With the reliance on GPS technology and the mapping capabilities of our smart phones, many people have lost the ability to figure out how to get from point A to point B on their own. Folk tales are abundant with tips for finding one’s way. “Moss always grows on the north side of a tree” is one of the more popular legends. In fact, moss grows best in the shade and will grow completely around trees in a thick forest. “Follow a stream downhill to civilization” is another. However, what if that stream leads you in the opposite direction you hoped to go?
Manhattan Country School’s 9-10s students went back to the basics of navigation using a compass and map during this week’s nature class at the MCS Farm. The kids learned that the Earth is in fact a giant magnet and reacts with other magnets. They also learned that the compass was invented and used in China during the Song Dynasty and has been used on land and at sea for centuries. They discussed the science of why a magnetized piece of metal, spinning freely, is drawn to our Polar North.
Annie, the Farm’s nature teacher, set up an orienteering course on Thyme Hill. Marked with survey flags, the course required students, working in pairs, to follow mapped instructions. Before setting out, the group examined a map of the Farm to orient themselves visually. Then, with their first set of directions they set off for 20 paces at 35 degrees south. At each subsequent flag they read the next orientation and continued on.
While many of us will continue to rely on modern technology when traveling, a lesson in this ancient technology is invaluable. Being able to orient yourself in the outdoors, whether rural or urban, is a life skill worth honing.