During their first United States tour in 1964, a reporter asked Ringo Starr, “How do you find America,” The Beatles drummer didn’t miss a beat and replied, “Turn left at Greenland!”

Well, perhaps it was that simple for Mr. Starr and his friends, but sometimes geography isn’t quite that straightforward, which is why geography has to be one of the most fascinating subjects to study.

Geography is so much more than just maps and locations.  Geography poses questions about who we are and how we got to be this way.  In fact, it’s impossible to truly understand history and geopolitics without first having a basic understanding of geography.

Kenneth Davis, author of “Don’t Know Much about Geography” wrote that geography is the “mother lode” of sciences.  Meteorology, climatology, ecology, geology, oceanography, demographics, cartography, agriculture, economics and political science can all be related back to geographic factors.

We need look no farther than our own borders to see the effect geography has had on making us the nation we are today.  Unlike anywhere else on earth, our system of navigable waterways, including the Great Lakes, have served to unify this country economically, culturally and politically—a geographic benefit unheard of anywhere and a primary reason we congealed into one nation stretching from Atlantic to Pacific.

And speaking of Atlantic to Pacific, one aspect of geography I find most interesting is its “ontology” or lack thereof.  For example, I just named two oceans, but how many more oceans are there?  You would be correct if you said there were three others—the Indian, Arctic and Antarctic.  But you would also be correct if you said there are just four oceans because in reality, the Antarctic Ocean, which circles Antarctica is simply an extension of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indians oceans.

But if you really wanted to get technical, and who doesn’t want technical accuracy when reading the Vail Daily, a good argument can be made that there’s just one ocean, i.e., the great sheet of salt water that comprises about 72% of the earth’s surface and surrounds the planet’s great land masses.

(Author’s note: I recall arguing this point with Sister Mary Theresa my 5th grade teacher at St. Celestine’s to no avail.  I also remember asking her why the map hanging from the classroom blackboard depicted the Nile River flowing up instead of down.  She told me if I said enough rosaries, I would understand.)

We’ve all heard the term the “Seven Seas,” right?   Of course we have, but the term is actually a colloquial expression relating not to the seas but to the oceans:  Arctic, Indian, North Pacific, South Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Antarctic.  But hey, didn’t I begin this commentary by pointing out that one would be correct in stating that there were either one, four or five oceans depending upon how one counted?  Yes I did—and that’s “geographic ontology,” its all a matter of perspective.

And speaking of seas, how many of us know the differences between an ocean and a sea?  This is can be a bit confusing because a sea is actually a part of an ocean.  Ah, you say, but then wouldn’t that make the Gulf of Mexico a sea?  And what about the Hudson Bay, isn’t that a part of the Artic or Atlantic Oceans, making that a sea as well?

Before you drive yourself crazy, let’s examine the difference between a gulf and a bay, which isn’t always so clear either.  Normally, a gulf is a body of water that’s larger than a bay; but it can also be a body of water with an extensive inlet penetrating far into land such as the Persian Gulf, which has now become a “region” that seems to keep popping up in the news.

To convolute matters further, some gulfs and bays are larger than seas.  The Gulf of Mexico is certainly much larger than the Red Sea, Black Sea and Caspian Sea.  It’s also larger than the Dead Sea, which really isn’t a sea at all but a landlocked lake that also happens to be the lowest point on the earth’s surface.

But we’re still not finished with seas; we also have the Yellow Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the North Sea, the Sea of Japan, the Baltic Sea and of course the Mediterranean Sea (if I left one out, please write to the editor.)

As I stated at the top of this commentary, geography is a topic of endless fascination.  And now that we’re clear about oceans, seas and bays, does anyone want to examine the differences among arroyos, canyons, crevasses, gorges, gulches, gullies, gaps and ravines?

Quote of the day: When he told me he grew up in New Mexico, I told him I thought it was cool that people from other countries played football”—Terry Bradshaw

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