This is the mathematics of topography: Triangulation.
Altitude. Distance. Angle of declination. A map
as means of survival, not a work of art. A compass
as a tool, not a symbol. Still, I default to narrative:
All day we follow the river, spend hours sloshing
with heavy boots through the Sushana, her icy current
growing swifter and faster with the steady spill
of tributaries. I unfold the map, study the twisted puzzle
of contour lines, translate this morning’s hike
into a line drawn in pencil; the path of our progress
mazing through sectors of tundra and swamp.
From its cord around my neck, the compass spins
dizzily. I pause to cradle the instrument in my hands,
let it regain its senses. Its magnetic pulse feels faint
but constant in my palm, the heartbeat of an animal
whose only instinct is North. The needle quivers to a halt.
All direction begins from the place where I stand.
This is the science of navigation: To peel away
the aesthetics of place, simple as skinning the pelt
from a wolf. To dissect the taiga into degrees.
Examine the twisted musculature of earth. Chart,
label, and memorize the skeleton landscape.
To say, with certainty,
This is where I am.