Bathtub Scholar: Natural Navigation

Five or so years ago I decided to dedicate my reading life to two areas: books I’d be happy to remember years on (you know, the classics, poetry, works written by people living under an oppressive government, &c.) and to the pursuit of learning new things. This second tenant, I’ve found, is best attained in the tub. Quiet and undisturbed, this is my favorite place for scholarly endeavors. It might have something to do with my curiosity’s relationship to water; I’m more likely to check out non-fiction when it’s raining out, I’ve read more books having to do with the sea than almost any other subject, and I like to do my learning while submerged.

Right now I’m reading Tristan Gooley’s “The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer’s Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill.” The idea is that with the development of  navigational tools (and I don’t just mean SatNavs, this started ages ago with the precursors to sextants and compasses) people have lost their ability to “read” the land and sea. I’m just at the  introductory chapters, but reading about a ship’s captain that saved his boat by waking suddenly in the night because he could feel the difference in the play of the water denoting a nearby reef and the details of “primitive” people who could find their way through snow that stretched to all horizons has my interest. It seem to be mostly about awareness.

Right now, on the sidewalk nearby my apartment, there are probably ten people walking around. It’s safe to say that at least four, maybe even six of them, are looking at or talking on a phone. Several of the others are probably busy thinking about a conversation with their boss earlier today or what they are going to get at the grocery store. I’m willing to bet that none of them are smelling for the stench of seaweed denoting a low tide (the sun’s effect on seaweed is quick so if you smell it, I learned, you’re probably near a beach at low tide) or remembering the slope of the hill so they will know how to get back. Granted, most of them probably live around here so none of that matters, but the idea with this book is that you can train yourself to pick up on these kinds of things so you can quickly orientate yourself in an area you don’t know.

Already the other day I observed a mossy tree and noticed that all the greenery was growing on one side. Sure enough, it was the side that faces North.  This is because moss is most happy when it’s away from the sun so it doesn’t usually reach around to the warmer side of it’s home. Didn’t know that until I read it the other day but now I’m noticing the pattern on trees and rocks all around.

There’s also information on reading star patterns and, my favorite, the sea so I’ll update this post after I learn more. I just need to get back to the tub…

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