Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Geography 101

Psst....there's a map on your back. When my wife and I scratch each other's back we call out the location by states. Her itch is usually in South Dakota down to Nebraska and over as far as Illinois while mine tend to range from Kansas across to Kentucky. Just writing this has me reaching for my back-scratcher.

Strange the way our states are shaped. There's a story behind every border. The original colonies look the way they do as a result of squabbles between European royalty. Further west the lines seem penciled in by surveyors, sometimes without a good night's sleep.

Deleware, for example, was courted by both Maryland and Pennsylvania. Settled by the Protestant Dutch they resisted Papist Maryland and the Quakers of William Penn. In fact Maryland lost every dispute on its flanks.

Texas gave up land in four states to its north just to remain a slave state. Land grabs and grants and broken Indian treaties define much of the jigsaw we now take for granted.

I have known people who remind me of Utah or Colorado with margins rigid and absolute. There are times when order trumps folly and I'm glad we have such states. But I couldn't live with New Mexico or Wyoming for long. I can almost hear John Philip Souza's ump-pa-pa marching along their perpendiculars.

Give me New Jersey or Michigan which obey no ruler. They seem to be exploring themselves, stopping by for a drink or, like Florida, dribbling off for a nap.The swampy bottom of Louisiana seems shaped by an improvisation from South Basin Street. And just what does West Virginia think it is doing with Kentucky, in public yet while all the time Illinois is laughing into Missouri.

The Pacific Northwest is still a work-in-progress, P.C. green in my atlas as if those tiny islands might attach themselves by the next edition. Perhaps the coast has been bitten off and these are the indigestible chunks or the pieces of an argument that resist containment like an organism that won't hold still for a minute.

1 comment:

  1. Thos interested might want to consult "How the States Got Their Shapes" by Mark Stein published by Smithsonian-HarperCollins in May 2008. He covers all 50. Inteviews with the author can be seen on You Tube.