392 - The Portland Arm (and Maine Leg)
From a young age, Frank was fascinated by maps and atlases, and the stories they contained. Finding his birthplace on the map in the endpapers of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings only increased his interest in the mystery and message of maps.
While pursuing a career in journalism, Frank started a blog called Strange Maps, as a repository for the weird and wonderful cartography he found hidden in books, posing as everyday objects and (of course) floating around the Internet.
"Each map tells a story, but the stories told by your standard atlas for school or reference are limited and literal: they show only the most practical side of the world, its geography and its political divisions. Strange Maps aims to collect and comment on maps that do everything but that - maps that show the world from a different angle".
A remit that wide allows for a steady, varied diet of maps: Frank has been writing about strange maps since 2006, published a book on the subject in 2009 and joined Big Think in 2010. Readers send in new material daily, and he keeps bumping in to cartography that is delightfully obscure, amazingly beautiful, shockingly partisan, and more.
Fixing her regional loyalty in indelible ink on skin, Julia had a map of Portland, ME tattooed on her shoulder. A comparison with the more conventional map on the right indicates that her tat clearly shows the Portland peninsula, the Fore River, Back Cove and surrounding coastline, plus a large part of the road network connecting Maine’s biggest city to its hinterland.
None of the places on her map are named, though. The tat might be not just an overt symbol of regional fealty, but also a covert signal to help identify similarly loyalist Portlanders – as they would be most inclined to recognise a blind map of the area. Others might mistake the map for a representation of the Arabian Peninsula.\n
In a national context, the city of Portland is usually mentioned in the same breath with its state, making it sound as if the city’s called Portlandmaine. This is done to distinguish it from Portland, Oregon. A distinction not without its practical consequences, I once found out, as the hotel room I had booked online turned out to be in Portland, OR while I was headed for Portland, ME. Some fun facts about the town once dubbed Forest City:\n
- Maine and Oregon don’t have exclusive rights to the name; there are at least 16 other places in the US called Portland; as a toponym, the name refers back to the Isle of Portland in the UK. \n
- The Isle of Portland is the southernmost part of the county of Dorset, connected to the mainland via Chesil Beach. Its excellent natural harbour has been in use since before the Romans (who might or might not have called it Vindelis), its limestone was quarried for Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral in London. The novelist Thomas Hardy called it The Gibraltar of the North, for its similarity in physical geography. \n
- The southernmost point of Jamaica is also called Portland Point. \n
- In the original Portland, a taboo rests on mentioning rabbits. Polite conversation generally steers clear of the subject, but if unavoidable, they are called underground mutton. The bunnies (another euphemism) were feared by quarrymen, as they would (literally) undermine the stability of their workplaces. \n
- With a population of only 65,000, Portland is the biggest city in Maine. Its namesake in Oregon, on the other side of the country, was actually named after it. The Oregoners obviously were desparate for East Coast respectability; an alternative suggestion would have made the city’s name Boston, Oregon. \n
- The first settlement of the Portland, ME area was in 1623 by Christopher Levett, who called it York, after his hometown. This first “New York” of the New World was lost without a trace; the name survives in York County, adjacent to Cumberland County, which contains Portland. The first permanent settlement was called Casco (1633), later renamed Falmouth (1658), an expansion of which was to be called Portland (1786). \n
- The city’s motto Resurgam (Latin for “I will rise again”) refers to the rebuilding of the city after no less than four fires that devastated the city, one of which was the Great Fire of 1866, started on Independence Day (July 4), most likely by a firecracker. Killing only two but destroying 1,800 buildings, the fire rendered almost 10,000 people homeless. It was the greatest fire ever in America until the Great Chicago Fire (1871). \n
- Portland was ranked #1 in Forbes’s Most Livable Cities index for the year 2009. \n
This is not the first example on this blog of someone exhibiting the affection for their hometown by a map tattooed on their body. Here is an arresting map of Hanover: #126.\n
Many thanks to Christian McNeil for sending in this map, found here at the Strange Maine blog. As the entry shows, Julia not only has a map of Portland on her right shoulder, but also a map of Maine on her right leg.\n
What do we see from watching birds move across the country?
- A total of eight billion birds migrate across the U.S. in the fall.
- The birds who migrate to the tropics fair better than the birds who winter in the U.S.
- Conservationists can arguably use these numbers to encourage the development of better habitats in the U.S., especially if temperatures begin to vary in the south.
The migration of birds — and we didn't even used to know that birds migrated; we assumed they hibernated; the modern understanding of bird migration was established when a white stork landed in a German village with an arrow from Central Africa through its neck in 1822 — draws us in the direction of having an understanding of the world. A bird is here and then travels somewhere else. Where does it go? It's a variation on the poetic refrain from The Catcher in the Rye. Where do the ducks go? How many are out there? What might it encounter along the way?
While there is a yearly bird count conducted every Christmas by amateur bird watchers across the country done in conjunction with The Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology recently released the results of a study that actually go some way towards answering heretofore abstract questions: every fall, as per cloud computing and 143 weather radar stations, four billion birds migrate into the United States from Canada and four billion more head south to the tropics.
"In the spring," the lead author Adriaan Dokter noted, "3.5 billion birds cross back into the U.S. from points south, and 2.6 billion birds return to Canada across the northern U.S. border."
In other words: the birds who went three to four times further than the birds staying in the U.S. faired better than the birds who stayed in the U.S. Why?
Part of the answer could be very well be what you might hear from a conservationist — only with numbers to back it up: the U.S. isn't built for birds. As Ken Rosenberg, the other co-author of the study, notes: "Birds wintering in the U.S. may have more habitat disturbances and more buildings to crash into, and they might not be adapted for that."
The other option is that birds lay more offspring in the U.S. than those who fly south for the winter.
What does observing eight billion birds mean in practice? To give myself a counterpoint to those numbers, I drove out to the Joppa Flats Education Center in Northern Massachusetts. The Center is a building that sits at the entrance to the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and overlooks the Merrimack River, which is what I climbed the stairs up to the observation deck to see.
Once there, I paused. I took a breath. I listened. I looked out into the distance. Tiny flecks Of Bonaparte's Gulls drew small white lines across the length of the river and the wave of the grass toward a nearby city. What appeared to be flecks of double-crested cormorants made their way to the sea. A telescope downstairs enabled me to watch small gull-like birds make their way along the edges of the river, quietly pecking away at food just beneath the surface of the water. This was the experience of watching maybe half a dozen birds over fifteen-to-twenty minutes, which only served to drive home the scale of birds studied.
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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