I orient by water. Apparently I have to keep it on the east. If I don’t I have a hard time finding my way around the land. This is one of the many reasons I don’t live in California.
I grew up on the east side of Michigan, in a town pressed up against Lake Saint Clair. Lake Saint Clair is part of the Great Lakes, it’s just not a great lake, more like a pool in between the two straits that connect Lake Huron with Lake Erie.
My family has a cottage up on the east side of the Bruce Peninsula, the Peninsula defines Georgian Bay stretching off to the east.
I spent a lot of time on the east side of south Florida. There again, the seemingly limitless Atlantic stretches off to the East.
And I went to school in New Jersey – once more on the eastern side of the continent.
Basically, all of my most familiar and beloved places have had “big water” to my east, and even when it hasn’t been in sight, I’ve known it was there.
When I go to a place like California that has its ocean to the west, I get my cardinal directions completely backwards, and I find myself stumbling over the fact that away from the water is indeed East, not West, when driving and planning routes. I have imprinted my mental maps on the entirely subjective assumption that the “big water is to the East”.
Learning about my own mental shortcuts helps me see that the categories I create about the world aren’t the world.