In which we periodically examine how art imitates life and life imitates orienteering.

by Peter Amram

The Map Thief, by Michael Blanding (2014), relates the perplexing story of E. Forbes Smiley, III, who made a smooth transition from respected antique map dealer to prolific thief of those same objects.

Smiley, who had access to venerable map collections in America, was caught when an attentive Yale librarian found an Exacto knife on the floor next to where Smiley had been researching, and slicing. He was arrested, convicted, and jailed for several years. Smiley’s apparent motive was the vortex of debts he had acquired in both business and a quixotic attempt to revert a Maine village into an earlier, nostalgic form.

All but the most dedicated cartographiles might weary of Blanding’s close descriptions of European and early American map-making and distribution; however, the author effectively captures the alluring utility and beauty of the maps which were Smiley’s passion, vocation, downfall.

More to the present point, Blanding meditates on the very nature of maps:

by Peter Amram

Ever wonder why you missed that strong trail coming in from the left, even though you had a good pace count going? Perplexed about running right by the 2-meter boulder because you were sure it was the nearer one, and you kept going, and going? Just didn’t notice passing over the ruined stone wall that was to have been a collecting feature?

Alex Stone, who wrote Fooling Houdini (Harper, 2012) understands. In a witty, well-written, somewhat uneven memoir about his personal obsession with magic, Mr. Stone presents much interesting information about the science and practice of fooling others and being fooled yourself. (Stone also wryly acknowledges social ineptitude: continually performing magic tricks, he notes, is a good way to meet women, and a good way to make them disappear.)

by Peter Amram

Doctor John Watson, sidekick and chronicler of Sherlock Holmes, had been orienteering poorly for some time. The dialogue below is exerpted from A Scandal in Bohemia, a tale which appears to concern an indiscretion by some petty German king but is in reality crisp O-advice from Holmes, who is invariably first in his class (M155+ as of this year).

by Peter Amram

Although Norman Maclean is best known for his 1976 collection of fiction, A River Runs Through It, his posthumously published Young Men and Fire (Chicago, 1992) also attracted considerable attention, including a National Book Critics Circle Award. Young Men and Fire is an examination of a disastrous 1949 forest fire in Montana in which thirteen smoke jumpers were killed, and it is, inevitably, a somewhat melancholy essay.

MacLean’s adult life was spent as a professsor of English at the University of Chicago, but as a youth he had worked in the western forests, and he retained strong affection for nature, an affection which he expressed with terse perspective. In River, for example, Maclean recounted having once belonged to a USFS crew which “did what we had to do and loved the woods without thinking we owned them.” And in Young Men, Maclean declared, “Your best friend when you feel curious about what you are walking on is usually a good map, if you can find one.” He continued with this affirmation, and warning:

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