Tom Boucher: A mapmaker who sees more than just streets

Tom Boucher, mapmaker
Tom Boucher, mapmaker Courtesy

Tom Boucher’s detailed maps of Olympia neighborhoods show much more than streets. They’re crammed with details on seemingly everything.

There are notations about great views and chickens, basketball hoops and K Records headquarters past and present, along with cryptic comments that beg readers to go find out just what Boucher is talking about (“Gate that’s not a gate,” for example, and “Get a smaller elk silhouette”).

Reading one of the maps — of downtown, South Capitol, Wildwood and Governor Stevens/Carlyon — is like looking inside or underneath what you might typically notice as you stroll the streets.

It’s also like peeking inside Boucher’s brain: He’s curious. He is a detail person. He persists and follows through. He’s not afraid to look stupid or silly. And he loves cats. The maps include cat friendliness rating scales.

The one of downtown, completed between May and September, took hundreds and hundreds of hours, he told the Olympian.

“Every couple of days, I’d go out for an hour or two and walk,” he said. “Six blocks is about the limit you can do in that time. Then I’d come home and spend twice that long transcribing it onto the map before the memory evaporated.”

He took photos as he walked, using an app called Rambler to keep track of where he took each one. “The pictures are memory notes,” he said. “I think, ‘What is the story on this? What would be funny or poignant or snarky or noteworthy about it?’ ”

Making maps, a pastime that evolved from his previous avocation of zine making, is a fitting one for a fellow whose work, at the Washington State Department of Ecology, involves both maintaining databases and writing grants.

Recognizing how much they reveal about him, Boucher initially made the maps just for himself. They went from private to public last year, when he submitted them for inclusion in an art show at the department.

“People came up to me in the hallways afterward,” he said. “I was surprised by the amount of interest and glee.”

One of those people was his now-girlfriend, Amy Moon of Olympia, the sister of Kill Rock Stars founder Slim Moon.

She looked at the map he’d made of her neighborhood and was impressed with the insider information he’d gathered.

“I was already smitten because of the maps. They just really struck me,” Moon told the Olympian. “I thought they were informative, charming and intimate.

“Someone pointed out who he was, and I thought he was quite handsome and interesting, so I marched up and asked, ‘Are you the guy who makes the maps?’ I told him that I was compelled to meet him.”

Within a week or two, they were hanging out. Their first shared pastime: working on another map.

Sights to see

Sample mapmaker Tom Boucher’s quirky and curious worldview by visiting a few of his many finds:

The Tattoo desert: Though there are an abundance of tattoo shops downtown, Boucher has uncovered a core area where there’s no inking opportunity within 100 meters.

The Capitol Campus’ giant sequoia: Located northeast of the Tivoli Fountain. On the downtown map, it’s labeled, “I’m a giant sequoia but didn’t make the cut for the campus tree pamphlet — ouch!”

The artesian well behind Orca Books: 509 4th Ave. E., Olympia. There isn’t just one well downtown, but 96. The one behind Orca can be heard but not seen. “There’s a little mural of a flowing river,” Boucher said. “There’s no flowing river, but you can hear water in the drain, and there’s a pipe that comes up near the drain and goes down the alley, and there’s a continual dribble of water.”

Want more? Boucher’s maps are available at Gallery Boom, 520 Adams St. SE, Olympia; Orca Books; and online at etsy.com/shop/ScienceArtifacts.

No map necessary

You, too, can be a tourist in your own town, as mapmaker Tom Boucher puts it. He shared his top tips with the Olympian:

“Stop and look around really frequently. You’ll look foolish, but that’s the way you see things that are tiny or out of place.”

“If you smell something, stop and really smell it. Find out where the smell is coming from.” Recently, he said, he and girlfriend Amy Moon have noticed a cotton candy smell on the Capitol Campus. The source is still a mystery.

“If a cat comes out, spend some time and pet the cat.” Boucher’s maps include cat friendliness rating scales, though he admits your interests may vary. “Everybody will have a different set of things that they like that strike them as odd,” he said. “There’s an infinite set of maps.”