I would be lost without my compass

Sharon Kennedy

Last fall I went for a walk in the field behind my home. I walked a little farther than I intended to and ended up in the woods. It didn’t take long before I was turned around. I never thought about putting a compass in my pocket. After all, I grew up on these 20 acres and as a kid, I never got lost. I suppose I should have remembered that nature reclaims its own when left alone. No cattle have been pastured in our fields for more than 45 years.

When I was young, our cows acted as lawn mowers and kept the grass around the barn and in the pastures short, and they ate whatever fodder they found in the woods. My siblings and I used the woods as our playground. We made teepees from the limbs of dead trees and branches as walls. In the fall, we collected colored leaves. It never occurred to us we might get lost as we searched for the ever phantom hazelnut or chestnut tree. We simply followed the path made by the cows or we followed the fence.

But the cows are long gone, the fences rotted away, the woods have become a tangled mass of tamarack and spruce trees, and it only takes a minute to get disorientated. For some unknown reason, I was trying to find our 1952 Chevy. When it died, Dad hooked a chain to the tractor and dragged the car to the woods and forgot about it.

When I was young it was easy to find because it was just inside the fence. The cows ignored it, but for me it was wonderful. I could turn the steering wheel every which way and nobody told me to stop because I might put “play” in the wheel. I didn’t find the car, but thinking about it brought back memories.

When I headed for the woods my first stop was always that Chevy. I taught myself to drive. True, I never left the field, but I prided myself on never getting into an accident either. I turned the steering wheel to the left and right, turned on the radio, rolled down the windows, and headed for St. Ignace and the ferry. In my mind, I drove all the way to Detroit. When I got tired of driving, I rolled up the windows, turned off the radio, and went as deep into the woods as I dared.

I never took a compass because I didn’t need one. I followed the cows’ path and when it ran out, I made my own. The woods were not thick, so it was easy to find my way back to the open field. If I was gone too long, my parents would say I should have taken a compass with me just in case I got lost. I told them I didn’t know how to read one and Dad showed me. As a child, I had no more idea how to make sense of the needle pointing north than I did of how the earth spun on its axis.

Dad said the needle always pointed north. Well, maybe I didn’t want to go north, then what do I do I would ask. After awhile, my parents gave up and gave me a whistle. I don’t recall ever using it. I came across it the other day when I was rummaging through drawers, looking for Dad’s compass. During my search, I found a brass pin-on one. It was then I realized the need for finding one’s way out of the bush is still relevant today.

Smartphones are wonderful creations, but if we enter a “dead zone” the likelihood of getting a signal is remote. So what happens if we get lost in unfamiliar territory? It’s easy to get turned around as I discovered when I walked only a short distance into the woods. I had no point of reference and no idea where I was. It took only a minute for panic to set in as night began to fall. Golly, I thought. My flip phone has no signal, I have no compass, and I’m getting cold. I’ll probably die in my own woods and the turkey vultures will pick my bones clean before anyone finds me. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but if you’ve ever been lost, you know how easy it is to panic.

When I was in town a few days later, I stopped at a sporting goods store and asked if they sold compasses. One young clerk had no idea what I was referring to, but another found four. I asked if there was much call for them. She said my request was her first one in a long time. Seasoned hunters or hikers know the value of a compass. Like my Dad, they know that faithful needle pointing north will guide them back to safety.

Next time I go for a walk, I’ll be sure to pin the little Marble on my shirt. I won’t have to whistle and pretend I’m not afraid as I hunt for an opening in the trees pointing the way home. Or maybe I’ll just stick to the road. It’s not very exciting, but at least I don’t have to worry about getting lost. Sometimes you have to admit that erring on the side of caution is just plain old common sense.