Friday, July 25, 2008

State of Self-Determination

State of Jefferson
Originally uploaded by Lynda True.
I grew up in Northern California hearing the story of the State of Jefferson as a folk tale that was true, a bed time story, the tale of a semi-serious (depending on whom you ask) secessionist movement among seven(ish) counties along the Oregon-California border.

The area isn’t new to secessionist movements. They began soon after California (itself born of a secessionist movement of sorts) became a state. While it started as a bit of a stunt, eventually, a few counties took it seriously. There is a core State of Jefferson now, in the minds of people who lived there, or live there, and remember; with the few original states, but some people consider a broader range of counties to be part of it now, because of similarities of politics, economy, demographics, and other factors (even as far to the southwest as Mendocino County, for instance). The modern boundaries of Jefferson are vague, having shifted as the focus of the movement itself shifted from a political gesture to get attention for the area’s development and economic needs to a true (if weakly supported) secession movement, to an attitude, an independent, somewhat libertarian desire for autonomy.

The New York Times reports on a similar historical movement that I hadn’t heard about before, Absaroka:
Hold up the map today that "Governor" Swickard and his compatriots sketched out . . . and the distinctions that made this part of the country feel worthy of statehood in the 1930s — different in its geography, history, economic base and political outlook — are mostly still there.
The undulating landscape of tall grasses that shaped the horsemen and women of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow, and the ranchers who came later, is still there, in all its lush exuberance. Economic life shifted gears — coal-bed methane and hobby ranching encroached, sugar beets and flour-milling fell away — but the high grass persists, and that defines the land and the culture — then and now.
"The grass culture — people who make a living from growing grass, or from the animals that eat the grass — that was Absaroka," said Ken Kerns, a 76-year-old rancher who has lived most of his life on the Double Rafter Ranch . . . .

The article goes on to describe the people of the region as "conservative, self-sufficient and wanting mostly to be left alone." This describes the State of Jefferson, as well. It is, in a way, just a utopian movement, for individualist values of "utopia." People want to take care of each other and to use the land the way they see fit, without surrounding (California, Oregon, etc.) laws interfering.


Every time a movement wanders around, before an election, to separate California into more than one state, I think of Jefferson. Sometimes folks want to split California into two states, with the division of the cities and the location of the border moving around depending on who wants to do the splitting. They want Sacramento but not San Francisco, or they want San Francisco but not Los Angeles. Or they want to split it into three, with the rural counties (perhaps with those of the Oregon side of the State of Jefferson) wanting to become self-sufficient, taking care of themselves and the others, and splitting the city folks down below into Central and Southern California.

Mom, Carol, and Grandma in Modoc County            

I can’t imagine this ever truly happening. California is indeed unwieldy, it’s too big. It’s bigger, in size, economy, population, and certainly in arrogance, than many independent nations, and perhaps it would somehow work better split into smaller states – but the ends of the state are so interdependent now that it would be difficult at best.

            Berenice Pate, Modoc County, 1933

The environmentalist in me is pretty sure that the State of Jefferson and its northern California neighbors would have a hard time supporting itself without environmentally devastating degrees of resource extraction, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

The State of Jefferson
Jefferson Public Radio, one of my favorite stations:
Wikipedia on the State of Jefferson
Strange Maps also discusses Absaroka

More images from Jefferson:




Solano County Hills

Solano County Hills
Originally uploaded by caramida.
This part of the ride is one of my favorite reasons for the Capital Corridor train route. This particular view epitomizes California to me. Other people love the redwoods (as do I) or the beaches (as do I) or Los Angeles ([crickets]) but rolling oak woodlands and grasslands are my home.

These marshes were the first places my family lived when they first settled in California in the 1850s. They moved to other parts of the state not too long after because 1) their house burned down, leaving them with nothing, and 2) typhoid and malaria.

