Follow the day and reach for the sun!

“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.”  ~ Christopher Columbus ~

Seeing as an indigenous population stretched all the way from the Bering Strait to Tierra del Fuego at the time of his arrival, and that civilization had been established here in this Western Hemisphere for at least 15,000 years, I’m not exactly about to gore a sacred cow when I say that Columbus did not discover America.

Nor was he the first European to have reached these waters in a big way. Norsemen had preceded him on an ongoing basis by nearly 400 years.  What’s more, Columbus would have been the first to agree that he didn’t discover America, although that’s because he always maintained that he had actually reached Asia.

That said, his were the voyages that opened up these new continents (north and south) to European expansion and all that followed. And so on this day we recognize a man who not only altered the course of American history, but human history as well.  Take for example the biological and ecological “Columbian Exchange” that would effectually transform European, American and African ways of life.

While the New World would soon receive (as an example) horses, pigs, chickens, goats, oxen, cattle, donkeys, sheep, house cats, honey bees, coffee, sugarcane, apples, carrots, guns, the wheel (as a means of transportation) along with the common cold, influenza, malaria and smallpox that would wipe out nearly 90 percent of the native population, the Old World would receive potatoes, tomatoes, rubber, tobacco, corn, chocolate, turkeys, not to mention syphilis and a docile colony or two. And then there was the slave trade…

Not bad for a highly enterprising, slightly misguided Genoan who first went to sea at the age of ten and not only read everything he could about astronomy, history and geography, but leaned to speak Latin, Portuguese and Castilian.  Columbus (Anglicization for Colombo) was also adept at stepping in with an alternative solution.

When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, over a thousand miles from Genoa, the long established Silk Road to China and India was no longer viable for the highly profitable spice, silk and opiate trades. While Portuguese navigators sought a route to Asia around Africa, Columbus and his mapmaker brother Bartholomew came up with a different plan…Go west across the “Ocean Sea”.

His inability to find any backers had little to do with the earth being flat (educated Westerners had understood a global concept since the 4th Century BC).  Actually most European navigators understood something that Columbus never seemed to grasp, that the world is very big (while he believed the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was about 2,300 miles it’s actually 12,200 miles) and that no 15th Century ship could carry the food and water to make such a voyage.

However, having recently fought the pricey Granada War, Spain’s Catholic monarchs were desperate for a competitive trading edge and Ferdinand and Isabella elected to give Columbus’ proposal a shot. The fact that he was devoutly religious and vowed to do his best to convert any non-believers he encountered along the way also helped.

It was a risk that paid off.  He may have had his distances wrong but Christopher Columbus knew his trade winds and over the next decade his four voyages would provide Spain with an enormous (Atlantic) trade advantage for years to come.

Although patently not written with Columbus in mind, today’s selection by Tim DeLaughter rather nicely reflects Columbus’ determination (“reach for the sun”) in the face of adversity (“one more you’re nuts”).  DeLaughter is founder and lead-singer of the Dallas-based choral-symphonic-pop-rock group Polyphonic Spree. Featuring two dozen (!) musicians dressed in white choir robes, the band has moved from record label to record label and music festival to music festival since its start in 2000.

Columbus’ refusal to accept that the new world he had encountered was anything other than Asia is perhaps the main reason the two continents weren’t named for him…although the District of Columbia, two state capitals and at least one major river here in the US were, as were a Canadian province and a South American nation among many other such designations.  When you consider that the anniversary of his (not Amerigo Vespucci’s) arrival is observed (although not necessarily celebrated) annually throughout the Americas and Spain it’s clear that for better AND for worse, Columbus Day is a day to be remembered.

 LISTEN TO TODAY’S SELECTION – Columbus Day 2012 

Light & Day/Follow the Sun

 Light and day is more than you’ll say

Because all

My feelings are more

Than I can let by

Or not

More than you’ve got

Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

 You don’t see me flyin’ to the red

One more you’re done

Just follow the seasons and find the time

Reach for the bright side

You don’t see me flyin’ to the red

One more you’re nuts

Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun

 Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

You don’t see me flyin’ to the red

One more you’re nuts

Just follow the seasons and find the time

Reach for the bright side

You don’t see me flyin’ to the red

One more you’re nuts

Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

 Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

 Just follow the day

Follow the day and reach for the sun!

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