In 1971 my brother and I traveled cross-country from South Carolina to see the national parks we had been reading about in National Geographic magazine and Reader's Digest books. He did all the driving in his blue, manual-shift Chevy Nova while I navigated using a Rand-McNally road atlas and state highway maps picked up at every welcome center. “Turn here,” I said, about twenty miles west of Winslow, Arizona, and we spent part of a road-weary day at the fascinating Meteor Crater, just six miles off I-40.
I can still read a road map, but sometimes I opt for the convenience of letting Google parse out directions in that bright Siri voice: “In a quarter of a mile, turn right onto Howard Gap Road.” And my wife and I obey, heading off to an apple orchard to find some jam and cider. Recently I used Google Maps to direct me from Gate E38 to Gate A8 at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, speed-walking the long transits, finding escalators, and riding five stops on Skylink to make a tight connection. Nothing on paper could do that. Few journeys go in a straight line, so maps, whether print or pixel, show us where to exit, where to turn, how our journey reorients for a new stretch--which leads eventually to the next turn.
The English language has an ambivalent relationship with the word turn. We like turns in a mystery or a lyric poem, enjoy the turn when summer’s humidity snaps into crisp autumn. But when squash go brown in the vegetable drawer, or the ground beef label reads a moon phase past the sell-by date, turn has a less attractive appeal. We don’t like being turned away, but being turned on has possibilities. Getting turned in seems threatening; turn it up means the real party is starting. Such idiomatic variances are abundant. A continuous part of daily motion, turn also means a shift in thinking, a mental repositioning.
Turn is just another word for change, of course. Turn around could be directional or behavioral advice. Turn it off might refer to a spigot or to a destructive line of thinking that’s sabotaging relationships and needs to end. Major life turns are sometimes planned, sometimes coincidental. Time might be linear and inexorable, but most life paths are zig-zags.
After many glorious turns through Arizona and Utah on that six-week camping trip long ago, my brother and I approached much-anticipated Yosemite. When we exited Wawona Tunnel and turned into the grand view’s parking lot, we were about to become changed men. No glossy prints prepared us for the impact of that stunning spectacle. For me, simply, it was a turning point from my provincial Southern grounding toward a passion for national landscape, an interest that has been constant for nearly fifty years.
One day decades later, a routine turn into my driveway brought the mail carrier to my door with a package. Eight years later I married her. Now we happily wander on weekends searching out vineyards and warehouses filled with antiques. Some turns/changes are momentous; others are subtle and take a while to unfold. You never know how things will turn out, and a map shows only part of the journey.