Thursday, September 12, 2013

The curious case of Machias Seal Island

As a child growing up in the United States, I learned about the establishment of the various U.S. borders, including disputes over the Maine/Canada border,  a dispute between the U.S. and Britain over the Oregon territory, and a number of disputes over the Texas/Mexico border.  But that was all long ago.  And of course I know about border disputes in places like Africa, as well as North and South Korea and much of the Middle East.  But those are all 'far away'.  Surely all US border disputes have long since been settled, haven't they?

Well apparently, there are still a number of border disputes being fought between  the United States and Canada.  While geography is not my strong suit,  I did know that the Canadian/US border was the longest border in the world.  And I knew that there were some odd little jogs in what you might imagine would be a straight line, but that's due to geographic things like lakes and mountains.  After all, the waters of Niagara Falls fall on both Canadian soil and U.S. soil.

But what I did not know was that there are a number of little bits and pieces where these two countries both claim to own the same little bit or piece.. even today, in 2013.  Now, I live not far from a state border... and being a divorce lawyer, I often deal with issues such as which state should the children attend school in or which court has jurisdiction over this case.. but typically, those questions can be answered by simply determining which side of the line each person actually lives on.  So I was very intrigued with this notion of a situation where there's a disagreement as to where the line is.  Where do you vote?  Who collects your taxes?  Which set of national holidays do you celebrate?  Whose national anthem do you sing?

I took a closer look at the bits and pieces that were up in the air.. although that's only figuratively, as neither the bits nor the pieces are actually in the air.  But it does turn out  that 4 of the 5 disputed bits are in the water.  Well, pshaw...  that kind of dispute doesn't really count.

But......  disputed bit #5 appeared to be different.  #5 is Machias Seal Island in the Gulf of Maine -- the entire island!  

Wow!  This must be a pretty important island for the US and Canada to be unable to agree who it belongs to.  So I dug a bit deeper, and discovered that Machias Seal Island is less than 20 acres in size,  it's completely devoid of trees --  and it's fogbound for much of the year.  Really? This is what we're arguing about?  An acre is smaller than a football field.  This island is in the middle of the ocean, and it's generally covered in fog so there's not even an ocean view to fight over.

Oh wait, it gets better.  From 1832 to the present,  Canada has maintained a lighthouse on this island. And even though Canada converted most of its lighthouses to the unmanned type about twenty years ago, the Machias Seal Island lighthouse has always been manned.  And the US involvement?  Well, back in 1918, the US put a small detachment of marines on the island, to help the Canadians keep an eye out for German u-boats.  After a few months, the marines left.  Since then, the US presence has been non-existent, although it continues to press its claim to the little island.

Now, as it happens, although there are no inhabitants on Machias Seal Island (other than the Canadian lighthouse keepers), and the seals in the area all live on a neighboring island (perhaps a problem with their GPS?), there are LOTS of birds, including a large colony of puffins.  But that's about it.  And when the US and Canada had an opportunity to take this issue to the World Court in 1984, both countries declined... preferring the certainty of a stalemate, over the possibility of a loss.

Hmmm, not quite sure what to make of all this.   You can get to Machias Seal Island by boat, from either Maine, or New Brunswick.  And no matter where you leave from, you don't have to go through customs, as each originating point believes that the destination is in the same country you came from.   And apparently the bird watching is phenomenal and well worth the journey... although I'm not much of a bird watcher.

So perhaps I'll just have another cup of tea and stay at home.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Apple Trees and Memories

Here in New England, it's apple-picking time.  And it was here in New England that I first took part in the popular activity of going to orchards and picking your own apples.  However, long before I moved to New England, I was quite familiar with the magic of apple-picking time.

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived across town and we spent a lot of time visiting them.  In the middle of their backyard there was a tree - an apple tree.  Actually, I should call it an APPLE TREE, for it was huge.  I can't really tell you what kind of apple tree it was, as it had clearly been grafted several times over the years, and it bore a wide variety of apples. Throughout the summer, we would play around the tree, without paying much attention to anything about the tree other than the fact that it was in our way.  But as the summer progressed, the tree began to change.  Blossoms formed, and then fell off, replaced by miniature apples.  As summer headed to an end to be replaced by fall, the miniature apples grew into full size apples. As the apples grew and ripened, we'd pick apples off the tree and eat them,  but there were always far more than we could possible eat.  Pretty soon they'd start falling off the tree, and we would be tasked with picking them up and putting them in the bushel baskets that we hadn't seen in a year.  Ultimately we'd find ourselves recruited to pick the apples that remained on the the tree.  And the next thing we knew, "The Day" would arrive.

