Hello, mapmaker! Have you ever been on the Trail of Time? If you haven’t, you should. It’s a part of the East Glacier web of trails and it’s an especially engaging walk because it tracks the movement of the Mendenhall Glacier throughout recent history. You can stand, for example, on the spot where the face of the glacier rested a hundred years ago. Pretty neat, I know.
I think out of all the ways to mark the glacier’s progress, it’s one of the most charming. And it’s a lot like how we map most things in a small town, I think — by where things used to be rather than what is there now. Plenty of people still call the Juneau Arts and Humanities Center the “Old Armory,” (sorry, JAHC, I don’t think you’ll ever win that one), and businesses are often referred to by the name of the place that used to be there: “the Old NAO” and “the Old Silverbow.” Not to mention the small town residential taxonomy, “Oh, Martha lives over by Joe’s mother’s friend’s old yellow house across the street from where the old hen house used to be.” No, this is not how people usually give directions in cities. But if you live here long enough, it’ll end up being the way you talk, too.
Another way to think about it is through skiing. For the skiers out there, you know when you look at a map of Eaglecrest, you’re not just seeing the mountain itself, you’re exploring an inner map of every possible route and terrain from your past experiences. I look at the mountain and can trace in my mind the specific jumps and moguls I can take. I want to traverse to the camel humps, pop down Hang Ten, carve down to the pony express above Motherlode and shoot out beneath The Face with enough inertia to take me past the top of Hooter and over Astronaut, before sliding into the strip of trees between Sneaky and Sourdough.
See how it works? A memory map can hold so much more than an ordinary map because a memory map not only holds the places in relation to each other but also a series of experiences. In other words, it’s not just a map of space, but time.
I’ve got a few maps. For example, I’ve got a map just of places you can park your car and play guitar. I often find that I’d like to play guitar in my car, but doing it in the driveway just wouldn’t feel the same. So I cruise around and find spots where I can practice in peace. I’ve got four spots on Backloop, a couple out Thane. Whenever I drive by one of my favorite guitar-spots, I feel like I have a secret geography that’s just mine, and to me, that’s pretty cool. Here are some other maps of Juneau I have: old friend’s houses, good places to walk at night, shortcuts for biking or longboarding, waterfalls, the best fire-pits, the most secluded look-outs, the best berry picking spots, good outdoor spots to read, public WiFi…
Everyone makes their own maps even if they don’t realize it. It doesn’t just have to be places you’ve been, either. Think about any foreign country you’ve ever dreamed about travelling to. No doubt your mental map of, say, your dream vacation in Barcelona has more wrinkles and details than, say, your mental map of Topeka. For the people that grew up here, their map is partly inherited, partly made up of old memories. For the transplants, it’s like they get to make a map from scratch. Memorable firsts and where-were-you-when-you-heard can stick in your map like pins and little flags.
There’s a great little pamphlet you can find at Alaska Robotics that illustrates this so well. It’s a map of downtown Juneau, and a little marker where the sidewalk goes “gadunk” near South Franklin. Anyone who’s walked on it knows what that means, and that makes it special.
Well, if anyone out there is making a map of funny things about Juneau, I have something for you. If you take the road just to the right of the Salvation Army, you’ll notice a big gray building on your left and a large metal door with a black button. You push it, and it makes a big “awooga” sound. What’s it for? I don’t know. Am I probably annoying people with very important jobs when I push it? Possibly. But if anyone is looking for more “gadunks” to add to their map, there it is.
• Guy About Town appears the first and third Sunday of every month and includes seasonal musings on what changes and what doesn’t in a small town. Guy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.