Savages

On March 25, 2015 · 2 Comments

I continue to make progress with the logistics supporting my recently-revealed 2015 Travel Plans. First on the docket will be a 150 mile (240 kilometre) bicycle adventure on the Great Allegheny Passage trail between Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Cumberland, Maryland. I’ve been scoping the route and noticed a peculiarly-named town on the Maryland side of the border, Mount Savage (map). It seemed as if it would have fit within the theme of an earlier 12MC article from 2012, "Carnage, Slaughter and Mayhem." Too bad I didn’t discover the town until now.


Mount Savage
Mount Savage by Joseph, on Flickr (cc)

Hopefully in a few short weeks, and assuming all goes well, I will be able to substitute my own photograph for the one I borrowed above. I figured Mount Savage must have been named for someone with the not completely uncommon Savage surname. Did the surname have its roots in people who were wild, primitive, barbaric or possessing other seemingly impolite behaviors? Well yes, and no, and sort-of.

In the British Isles, Savage appeared to trace from the Latin silva (forest) then to Old French then to Middle English. Source material was scarce although a cluster of consensus implied that the word meant something similar to courageous and unconquerable during the Sixteenth Century and would have been a compliment. It shifted to its current uncouth definition later.

In Eastern Europe, Savitch and variations existed independently and were frequently associated with Jewish populations. Savitch often became Savage when immigrants bearing the name settled in the United States. The etymology was even more obscure. It may have derived from the Sava River (map), a tributary of the Danube flowing through current Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. Alternately, it may have derived from the first-name Sava, possibly a Slavic form of Saul. No source seemed definitive.

Mount Savage was named for "a land surveyor, Thomas Savage, who happened to be traveling through the area in 1736." There was an even larger town elsewhere in Maryland called simply Savage (map). Its name derived from "John Savage Williams, a Philadelphia merchant with interest in a mill on the falls of the Little Patuxent." Both of these Savage surname usages appeared to tie back to the British Isles derivation as did other examples I discovered.


Neen Savage, Shropshire, England


Ford
Ford at Neen Savage by Ollie Brown, on Flickr (cc)

I expected to find at least one Savage in the United Kingdom given the surname’s ancient pedigree. Neen Savage in Shropshire came to the forefront as the leading example (map). I teased its history from an old book, Shropshire: Its Early History and Antiquities (1864)

Neen Savage. The Celtic nene signifies a river and the word nan a brook is said to be a remnant of a primitive language. Certain it is that two of the Shropshire Neens are intersected by a stream. Neen Savage is the subject of the following entry in Domesday Book: — "The same Ralph holds Nene, and Ingelrann [holds] of him. Huni held it [in Saxon times] and was free"… Neen and Neen Savage were held by two several feoffees of Ralph de Mortemer who himself held of the king. The family of Le Savage descended from the Domesday Ingelrann hence the latter place acquired the name Neen Savage its present title.

It seemed appropriate to select an image of the ford over the body of water that inspired the Nene of Nene Savage for this part of the article.

I also learned a new word, feoffee ("a trustee who holds a fief (or ‘fee), that is to say an estate in land, for the use of a beneficial owner.") I don’t imagine I’ll get to use that one much in casual conversation.


Savage River, Tasmania, Australia.


Untitled
Savage River by caspar s, on Flickr (cc)

Savage River (map) defined a body of water, a town and a national park in Tasmania. Of the name, "Although it is tempting to think that ‘savage’ was a description of the river, it is equally likely that the river was named after Job Savage, a storeman at the Pieman River sometime before 1881."

I was actually more fascinated by legends of the aforementioned Pieman River (map). Rumor had it,

The Pieman River gained its name from the notorious convict Alexander ‘The Pieman’ Pearce who was responsible for one of the few recorded instances of cannibalism in Australia. In a bizarre footnote to the history of the region Pearce and seven other convicts attempted to cross the island to Hobart where they hoped they could catch a merchant ship and escape to some ill-defined freedom. They lost their way and in the ensuing weeks all of the escapees disappeared except for Pearce. When he was recaptured unproven accusations of cannibalism were made against him. The following year Pearce escaped again accompanied by another convict, Thomas Cox. Once again Pearce found himself without food and, to solve the problem, he killed and ate Cox.

That was amazing stuff. In a land known for its characters the Pieman took the, um, cake. He was even more extreme than Captain Thunderbolt. Too bad the Pieman River wasn’t actually named for him. Never let facts get in the way of a good story.

Alexander "The Pieman" Pearce really was executed for cannibalism though.