What was "The Day"? "The Day" was actually a full weekend.  At the beginning of the weekend, we would go over to my grandparents' house, with boxes of mason jars.  We'd spend the entire day peeling apples, cutting apples, and cooking apples.  Everybody pitched in ...  no one was too old, or too young to not take
 part in "The Day".

After apples were peeled, cut and cooked, we proceeded to make apple jelly, apple butter, apple sauce, and of course apple pies.  At the end of a long day, we'd be surrounded with jars of wonderful apple-ness...  and bushels of apples that hadn't been touched yet.  So we'd have to return the following day for a repeat.  As we were finally wrapping up the last of the apples, my grandmother would bring out the itty-bitty pie tins, and my sister and I would be allowed to make teeny-tiny apple pies of our very own.

I don't make apple jelly, or apple butter, or apple sauce, or even apple pies, any more.  But every year, as apple-picking season comes along and I see those apple trees laden with ripe apples, I think of the time spent in grandma's kitchen, peeling and cutting and cooking and jarring and pie-making.  And I think of how delicious that apple jelly and apple butter and apple sauce tasted.  And I think of those special little itty bitty pie tins and those teeny tiny apple pies.  And as good as everything was...  the best part is the memories of the time we all spent together.

By the way, it was at my grandparents' house that I first started drinking tea... so this stroll down the apple-tree-lined memory lane had made me think it's time to have a cup of tea...  Typhoo, of course.  And perhaps I'll have an apple, as well.

(Note:  as of 1/24/14, no further comments are allowed on this post, due to high volume of spam.)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Flags, part 2

In the middle of the summer, I posted about flags.  And almost immediately after I posted, I came across more flag trivia.  Well, I wasn't going to bother amending that post... but I'm STILL finding out new flag bits and pieces .. and I'm not even looking for them!

But the bits and pieces are piling up, so I thought I'd share them.  

Last time, I talked about the fact that Lichtenstein and Haiti used to have the same flag, and I've discovered that this isn't unique.  The countries of Chad and Romania also have the same flag (although some would argue that the blues are slightly different).  But there's actually a decent reason for this.  At the time that Chad adopted its flag, the Romanian flag had a coat of arms in the middle.  After Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown, the coat of arms was removed... leaving the two flags essentially identical.  Unlike the Lichtenstein/Haiti situation, everyone involved knows of this identity crisis, but apparently no one cares.

And there are other flags that are identical except for dimension... but that's kind of not really identical, is it?

Actually, I found the other extreme to be more interesting.  That is - governments that have a two-sided flag. Hmmm.. before I can talk about two-sided flags, I suppose I have to point out that there are two kinds of two-sided flags --  although I'm sure that Betsy Ross would find both kinds to be equally frustrating.  The first kind is where there's a person's profile, or an animal facing a certain way, so the picture has to be flipped on the other side.  That's certainly a two-sided flag in the sense that you can't just stitch the colors on one side and have them go all the way through... but that's actually not the kind that caught my attention..  rather, I was drawn to the notion of flags where the front and the back are totally different pictures.  The state of Oregon has the state seal on one side, and a picture of a beaver on the other.  There's also a province in Argentina, a city in Bulgaria, and a few other flags that are truly different on one side from the other.  It's not really clear why -- I'm guessing it was a simple matter of people being unable to agree... and after all, isn't that what government is all about!

And then ---  I found out about the flag of Mars.  The flag of Mars is a tri-color flag used by the Mars Society and the Planetary Society.  Technically, it's not the official flag of Mars, as an official flag has to be adopted by a government, and Mars has no government.  But the flag has flown in space (aboard the Discovery), and it currently flies at the Mars Arctic Research station on Devon Island (in Canada).  So that makes it official in my book!

Reading about the flag of Mars, made me think back to when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin planted a flag on the moon, back in 1969.  I know that I have to periodically replace my flags because they start to get worn and torn by the wind and weather... what about the moon flag? First, it turns out there are 6 US flags on the moon.. they were planted by Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17.  Next, 5 of them are actually still standing.  They're not truly blowing in the breeze of course, there is no breeze...there's a wire that runs along either the top or bottom so that it looks like the flag is blowing.  But - interestingly enough - they've all been faded by the sun  (duh!!!) and so now, all of them are plain white flags.  In addition to the flags planted by the US, China, Japan, the former Soviet Union, and the European Space Agency have also put flags on the moon. If those flags are not already plain white, they will be.  Different dimensions perhaps, but ultimately, all identical.  
I kind of like that.
Wonder what Sheldon would make of that?

While I ponder that question, I'll drink my tea.