Have you ever had a lifelong interest or passion that you’ve never expressed in words, written or spoken, not even to your closest friends? Just something you ‘know’ about yourself, your personality, something that puts a smile on your face or a little flutter in your heart?
Well, here goes.
I love Edges and Ends of things. Huh? The tip, the extreme, the very very edge. I think this is a subset of my fascination with maps and geography actually!
What do these places have in common?
Neah Bay, WA
Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Hobart, (Tasmania) Australia
Marsala, (Sicily) Italy
…they’re all on the end (or pretty close to) the end of a piece of land or continent! After that it’s nothing but ocean ocean ocean.
I remember traveling in Moscow in the mid 1980s with a group and after finding a map of the Metro, I spotted one line that went FAR, far to the east away from the central hub, much longer than all the others. I convinced my friend B to go ride that route with me all the way to the end to see what it was like! We jokingly called the end of the line “Siberia,” but it was just deep, outer suburbs, really. No idea where the hell it was. And at that time, as long as you didn’t surface above ground, a single Metro fare ticket was the equivalent of a nickel.
So, I guess I’m back to maps again – ha! Seriously though, link me onto Google maps and I can zone out into another world and hours can go by before I realize I’ve been into “globe porn,” scanning maps, zooming in on various cities, wondering, imagining what life is like there, what’s everyone up to. It truly is mind boggling! I find the wonderful beach in Trinidad where I spent an afternoon relaxing in the sun and swimming a few years ago (Maracas Bay Beach, a perfect half circle inlet of the ocean on the north coast of the island…and Trinidad is pretty near the southern end of the Caribbean islands chain so there you go!). I zoom in on Neah Bay, WA and dream about a road trip to check it out. Sunny Key West, Florida…how long does it take to drive all that way from Miami? I’ve been as far as South Beach but haven’t yet visited the Keys.
How about Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena? This is the most remote inhabited island in the world, located in the south Atlantic ocean. Even stumped an amateur geographer like me – never had heard of it! Population under 300! Wow, you better get along with your neighbors, I suppose. Need to get out of town? Don’t charter a plane as there’s no airport – you can only get there by boat.
I thumbed through National Geographic while in the dentist office waiting room and got swept up in a story about a nuclear powered ice breaker that takes tourists from Murmansk (Russia) to the North Pole! Talk about a cruise of a lifetime! See the people in a circle with all the flags in the picture? That’s the North Pole, and the flags of all travelers, standing in each of the Earth’s time zones all at once. I think if I could be standing and holding hands in that circle I would cheer for joy and burst into tears all at the same time. $20,000 and I am so there!
And then a couple of days ago I stumbled across an article on cnn.com about the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Three people from Shishmaref, Alaska will attend as witnesses to the erosion their town is experiencing as the permafrost is melting and no longer protects their island from the violent storms of the Chukchi Sea. The entire town and its hunting/fishing lifestyle, unique dialect and entire way of life is in jeopardy of slowly vanishing into the ocean.
“As far as outsiders are concerned, Shishmaref might as well be at the edge of the Earth.
Only 20 miles south of the Arctic Circle and less than 150 miles from Russian Siberia, the village's geography alone makes it seem uninhabitable.
“Its 600 residents endure temperatures that drop to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Polar bear sightings are common. Water is scarce. There's no plumbing in most homes; ice is harvested from lakes in microwave-size blocks and melted in buckets. No roads connect Shishmaref to the outside world.”
Of course I had to go find this town on a map immediately. Holy crap that is REMOTE. I gasp and wonder how in the world anyone could choose to live this way, and yet at the same time feel a deep warmth and respect for the traditions that have gone unchanged there for hundreds of years. And I also chuckle when I read about kids learning about walrus tusk carving while listening to their iPods. Even remote towns like this see a little injection from the modern world I suppose.
As I close my browser window I feel a dizzying rush of returning back "home" so to speak. The same feeling I got as a child after sitting with my grandparents looking at a globe, or thumbing through an atlas in my parent's library.
And there, my friends, is my first, fairly un-edited attempt at explaining this passion.
Now, it's back to "home" and reality. First stop: laundry!