Low-tech Model Trumps Google Earth. Ha!
  After creating my Western Washington relief map in modeling clay yesterday, I was not left with a great sense of accomplishment. I had spent about three hours spreading clay around on an old white-board, spread maps all over the kitchen table, and had bright-green clay under my fingernails. Was there any value to what I had done?
  I cleaned up my mess, stored my map out of sight of my GIS-cartographer husband, and got in the car to drive to my book club meeting. No sooner had I turned out of my neighborhood onto the main east-west road when I suddenly felt the success of my project: I was driving through my terrain model.
   I knew where I was in all the spread-out clay, I could feel where the Black Hills were, how far Gray's Harbor was west of the hills, the shape of the harbor, it's distance from Willapa Bay. When I turned north and the road began to slope toward Puget Sound, I could feel that, too. I could feel the Cascades on my right, the Olympics ahead and a bit to the left.
  For some, Google Earth offers this same sensation (much enhanced) to users as they zoom over the 3-D map of the earth on your computer screen. But for whatever reason, this tool doesn't work for me. I just get dizzy and lost. To internalize my landscape I needed to create the hills and lakes and mountains and rivers myself and with my own hands. The three hours or so I spent shaping clay in total silence--no music, no speaker-phone calls, no talking to myself--seems to have gotten into that part of my brain that makes maps make sense. I am not sure a few mouse-clicks could have done same.
   Though my awkwardly shaped Olympic Mountains is barely recognizable (above), I can now see in my mind's eye the location of  the Quinault Ridge. I know where it is vis-a-vis Cape Flattery, Port Townsend, and Olympia. I can imagine the clouds moving in from the Pacific Ocean and bending around the southwest flanks of the Olympics. I can feel the low, heavy clouds funneling into the Quinault Valley. I can hear them drenching the forests. It's a beautiful sound.