Michigan, Part 4 (Above and Below)

On July 27, 2016 · 0 Comments

It wasn’t always easy finding sites that appealed to every member of the family during our Michigan trip. I searched high and low, from way up in the sky to deep undersea, for our little day trips during our week away from home. Local roads took us to three different places in three distinct directions all within close range of our temporary base in Grand Rapids. Each of the sites featured a connection to the Second World War, coincidentally enough.

Kalamazoo Air Zoo


Kalamazoo Air Zoo

An hour drive due south brought us to Kalamazoo and its wonderfully named Kalamazoo Air Zoo. I hoped my frequent visits to Washington DC’s Air and Space Museum wouldn’t taint my perception so I tried to keep an open mind. I needn’t worry. The Air Zoo held its own. Incredibly, a government did not operate or fund this museum. It sprang from the collection of private citizens, Sue and Pete Parish. They started small with just a few planes in the 1960’s.

It was becoming clear that Sue and Pete wanted to share their enthusiasm about World War II airplanes with people who enjoyed these historic flying machines. Then a friend made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: start a museum, and he would give them his Grumman Bearcat.

The building on the edge of Kalamazoo’s airport eventually filled with exhibits, leading to another building and then an annex (map). It took most of a day for us to tour everything in depth. This would also be a great $100 hamburger for people into such things. The Air Zoo website included fly-in directions.


Holland’s Windmill


Windmill Island

An easy half-hour drive southwest of Grand Rapids brought us to the city of Holland. The name reflected the expected immigrant story.

Persuaded by religious oppression and economic depression, a group of 60 men, women, and children, led by Albertus C. VanRaalte, prepared for their 47-day trip from Rotterdam to New York. VanRaalte intended to purchase land in Wisconsin, but travel delays and an early winter caused the group to layover in Detroit. After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, VanRaalte decided to scout the territory. They reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake — today’s Lake Macatawa.

One couldn’t blame the town for capitalizing on on its heritage by creating Windmill Island Gardens. This well-manicured park featured a 1761 windmill called De Zwaan (the Swan), moved from the Netherlands to Michigan in 1964 (map). Many Dutch windmills fell into disrepair especially during World War 2 when they often served as signal towers, drawing enemy fire. The town acquired a particularly dilapidated specimen from Vinkel in Noord Brabant and restored it to its original condition. The Netherlands would never allow such a valuable cultural icon like this to escape its territory today.

De Zwaan functioned perfectly on a wind-swept plain along the Macatawa River, on the edge of town. A local resident, Alisa Crawford, then learned how to operate the windmill. She finished her training in the Netherlands and "is the only female member of the Dutch milling guild, Ambachtelijk Korenmolenaars Gilde." She grinds white winter wheat grown in western Michigan and offers it for sale at Windmill Island.

Visitors also get an opportunity to walk to the top of the Windmill with great views in all directions.


USS Silversides


Silversides Museum

Another day we drove to Muskegon, also nearby heading northwest this time for about forty minutes (map). Here we found the Silversides Museum. It seemed like a strange name for a submarine until I saw that it came from a certain type of fish resembling a smelt. Then it made perfect sense. The USS Silversides served with distinction during World War 2. She launched and received her commission just a few days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and served through the entire war. Her crew earned numerous distinctions,

Silversides received twelve battle stars for World War II service and was awarded one Presidential Unit Citation for cumulative action over four patrols. She is credited with sinking 23 ships, the third-most of any allied World War II submarine, behind only the USS Tang and USS Tautog.

It seemed incomprehensible for me to imagine that sixty people lived aboard this vessel. I pushed my way through its length into increasingly claustrophobic quarters, through tiny hatches between watertight compartments. Bunks stacked atop bunks in ever corner and crevice. Privacy simply did not exist aboard a Gato-Class submarine. Submariners also faced horrific survival rates throughout the war although only a single crew member died in combat on the Silversides. She earned a nickname, the Lucky Boat.

The museum included more than just the submarine. It also featured a US Coast Guard Cutter, the McLane plus an entire museum building filled with exhibits.


Articles in the Michigan Journey Series:

  1. County Adventures
  2. Breweries
  3. Rambling and Wandering
  4. Above and Below
  5. Do Overs
  6. Parting Shots

See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr

Last Places in Asia

On July 3, 2016 · 4 Comments

The second time I searched on the exact phrase the "Last place in [geographic area] to"… while leaving the remainder of the statement blank, I focused on countries in Asia. I knew it would be more difficult than the examination of England. However, I didn’t figure it would be nearly impossible. Many countries produced not a single occurrence. I found a few examples after extensive searching, instances both fascinating and completely unpredictable.

