The Correction Line Principle


You’re travelling along. It looks like a pretty good direction. Due north, wouldn’t you say? Not a bad road, either. You should arrive by nightfall. Which, with any luck, will be a long time from now.

But after a few days or weeks, or even a few years, things start to look different. You haven’t left the road, you haven’t changed your direction, but somehow this course seems off. You find yourself hoping to heaven you don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning and start over. And what would starting over look like anyway. East? South? You don’t want east or south, you want north. You just want north to be the north you started out toward. Only this north isn’t going there.

Can I get a map, please?

Can I have correction lines?

Correction lines were a principle and practice of the Dominion Land Survey, begun in western Canada in 1871 for settlement purposes. The Survey laid out nearly uniform land parcels of essentially agricultural land areas, described in an understandable and detailed manner down to ten acres (4 ha) in size. Around 178,000,000 acres (720,000 km2) are estimated to have been subdivided into quarter sections, 27 million of which were surveyed by 1883. Very tidy, very orderly, very square. Very Canadian.

But the world isn’t orderly. And it isn’t square. Or more precisely, it isn’t a cube. It’s a sphere. If you lay out orderly meridian lines beginning at a specific latitude and head north, eventually all your northbound roads will converge toward the North Pole. Then your nice square ten acre plots will become ever-narrowing trapezoids, until they taper away to a triangle and then to nothing.

If life’s journey is like a land survey and the roads we choose are northbound, no wonder our directions won’t stay put!

The Dominion Land Survey fixed it. They added correction lines to the north road markings. Correction lines are roads that jog the meridians east or west, and the Land Survey placed them every 24 miles. The correction is approximately one mile. Directions run north, square plots stay almost square, and the best part is, you know how often you need to correct.

It’s the principle of knowing how often to correct that I like. Not when you get so mixed up that you don’t know what to do next, not when you feel so lost you wonder if you should quit. Just every 24 miles.

What would 24 miles be in human journey terms, I wonder?

Lately my directions have begun to feel confusing. I always have some non-art projects happening, both for income and for connection. But one of the non-art projects turned out to be way bigger than expected. Then another project started, and though its timing was planned, when the first project took longer the two overlapped. And my community connection commitments were suddenly demanding. It was a pile-on of un-expectations and the result was predictable. I got lost.

It’s time to get found. Time to put everything back in its grid. I need to find my 24 mile marker and create a correction line, then set out again in the right direction. Maybe it would have been better to plan this, but I’m glad to be creating it anyway.

Do you need a correction line right now? Do you think we can plan for them? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

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Data courtesy of the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan. Map courtesy of Indefatigable – the original XCF is available upon request: Indefatigable 22:44, 19 Nov 2003 (UTC)), CC BY-SA 3.0,


6 Responses to The Correction Line Principle

  1. Jill Wolcott May 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

    Laureen, I love how you put this. I have been feeling a lot the same way. It isn’t one thing, and it isn’t all bad things, but the things get too much all together.

    Nice to have company. I’m aching for a course correction. I missed you.

  2. Laureen May 20, 2016 at 12:18 pm #

    Jill, thank you. I kind of missed me too! And I know what you mean about aching. As you say, not just one thing, but all the things. Let me know how the course correction is doing, okay?

    What I’d really like to figure out is how to plan for a course correction in advance, kind of regularly, so it never has to happen just because things become too much. Every 24 miles.

  3. Jill Wolcott May 20, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    I really like the idea of having that 24 mile correction too. I know that things are never going to go as planned, but what is the signal that it needs correcting? I think we probably have internal voices that tell us–and I suspect it isn’t quite as easy as plotting 24 miles.

    Maybe it is more to figure out how we’re measuring those miles. An internal measuring tool. For my part I suspect it would be to listen better.

    • Laureen May 21, 2016 at 8:22 am #

      What I want to figure out is when a correction line will be needed, not just to notice when it was needed. I always think I can add one more thing and then only when I’m drowning do I realize that it was one thing too many. “Measuring those miles” – that would be the ticket!

  4. David C Reid May 20, 2016 at 10:45 pm #

    I grew up where you live, and the township, sections and 640 acres as well as a surveyor set up on a township corner of my families land gave me a successful career interest. The course correction you refer to I have always regarded as man made adaption the way small segments can represent a curve and allow our science to interpret, a system to understand the beauty of a circle. A comfortable way to move forward(find answers) in this artistically complex beautiful confusion known as the world we live in. But can you really join points together with a line that shows their intent and meaning. Is that a gift.

    • Laureen May 21, 2016 at 8:32 am #

      David, you’ve said two things that seem key to me in this exploration. When I draw, I use small segments representing a circle or other organic shape. And “joining points together with a line that shows their intent and meaning” is the way I see what to draw. So maybe these are the directions north that I need to look at further. Thank you!