With the possible exception of the equator,
everything begins somewhere.
— C. S. Lewis
Is it our human desire to understand and hopefully control our surroundings that makes us (well, some of us) intent on marking exact measurements of our planet? It might be the OCD tendencies of geologists, cartographers and navigators among us that require them to determine where demarcations occur. Those among us who are less fussy about these things need to realize that determining these things is vital to timekeeping, navigation, and travel (significant benefits for all of us).
Humans have established The Prime Meridian as the basis for navigation and timekeeping. That was our designation, by international scientific agreement. (Proclamation: This is the line from which we will measure.) Concepts like the poles and the equator needed to be found by careful observation and measurement rather than designated. And it’s not like they can use a tape measure from one place to another to find either the poles or the middle! I have no idea how such discoveries are uncovered or agreed upon – but they have been done.
On our recent visit to Ecuador we visited the monument marking The Equator. As with the Prime Meridian, it is indicated clearly, no doubt about it. Latitude 0ᵒ 0’ 0” extends east and west in yellow paint on paved surfaces for hundreds of yards. The monument is in a small park in the town of Mitad del Mundo (yes, middle of the earth) near Quito.
But all is not as it seems! Because the Earth wobbles on its axis just a bit through the year, this equatorial plane perpendicular to the axis moves a bit too. This really only affects precise geophysical issues; for the classroom globe, it is not significant. (But doesn’t it seem just a bit of a fib to be so implicitly definite about it?)
Anyway, this monument is in a relatively new park with exhibits and shops to educate visitors and promote the location. School groups come and go along with tourists like us. The view from the top of the monument is remarkable. Directly east is the highest point on the equator, the snow-covered volcano Cayambe, almost 19,000 feet. I repeat, snow-covered volcano. What an amazing grouping of wonders here!
Geographers among you might understand just how the place was determined. It just makes me feel more secure to know that someone went to the bother to determine and to say, “This is the place!”
As a final question, am I the only one who did not realize that Ecuador is the Spanish word for “equator”? I have heard for years that the country is named that “because it is on the equator,” but the other penny had never dropped for me until now. I am so embarrassed.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
21 January 2016