬†town.

You might zoom out later but at the start it is definitely better o zoom in on the community rather than national or global issues. Think global, act local.

Kids always liked that this was very much hands-on learning, project-based learning, and involved getting out of the classroom.

neighborhood

More recently I saw an article on place-based learning that got me thinking about this again. This idea of community as classroom and learning that engages students in solving real problems in the community is still very valid. Even more important to me is the idea of place.

You can easily imagine a nearby woods or river as a classroom for science. What about using it for writing poetry or for a math lesson? Getting away from just using textbooks and worksheets is probably more of a challenge for teachers than for students.

Sobel has kept the philosophy moving forward and he consults and speaks on child development and place-based education for schools. He has authored seven books on children and nature. Perhaps his best known book is Beyond Ecophobia.

That article mentioned above is by Bernard Bull and he suggests¬†six starting points for using place including thinking beyond the “field trip (something that is often not feasible for teachers to consider these days anyway) and building a community network of¬†groups and people in the community who own or work in places that align with the curriculum.

Place-based learning didn’t take a real grip on education when it first was promoted, but I think it has so many possibilities for dropping the many walls, literal and figurative, that hold back innovation in education.

And this is certainly an approach that parents can take with their kids, even if the schools are not willing to take on the challenge.

 

This article first appeared at ronkowitz.wordpress.com

X Marks the Spot

islandUSA

I suspect that Treasure Island, the adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, is not much read these days. In my youth, it was one of the “classics” that teachers put on the acceptable reading list for book reports.

I’m not sure now if I read the novel or saw one of ¬†the movie adaptations first (probably the 1950 Disney version). I definitely read the Classics Illustrated comic version. (A series that started me on many a classic work of fiction.)

It is probably still considered a book for young people, but I suspect the vocabulary and sentence structures of most of those classics would be a tough reading assignment for today’s young readers.

As a lover of islands and of maps, the book had both those elements going for it.¬†I certainly didn’t think of it back then as a “coming-of-age” story and commentary on morality, though it’s that too. For me, and most readers, it is an adventure tale. Young Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver and the pirates seemed to live a pretty cool life.

Reading it today, a kid would think it ripped off all the many versions that have come since – some with the Treasure Island name, some with other names. But Stevenson was the original for many pirate standards such as a treasure map marked with an “X”, schooners and one-legged sailors with parrots on their shoulders.

But the map of the island fascinated me. The hardcover edition I read had a map as the inside covers and I studied it and copied it and then modified it. I made many treasure maps as a kid. Some were imaginary places. Some were my neighborhood places. Years later, I had my students make literary maps of novels we read in class.

Treasure-island-map-Stevenson
Stevenson’s map

Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired for novel by a painting he had made while playing with his stepson.  In the introduction to one of the editions to the novel, he wrote:

stevenson“On one of these occasions, I made the map of an island; it was elaborately and (I thought) beautifully coloured; the shape of it took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance ‚ÄėTreasure Island.‚Äô I am told there are people who do not care for maps, and find it hard to believe. The names, the shapes of the woodlands, the courses of the roads and rivers, the prehistoric footsteps of man still distinctly traceable up hill and down dale, the mills and the ruins, the ponds and the ferries, perhaps the Standing Stone or the Druidic Circle on the heath; here is an inexhaustible fund of interest for any man with eyes to see or twopence-worth of imagination to understand with! No child but must remember laying his head in the grass, staring into the infinitesimal forest and seeing it grow populous with fairy armies.”

He said that just staring at the map made the book “appear.” He could see characters,¬†the¬†woods, fights and¬†hunting treasure, and he started outlining chapters.

64 treasure island

 

I am still up for a treasure hunt, if anyone is interested.

Finding Your Way

navigation map

How much do you rely on GPS, and maps on your phone to navigate? Once upon a time, we didn’t even use paper maps very much. We relied on environmental clues and simple instruments.

Some of the more popular posts here have been about variations on getting lost and being found , so I know there is an interest in this topic.

I read an excerpt of a book by John Huth called The Lost Art of Finding Our Way and it got me thinking about this topic again.

Huth was kayaking¬†in Nantucket Sound in 2003 when a fogbank rolled in and disoriented him. He didn’t panic because he knew some basic navigation skills and returned safely to shore. But he found out that only a¬†half a mile away, two college students in that fog mistakenly turned their kayaks out to sea and died. That day got him into¬†exploring the principles of navigation, from ancient times to modern.

In his book, we learn about how the¬†Vikings used the sunstone to detect polarization of sunlight. Arab traders learned to sail into the wind. Pacific Islanders used underwater lightning and were able to ‚Äúread‚ÄĚ waves to guide their explorations.

All of us – land dwellers and sea-goers – have lost the ability to make close observations of the sun and moon, tides and ocean currents and weather and atmospheric effects in order to read the plnet and find our way.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 200 specially prepared drawings, Huth’s compelling account of the cultures of navigation will engross readers in a narrative that is part scientific treatise, part personal travelogue, and part vivid re-creation of navigational history. Seeing through the eyes of past voyagers, we bring our own world into sharper view.

An article I found online asks, “Do our brains pay a price for GPS?”¬† ¬†There’s no doubt that GPS is a useful technology, but does using it interfere with our ability to do “mental mapping?”

Mental mapping and spatial memory is what allows us to remember where we have put things in our home. It helps you to lay out a garden plan a trip, pack a suitcase, arrange furniture ann navigate our neighborhood and office building.