I hope to start a couple of regular features on Geographile: I want to have a weekly post that talks about some part of geography -- mostly California, I imagine, but elsewhere too, other places, and other aspects of geography -- that have a strong emotional effect on me, and talk about why. In addition, I want to start a weekly book review, to make good use of my growing geography (natural history, environmental science, cartography, etc.) book collection.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One third of the way to the moon -- wow

Aurora australis
Originally uploaded by Antarctic M.
Years ago, when I was an exchange student in rural Australia, my host mother woke me in the wee hours, one night, to bring me into the back yard. She pointed off to the south. The sky was full of light, a shimmering green gauze shower curtain, it seemed, billowing in the steam and air currents of the night sky. "This is unusually far north for it," she said, and it was, at about 32 degrees south of the equator.

The aurorae have been mysterious to humans throughout history, but we're learning more -- and the learning doesn't ruin the magic, for me. It reminds me of Richard Feynman's famous footnote within the Feynman Lectures on Physics. It reads like a poem:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is 'mere'. I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination— stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern— of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent.

From a NASA press release:

NASA Satellites Discover What Powers Northern Lights

GREENBELT, Md. — Researchers using a fleet of five NASA satellites have discovered that explosions of magnetic energy a third of the way to the moon power substorms that cause sudden brightenings and rapid movements of the aurora borealis, called the Northern Lights.
The culprit turns out to be magnetic reconnection, a common process that occurs throughout the universe when stressed magnetic field lines suddenly snap to a new shape, like a rubber band that's been stretched too far.

"We discovered what makes the Northern Lights dance," said Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Los Angeles. Angelopoulos is the principal investigator for the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission, or THEMIS.

Substorms produce dynamic changes in the auroral displays seen near Earth's northern and southern magnetic poles, causing a burst of light and movement in the Northern and Southern Lights.

Substorms often accompany intense space storms that can disrupt radio communications and global positioning system signals and cause power outages. Solving the mystery of where, when, and how substorms occur will allow scientists to construct more realistic substorm models and better predict a magnetic storm's intensity and effects.

"As they capture and store energy from the solar wind, the Earth's magnetic field lines stretch far out into space. Magnetic reconnection releases the energy stored within these stretched magnetic field lines, flinging charged particles back toward the Earth's atmosphere," said David Sibeck, THEMIS project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "They create halos of shimmering aurora circling the northern and southern poles."

Scientists directly observe the beginning of substorms using five THEMIS satellites and a network of 20 ground observatories located throughout Canada and Alaska. Launched in February 2007, the five identical satellites line up once every four days along the equator and take observations synchronized with the ground observatories. Each ground station uses a magnetometer and a camera pointed upward to determine where and when an auroral substorm will begin. Instruments measure the auroral light from particles flowing along Earth's magnetic field and the electrical currents these particles generate.

During each alignment, the satellites capture data that allow scientists to precisely pinpoint where, when, and how substorms measured on the ground develop in space. On Feb. 26, 2008, during one such THEMIS lineup, the satellites observed an isolated substorm begin in space, while the ground-based observatories recorded the intense auroral brightening and space currents over North America.

These observations confirm for the first time that magnetic reconnection triggers the onset of substorms. The discovery supports the reconnection model of substorms, which asserts a substorm starting to occur follows a particular pattern. This pattern consists of a period of reconnection, followed by rapid auroral brightening and rapid expansion of the aurora toward the poles. This culminates in a redistribution of the electrical currents flowing in space around Earth.

THEMIS is the fifth medium-class mission under NASA's Explorer Program. The program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at Goddard provides frequent flight opportunities for world-class space investigations in heliophysics and astrophysics. The University of California, Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., managed the project development and is currently operating the THEMIS mission. ATK Space (formerly Swales Aerospace) of Beltsville, Md., built the THEMIS satellites.

The THEMIS team's findings will appear online July 24 in Science Express and Aug. 14 in the journal science. For more information about the THEMIS mission, visit:

Gizmodo has a great animation of the bursts of energy related to the aurora.
NASA has a wealth of other videos.