Category Archives: Through History

Observations about and from history: the world at war, the making of nations, the changes in cultures.

Clark’s Lookout, MN

I don’t remember when I first heard of Lewis and Clark, but I have a clear memory of their expotition from my first trip to Astoria – Dismal Nitch and all – before the turn of the millennium.  Astoria was one end of their great out-and-back trek.  I’ve also been to Harper’s Ferry – at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers – where they received their weaponry, and through St. Louis, where they launched the Corps of Discovery Expedition.  Having been to those defining points, I have some sense of connection with these guys.   Continue reading

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Hurricane Isabel and Me

These NASA photographs (thanks, guys!) show the almost incomprehensible scale of Hurricane Isabel, back in September of 2003.

Satellite shot from NASA of eye of Hurricane Isabel

Hurricane Isabel Eye from Space

Satellite photo from NASA of Hurricane Isabel hitting East Coast of USA

Hurricane Isabel Hits East Coast

Let’s be clear at the outset: There is nothing fun or funny about hurricanes.  People are displaced, hurt, or  killed; homes and businesses are damaged or destroyed; beach, delta, and estuary ecosystems are ripped up by hurricane-force winds or damaged by the salt from tidal surges.

Having acknowledged that, I did enjoy collecting headlines about Hurricane Isabel, 12 years ago.

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.”

Initial Warnings

Headlines from Hurricane Isabel's approach to USA

Anticipated, Imminent, and Actual Landfall

Headlines from Hurricane Isabel's landing on east coast of USA.

Analysis of Impact

Headlines on Hurricane Isabel's landfall.

Last Word

My hurricane strategy is to stay away from them, in space or in time.

Isabel Gibson on wooden stairs beside high-water-mark plaque for Hurricane Isabel.

Isabel in 2006 beside high-water-mark plaque for Hurricane Isabel in 2003.

To think of living in a place with a hurricane season is almost beyond belief.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doesn’t have the luxury that I do – sitting, slackjawed, clipping headlines as these things hit.  Here’s what they’ve been doing to build resilience since Hurricane Katrina, ten years ago.

And here’s a less sanguine view of whether America is ready – technically or politically – for another hurricane like Katrina.  Or Isabel.


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In the Face of Dreadful Odds

“That’s a story every Australian knows and, now, you do too.”

I stand there, brought up short. It isn’t the first time.

It’s been all of four hours since we met our Melbourne tour guide. We can see he’s lanky and given to vaguely Outbackish hats, but we’re still getting a feel for his communication style. Although consistently (and admirably) competent, our guides to date have exhibited no-two-alike personal styles: warm and a little raucous, witty and a little self-deprecatory, friendly and a little motherly, helpful and a little organized.  Just as if they were, you know, people.

So, on this lovely day in late November, 2014, I’m listening more for tone than for content as our guide prepares us to enter the ANZAC memorial—ANZAC being the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. With respect to content, I am, in fact, thinking, “I get it, you know? Let’s get on with this.”   Continue reading

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What It Is to Scale the Heights

Putting genteel Georgia behind us, we angle across rural northern Florida to the Gulf Coast and hang a right. And then we drive. And drive.

Most of those two days in early January is spent on the who-knew-it-was-so-wide Florida panhandle, an on-the-face-of-it ridiculous allocation of coastline that undoubtedly reflects some fascinating history of which we are, as Canadians, completely ignorant. To support the underdog, on the second day we stop for lunch somewhere in the don’t-sneeze-or-you’ll-miss-it bit of Alabama that borders the Gulf of Mexico. And then we drive. And drive.   Continue reading

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Yellow Stars & Uniforms

By noon on Wednesday, Eastern time, I knew. Knew that two Canadian Armed Forces members had been killed in just three days, taking me back to the distressing place of hearing of war dead and casualties in Afghanistan. Knew that they were murdered in Canada, by Canadians, taking me to a place I had never even imagined.

Later on Wednesday, Canadian Armed Forces members were ordered not to wear their uniforms unnecessarily outside their workplaces. In the uncertainty about the extent of the attack, it made sense as a Force protection measure.

What made less sense, perhaps, was my reaction. I didn’t want them to stop wearing their uniforms: I wanted to put one on too. If they were a target, I wanted to be one too. Fight my gang, fight me.

I trace this reaction to a story that has inspired me for years. When Germany occupied Denmark in 1940, they issued an edict requiring all Danish Jews to wear an armband emblazoned with the Star of David. But the Germans were unprepared for the reaction they got: the King and a significant proportion of the population started wearing the armbands, too.

It’s a great story. There’s just one thing. It never happened.   Continue reading

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