Other Travel Plans

Some travel plans go well. Others change. The Thousand Islands trip is off. Apparently we waited too long to start looking for places to stay so maybe we’ll try that again next year although search a little earlier. Instead we will travel to Asheville, North Carolina (something may have piqued my interest there). Does anyone have any Asheville suggestions?

Highpoint to Lowpoint

On March 22, 2015 · 6 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle received an intriguing question from reader "Cary" a few days ago. Cary, a professional mapmaker, noticed something interesting while conducting research: the amazing proximity of Minnesota’s highest point of elevation to its lowest. This led to a natural question. Was this the shortest distance between a state highpoint and a lowpoint? I’d touched on something within a similar vein way back in 2008 in "Highest and Lowest, Oh So Close" However, I’d discussed only the curious case of California with its astounding elevation difference between Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet (4,418 meters) and Death Valley at -282 ft (-86 m). The two points were separated by only 88 miles (142 kilometers).

That earlier article didn’t answer anything to determine if those 88 miles represented the absolute shortest distance between highpoints and lowpoints; it simply noted that the distance was very small. Fortunately numerous sources existed on the Intertubes so I could steal — with proper attribution of course — wonderful items such as this map that had already been prepared to assist with such a quest.


Map of USA elevations
State Highpoints and Lowpoints
Wikimedia Commons via GNU Free Documentation License

My quick eyeball assessment created a few observations. The California distance was indeed very short. It wasn’t the shortest. Minnesota was shorter and a couple of east coast states might be viable too. There was also one other curious fact. With the exception of California and Louisiana with lowpoints below sea level, the lowest elevation in each state appeared to fall somewhere along its border where it abutted another state or a large body of water. I supposed that reflected water always seeking the lowest level as it flowed downhill.


Minnesota


Port of Duluth
Port of Duluth, Minnesota along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.

The Minnesota highpoint mentioned by Cary was Eagle Mountain (map) at 2,301 ft (701 m). The elevation certainly didn’t rival California’s Mt. Whitney, however the summit was only about 12.8 miles (20.6 km) from the state’s lowpoint on the shores of Lake Superior. The lake had a consistent elevation so it was only a matter of finding the closest line between mountain and shoreline.

I noticed that Michigan’s highpoint on its Upper Peninsula also fell remarkably close to Lake Superior. I felt a momentary sense of elation until I realized that Michigan touched several of the Great Lakes including Lake Erie way down at the southeastern corner of the Lower Peninsula. Lake Erie, being considerably downstream from Lake Superior, obviously had a lower elevation and thus the Michigan highpoint and lowpoint were separated by hundreds of miles.


Rhode Island


Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge
Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge by Timothy Valentine, on Flickr (cc)
Located along Rhode Island’s lowpoint

When checking for diminutives one should always examine the smallest of U.S. states, Rhode Island. Right? Little Rhody failed to reign supreme this time around. It’s highpoint was Jerimoth Hill (map). However that was located on the far western edge of the state almost all the way to Connecticut. That put it some distance from the nearest stretch of sea level elevation, which even in this very tiny state measured 19.2 miles (30.9 km) by my rough estimation.


Delaware


Rehoboth Beach in the Winter
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in the Winter
along the state’s lowpoint. My own photo.

Then came the geo-oddity magnet that was Delaware. I’ve mentioned repeatedly that I believe Delaware holds more geographic anomalies per square mile than any other place. The streak continues!

Delaware’s highpoint occurred at Ebright Azimuth (12MC’s visit). Its lowpoint was at sea level which I’ve experienced many times along its wonderful Atlantic Ocean beaches. However the highpoint (map) was certainly too far away from the Atlantic coast to make it a top contender. The Delaware River, conversely, flowed quite close to the azimuth. Could the Delaware River along that stretch have an elevation of zero? I figured it might be possible. I knew that the Potomac River at Washington, DC, in an area of similar terrain was only about six inches above sea level considerably farther inland.

I thought 12MC might have to call out to hydrologists in the audience to see if we could calculate the elevation of the Delaware River at the point closest to Ebright Azimuth. Then it dawned on me. I didn’t need to do anything like that. I simply needed to learn if the Pennsylvania lowpoint located farther upstream had an elevation at sea level or not. Many sources listed that statistic so it should be easy. Bingo! Pennsylvania’s lowpoint was at sea level on the Delaware River at the Delaware border. Therefore the Delaware River flowing through Delaware, being downstream from Pennsylvania, had to have a sea level elevation by definition. That qualified it as part of the state’s lowpoint.

