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Friday, December 5, 2014

O'Maley Middle School, Gloucester -- December 5

Image: WikiMedia
42° 37' 44" N
70° 40' 23" W

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Today the EarthView team is visiting the northeasternmost portion of the Bay State: the Ralph B. O'Maley Middle School is just a couple of miles from the Atlantic Ocean in the famous fishing town of Gloucester.

Located on Cape Ann, this community is connected in many important ways to the Gulf of Maine, a "sea within a sea" that receives the waters of 60 watersheds. Geography students at O'Maley have recently been studying the nearby Gulf, which has some of the richest fisheries and most interesting tides in the world.

The sense of place is celebrated by new local restaurant, Latitude 43, which has a nautical theme and a geographic name. The team knows about the place because a son of team member Dr. Domingo was the construction manager.

When we returned from Gloucester, a student shared The Wreck of the Hesperus, Longfellow's famous poem based on two shipwrecks -- one near Gloucester and the other near Boston. It is required reading for many students in nautical New England towns.

During our visit, we spoke with some of the classes about the geography of currency. Every country in the world decides what currency it will use, and most of them print their own. When traveling, it is important to know the value of the currency. A sandwich that costs 5 dollars in the United States would cost 13 reais (HAY-ice) in Brazil and 132 cordobas in Nicaragua. These relationships -- known as exchange rates -- are always changing, and can be calculated on web sites such as

We were speaking on the anniversary of the death of Nobel Laureate Nelson Mandela. His life was an inspiration, of course, to many people throughout the world, but was especially meaningful to the EarthView team, because our own Dr. Domingo began life as a black South African, and left for the United States before the dream of ending apartheid could be realized. Now when he visits his family, it is a very different country from the one in which he grew up.

Of course, we also talked about Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, who will formally receive her award next year. In March, we learned that one of our favorite university geography texts was dedicated to her work on behalf of young women everywhere who want to learn.

Image: Rondonia Web
Several classes heard from Dr. Hayes-Bohanan about Rondônia, the state of Brazil where he studied to earn his doctorate in Geography & Latin American Area Studies. The photograph above is of a carving purchased during that field work, from an artist known as Anká. If you did not hear the story -- which involves a leaky boat, a 100-foot climb in the rain forest and many details he forgot to mention -- you can read it about it in Folha da Frontera (#3), a newsletter that was sent from the field. It is on Rondônia Web, along with a lot of other information about this part of the Amazon basin, and especially about its growing cities.

Lagniappe: Cape Ann or Annisquam Island?

During our visit, one of the geography teachers at O'Maley told the EarthView team that Cape Ann is actually an island. We had crossed a bridge to get to it, after all, and in fact there is no way to drive or walk there without crossing one of three bridges over the Annisquam River, and a quick look at Google Maps confirms this.

Because rivers to not separate islands from continents, we decided to investigate. Throughout most of its course, the Annisquam appears to be a natural river, mostly estuary. In the headwaters at the far southeastern end of the river, however, the banks are unnaturally straight, suggesting human engineering, and the name Blynman Canal confirms this. The history of this very short canal is an interesting one, having first opened in 1643, but not being permanently navigable until two centuries later.

By coincidence, we had mentioned the anniversary of the South Hadley Canal to some of the students. It is credited with being the first canal in the United States used for navigation, but as we can see, such superlative titles are always subject to debate.

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