Growing up east of the Front Range in Colorado, I was struggling one evening with my science homework: the four directions on a compass. I knew north was at the top, but I didn’t understand how an arrow pointing that way could help me determine where I was. I took my compass to my dad, who was a surveyor and knew about finding one’s bearings.
“I can see the big N on the compass, “ I said, “but where’s north really?”
“Come on,” my dad replied. “I’ll show you.”
We went out to the backyard where the Rocky Mountains were still visible in the twilight.
“See the mountains? That’s west. North is clockwise from there, then east, then south. If you can find the mountains, you’ll know where you are.”
I nodded. Now it made sense. The mountains were our north, our way to orient ourselves when we didn’t know which direction we were facing. All these years later, if I can imagine those mountains, I can find my way home.