Last Place in China where Glyptostrobus Grows in the Wild


Glyptostrobus pensilis
Glyptostrobus pensilis by Chris_Williams_PhD on Flickr (cc)

I’d never heard of the conifer Glyptostrobus pensilis, a native of subtropical southeast China and small slivers of Laos and Vietnam. I’d never heard of an organization called the American Conifer Society either, yet it existed as did the tree from China. The Society said,

Commonly called Chinese Water Pine and Chinese Swamp Cypress, both misnomers… The genus formerly had a much wider range, covering most of the Northern Hemisphere, including the high Arctic during the Paleocene and Eocene… Chinese Swamp cypress is nearly extinct in the wild due to overcutting for its valuable decay-resistant, scented wood, but it is also fairly widely planted along the banks of rice paddies where its roots help to stabilize the banks by reducing soil erosion.

Glyptostrobus pensilis survived to become the only remaining species of the genus Glyptostrobus. Dendrologists once thought Glyptostrobus went extinct in the wild in its native Chinese habitat however small clusters continued to cling to life in mangrove swamps near Zhuhai (map), perhaps its final stand. Fortunately gardeners and arborists also cultivated Glyptostrobus as an ornamental tree in plenty of other places, including China. It can grow throughout much of the southeastern United States and in parts of the Pacific Northwest, too. The specimen in the photograph grew at the US National Arboretum in Washington, DC.

Just don’t go looking for Glyptostrobus in the wild in China except in Zhuhai.


Last Place in Japan Banning Women


大峯
大峯 (Mt. Omine) by Kemm Ell Zee on Flickr (cc)

A modern industrial nation banning women seemed oddly anachronistic, yet a place in Japan continued its 1,3000 year prohibition unabated. Women weren’t allowed on the peak of a mountain within the Omine range, in the Kansai region of Honshu (map). Officially called Mount Sanjo although more popularly called Mount Omine, the summit sheltered the monastery of Ominesanji, the holiest place of Shugendo Buddhists.

"It’s not about discrimination," explained the monk who led my expedition when I questioned him about the "No Women Admitted" sign. "In the past, this was a dangerous mountain with bears, rock falls and other hazards. People still die on this mountain today. The ‘ban’ is there to protect women in the way you would want to protect your mother or sister or wife from danger. It also exists so that we do not get distracted from our practice…"

All other Japanese monasteries lifted their prohibitions years ago. Ominesanji never changed. The ban didn’t have the force of law — and women were known to ignore the signs occasionally — although the monks of Mount Omine still considered those disregarding their traditions as severely breaching local etiquette.


Last place in Indonesia to See the Total Solar Eclipse of 2016


Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia
Total Solar Eclipse 2016 in Indonesia by skyseeker on Flickr (cc)

The moon passed between the earth and the sun on March 8-9, 2016, creating a narrow band of total darkness across a swatch of the South Pacific. Widespread areas of Oceania and southeast Asia witnessed the event partially. Very little land, generally only the open ocean, fell within the full blackout. Parts of Indonesia did experience the maximum effects of the eclipse. The tiny island of Pulau Fani (map) became the last place in the nation to go completely dark, for 2 minutes and 14 seconds. I’d never heard of Pulau Fani and I suspected many in the Twelve Mile Circle audience hadn’t either. I found very little information about the island although it had a listing on Indonesian Wikipedia. Roughly translated,

Pulau Fani is the outer islands of Indonesia, located in the Pacific Ocean and is bordered by the state Palau… For the latest data existing seasonal population numbers there are 11 households.

I also learned that a total eclipse will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. I think I need to find a way to visit my relatives in Charleston, South Carolina where a total blackout will occur.


Last place in Cambodia to Fall to the Khmer Rouge


big_preah_vihear
big_preah_vihear by lokryan on Flickr (cc)

The Khmer Rouge, an army of Communist agitators, rebelled against Cambodia’s Khmer Republic beginning in the mid 1960s. The Khmer Republic didn’t have sufficient unity or the strength to contain the Khmer Rouge as the years passed, and finally fell to it in 1975. The last vestige of the old Khmer Republic lingered for a few weeks longer at a single place, at the Preah Vihear Temple (ប្រាសាទព្រះវិហារ).

Ironically, Preah Vihear (map) might actually belong in Thailand. It was built as a Hindu temple atop a summit in the Dangrek Mountains in the 11th Century. Nine hundred years later, French colonialists in Cambodia negotiated with the Rattanakosin Kingdom of Siam to establish a border. Part of it followed the spine of Dangrek Mountains. Oddly, the map placed Preah Vihear within Cambodia even though it fell on Siam’s side of the watershed as did the primary path leading to it. Siam, renamed Thailand, later disputed this designation and appealed to the International Court of Justice. The ICJ sided with Cambodia in 1962, declaring that someone should have raised concerns back in 1907 after the original survey. Thailand waited too long to push its claim.

