I Remember Dad: The Importance of North

By Richard Mabey Jr.


My father had a most uncanny sense of north. It seemed to be engrained within his veins. He could be deep in the forest, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and he could easily point out north with amazing accuracy. I am convinced that it was a Divine gift. 


For my father, there was an unspoken importance of knowing where north lied at all times. Dad and I hiked dozens upon dozens of forest trails, historical hikes, and week-long vigils of traversing long and winding portions of the grand and glorious Appalachian Trail. Through a time period of a little over 25 years, of all so many hikes with Boy Scout Troop 170, Dad carried with him a deep instinct of wherein north lied. 


Over the years, Dad taught his scouts methods to find north, without a compass. One of my father’s favorite methods of finding north along a wooded trail, was the Shadow Stick Method. It only takes about five minutes to complete and it is totally fool proof. There are many articles about the Shadow Stick Method on the Internet. 


I never heard of anyone else talk about the Shadow Stick Method. Whenever we would take a lunch break, on wooded hikes with the scouts, Dad would eat his sandwich rather quickly. Then have the boys gather round him in a circle, to teach them the Shadow Stick Method. 


“It’s important to know where north lies at all times, when hiking in the woods,” my father would tell his scouts. In the Holy Bible, in the Book of Deuteronomy, the second chapter and third verse, it is clearly stated, “you have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north.”


In our modern day life, we no longer think much about the importance of knowing wherein lies the north. My grandmother once told me that when my dad was a boy of about 10 or 11 years old, he was given a compass by his Aunt Reedie. Grandma told me how much Dad cherished his compass. I think that God inspired Aunt Reedie to give Dad a compass, when he was a boy, to prepare him to become a good Scoutmaster in his adult life. 


My father often told the scouts of Boy Scout Troop 170 of the importance of having a handle of where north lied, along a wooded trail. That was imperative for long-distance hiking, especially when walking the long, winding, rocky Appalachian Trail. 


It was during the Summer of 1971, I remember it all so well. I had just graduated from Boonton High School. Troop 170 had been hiking the Appalachian Trail for about three days or so. We still had a good three days of hiking left, to complete our week-long hike along the famous AT. It was night time. We were all sitting around a campfire we had built. 


Dad pointed out the Big Dipper to the boys. They all looked up to the night sky. Then my father told the boys to concentrate on the side of the Big Dipper that did not have the panhandle on it. He told the boys to imagine a line being drawn from the star at the base of the side of the Big Dipper to the star at the top. Then Dad told the scouts to imagine that line continuing out to the sky and that line would lead their eyes to the North Star. 


My father taught me all so very much about the ways of the wild, to appreciate the midnight call of a hoot owl, to appreciate the stature and gait of the white-tailed deer, and to love and respect all of nature.


I dearly loved and respected my father. I miss him all so very much. It breaks my heart to hear a young person complain about their father, or to hear a father complain about one of his children. None of us can stop the ticking of the clock, the passing of the seasons, and the tearing off of a calendar’s pages. Love is the key to all human relations. Love knows no limitations. Love the dear ones in your life. And always forgive, forgive and forgive.  


Richard Mabey Jr. is a freelance writer. He hosts a YouTube Channel titled, “Richard Mabey Presents.” Richard most recently published a book of poetry and short stories. He can be reached at richardmabeyjr@hotmail.com


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