Rather than call this "More Thousand Islands" and confuse it with the purpose of my recent celebratory Kiloanomaly, I came up with a new name. Rest assured, by mentioning abundant agglomerated archipelagos, I actually meant places other than the Thousand Islands poking above the Saint Lawrence River between Canada and the United states that share a similar name. The latest twist was that none of them were in English so the 12MC audience will get to see me struggle once again with my complete inability to deal with foreign languages.
I have to give a tip of the keyboard to Wikipedia’s Thousand Islands (disambiguation) page for inspiring the notion. I also researched other sources so it wasn’t like I completely stole the idea, only partially.
Rivière des Mille Îles
Rivière des Mille Îles, Québec, Canada
Rivière des Mille Îles, or River of a Thousand Isles, had the best chance of being confused with the other Thousand Islands simply because of its proximity. The river was actually a channel of a larger river system, and one could reach the St. Lawrence from either its source or its mouth. Rivière des Mille Îles when paired with other channels formed the island that separated Laval from Montréal. The whole area teemed with islands, albeit farther downstream from the more famous Thousand Islands in Ontario. It can become rather confusing.
The area included the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, which was described nicely once run through Google Translate:
The decor of the Parc de la Rivière-des-Mille-Îles offers a real landscape bayous, with its calm river, shallow and safe, marshes flowers, marshy forests and lush vegetation of the islands, forming a maze of greenery. Half an hour from Montreal, nearly twenty islands that are accessible, a major tourist attraction and a unique place in Québec.
Tusenøyane, Svalbard, Norway
Thousand Islands converted into Norwegian became Tusenøyane, and indeed that’s the name of an isolated grouping found south of Edgeøya on the Svalbard archipelago. The entirety of Svalbard itself was rather obscure with barely 2,500 residents so one can imagine the remoteness of one tiny scattering of rocks along its lower flank.
Correspondingly, there wasn’t all that much additional information about Tusenøyane available. The Norwegian Polar Institute served as the naming authority, identifying Tusenøyane as "A number of small islands south of Edgeøya" with a linguistic origin tracing to "the thousand islands." The authority further noted several variant names including the Hopeless Islands.
I also found a site with several photographs. It looked barren and cold. I don’t think I’d go so far as to describe it as "hopeless" though, well unless someone got shipwrecked there or something.
Understanding the theme presented so far, it should come as no surprise that Kepulauan Seribu translated to Thousand Islands, in this case from the Indonesian language. These numerous small islets formed a string due north of Jakarta. Administratively they were actually part of Jakarta, and the city government explained:
Kepulauan Seribu [Thousand Island] is located in Java Sea and Jakarta Bay, it is an area with characteristic and natural potential that is different with other parts of Jakarta Capital City, because this area is basically a cluster of formed coral islands and shaped by coral biota and other associated biota (algae, malusho, foraminifera, and others) with the help of dynamic natural process… it doesn’t mean that the total number of islands within the clusters is a thousand. There are approximately 342 islands in total, including sand islands, including vegetated and non-vegetated coral reefs.
Some Island on Kepulauan Seribu by TeYoU @ Sydney via Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license
Indonesia created the Kepulauan Seribu Marine National Park and it grew into a major tourist attraction. Search on Kepulauan Seribu online and one will find a nearly innumerable set of websites trying to sell luxury vacations there. This formerly unspoiled paradise may have become a little too well loved in recent decades, leading to warnings of environmental degradation.
Qiandao Lake, Zhejiang Province, China
Qiandao Lake (which was represented by several Chinese language characters I couldn’t seem to replicate in WordPress), or Thousand Island Lake, was the only location in this series created artificially. The islands were a byproduct of the flooding of a valley after construction of a dam.
The Xin’anjiang Hydropower Station, the country’s first large-scale power plant designed and built by Chinese in the 1950s, is still the pride of the local people. It is on the Xin’an River in Jiande city of Zhejiang Province in east China. Moreover, it formed a huge reservoir (Qiandao Lake) with 1,078 islands, which is part of a golden tourist route linking Hangzhou, Provincial capital of Zhejiang, and Mount Huangshan in neighboring Anhui Province.
My favorite quote, however, was "Qiandao Lake, known for its clear, and sometimes drinkable water, is used to produce the renowned Nongfu Spring brand of mineral water."
Sometimes drinkable? Thanks, I’d prefer consistently drinkable water.
The signs claimed "On this site in 1897 nothing happened." It was mildly amusing, maybe even a tiny bit clever the first time — the first time! — I saw one of their ilk several years ago. They mimicked the look-and-feel of genuine historical markers with faux cast iron, bold font, adorned with a couple of official-looking stars, and appearing on random walls, rocks, pillars, and homes in places where, quite accurately, nothing much special ever happened. I’m sure many people in the 12MC audience have noticed these conversation pieces scattered around during their travels.
On This Site… by ilovememphis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
This one was spotted by the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. The tag geolocated to a parking lot near the intersection of S. Front Street and Beale Street. I poked around in Street View for awhile, noticed a promising brick wall, and couldn’t find the actual sign in the wild, though.
The trend had likely run its course already by the time "nothing happened" signs appeared on Amazon for $29.99. Other sources priced them even lower.
Imitators delivered additional evidence of oversaturation. Variations from my very unscientific survey of photo sites included September 5, 1782 (second most common), 1832 (third most common), April 17, 1897 (adding even greater precision to 1897), March 13, 1893, June 12, 1761, April 1, 1780, and on-and-on, including one specifying that George Washington never slept there. They all held one thing in common; that on that date and in that spot, nothing happened. There’s even an entire group on Flickr devoted to nothing happening.
