Quasi-daily thoughts. No cute taglines.

Sunday August 14

Google Maps Ruins Childhood Memories

In a state famous for packing people in like sardines, the New Jersey town I was raised in was known more for the sprawl of its two lakes and acres of foliage. My house sat at the edge of one such forest.

To a boy, those woods seemed to be without end. It was both fascinating and frightening to imagine where you might wind up if you started walking into the trees and didn't look back. For all I knew, I might have stumbled into China. We knew several paths that led to exotic places, like the town landfill, but beyond that the woods were a mystery.

One spring afternoon when I was 9, my friend Chris was bragging that he had wandered deep into the forest, ascended up a rocky hill, and discovered a spectacular view of the entire town below. He offered to take me back there, but my fear of the woods said "no". When he revealed that he had also seen two red foxes scurry across the path, I gave in. The lure of cute animals was too much to resist. My other friend Alan agreed to join us.

Chris confidently led us into the woods. Within an hour, his confidence had turned into confusion, and we realized that we were lost. Night began to fall quickly, exaggerated by the shadow of a thousand tall oaks, and I was sure that I was going to die.

We pressed on, walking in circles for several hours. Just as we had started to accept that it was our fate to be eaten by wolves, the faint echo of cars interrupted. We rushed towards the sound and found ourselves standing on the side of a road very far away from where he had started. As far as I was concerned, we had gotten lucky, and could have just as easily been marching for weeks.

When I got home after dusk, I didn't pull out a map to figure out how we had gotten lost. They don't make maps of the frontier. At least they didn't in 1987. In 2005, it's a different story. Now we have Google Maps.

A few days ago I brought up this satellite map of my old neighborhood, and my mystical image of the woods was ruined forever. They don't lead to China after all, just the other side of town.

For kicks, I plotted my estimation of the path that we took that day, which you can see in the image above. The satellite photo also reveals a sloping hill in the forest which was probably the site of the view we were hiking towards, but never found.

From now on when I harken back to that day, I can no longer think "Boy did we get lucky - one wrong turn and we might have hiked into the wilderness and died!". I'll just imagine a satellite photo of a few acres of bare oak trees. Thanks Google, for ruining my childhood memories.

Posting your comment. Please Wait...