“Starting a new year is like heading into strange country with no map.”
John J. Rowlands wrote that in his book, Cache Lake Country, which is to my mind the best outdoor book ever written. It was also the first I ever “read.” I say “read” because when I first opened my Dad’s copy I was too young to actually read most of it. I read the few words I could and became fascinated with the drawings, both large and small, that decorated nearly every page.
A few years later I actually did read the whole book, and found the amazing life that Rowlands wrote about enthralled me then and enthralls me to this day. In some ways, I think my love of the outdoors really stems from that book, though the seed was encouraged and well watered by evening fishing trips with my Dad and weekend family camping trips to our 4 acres of mountain land just a few miles (but worlds away) from our house in town.
Rowlands’ quote is also my favorite about starting January, though it is equally true for next week or the next hour, too. More than once, though I’ve wished for a map to guide me through a new year, or the next week or the next hour. I’m not talking about wanting a precise road map of the new year, but a nice map of the territory I’m going to be in, just so that I had some idea of where I was and would be heading, would be useful.
John Muir said, “The map is not the territory.” If you’ve ever stood at a breathtaking spot with your map in hand and realized that nothing on it prepared you for what you saw in front of you, you’ll understand that he’s right. Still, a good map can offer some guidance of how to get from one spot to the next even if it doesn’t show you what the territory actually looks like when you’re in the middle of it. We don’t even get that kind of map to get us through a new year.
Mark Twain’s Huck Finn said at the end of Huckleberry Finn, “I’m heading off into the territory.” And you just know he didn’t have a map—or even wanted one.
But I’m no Huck Finn, at least when it comes to the territory of life. Sometimes I can picture what a life map of the new year might look like, at least in places. I’m hoping that the path to “good health” doesn’t have any major ravines in it. I’m hoping the new year isn’t a path peppered with rocks. Rocks are the kind of things John Muir might have been talking about when he said the map isn’t the territory. What looks like a good path can turn into the hike from hell when the footing isn’t good.
There are other spots on the new year’s map, too, that I don’t want to stumble into. Spots that used to say “Here be dragons” are now areas of the life map that might say “Death of parents,” “foreclosure on house” or “can’t find a new job before running out of money.”
Since I don't have a map to guide me into this new year, I guess I can only do what every other map-less traveler does when she finds herself in new territory. Take a deep breath, dip your paddle into the softness of the lake and push off, heading deeper into that map-less territory of the new year.