Monday, July 25, 2011

The Failings of an Outdoors Mom

I can build a campfire after it rains without using lighter fluid or an entire box of matches.  I can (mostly) follow trail markers and read an elevation map. I can identify our area's most common birds, a few plants and a handful of animals. 

I cannot, however, use a compass. Not even a little.

When I was ten, the fifth grade participated in a series of outdoor/survival-type activities. One was a compass task.  We were taught how to use it and given a series of coordinates to follow.  We were supposed to end up on the steps of the school. I ended up in a patch of poison ivy 30 feet away.

Two years ago, at the Park Quest Finale, there was a mini quest involving a compass.  A ranger once again showed me how to use a compass and handed me a series of coordinates.  It was limited to a relatively small area and I still ended up a good 15 feet from where I should have.

Sunday morning, the boys and I loaded our car with a picnic lunch, snacks and several gallons of water. We traveled to Greenwell State Park in St. Mary's County for our fifth park quest.  It was already hot, but I was hoping we could complete the quest quickly and retreat to the air conditioned Calvert Marine Museum.

The quest was billed as a "Navigation Adventure" and I had carefully read the description and printed the worksheet the night before.  I knew it was a compass quest, but was cajoled by the gentle description: "a scenic one-half mile stroll along the shoreline of the Patuxent River while learning to read a map and compass."

We'd been to Greenwell before. We knew the trail. The directions were detailed. Piece of cake.

We got to Greenwell, ate half our picnic (it was too hot to really dig in) and started our walk. The first post was only a few yards away from our picnic table.  I picked up the compass hanging from the post and re-read the directions five times. 

"Can we just get on with it?" Matt said impatiently.

On the sixth read, I thought I understood.  I showed Matt how to point the travel arrow at the landmark described on the post, adjust the orienting arrow with the compass needle and read the degrees.

Gabe recorded our coordinates.

There were seven posts on the trail.  Each post had three coordinates to collect.  At the end of the quest, we added the coordinates for each post and used a key to decypher a word.  We decyphered gibberish.  Only one of our answers even appeared on the key!

I really thought I understood this time, but obviously I'm compass challenged.

It's a good thing we only have to complete a quest to get credit for it.  And an even better thing we've never had to use a compass to find our way.

We have Matt for that.

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