Tales of Father Goose

Hundreds of fairy tales, children’s stories, and nursery rhymes are attributed to Mother Goose, an imaginary author with origins in France and England. There’s a reason why Mother Goose was given credit for these classic yarns: Father Goose is a hot-tempered, dim-witted, asshole.

I rode on the Wadhams to Avoca Trail yesterday afternoon, an approximately ten mile rail trail in St. Clair County, west of Port Huron. It was a lovely day for a ride, with temperatures in the mid-60s, plenty of sun, and only a light breeze coming from the northeast (meaning it would be mostly blowing across my path both ways, which is ideal).

About three miles into the ride, I saw a large male Canada goose standing along the side of the trail, next to the wetlands that run along quite a bit of the trail. As I approached, he turned to look at me and started honking, and I started to think he might attack me as I rode by. This turned out to be an accurate suspicion, because as I got closer he started to run at me and then flew, glancing off my back as I passed him.

He was probably defending a nest just off the trail. Geese can be very protective of their young, though in general they’re pretty ornery all the time. In any case, it certainly got my heart rate elevated as a pedaled like hell to get away from him. No harm done, though, so I put our little encounter out of my mind.

So much so that when I returned to the same spot on the way back to Wadhams, there he was again, but this time I didn’t notice until he was already flying at me. This time, having forgotten that he might be there, I hadn’t slowed down, so I had a head start in speed. Though my cruising speed 12 mph isn’t very fast, really, even geese can’t go 0-12 in three seconds, so he didn’t make contact this time, though I may have nightmares about the sight of a large goose flying right behind me:

“When Canada Geese Attack” Photo by Chris Huggins via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

(Obviously, I didn’t have time to take a photo, but Chris Huggins’ photo is a close representation of what I saw yesterday.)

For those who doubt my judgment that Father Goose was male, I offer these defenses:

  1. He was larger than the typical Canada goose, which is consistent with difference in sizes – on average – between males and females of this species;
  2. He was more immediately aggressive than the typical Canada goose, which is consistent with the difference in temperament – on average – between males and females of this species; and
  3. He was stupider than the typical Canada goose, which is consistent with the difference – on average – between males and females of all species.

Canada geese are also regular inhabitants of the college campus where I used to work in Port Huron, where their strolling of the sidewalks occasionally results in aggression, especially in the spring when their young are nearby, and always results in goose shit all over the sidewalks, which is the genesis of what we called the “Goose Poop Two-Step,” a ritual dance familiar to every student and employee of the college.

In short, Father Goose was the equivalent of the guy at the bar who takes a swing at you unexpectedly for looking sideways at him after he’s had seven beers and a couple of shots, except the goose didn’t have the excuse of being drunk.

Imaginary islands

When I travel to a new place or try a new restaurant, I like to find out details about it ahead of time. Fortunately, the internet makes that simple for me these days. I can get reviews, photos, street views, and detailed directions on a map.

Sometimes, though, when I get there, the place doesn’t seem like it was described. Maybe the reviewers had a higher (or lower) opinion of the restaurant. Perhaps the location looks different at the time of year I’m visiting. Occasionally, the place isn’t there any more; they closed or changed names, and what I was expecting to find no longer exists. Online sources like Google or Yelp depend on crowdsourcing of updated information, so if no one reports the change, the database doesn’t get corrected.

But those places allegedly did exist at some point. (Yes, someone might have made them up! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Long before we were all interconnected to everything, travelers depended on maps – the paper kind. So if something changed, it didn’t get corrected until the next version of the map was printed. Older travelers likely can tell stories about roads that were renumbered, upgraded, or even closed, requiring a last-minute detour to continue to the destination.

The fewer people that have been to a place, the higher the risk that errors creep in (and don’t get corrected!).

Here’s a map of Canada, which in 1744 included what is now the state of Michigan:

Carte des Lacs du Canada, by M. Bellin (1744). Source: Michigan State University Map Library

The map, drawn by N. Bellin, Ingenieur et Hydrographe de la Marine (engineer and marine hydrographer), was created from information contained in the writings of Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, a French Jesuit priest, historian, and explorer who traveled extensively in the Great Lakes region in the early 1720s.

It’s a pretty good representation of the region, with all five Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair given their present-day names, along with a number of familiar rivers including the Grand (la Grande Rivière), the Huron (R. des Hurons), the Raisin (R. au Raisin, which means “Grape River” in French, not “Raisin River”), and closer to my home, the Belle (R. de Belle Chasse, or “Beautiful Hunting River”). I also appreciate the honesty of the notation in northern Ontario, “Ce Canton set entièrement inconnu,” which means “This region is entirely unknown.”

