w1 Camera Can Serve as a Pathfinder

Camera Can Serve as a Pathfinder
June 1, 2008
Edmonton Journal

If Hansel and Gretel had had a digital camera, they never would have all those crumby problems getting lost in the woods.
That is what occurred to me the other day after I’d hiked from one mountain village in Italy to another with my children and, for half the journey, a colleague of my husband’s.
I’d been warned by a friend who had taken the path the day before that it was anything but straightforward. She was right. We’d met up with my husband’s colleague, Lawrence, after getting lost trying to find the trail head, a series of missteps that had us walking halfway down a mountain before we realized we’d followed the wrong path.
Lawrence didn’t have a map – as with Hansel and Gretel, maps weren’t available —  but at least he’d found the trail head without any problems. I had no intention of letting him out of my sight.
Once we reached our destination, though, Lawrence planned to jog back to the hotel to make it to the afternoon meeting that my husband had stayed behind to attend. There was no way my children and I were going to jog five kilometers up and down slippery paths and winding roads to keep up. That meant we’d be on our own.
I was terrified I’d get lost just trying to get out of the town. It was a tiny town, but when the roads were laid out back in 900 AD, keeping things simple for 21st century tourists was not a priority. They still weren’t; there were no signs saying “here’s how you get back to your resort, confused North American tourists.”
The roads were about as wide as my kitchen table and they twisted like corkscrews at a 90-degree angle. There was no way I’d find my way out of the maze inside the town walls unless I had breadcrumbs.
And then I realized I had something better: my digital camera, the one I swore I’d never own because I am a Luddite.
I snapped a picture of the street signs at the first intersection I encountered upon entering the town, via Biondi and via del Capriolo. Then I snapped one at the top of the hill by the 1100-year-old church, so I’d remember which road to take back down. You’d be surprised how many roads led to that church. Or maybe you wouldn’t. We were in Italy, after all.
By the time we’d finished exploring, I was thoroughly disoriented, but I wasn’t worried. I referred to the pictures on the camera’s LCD screen and we found our way with ease.
It was the third time on our holiday that the digital camera had come in handy for reasons other than preserving photographic memories. The first was when my 10-year-old son accidentally tossed a ball on top of a cabinet in the kitchen of the mountain-top hut where we were staying.
The ball had dropped into a hole. Perching on top of the cabinet to find and retrieve it was too risky. That’s when Noah, inspired by Titanic explorer James Ballard, got the idea to stand on the counter and blindly aim the camera at the hole into which the ball had disappeared.
The result was more than a dozen really, really boring, dark, grainy pictures that we studied in the same way I imagine Ballard and his team did theirs. It was like looking at a primitive sonogram, but it allowed us to locate the ball. Using a combination of broom handles, tent poles and perseverance, we were able to retrieve it Then we deleted the pictures.
We also used the camera to try to figure out where Noah had lost his sister’s soccer team jacket. Reviewing the pictures we’d taken in Siena, Pienza, Florence and Cortona, we figured out he must have left it at a roadside restaurant 20 kilometers northwest of Volterra. Sadly, by the time we tried to retrieve it, it was gone for good.
But at least we have all those pictures of him wearing it. Proof that it once existed. And a reminder that digital cameras aren’t so bad at their intended purpose, either.