Preah Vihear provided a great natural defensive position. Attackers could not approach the temple from the Cambodian side without scaling cliffs. Forces loyal to the Khmer Republic held out for more than a month until the Khmer Rouge dislodged them with intensive shelling. They had an easy escape route, though. They simply walked a few metres across the border into Thailand. Tragically, the victorious Communists would perpetrated a horrible national genocide where as many as three million people died before Vietnamese forces toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

And So, Part 2

On April 20, 2016 · 7 Comments

I found such a wealth of information about the six national names split by the conjunction "AND" that I had to divide them into two articles. The first article covered Antigua and Barbuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. This one will finish the remaining nations, continuing in alphabetical order. Once again I wanted to focus extra attention on the junior partner, the unfortunate geography at the trailing end of each arrangement.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines


Bequia
Bequia by Ian Mackenzie on Flickr (cc)

Another conjoined arrangement, another Caribbean nation, this one found far down the chain of the Windward Islands. The native Caribs protected Saint Vincent fiercely and blocked colonization until the Eighteenth Century. Meanwhile they accepted escaped African slaves who sought refuge from nearby islands such as Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada. Their intermingled descendants, the Black Caribs, bedevil European colonists for decades. French, British and Black Caribs all fought for control. Revolts by Black Caribs remained common and frequent even after Britain gained the upper hand. It was a mess. The French shifted their focus to Martinique instead.

Speaking of messes, the Grenadines didn’t fall entirely within Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The Grenadines needed to be tagged onto a larger entity because they wouldn’t be viable as nation on their own. They were too small and spread across a long string of ocean. It might have made sense to collect all of the Grenadines together — and the British made attempts over the years — although it just never happened. Thus, when independence came in 1979, the upper two-thirds of the Grenadines became an integral part of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the remainder joined Grenada to the south. Someone living on the island of Carriacou in the Grenadines, for example, lived in Grenada, not Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Fortunately Grenada didn’t call itself Grenada and the Grenadines because that would have created even more confusion.

The Grenadines portion of the nation retained a smaller population with only about ten thousands residents, or ten percent of the overall national population. About half of those live on the island of Bequia (map). The remainder were spread amongst four other populated islands and two privately-owned resort islands.


São Tomé and Príncipe



Nobody lived on the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe when Portuguese navigators stumbled upon them in the Gulf of Guinea off the western coast of Africa. Portugal thought those unclaimed, uninhabited islands would make an ideal offshore base for commercial relationships with the continent. They colonized both islands during the Sixteenth Century and it became a cornerstone of their slave trade. The nation has remained a relatively stable democracy much of the time since gaining independence in 1975. It was also one of the smallest African nations with only a couple of hundred thousand citizens.

Príncipe (map) was much smaller than São Tomé and it had only about five thousand residents. The name came from the Portuguese word for Prince, specifically Prince Afonso, son of King John II, named for his grandfather King Afonso V. He was the heir apparent to the Portuguese throne although he didn’t live long enough to become its king. Prince Afonso died in a horse riding accident in 1491, still in his teens.


Trinidad and Tobago


Great Courland Bay after the storm
Great Courland Bay after the storm by Celeste Layne on Flickr (cc)

It seemed odd that FOUR of the nations included on the list had been Caribbean colonies of the British Empire: Antigua and Barbuda; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; and finally Trinidad and Tobago, rounding out the set. Clearly the British found it convenient to cluster island possessions into groups so they could be governed more efficiently.

Trinidad and Tobago took a different twist. Both islands had been well established with their own distinctive histories, just off the northern coast Venezuela. Trinidad had roots as a Spanish colony before Britain seized the island in the late Eighteenth Century. Tobago, on the other hand, traded hands almost more times than could be counted. Colonies on Tobago were established, captured, destroyed, rebuilt, and recaptured with alarming frequency, by several different European powers including Spain, England, France and the Netherlands. There was also another player, one I never knew about, the Courlanders. Often it was the Dutch and Courlanders who tussled over Tobago.

The Courlanders came from the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, an area now found in Latvia (map). They seemed like an unlikely power, and yet the Courlanders maintained a great merchant fleet that sailed around the world. The Duchy traded extensively in the New World too. Tobago was their attempt to establish a formal colony in the Caribbean. They tried numerous times and ultimately failed along a section of the island that bears its name, Great Courland Bay (map).

Tobago eventually got grafted to Trinidad only because of economic reasons. The British Empire site explained:

The 1880s was to confirm that the old plantocracy was indeed in trouble. The price of sugar had continued to drop… 1884 shocked the economy of the island when its largest employer and landowner ceased trading… The British sought to ameliorate the situation by administratively joining Tobago to the larger island of Trinidad to its south. This southwards move was intended to ensure that Britain avoided taking on debt and expensive provisions for Tobago and transferring the liability to the colony of Trinidad.

That arrangement remained in place when independence was granted in 1962, and it remains Trinidad and Tobago today.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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