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Mariner's Compass - a symbol for finding one's way in life

Posted by Danira Parra on

Long before the Mariner’s Compass was a quilt pattern, it was a functional design on a nautical chart, indicating the 32 wind directions by which sailing ships navigated. Each point on the “wind rose,” as it was sometimes called, had a name and oft times the points were labeled with the first letter of its corresponding name.

Over time, from history’s earliest parchment nautical charts down to our most modern electronic devices, we find varying stylized versions of this compass, causing us to associate it with mariners throughout the ages. Finding your way to a distant quilt show or new quilt shop has been made easier using GPS navigation systems that still feature a compass function.

Digging through an old box in the back of a closet recently, I came across my father’s old compass. It’s in a round forest green case about 1” in diameter. The circle comes to a point on one side and has a small metal “D-ring” presumably so that it can be worn as a pendant on the end of a chain. Hinged on the “point” side, I opened it and found the black and red needle still dutifully pointing north.

When I was a kid living in Arizona, mom and dad used to take us camping almost every month. I remember those camping trips. I hated those camping trips. Cold or hot it didn’t matter, we went because my father was not a man to whom you said no, especially if you were his child.

Dad always thought that the best place for his children to be was in school, in church, or out of doors, and he followed through with that by becoming the leader of our church’s Pathfinder club – a co-ed scouting-like club. Under his leadership the whole crew of 20 or so youngsters and their adult supervisors would make monthly treks into the wilderness or into the mountains to learn how to survive and, if possible, to thrive in the fiercest elements of nature.We camped in the dirt; we camped in the heat; we camped in humidity; we even camped in the snow.

We learned not only how to climb rocks, but also how to rappel down them with ropes and carabiners. We learned how to build fires and start them with flint and steel, or with two sticks and a bow. Dad taught us how to snare a rabbit, how to find water in the hottest desert, and how to tell the difference between a coral and a king snake.

Using his trusty compass he would set off early in the morning, while we were still asleep, and create an “orienteering” trail for us to follow giving us only points on a compass to start and leaving tracking clues of broken branches and disturbed rocks for us to follow. Later we learned how to use our watches as makeshift compasses should we ever get lost without a real compass on hand. Well into the night, with no city lights to cloud our vision, Dad would roust us out of our sleeping bags and, pointing to the stars, teach us how to find our way with the aid of the Big Dipper and the North Star.

I realize now that those camping trips were so much more than just about giving his children the only kind of entertainment our family could afford. We sang songs around the campfire. We heard stories about how things were when our parents were young. We learned skills for self-sufficiency, which later in life would give us the temerity and boldness to strike out in directions we never would have dreamed of, or been prepared to face.

In the wilderness, under those star-studded skies, we could feel the presence of God in a different way. We came to appreciate the beauty of nature and to learn to respect it, especially when its savage beauty and danger frightened us.

In the wilderness, away from the cares of work and the worries of making ends meet, my father taught me the true meaning of family and love. It was and is all about sharing time, stories, and experiences with each other. It centers around taking risks and creating memories together.

Thanks for the compass, Dad. Now that I think about it, I realize that those camping trips weren’t so bad.