Crazy about Maps

Here in the Toe River region in the winter months, our neighbors down in the Celo community publish a calendar called Cabin Fever University, filled with good reasons to get out of the house: it might be a dinner cooked by a Congolese neighbor, a night of French cinema, or a contest for nibbling a slice of cheese into the shape of a country. CFU keeps us entertained. This past weekend, High Cove community member Olga Ronay hosted a CFU event at the Firefly Lodge called “Crazy about Maps.” About ten of us descended upon the Lodge with rolled up maps under our arms, inflated globes with meteorological markings on them, historical maps, links to electronic maps, all things cartographic.

A map of Yugoslavia, a country that no longer exists.

Tania shared this wooden book cover, handmade  in Belgium by her father, decorated with a detailed map of her native Yugoslavia. Larger place names are burned into the wood and smaller ones are labels decoupaged onto the surface. Bodies of water and other large features are painted on. In 1955 when this map was made, wood-burning was a popular craft technique.

On this 18th century map of St. John Island, Patrick points out the location of the Akwamu rebellion of 1733.

Patrick and Emily brought us a map of St. John Island from the 1700s. Residents of St. John for many years, Patrick and Emily had explored every inch of the island. Sweating and bleeding their way through tangled vegetation, venomous spiders, thorny lianas that snag your skin, and no access to food or water, they scouted across the island to locate ruins and learn the island’s history. Committed to leave very little trace, they bushwhacked but did not blaze trails. A reprint of a Danish map used for tax purposes, the map they shared was surprisingly accurate for Patrick and Emily’s outings, which explains why it’s so well worn – it went on a lot of those bushwhacking trips through the Caribbean jungle. Above, Patrick points out the location of the Akwamu Rebellion of 1733, when King June and several other enslaved people from Akwamu (present-day Ghana) led the first successful revolt of enslaved African people.

Map of Virgin Islands with island silhouettes, useful for mariners.

We are fortunate that Patrick and Emily now live up the road from High Cove and visit often to share their stories. They still spend their days walking miles of territory both on and off the roads and trails so they know everyone and everything there is to know about our neck of the woods.


Patrick and Emily have gained a lot of expertise about Mitchell County in a few short years by walking everywhere and talking to everyone, but they can’t match the decades of historical knowledge of Byrne Tinney. Born in West Virginia and educated at Berea College, Byrne has been living in our neck of the woods for the better part of sixty years, at least when he wasn’t teaching university at UNC Chapel Hill, or living in Spain, North Dakota, and points beyond. He shared with us a teaching tool he has used for helping folks understand meteorology, one of his many areas of expertise.

Byrne’s meteorology notes on an inflated globe.

Olga Ronay, AS IF Center board member and one of the primary instigators of the High Cove community, was also the instigator of our little cartographic party. She shared a number of cool electronic maps, including a map of smells in a Manhattan neighborhood and a data map of Brooklyn showing Brooklyn blocks where people sent to prison cost over $ 1 million  (at $30,000 per year, multiplied by x years of the sentence, multiplied by the number of prisoners from the block).

Map of New York smells.
Heat map of arrests in Brooklyn neighborhoods.

We also shared some great online resources including a tragic and data-rich visualization of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, a free, interactive Mitchell County NC map collection, and a site that uses three-word combinations to help people anywhere in the world remember and locate a GPS point.

With folks from Germany and Yugoslavia, folks who’ve lived in the Carribbean and Spain, and folks who have collectively traveled on most continents, our little party was keenly aware that the map is not the territory. Our conversation turned from maps to our own experiences of places – from swinging bridges of Mitchell County to carrying food and water through the jungle. Maps are a great tool for sharing details from past adventures, and for planning and dreaming about new ones. We geeked out over maps for two hours and we can’t wait to get together again next month.

We crowd in for a better look at this topo map of Mitchell County.