Apparently, most of Lake Superior was also inconnu, because if you look closely, you’ll notice there are five fairly large islands shown, Isle Royale, Isle Philippeaux (along with its alternate name, Isle Minong), Isle Maurepas, Isle Ponchartrain, and Isle Sainte Anne.

Lake Superior from 1744 map
Detail of Lake Superior from Carte des Lacs du Canada, by M. Bellin (1744). Source: Michigan State University Map Library

Isle Royale, of course, is the only one of the five that actually exists. The others were figments of Father Charlevoix’s imagination, likely intended to impress his patron, the Count of Maurepas, Jean-Frederic Phelypeaux. Here’s an accurate map of the Lake Superior watershed; none of the four imaginary islands appear.

Lake Superior watershed map
Lake Superior watershed map by Environment Canada (accessed from InfoSuperior.com)

Isle Phillippeaux (as named on the map) is named after the count, while Maurepas is named for the count’s home region, Pontchartrain for the count’s estate, and Ste. Anne after his patron saint. (While it’s possible that Maurepas is a renamed Michipicoten Island, considering the overall license Charlevoix took in apparently inventing the other islands, I’m not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.)

This fabrication wouldn’t have been a big deal, except that the errors weren’t realized until after cartographer John Mitchell used Bellin’s map in constructing his 1755 map of North America. Mitchell’s map was considered to be so definitive that it was mentioned in the terms of the Treaty of Paris (1783) that set the border between British North America (Canada) and the new United States of America following the Revolutionary War.

… Thence along the middle of said Water Communication into the Lake Huron, thence through the middle of said Lake to the Water Communication between that Lake and Lake Superior; thence through Lake Superior Northward of the Isles Royal & Phelipeaux to the Long Lake; …

From Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris (1783)

Fortunately, the treaty didn’t put the boundary between Isle Royale and the imaginary Isle Phillipeaux, or worse, between it and the Keewenaw Peninsula (shown as “Pte. de Kiouéounan” on the Bellin map), which would have been even more difficult to define. The United Kingdom and the U.S. had numerous disputes over the border in the following years; a border defined by an imaginary island would have complicated things considerably.

In any case, Charlevoix’s invented Lake Superior islands were accepted as fact for several generations before enough people traveled to the region and began noticing that there was no land where their map said there should be. Eventually, the maps were corrected.

How many “maps” do we trust every day, putting our faith in the honesty and good intentions of the mapmakers? How willing are we to change our minds when the “map” turns out to be wrong?

Notes

Fr. Charlevoix is the namesake of several places in the U.S. and Canada, including Charlevoix County, its county seat of Charlevoix, and Lake Charlevoix in Michigan (both pronounced with the Anglicized “Shar’-le-voy”) and the municipalités régionales de comté Charlevoix and Charlevoix-Est (French pronunciation: “Sharl’-vwah”) in Québec.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Let’s try a real-life aircheck.

When I worked in radio a long time ago, I had to pop a cassette tape into a recorder at the start of every shift. It would turn on every time I switched the microphone on, so I could review my show, either on my own (if I’d been diligent, which I was not) or with my program director (which was supposed to be weekly, but since he wasn’t any more diligent than I was, tended to be every month or so). When I did take the time to listen to my “aircheck,” though, I usually discovered speech tendencies that I wasn’t aware of, so I could try to stop doing them.

Since I eventually left radio after seven years, with the largest market I worked in being Mount Pleasant, Michigan, you can see how that turned out.

I thought about airchecks the other day when I caught myself expounding at some length on some topic of great importance (to me, anyway). There are times when such a detailed discussion is appropriate, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t one of them. I’m also pretty sure I was talking in circles and probably repeating things the person I was talking to had already heard from me before. In other words, I was likely overbearing, and worse, boring.

Do you ever listen to yourself talk? Maybe we need airchecks in our everyday lives.

365 days

This will be a short post (as opposed to a shitpost), because while I want to mark this day I don’t intend to make a really big deal out of it.

On March 8, 2020, I stopped at The Brass Rail in downtown Port Huron, Michigan, after work. I used to do that once or twice a week, usually having a couple of beers and chatting with the regulars or meeting some friends. Afterwards, I drove home. Just another typical social evening.