1782 ON THIS SITE SEPT 5, 1782 NOTHING HAPPENED by Leo Reynolds, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Interestingly, while 1897 seemed to be a preeminent date for historical non-occurrences in the United States, it was September 5, 1782 that dominated in the United Kingdom. I’m sure an enterprising scholar could frame an entire doctoral dissertation around the definition of historic age in the U.S. versus the U.K. It’s about a hundred years farther back in the Old Country, apparently.
The example, noted above, was discovered in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. One person commenting on its page, observed:
I think whoever made this sign made a typo and used an 8 instead of a 5. It would be factually correct and even more amusing if it read Sept 5, 1752 because absolutely nothing happened on that day due to the date changes of the British Calendar Act of 1751.
That was so cool I had to look it up. Sure enough, the Parliament of Great Britain passed the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750 and amended it with the Calendar Act 1751. Thus, September 5, 1752 didn’t exist in Yarmouth because the calendar skipped from Wednesday September 2 straight over to Thursday September 14, 1752 during a transition from Julian dates to Gregorian.
Humorous signs like these have been around for at least a couple of decades. Multiple Internet sources said they’ve been around "since at least the 1980′s." The date seemed plausible. However, as is typical, they all quoted from each other in circular fashion and none of them reference a reliable primary source. The earliest definite reference I found traced to a November 1990 Chicago Tribune article, Unhistory – A suspiciously long prepositional phrase which highlighted a sign affixed to a rock at the Evanston, Illinois campus of Northwestern University. It’s still there, and it’s known colloquially as The Nothing Happened Rock. I can’t believe I found the actual rock on Street View (map). That’s nuts.
The Simpsons, Episode 347, "Goo Goo Gai Pan," March 13, 2005
Fair Use screen grab
Nothing Happened signs have become a part of the collective consciousness. A parody sign debuted on the Goo Goo Gai Pan episode of The Simpsons, first aired on March 13, 2005. "On this site, in 1989, nothing happened," appeared as the family walked through Tiananmen Square, an obvious reference to the momentous events of that year and subsequent efforts to wipe it from Chinese memory.
The joke has grown a little threadbare over the years although people are still discovering Nothing Happened for the very first time, and expressing their amusement. I suspect that they’ll be around for awhile.
What do Council Bluffs, Iowa, the Battle of Vicksburg and the Yellow River all have in common? Loess.
Loess comes from the German löß, and has a common root with the English word, loose. It’s a geological term for a light silty dust blown by the wind that accumulated into thick layers and hills. These deposits, often taking on a pale yellowish-brown or buff color, are capable of covering huge territories with a blanket of dust hundreds of feet thick, formed over numerous repeated cycles of water and wind.
I first became aware of loess at the appropriately named Loess Hills of western Iowa, a remarkable example of this type of formation. My in-laws lived in a suburb of Omaha, Nebraska at the time, on the Iowa side of the river. Their home was located atop one of the hills. This was near the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the "bluffs" of the city’s name were comprised of loess (they even hold an annual Loessfest each year).
View Larger Map
Notice the terrain east of the Missouri River floodplain. These are part of Iowa’s classic Loess Hills area. Anyone driving along Interstate 29 through here can look to the east and glimpse these unusual sedimentary hills at pretty much any random place. They may not seem terribly remarkable until one ponders their interesting geological history and compares them to the flatness of much of the rest of this part of North America.
SOURCE: Loess Hills Ridge by FordRanger, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license
As the Iowa Department of Natural Resources explained,
The Loess Hills of western Iowa were formed from 20,000 to 10,000 years ago of finely ground windblown silt from the glacial deposits. As the Pleistocene glaciers melted, the Missouri Valley became a major channel for tremendous amounts of water. Each winter season, as the quantity of melt water was reduced, large areas of flood-deposited sediments were left exposed to the wind. Silt, clay and fine sand were lifted by the wind, carried to the east and deposited.
Particles of loess display some interesting and unusual properties. Their angular structure combined with a propensity for extreme crumbliness and quick erosion results in characteristic bluffs with steep ridges and and rapid drop offs, as displayed in the photograph. Yet, loess is extremely stable when dry and held in place by prairie grasses. The Loess Hills of western Iowa tower up to 250 feet (75 metres) above the Missouri River floodplain quite contently until people cut into the hills for their own purposes. Any soil exposed directly to the elements quickly crumbles away.
I would hear residents remark about the uniqueness of their Loess Hills whenever I visited the area, although "unique" isn’t completely correct. They’d always append a qualifier to their description, "except for some place in China." The place in China was never named, however to their credit they understood that loess formations were unusual.
They were on the right track. The two most significant deposits of loess happen in western Iowa and in China, although the phenomenon can be found to lesser degrees in many other parts of the world. The whole reason it’s called loess rather than loose (or some variation in a Chinese dialect) is because the term derived from deposits found in Germany’s Rhine River Valley, as just one example.
There are even other places with loess in the United States, for instance the eastern bank of the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, Mississippi. An vital element of the 1863 Battle of Vicksburg during the U.S. Civil War — the siege of Vicksburg — took place when Union troops could not dislodge Confederate forces dug-in securely atop the steep loess bluffs along the river. The siege lasted more than a month until Confederate troops exhausted their supplies and had to surrender.
What about China, though?
China’s equivalent of the Loess Hills is called the Loess Plateau. As noted by Wikipedia, it covers 640,000 square kilometres (250,000 square miles)… "almost all of Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, as well as parts of Gansu province, the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region." That’s about the same size as the U.S. state of Texas, or the Canadian Provinces of Alberta or Saskatchewan!
View Larger Map
It’s particularly prevalent along the upper and middle Yellow River watershed. It is loess that contributes the characteristic yellow color to the Yellow River.