Days of the Tundra
I suppose because of the cold, I was thinking about tundra as I was driving to work this morning. I have never seen tundra, and was not exactly sure of its definition until I checked on it a minute ago.. In speaking of tundra here, I am not referring to the ill conceived Toyota Pickup truck ,which was lost that company millions of dollars because the timing of the introduction of the product was so bad. I am talking about the frost ridden “treeless plain” that I learned about in geography when I was in the sixth grade.
Sixth grade was the last time I had any interest in Tundra, or for that matter, Laplanders, the exports of Brazil or the principle rivers in Thailand. In truth, I had no interest in them even then, but I was forced to learn about them in my one and only World Geography class. Following math, science, penmanship, grammar and Spanish, I think that I hated the study of geography as much more than any other class. Although that probably still made it my third or fourth favorite class, which gives you some indication of what a remarkably bad student I was.
My Geography class was broken up into seven continents, of which, the only one I enjoyed was Antarctica. That was because there was so little to study there. Once you had mastered penguins and ice sheets, you were pretty much home free. But take South America as an example. They must have five or six hundred different countries down there. I was not only expected to know everyone of them, but also their capitols, their rivers, their mountain ranges, their languages and worst of all, their exports. The exports were the hardest, except for the country down there which exported guano. I don’t recall which one that was, but it was fun to learn about guano. The same could not be said for magnesium, chrome, coal, tin, copper and whatever else can be stolen from mother earth to be turned into something that we now know, destroys the soil, pollutes the atmosphere or causes cancer in the body.
You try to recall the major exports of Columbia. Today that is an easy question, cocaine (do you suppose they teach that now?)but in 1965 it was a bunch of metals you had never heard of. You may also recall that the names of all the rivers in South America are in Spanish (or Portuguese) which makes them that much tougher to lean. Do you think that you could locate Uruguay on a map ?
Australia was O.K. because about half of the lessons were on marsupials. Everyone likes Kangaroos. Plus, it was only one big country and the divisions were pretty easy to identify. The aborigines were barely mentioned in those days. Today you would spend lots of time on them. In those days you did not worry so much about anyone labeled “primitive”, unless they had an interesting sideline, like Pygmies in Africa or Rainforest dwellers in Brazil. Which reminds me, you spent an awful lot of time on the Rainforest. Today it is always referred to as the “vanishing Rainforest”. It will be bad for everyone if the Rainforest vanishes, but at least it will take out a big chunk of Geography that students have to learn.
Since the breakup of the soviet Union and the end of colonialism, I bet fifty to a hundred new countries have been added to the world map. At least I only had to study the USSR. I would have never made it if I’d had to study, Georgia, Ukraine, and all of those “stans” that used to make up the Soviet Union. The same goes for Yugoslavia. Of course, there are fewer Germanys and Vietnams to study these days, so today’s students have got that going for them. But there is still Tundra, there are a few ice sheets left, I imagine that some of the Laplanders still use reindeer for all of their needs and migrate across different borders.. My guess is that the study of Geography now is more a study of the environment and to some extent Anthropology. I would have liked that a lot better. I wonder if Albania’s principle export is still chrome ? I learned that from a sit-com, not in a Geography class.