Issue: December/January 2013
BYPOINTS: Me and My Maps

You know what I miss? I miss the good old days of paper maps and charts, the days when, if you needed to find something, you could just pull out your old dog-eared Rand McNally road atlas or chart book and thumb through it until you found what you were looking for. You could put your finger on it. And you could be pretty confident that the information on that map or chart was . . . completely out of date.

Perhaps you detect a bit of sarcasm here, Perhaps you realize that what I actually mean is that I do not miss those days at all. I’m a big fan of mapping technology. I love the fact that one moment you can be sitting there wondering where the heck Bivalve, Md., is, and the next moment—very literally the next moment, in the time it takes you to type those two words and hit “search”—you’ll be looking at it in Google Maps. If you have the measuring tool enabled, you’ll see that it’s 16.493 statute miles west-southwest of the center of Salisbury, Md., give or take a thousandth of a mile. And if you have a chart viewer on your computer, you’ll see that Bivalve is about six nautical miles up the Nanticoke River, not far past Ragged Point and red “4” in the river’s eastern channel.

Can you tell that I positively love having this information at my fingertips? I do. Not that it’s entirely trustworthy . . . or complete, for that matter, which brings me to my point. One thing that has always driven me a bit mad about Google Maps is that they are, far more often than not, woefully incomplete when it comes to identifying bodies of water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to Google hoping to confirm the location of a given creek, only to find a nameless expanse of blue that might be the creek I’m looking for. On land, every street, cul-de-sac, church and Pizza Hut is labeled, but not so with rivers, creeks, bays and coves.

At least not until very recently. I was thrilled to see this month, as I worked on the map for John Page Williams’s trailerboating feature on the Nansemond River in Southside, Va., [See “The Nansemond Now,” page 30], that Google is at least beginning to remedy that problem. The operative word there, I should point out, is “beginning.” Another helpful word would be “wrong.” Specifically, the Nansemond River is identified as the Elizabeth River. Indeed, most of the rivers and creeks in Southside are, at one magnification or another, labeled “Elizabeth River.” Except for Chuckatuck Creek, which is labeled “James River.”

But Google is at least trying to fix the problem. Or starting to try. Or something. And they seem to be starting with bays, coves and obscure ponds, rather than with significant creeks and rivers. On the unlabeled Chester River, for instance, there’s no label for Gray’s Inn Creek, but there is for that creek’s Joiners Cove. There’s no Langford Creek, but there’s a Burnt House Cove and a Homer Cove. On the anonymous Corsica River, there’s a Middle Quarter Cove and an Earle Cove.

Oh well. Like I said, it’s a start. And like I also said, I miss the good old days, when maps were wrong and everybody knew it.


Tim Sayles, Editor