Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Walk This Way

Keep your gimbals lubed and you'll do fine.

Essentials for Wilderness Survival, Part 6: A compass — couldn't hurt, could it?

First, before you can get any help out of a compass, you have to know what one is. A compass is a thing with parts. But even before parts were invented, there was geomancy.

Geomancy sounds fancy but it was only an early way of trying to get home after slipping into the woods to do some business. Sure, go laugh, but in the olden days most of the world was deep creepy forest all full of beasts and worse stuff and civilization hadn't been invented yet either, so going out of sight was like taking two steps and then boom, you know, you were surrounded by eighteen or more varieties of spooky stuff and there was this weird scratching noise over there behind a rock, and that random howling that seemed to go on forever.

Given that, and you were only out there to maybe empty your bladder and skedaddle back home to snuggle in for the night, you wanted to be sure you'd get back, even though life then was nasty, brutish, and short, and included a lot of fleas and stinky things, and unsalted rutabaga sandwiches was all anyone had to eat (raw).

So they tried geomancy because they had dirt, and that was all it needed. You'd look at little scratchmarks here and there, or toss a handful up in the air to see if anything interesting happened, and then head off. All too often it didn't get interesting, unless you got devoured.

In other words, things did not work that well.

Then someone put a fridge magnet on a stick, which was OK as far as it went, but so what? Who's going to stake their life on what some fridge magnet is doing when there's lots of dirt all over and it gives the same answer? So that idea languished for quite some time until this one guy bought the idea of North from a couple of ancient out-of-work Chinese Fung Masters who needed a few coins for beer money one evening.

The Chinese guys already knew all about compasses and how to use them to get cat hair off the sofa and figure out which direction South was, but that was partly why they kept going off the map and bumping their heads, and why they always had cat hair on their sofas no matter how much they carried on with that fung business.

North however, turned out to be a really good deal.

People got excited about North, went all over, shared it far and wide, painted a little red N on every stick-mounted fridge magnet they had, and before long one of them boldly used his to chase off in a boat before ramming an island in the Caribbean and proclaiming that he'd found Japan. You probably heard of him.

Think what this technology can do for you now that it's been perfected.

If you ever needed a gizmo that pointed at stuff, then a compass would be a good bet. Compasses now have precision parts and are quite technical to boot. The most important part of any compass is, of course, the Direction-of-Travel Arrow. Every decent compass has one. To use the Direction-of-Travel Arrow, first point it the way you need to travel, and then go there. The more often you do it, the better you get to be.

As you stomp around following your arrow, the Dial Ring acts to provide a fine-tuning option. This allows for either minor or major course corrections, achieved by rotating a thing called the Housing. Doing this makes you change direction, but you only need to recalibrate like this if the Direction-of-Travel Arrow sends you walking into a bog, a fen, a marsh, a swamp, or possibly an unpleasant shrubbery.

Some high-end compasses also have a built-in magnifier which helps in noticing those small details, in case you have trouble recognizing landmarks along the way.

The original fridge magnet? Long gone. Now they use a Needle. This is a magnetized and sharpened piece of metal that pokes into alternate dimensions as you go, always searching for the Way. (Known to the Chinese as the D'oh! — possibly a holdover from ancient Fung rituals, you think?) The Needle, however, and the Direction-of-Travel Arrow don't always get along. In fact, almost never. They frequently disagree. Sometimes they fight. You should be prepared for this. Keep your Third Eye open.

Other compass tips:

  • Buy a good map (One with squiggly colored lines.)
  • Magnetic deviation is illegal (In every country except Texas.)
  • Walk in circles (To become familiar with your surroundings.)
  • Practice (Don't stay a Magnetic Dip forever.)
  • Don't get lost (Should be Step One, shouldn't it?)
  • Follow a bearing (Usually recognizable by the fur, but look out for mama.)
  • Memorize the Cardinal Directions (Don't know what Protestants do with this one.)
  • Drink beer (Makes you feel good during times of stress.)