It should go without saying that, after eight days off the bike, it felt good to get out yesterday. I wasn’t sure what I’d be thinking about or how my legs would feel, but it didn’t take long for it all to settle in.
I just drove from Philadelphia to San Diego — my daughter borrowed my car for a couple of months and I flew out to retrieve it. Though I logged a lot of interstate miles, I made sure to get off the freeway for at least a couple stretches of road each day. I drove some state and county roads, and even a few dirt roads used mostly by farmers in the Midwest. I wanted to be places I’ve never been and see things I’d never seen. Mission accomplished. Those stretches of road, off the interstate, were the highlights of my summer.
The landscape of this country has always inspired me. It’s as diverse as the people who’ve inhabited it through the millennia. So when I chose the audiobook 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (2005), by Charles Mann, I thought it would be the perfect soundtrack as I traversed and viewed this thoroughly modern landscape.
I read 1491 from cover to cover shortly after it was published, and I’ve listened to the updated audiobook twice since. It’s a fascinating account of the Americas prior to the European influence. It dispells, and often times blows out of the water, many conceptions and ideas we have of pre-Columbian Americas.
When the book was released in 2005, it was reviewed well by book critics, but academics — historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists pushed back. Academia suggested Mann took too many big leaps at once. In the decade and a half since being published, academia has caught up with Mann’s big leaps, and many support his far reaching thesis.
Mann makes four major arguments in the book and subtly sneaks in two lesser ones toward the end…
- That the Americas were settled much longer ago than previously believed. Some estimates, based on archaeological evidence, suggest that human beings walked in the Americas as far back as 30,000 to 35,000 years ago.
- The population of the Americas was significantly greater at the time Europeans arrived. Estimates vary, but when they’re ammended, it’s always upward. Many scholars believe that the population of pre-Colombian Americas was between 80 million and 100 million.
- That pre-Columbian civilizations were greater, more complex, and interacted with one-another more than previously believed.
- That American natives manipulated the land and wildlife to such a degree that they not only influenced, but created the landscape we know today. Assumptions that we’ve made about everything from bison population, to forests in New England, and the grasslands of the Midwest, are likely out of step with how they came into being.
Two lesser arguments that Mann makes…
- The men who forged the documents that shaped our lives — the Founders, may have been influenced as much in matters of personal liberty, limited government, and personal responsibility by the natives they interacted with on a regular basis — more so even, than the enlightenment all-stars of France at the time.
- That had the natives not succumb so quickly and in such large number to the diseases the Europeans gifted them, Europeans would have been no match for the natives in warfare and claiming eminent domain. At best, Europeans may have played a much smaller role in the advancement of the nation and exploitation of its resources. Mann presents evidence, from New England all the way to the Peru, that on an even playing field, natives of all varieties were better warriors and more prepared for battle and the Europeans. They lacked only the numbers due to the diseases that cut them down by as much is 85% in the first 150 years.
As I said, 1491 was the perfect book to accompany me on a trip from the East Coast to Southern California. From the forests of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, through the farms of the upper Midwest, to the great plains and the grasslands, across the Rocky Mountains, and into the desert southwest, 1491 was a great tour guide, providing detail and meaningful lessons in how far we’ve come and how far we fallen — simultaneously.
This is what I think about when I ride — and drive… Jhciacb
It’s back to the bike for me this week. And as much I enjoyed my travels, it’ll be nice to get back into the routine again. Oh, and there’s this from Robert Jon & The Wreck. Enjoy…
(all images taken from an iPhone 11. No color adjustments, and only slight contrast adjustments on a few)