Where lines cross


The path you see pictured is part of a 1.6 acre state park, the Willamette Stone State Heritage site. If you follow it to its end, not too far, you'll come to a survey marker called the Willamette Stone. A cedar stake was placed there on June 4, 1851 by John B. Preston, the first Surveyor General of the Oregon Territory. In 1885 it was replaced with a stone obelisk.

I know this because the park borders the eastern edge of the condominium property where I live. It's a pretty little park but unfortunately the fence on the property line means one can't get there from here without driving.

I like it though, it's quiet, and feels more remote than it is. Each time I find myself thinking about the surveyors, James Freeman and William Ives, and how they found this point, on this hill. It seems an out of the way place to designate such a critical crossing of meridian line and baseline—a point from which all land in Washington and Oregon is measured.

The grid system used throughout the Northwest Territories was suggested by Thomas Jefferson, and clearly someone saw that a survey marker was needed if the territory was to grow. I admire that foresight. I'm impressed with the intelligence that figured it out and did the work with 1850s equipment.

As humans we're always on the alert for markers and patterns. Our brains seek them everywhere as it tries to make sense of the world and what it tosses at us daily. So maybe what I like about this spot is the clarity and simplicity it signifies. Here is where two lines cross, Meridian and Baseline; here is a marker. Go.

I've been listening and reading about the power of, and unseen connections between, the five technology companies (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft). The interwoven complexities are enormous and the influence they have over our everyday lives—in ways we fall far short of comprehending—is worrisome and discouraging. (For instance, read Life Without the Tech Giants by Kashmir Hill.)

So it's not surprising to find simplicity appealing. Two men used solar compasses to designate a point that is still used almost two hundred years later. Even if we don't succumb to global catastrophe I doubt those technology companies will survive 200 years. But I'll bet the survey stone will still be there.