I had decided to pass on alcohol for a week or so because the city’s big St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl was coming up the following Saturday. As it happened, that’s about the time concerns about the pandemic started to ramp up in Michigan, so the pub crawl was canceled (though a few people still ventured out since restaurants and bars hadn’t been closed yet).

On the actual St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, everyone was sent home from the college to figure out how to teach, learn, and run a college remotely. Since I was concerned about being out in public at this point, I stopped eating out at restaurants and obviously stopped going to The Brass Rail temporarily. Since I’ve never been one to drink at home – my alcohol consumption more or less requires social interaction – I also “temporarily” started a streak of days without alcohol, which has today reached 365 days.

#drycovidyear

There have definitely been times that a cold beer would have been nice, but once I realized I’d started a streak, I decided that I’d see if I could make it to three months, then six months, and then a full year. Success.

This is not a post about the joys of not drinking, or even a recommendation that anyone else do so. That’s your business, not mine. And I intend to have a beer again, especially now that a year has gone by. Not sure when, though; I sort of have a plan to wait until I can take a trip to Montréal (maybe this summer, maybe this fall?) and have my first one in over a year there. Being able to go to Canada and to travel in general would be a good indication that things are close to normal again, and that beer would be a great reward. But now that a year has passed, I don’t feel like the streak necessarily needs to continue, so we’ll see.

It’s an arbitrary milestone, but a year of doing (or not doing) something seems significant.

Ken Jennings is the obvious choice, even before we see the other guest hosts

As a long-time watcher of Jeopardy! I feel compelled to cast my vote for the next permanent host of the show. After the death of Alex Trebek in November, the producers announced that a series of guest hosts would fill in starting in January before a final announcement was made in May.

The list of guest hosts is intriguing, but the competition is already over as far as I’m concerned. Ken Jennings, the greatest Jeopardy! player of all time, killed it in his six weeks as guest host that ended last Friday. He was engaging, funny, and completely nailed the timing of reading clues and interacting with the contestants. Of course, he got to watch Alex do it more times in person than any other contestants since we won 74 straight games back in 2004. He was my choice long before Alex even announced his cancer diagnosis, and he did nothing to change my mind during his time behind the podium.

The upcoming list of guest hosts includes some interesting names. Only Mike Richards and Katie Couric have definite dates for their hosting gigs. I include my level of interest in seeing each of them as well.

  • Mike Richards, executive producer of Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune (February 22 to March 5). Richards has hosted five TV series in addition to being a game show producer, including Beauty and the Geek and Pyramid on Game Show Network. 3 out of 5; always somewhat interesting to watch the boss try to do the day-to-day work.
  • Katie Couric, television journalist formerly with NBC, CBS, ABC, and Yahoo News (March 8 to 19). I’ve always liked Couric, so 4 out of 5 stars.
  • Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of the Doctor Oz Show. This is the only one I’m not interested in; Dr. Oz has promoted some borderline products and remedies on his show and, along with Dr. Phil, questioned some of the COVID protocols issued by the CDC last year, though he later walked those comments back. 1 out of 5.
  • Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. 5 out of 5, just because quarterbacks on TV can be either naturally gregarious (Tony Romo) or kind of stiff (Phil Simms). I think Rodgers could be good, we’ll see. Rodgers is a former Celebrity Jeopardy! champion, winning in 2015.
  • Anderson Cooper, host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360. 4 out of 5. I like Cooper’s work on CNN, though he can be a bit self-important at times. If he avoids any of that, he should be okay.
  • Savannah Guthrie, co-host of NBC’s Today show. Also 4 out of 5. I don’t know Guthrie’s work as well, since I don’t watch morning shows, but she seems to think on her feet well when I’ve seen her in other reporting or hosting situations.
  • Mayim Bialik, actress and neuroscientist. Bialik has hosted other shows in addition to her well-known acting roles on The Big Bang Theory, Blossom in the 1990s, and her current show, Call Me Kat. 3 out of 5.
  • Bill Whitaker, correspondent for CBS’s 60 Minutes. 2 out of 5, only because I don’t watch 60 Minutes and have no idea who he is.
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent for CNN and associate professor of neurosurgery at Emory University. 3 out of 5. I like Gupta’s work, he always seems like a straight shooter when it comes to personal health issues, and it’ll be interesting to see him try his hand at something like this.

But the Final Jeopardy! answer is: “This former 74-time champion is the obvious choice to be the next host of Jeopardy!” And my response is “Who is Ken Jennings?”