In addition to being an amazing Pepperwood Steward, Dr. Michael Papaik is also a master orienteering instructor! He’ll be teaching a two-day Orienteering Basics workshop at Pepperwood on November 19 & 20th. Join him and explore the beauty of Pepperwood as you develop your intuition, skills of spatial perception, and a reliable sense of direction that can be used to complement information provided by modern technology. Education Director Sandi Funke interviewed Dr. Papaik so you can get to know him before his class.
Responses below are by Dr. Michael Papaik.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I have worked as a research ecologist since 1987. My research has involved investigating the role of natural and human disturbances in shaping forest dynamics in northern temperate and boreal forests. I have worked in eastern temperate forests of the United States and the rain forests of British Columbia where I have studied the role of strong windstorms and human management strategies on forest development. I have worked in the dry fire-driven forests of the Sierra Nevada and Spain to explore the relative effects of the fire driven natural disturbance regime and our forest management strategies. I have also worked in the boreal forests of eastern Canada and central Russia to explore how the main natural drivers – fire and insect outbreaks – influence forest development especially in the context of timber management practices.
What is orienteering? How did you get into it?
Technically orienteering is a competitive sport in which participants use compass and map to find their way across rough country to find checkpoints. It is a race that rewards the fastest orienteers the top prizes. More generally, orienteering is about being able to use a compass and map and read and interpret landscape features in an unfamiliar terrain or wilderness to locate yourself.
I am not into the competitive sport of orienteering. I grew up the son of a military man, and I lived in many places as a child from Michigan, Texas, California, England and Germany. My father’s family was from just north of Detroit, Michigan, and we made several trips cross country. My mother was English, and during the years we lived in England and Germany, we made several family trips across Europe. During that time, I learned a strong sense of direction, because I was the family navigator on our numerous cross country trips. I loved reading maps and finding my way through strange European towns with their Medieval and labyrinthine road layouts where I learned to use man made features to navigate the unfamiliar terrain. As an adult, I quickly learned to translate that ability to wilderness areas while I did the research for my graduate work.
In our technological world, why do you think learning how to use a map and compass is still important?
Non-competitive orienteering builds an inner map of space in which one has a sense of where one is located and provides a strong supplement to GPS tracking. Modern electronic technology is a tremendous boon, and I use GPS equipment to precisely locate my field plots for data keeping. There is a convenience and precision to GPS that cannot be duplicated with compass and map alone.
The shortcoming with GPS is that it gives you the most direct route, not necessarily the best route. Further, if one only uses GPS one never develops that inner sense of space, and the inner map which we naturally make while traveling through new places becomes less reliable, or even unreliable.
There are also times when traversing wilderness terrain that a GPS cannot function. Steep terrain that masks much of the sky, or a thick forest canopy or even heavy cloud cover for instance can block enough satellites that the GPS will not work. During these conditions it is essential that one can trust ones’ ability to read terrain and interpret maps.
Besides it’s fun.
What is the most challenging part of orienteering? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part of orienteering is keeping your sense of direction while traversing difficult terrain and while others in your team might be confused or worried into panic. Maintaining calm and clear effective communication is essential. Being able to explain why one thinks it is better to go one way versus another gives people confidence in your ability and helps everyone participate in decision making.
The most rewarding thing about orienteering is having the sense that you can find yourself even if you are temporarily misplaced. Knowing that you can relocate yourself, you feel free to appreciate what is around you. One is never truly lost.
Anything else you would like to add?
The skill of orienteering helps me see things in a landscape I might otherwise not notice. This gives me a richer sense of what is there, and a strong sense of connection to our natural environment.
Above photos from a one-day Orienteering Basics class Dr. Michael Papaik taught at Pepperwood last year. Photos by Sandi Funke.