Why do these Maine children sing about maps? ‘GPSs are not so bright’

The email surprised me. It came about two weeks ago. The message was from a teacher at Carrie Ricker School in Litchfield. Her name was Judy Davidson and she wanted me to come and sing my Gazetteer song with her fourth-graders.

You may remember that song from a few years back. I wrote it when Garmin, an international corporation, bought DeLorme maps in Yarmouth. It looked like it might be the end for the company’s iconic Maine Map and Gazetteer. So, I wrote “Keep Your Hands Off My Gazetteer” as a kind of protest song. I also wrote it as a tribute to the decidedly analog book of 70 individual maps, covering the whole state.

Keep your hands of my Gazetteer.

Keep your hands of my Gazetteer.

Since then, Garmin has assured us they won’t stop production of the Gazetteer. So far, the GPS hawkers have been true to their word — though they did close the DeLorme map store on Route 1.

Anyway, Davidson’s invitation was definitely out of the blue. That whole hooha with the song was more than a year ago. But she went on to tell me her students had been singing it since last year, while learning about Maine.

“It was Maine studies time,” said Davidson. “Last year, I was looking for some sort of song to get the kids singing about Maine — looking for some folk songs. I searched ‘Gazetteer’ for something else and your song just popped up.”

She showed it to her class and they liked it. Davidson wrote down the words for them and they started singing it — along with the classic 16 counties song, of course.

Davidson said their Maine studies unit starts with learning about Maine’s native peoples. Then, they move on to the state’s more recent history, geography and natural resources.

I said yes, of course (I never turn down an offer to play the banjo) and showed up last Friday afternoon. I was thinking about all the ways I was going to cajole the kids into singing nice and loud as I drove north.

That was a waste of time. They knew the song cold and sang with gusto. I was shocked again.

“We’ve been practicing on it for a week now,” said Paige Desmaris, one of Davidson’s pupils.

You wouldn’t have been able to slap the grin off my face if you’d tried.

Her students also serenaded me with an excellent rendition of the 16 counties song. Then, they raced each other, putting custom Maine-shaped puzzles, cut into counties, together in a matter of seconds. It was impressive. I couldn’t have done it at all without a struggle.

We practiced the song a couple times before we sang it in front of the other fourth grade classes. I recorded one rehearsal for the video you see above.

They were great, every time.

As I sit here typing, I’m still smiling. That’s partly because I’m so proud of my song and those kids — not to mention still surprised and humbled. I’m also smiling because I love the Gazetteer. I think its future is a bit more secure with these young kids singing its praises.

“Let’s just say GPSs are not so bright,” Ayla Gungor, a student, told me after our rehearsal. “We were going to my Nana’s house once, and it told us to drive over a field.”

“We’ve been practicing on it for a week now,” said Paige Desmaris, one of Judy Davidson’s pupils.

“We’ve been practicing on it for a week now,” said Paige Desmaris, one of Judy Davidson’s pupils.

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.