Thursday, September 07, 2017


Every now and then someone realizes that the artificial boundaries we’ve drawn all over our maps have little to do with the actual terrain they divide and assign.  So then they try their hand at drawing a new, more logical, more responsive map.  I do that myself, considering myself a citizen of the old Blackfeet range rather than “Montana.”  Then the watersheds and climate, the jet streams and aquifers become significant; but even deeper the drift of the tectonic plates that buckled up the Rockies and creased the Mississippi to drain off the melting glacial intrusion are worth considering.  Deep this and deep that.  It’s sort of a fad, but it’s one with results, if only breaking us out of our habits.  For instance, the boundaries of the Blackfeet territory were dynamic — never frozen, but always responding to neighbors and nature.

At first the land was governed only by natural law and possibly some “gentlemen’s understandings” about who could hunt where.  But then came the European habit of setting mathematically drawn boundaries and passing human law about what went on from this side to that side.  There are advantages to contradicting natural law, like drawing up a reservation that is an ecotone so there is some mountain and some prairie.  That way, some can build resorts and some can establish wheat or grazing.  If one goes bad, there’s still the other inside the bounds.  This has benefitted the Blackfeet.

Contrast with the Flathead Valley where the natural bounds are mountains and the valley floor is a lake, at it’s lowest ebb since all the glacial water has gone on through to the Snake and then the Columbia and then to the Pacific Ocean.  But anyway that reservation was drawn up as a checkerboard — white land alternating with red land.  The consequences are still playing out but generally it is a fertile and slightly milder place than the east side of the Rockies.  The altitude of West Glacier is 3215.  The altitude of East Glacier is 4823.  Since it is the Rockies that make the Chinook wind on the east side, the west side has no wind but is prone to temperature inversions that seal rain and smoke under a lid.

Bob Scriver always claimed that the Flathead Valley wasn’t supposed to be part of Montana and was gerrymandered away from Idaho because there were rumors of gold in the valley.  So far no one has found it.  The valley folks tend to be “blue”, so the political Eastern part of Montana — quite “red” — would be glad to give the valley to Idaho.  The Idaho Panhandle (red) would not be pleased to acquire the blue Flathead.  The extreme right has been around that panhandle a long time in various forms.  I don’t know why, except that it’s relatively unsettled with room for renegades.  The Flathead Valley is getting crowded.

Here’s another way to look at maps, so that it is not the boundaries but the mercantile connections — travel and shipping — that are drawn on the land.

Parag Khanna is the author of the new book “Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization,” in which he argues that the arc of global history is undeniably bending toward integration. Instead of the boundaries that separate sovereign nations, the lines that we should put on our maps are the high-speed railways, broadband cables and shipping routes that connect us, he says. And instead of focusing on nation-states, we should focus on the dozens of mega-cities that house most of the world’s people and economic growth.”

Khanna’s map leaves the northern prairies completely out — he doesn’t even draw in the High Line of the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, much less the parallel Canadian railway on the other side of the border.  In fact, the maps don’t cross national boundaries.  There is only one viable route in Montana across the Rockies and that’s through Marias Pass which runs roughly along the southern border of Glacier National Park.  It is often blocked by floods, avalanches and snow slides.  On the eastern end it originates on the Blackfeet Reservation, but they have never capitalized on that.  In fact, they have woken late to the pipelines and energy transmissions that cross their land.

There’s often been discussion about building fast train lines between two major cities of Montana: Great Falls and Billings — or at least from Helena to Billings.  The argument is that closer ties and accessibility would grow both cities as well as the state.  Today the ties are through airplanes, but they — again — are vulnerable to our harsh weather and don’t always fill up enough to pay their way.  Maybe Skype and the internet in general all the internet makes the question moot.

“The good news for America is we have so many major cities that we have a distributed economy. Other countries are not so lucky. Russia is bigger than America, but it has one city that drives the whole country.”

It is not so much moving people as moving things that keeps the railways and trucks busy.  If one is talking commerce.  If one is talking the influx of people from other countries, the issues are different.  Where will they land?

There is also the problem than our federal government is tied to state identity — so many Reps from this or that state, only two Senators from each state. The Senate intends two elite and senior people (modeled on the House of Lords); the other is supposed to speak for the common man and the numbers are determined by raw populaton.  If states are submerged into regions, what happens to that bicameral scheme?

“The reason this relates to North America is because, if you think about strategy in the geological terms, you realize that if the U.S., Canada and Mexico unite their energy, water, agriculture and labor resources, you create a continental empire that is more powerful than America is. I’ve not even mentioned the Arctic, which of course Canada controls half of, which is becoming a very strategic geography as the Arctic ice melts. Canada is going to potentially be the world’s largest food producer in 20-25 years as a result of climate change.” 

Not only that, the melting Arctic opens up shipping and resources that were inaccessible.  Russia knows this.

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