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Simple Directions

by Ron Kitson

When did we humans first learn directions? How did the four directions get their names?

"To support the heavenly vault, the gods stationed the strong dwarfs Nordri, Sudri, Astri and Westri at its four corners, bidding them sustain it upon their shoulders, and from them the four points of the compass received their present names of North, South, East & West" H. A. Guerber The Norsemen (1944).

These were ancient mythical times when gods, elves, dwarfs, trolls, Gnomes and giants were more active but they failed to leave us much in the way of records. My old Websters tells me the word South is probably derived from the Sun.

We know that some native North Americans would migrate south in the fall in order to spend the winter under friendlier weather and hunting conditions.

You didn't need to be real clever to notice heat coming from the sun. So, when you start to notice things cooling down in the fall, it would stand to reason that moving south toward the sun would be like moving closer to a fire. You'd get warmer.

Birds have known for a pretty long time that they could escape the cold winter weather by flying south toward the sun in the fall. They're not real stupid either or we'd see flocks of Canada Geese flying east on an autumn morning and west in the evening. Some have suggested they are guided by the earth's magnetic field and that makes pretty good sense to me.

We say "up north," "down south," out west and "back east." Some of our highway signs tell us which way we're going and, streets often have a direction as part of their names.

We speak of the West Coast, the East Coast, the frozen North and the sunny South yet, if you call a store for directions and ask a clerk which side of the street they are on, you will likely be asked "Where are you coming from?" You tell her and she will say "we'll be on your right" and there's about a 50/50 chance she'll be right.

I was going to a retirement home to provide some entertainment a few years ago and called for directions. A young lady tried to explain saying their street was about four blocks from Route 42. I asked "Is it north or south of the highway" and she said, "That depends which way you're going." I said "No it doesn't but that's all right, I'll find you" and I did.

Store managers should type up clear directions and post them by every phone for employees to relay to callers. Women seem to me to have less interest in directions than men and I'm not sure why that is. Some call every evergreen a pine tree and every small bird a sparrow and I'm not sure why that is either. "Hey look, a yellow sparrow."

It also seems to me that when I was a kid, everyone knew their directions. We knew as kids that the North rooms of the house were the coldest in the winter and the South rooms the hottest in the summer. The rooms on the East side got the morning sun etc.

It's difficult to understand how people can graduate from our well equipped school systems with a good knowledge of science and computers and still not know which side of the street they live on.

Actually, schools should not have to teach directions. Kids should learn this from their parents and grandparents. Then, when they grow up and get a job and someone calls and asks for directions, they will be able to impress them. Perhaps this would be a good project for grandparents.

When traveling in unfamiliar areas, a compass will tell you if you're headed in the right direction but only if you know which direction you need to go. On a clear enough day, the sun can guide you unless it's straight up at midday. The natives knew that moss could grow only on the North side of trees that were otherwise exposed to the sun and early mariners were guided by the stars.

I like the riddle that tells of a hunter that left camp and walked straight south for six miles. He found no sign of game so turned and walked due east for two miles, shot a bear and headed due north six miles straight back to camp to get help. The question is: "What color was the bear?"

Another bear is said to have watched the sun set one evening and sat there all night trying to figure out where it went until finally it dawned on him.

I remember an old joke about a salesman who pulled off the road to ask a farmer for directions to Centerville. "I don't know said the farmer, I've never been there." "Aw c'mon said the salesman, it can't be all that far from here, are you stupid or what?" "Well," said the farmer, "I might be, but, I ain't lost."

Or, if you had two cows standing in line with one facing north and the other facing south, how could they see each other without turning their heads?

Perhaps in a few years we'll all have satellite guidance systems in our vehicles. They know where you are, you just have to tell them where you want to go and they will guide you through every turn.

There are a lot of little things that can help make life a lot easier. One of them is knowing simple directions.

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