Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The other night, as I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep, my mind was going a million miles an hour. Finally, after bouncing from a dozen worries and twenty different subjects, I settled on direction. Oddly, this is a subject I often turn to when I'm trying to get to sleep. Don't ask me where this stems from. It's just a part of me. I like to know what direction I face when I sleep. I can tell you that when I sleep at home my head is facing south and my feet are facing north, when I'm at our usual campsite in Lake Powell my head is towards the northwest, in Ghana I was facing the northeast, and in London my head was facing south. As I was going through my sleeping-direction-checklist my thoughts finally slowed and lingered on London.

My whole life I have had a great sense of direction. Sometimes I call it my "sixth sense." From a young age I could name all the canyons of Lake Powell from Bullfrog to the San Juan, without a map. When my mom would take a group of kids out on the boat to play in the canyon I would have to tell her which way was back to the houseboat. When we go backpacking I can easily navigate to wherever I want to go. While travelling, I quickly, and automatically, orient myself to the layout of our location and the corresponding directions. It wasn't until after my graduation from high school, when my mom took my cousin and I to New York City for our senior trip, that I first experienced directional problems. For the life of me I could not gain a sense of direction. Usually I orient myself according to direction without a thought; however, when I was in New York City I had to work to understand cardinal directions and I failed miserably, finally chalking up the experience to our short visit and the confusion of travel. I thought I was rid of that confusion for good.

To my dismay, my directional problems surfaced once again, this time in London. When I arrived I immediately began orienting myself to the city, my home for the next four months. The Tube threw a wrench into the process. I would descend into the flat light, wander through twisted hallways, enter a train, get shaken up a bit, and then wander through some more twisted hallways before emerging back into the fresh air. I struggled with my directions, a great frustration to me, though I would not admit it unless forced. Multiple times I was the one to get a group turned around, something my friends forgave me for . . . after they received the free gelato. Eventually I was able to orient myself in the main areas of the city in relation to specific buildings, landmarks, etc. But don't ask me for cardinal directions. I don't know. Something about being in a big city, especially one with a constant cover of clouds to block the sun's direction, disorients me in a way that nothing else can.

All this passed through my mind as I drifted between consciousness and sleep, and suddenly it occured to me that I just discovered something that has been a part of me for so long that I have never considered the possibility of its abnormality. Do others care what direction they face when they sleep? Or is this a rare quirk?


Anonymous said...

I don't care the direction I face, as long as it is in a comfortable bed.

Heide said...

As adept as you are at knowing directions, I am completely the opposite. I envy your ability to know where you are and where you are going.

Matt & Paige Strate said...

I love it! I really like to know directions... but not so much when I sleep. But a huge thing for me are the mountains! In DC, and New York there are only hills, so there is really no indicator of where you are unless you really get used to it. But to me, the mountains make me feel safe.