The Map in the Vase

Every year, once the heat of summer tamps down the beach crowds, I visit an island off the Atlantic Coast with a cadre of runners/surfers/fishermen that we refer to as Brisk Sports Weekend. This island is ringed by the vacation homes of the hyper-rich, one of which we pitch camp in, a band of merry dirt bags availing ourselves of lowered rent and nice couches. The interior of the island is dotted with farms, the more humble homes of the permanent residents, and an airport where you can eat pie and watch small planes bob around in the wind.

Before last year’s trip I discovered a map of the island’s trail system, which describes a scribbly path from sea cliffs through low brambles and across farm land, to the harbor and back up into low deciduous woods. Every inch of it is beautiful, but it takes some learning to string the various sections together into a coherent whole.

Last year I sprained my ankle the week before the trip, so the 10 mile run I’d planned, turned into a ten mile walk. I carried the map with me and made mental notes, filing away the innocuous landmarks, the twisted trees and oddly shaped stones, that would help me navigate it again without the map. At the end of the weekend, I held the map in my hand and wondered how I’d keep track of it, a mostly crumpled, over-folded scrap, for this year.

That’s when I decided to hide it in the house and found a dusty vase on a shelf in the living room. My hand just fit through the vase’s narrow neck, and I hoped that, in the odd event someone thought to take the vase down, they’d not bother plucking the paper out of the bottom.

The thing about the toys of the wealthy is that they’re seldom used very much. Something about having too much or working too hard or just not having to value your stuff makes vacation houses available for the hoi polloi and vases stuck quietly on shelves for dirt bags to keep their random crap in. On Thursday, I pulled down the jug and weedled my arm down into its base to retrieve the map.

This magic trick pleased my companions, and we talked a little about what else we could store there in the house in advance of next year’s assault.

True to form, I walked off the ferry this year with an injury, a separated rib that had me nervous about sneezing, never mind the long trail run I’d planned, but we go this way once in life. I decided to chance it, and the pay off was both beautiful, high ocean overlooks, narrow corridors between sprawling meadows of wildflower, arboreal tunnels spilling out to dirt roads, hemmed in by ancient stone walls, and also a growing pain in my chest with each step, so that miles 7, 8 and 9 had me wishing for the end and a small handful of ibuprofen.

The next day we walked the island (I couldn’t run) from end-to-end, another 10 miles of magic, although it was a warm Saturday and the hordes returned on the ferry, in the their cars, on their mopeds, and on a fleet of wobble-wheeled cruiser bikes, so we saw more humans than I prefer. Dirt bags can’t be choosers, or however that saying goes, and I still felt lucky to be there.

My buddy John, above, used the map to launch another adventure on Sunday morning, before we had to drag ourselves back to the ferry to return to real life. Then I hid it behind a picture, hung on the wall near the piano.