A rough measurement generated a Delaware highpoint-to-lowpoint distance of approximately 4.3 miles (6.9 km).

Thank you Cary for the suggestion.

Lake Neusiedl

On March 4, 2015 · 0 Comments

All that talk of endorheic basins in County Divided got me wondering about similar conditions in other unexpected places. It seemed farfetched to find an area lacking natural drainage to the sea on the Great Plains of North America. So did a similar condition in central Europe. I searched around and the largest place in that general vicinity appeared to be Lake Neusiedl on the border between Austria and Hungary (map), where it was called Neusiedler See in German and Fertő in Hungarian.

Lake Neusiedl


Neusiedler See
Neusiedler See by Jonathan Spence, on Flickr (cc)

The basin wasn’t huge although I took what I could get for purposes of this topic.

The lake covers 315 km², of which 240 km² is on the Austrian side and 75 km² on the Hungarian side. The lake’s drainage basin has an area of about 1,120 km². From north to south, the lake is about 36 km long, and it is between 6 km and 12 km wide from east to west. On average, the lake’s surface is 115.45 m above the Adriatic Sea and the lake is no more than 1.8 m deep.

To put that in perspective, the entire drainage basin was about six times the size of Washington, DC or about one-third the size of Rhode Island. The Lake itself was somewhere about twice the size of Washington, DC. Nonetheless, although lacking in size, Lake Neusiedl packed a lot of beauty into its enclosed basin and national park that protected it.

This region around the steppe lake, with over 2 000 hours of sunshine annually, is one of the most popular holiday areas in Austria… With its unique flora and fauna, the transborder National Park offers rare plant and bird species as well as Asinara White donkeys, Grey Hungarian cattle and Mangalitza pigs, the appropriate protection and a natural habitat.

I learned soon enough that Neusiedl wasn’t completely endorheic.


Einserkanal / Hansági-főcsatorna


Sarrod #2
Sarrod #2 by Thomas Lieser, on Flickr (cc)

A basin without a natural outlet had one major drawback: it could fill up, overflow and flood adjacent countryside. That natural cycle happened many times over the centuries. Peasants simply dealt with it, dried off and went about their normal lives. Officials finally tired of intermittent flooding at the end of the Nineteenth Century during a time when the Empire of Austria and the Kingdom of Hungary were united under the banner of the Austria-Hungary Empire. Thus came the construction of the Einserkanal (German) / Hansági-főcsatorna (Hungarian) in 1895, a canal "approximately 30 km long and 4.8 m deep on average and 7-15 m wide." It served like an overflow drain on a bathtub. The canal safely diverted excess water to the Danube River whenever the basin hit a desired capacity.

Nonetheless, the vast preponderance of outflow from Lake Neusiedl happened because of natural evaporation. Perhaps only 10% of outflow went through the artificial channel of the Einserkanal. I guess that would still make the watershed endorheic.


Brücke von Andau / Andaui-híd



The canal’s route never mattered much as long as Austria-Hungary endured. That situation changed after the First World War. Austria-Hungary found itself on the losing side and the empire split. That canal then became a portion of an international border albeit completely on the Hungarian side by a few metres. It created an effective barrier, a moat, to separate Austria from Hungary for many kilometres. That condition remained unchanged after the Second World War when Hungary fell under the Communist domination of the Soviet Union.

Then came the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, crushed by Soviet forces. Hungarians supporting the revolution or those simply fleeing violence escaped towards the border, running up against the canal. They found a single modest wooden footbridge, the Brücke von Andau (German) / Andaui-híd (Hungarian) as a passageway to freedom. About 200,000 refugees fled from Hungary and perhaps 70,000 of them used the Bridge at Andau (map) until the Soviets destroyed it. The bridge wasn’t replaced until decades later, reconstructed in commemoration of its historical importance on the 40th anniversary of the revolution.

The Town of Andau, Austria recalled those days (Google Translate):

In the local chronicle of Andau we read of these events: On Sunday, November 5, was heard the roar of tank engines and the rattling of chains of armored vehicles approached the border. The population held his breath, wondering what would happen. Our firemen moved to the border and marked them with red-white-red flags … In the next few days the first refugees arrived. From day to day the stream of refugees swelled. Thousands of them came from all over Hungary on the Einserkanal after Andau, in the freedom of the West.

The author James Michener was living in Austria at the time of the Hungarian Revolution. He interviewed witnesses and chronicled events in a nonfiction book he titled "The Bridge at Andau."

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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