Be a Maptivist! (And 4 Other Tips to Unleash Your Inner Cartographer)
Feeling a little lost? Looking for some direction in your life? Here are five unconventional ways to help you get where you're going.
1. Search for treasure
If you’ve always wanted to be a treasure hunter, join the 6 million people worldwidewho participate in geocaching, a modern game inspired by the 19th century pastime of letterboxing, in which trinkets or letters were left for travelers to discover in hiding places along the road. Geocaching uses online clues and GPS coordinates to point explorers to hidden caches of “treasure”—anything from artwork to jokes to big prizes—but the thrill of the quest is the greatest reward. Caches usually contain a logbook where successive explorers note their arrival, even after the prize has been claimed.
Geocaching can be a social event involving teamwork, and can make treasure hunters aware of aspects of their local area they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. That appreciation of place often leads to caring for the environment. More than 50 tons of trash were collected at “Cache In Trash Out” events over earth Day weekend in April 2013. Head to geocaching.com to search for trash or treasure in your neck of the woods.
2. Do it without GPS
There are plenty of ways to find treasure without a smartphone. Pennsylvania geocaching enthusiast Ed Scott has found more than 2,500 caches using only a map and a compass. He employs navigation techniques such as tree identification, the use of attack points (reference points in relation to the object you’re looking for), handrails (a linear feature like a forest or a road that points to your final destination), and most importantly, his skills in map reading and drawing.
3. Put your place on the map
Helga Lin and Owatta / Shutterstock.
OpenStreetMap is an online resource that allows people to directly create and share maps. It enables a community to chart its place—and areas for improvement. Users of the site have mapped areas with disability access and created maps that show sources of drinking water. There are simple ways to get involved in open-source mapmaking, such as correcting street names.
Get your friends together for a mapping party, explore your neighborhood, and contribute your local information to a global project.
4. Be a maptivist
Mapmaking easily becomes maptivism. During the Arab Spring, activists used OpenStreetMap to find shelter, see whether roads were open, and avoid police. In response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the collective Public Laboratory created its Grassroots Mapping project to help Gulf Coast residents track the spill’s impact on the community and the environment. Their relatively simple method for using balloons, kites, and digital cameras to collect mapping data is explained here.
5. DIY compass
Helga Lin and Owatta / Shutterstock.
You can approximate the north-south line using your analog watch as a compass.
A. Hold out your hand horizontally, palm up, and place the watch flat on your hand. In the Northern Hemisphere, position the watch so that the hour hand points toward the sun; in the southern so that 12:00 does (1:00 during daylight savings time).
B. Find the angle between the hour hand and the 12 (or the 1 if you’re on daylight savings time).
C. Split the angle in half to find the north-south line. If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, north will be away from the sun; in the southern, toward it. (This method is not reliable for finding your way in the tropics. It works better the further you are from the equator, and best in winter.)
Ray Stoeve is a Seattle-based queer and trans writer who received a 2016-2017 Made at Hugo House Fellowship for their young adult fiction.
Erika Lundahl is a freelance writer, independent journalist, activist, fundraiser, and musician based in Seattle.