Can you give clear directions to someone to get to a place in your hometown? When I was a kid riding my bicycle all summer, I knew almost every street in my hometown by name and location. Now, I don’t even know all the streets within a mile of my house.

John Huth is a professor, a high-energy physicist, and teaches a course in “Primitive Navigation‚ÄĚ about the rudiments of the analog methods of wayfinding using sun, stars, tides, weather and wind. He certainly is not anti-technology. He is an experimental particle physicist and was involved in the discovery of both the top quark and the Higgs boson. But he does question our reliance on smartphones and GPS.

I ordered his book, which sounds quite encyclopedic in its coverage, touching on astronomy, meteorology, oceanography, and ethnography and telling the ways of early navigators whose lives depended on paying close attention to the environment around them.

Reviewers of the book point out that he is not interested in junking the technology, but relearning the old ways. One reason is because it’s still unclear what losing the old skills has done to our modern brain.

Many of my posts here are about maintaining touch with our natural world, and I would agree that losing our visceral connection to the natural world is a tragic loss with broad repercussions personally and globally.

I doubt that I would find many people in a crowd of any ages who know what¬†‚Äúdead reckoning‚ÄĚ means or how to use a map with a compass. Would you be able to point out major stars in the night sky and use them to find your way?

I used to teach classes in map and compass and basic land navigation at the Pequest Education Center in New Jersey, but I don’t see any offered any more. Maybe it’s time to do it again. But are people interested, or are they satisfied with the tech doing the work for them?

The Provinces of East and West Jersey

Seal of the Province of Western New Jersey
Seal of the Province of Western New Jersey

Once upon a time, New Jersey was the Province of New Jersey. In 1686, a man took a long walk through the Province and did the first survey in order to mark the border dividing it into West Jersey and East Jersey.

That man was Surveyor-General George Keith. The line that he drew on the map was a very straight one. The purpose of the survey was to clarify disputes resulting from the earlier 1676 Quintipartite Deed, which created the two territories. On July 1, 1676, William Penn, Gawen Lawrie (who served from 1683 to 1686 as Deputy to Governor Robert Barclay), Nicholas Lucas and Edward Byllinge executed a deed with Sir George Carteret known as the ‚ÄúQuintipartite Deed,‚ÄĚ in which the territory was divided into two parts. East Jersey was taken by Carteret, and West Jersey by Byllinge and his trustees.

The newer “Keith Line” runs North-Northwest from the southern part of Little Egg Harbor Township, passing just north of Tuckerton. The line was to continue upward to a point on the Delaware River which is just north of the Delaware Water Gap, but Keith was stopped in his survey. Hewas stopped by the Governor of West Jersey, Daniel Coxe, when he had reached the South Branch of the Raritan River (now Three Bridges in Readington Township).

Other more accurate surveys and maps needed to be made to resolve property disputes. But my own interest in the Keith Line is more cultural. These days, some people use this line as a way to mark the boundary between things like the “spheres of influence” for New York City sports teams and Philadelphia sports teams, such as the New York Giants (who play all their home games in New Jersey!) and the Philadelphia Eagles.

I like that when George took his 70-mile walk he defined some of New Jersey’s history and that history still exists in some ways today. Remember, these disputed boundaries were between two British provinces, and this was happening  about a century before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

It is not that his survey settled all arguments amongst New Jerseyeans about what divides the state, and there are still many opinions on what is North, Central or South Jersey. But Keith’s line and subsequent lines have stuck over the years as the boundary of East and West Jersey.

The original provinces of West and East New Jersey are shown in yellow and green respectively. The Keith Line is shown in red, and the Coxe and Barclay line is shown in orange
The original provinces of West and East New Jersey are shown in yellow and green respectively. The Keith Line is shown in red, and the Coxe and Barclay line is shown in orange

 

George was the Surveyor General of East Jersey. He walked north from Little Egg Harbor but when he was stopped at the Raritan River (in today’s Warren County) there were some who claimed he was already way off-course.

But the boundary was not surveyed again for another 60 years. According to Robert Barnett’s website WestJersey.org. there at least 5 boundary lines – 2 before and 2 after Mr. Keith’s.

The ruler-straight Keith Line is still a marker for municipal and county boundaries from Southern Ocean and Burlington counties up to Warren.

 

A good part of Barnett’s interest in all this is because of the two quite different distinct populations that settled in the two provinces. West Jersey was primarily populated by Quakers (see William Penn) and the East Jersey Province was primarily made up of Calvinists or Reformed Christians.

Religion isn’t the distinction between those two areas of the state today, but differences remain. One example of  the historic distinction can be seen in cemeteries east and west. Some of the western Quaker burial grounds are simple and uniform, while the oldest northeastern ones will have ornate monuments.

 

Other distinctions are much broader (and more questionable) generalizations, such as West Jersey being more “blue-collar” and more likely to have a simpler Quaker-ish pace as compared to East Jersey being wealthier and faster-paced. Of course, there is some real evidence if you look at things like Census data on taxes, income and home values, which are all significantly higher in the East.

Despite being close to Philadelphia, the west has about a third of the population living in more rural or suburban communities.

As other writers have noted, there is a pretty distinct line dividing the fans of the Phillies vs. Mets or Yankees, Eagles vs. Jets or Giants. In language, there are some food regionalisms like hoagie vs. sub sandwiches, water ice vs. Italian ice, and pork roll vs. Taylor Ham. All topics for barroom arguments in NJ.

And we haven’t even gotten into where South Jersey begins, or the Lenape or Lenni-Lenape (later European-renamed Delaware Indians) who occupied these areas long before the Europeans arrived.