GREENLAND IS MELTING. DO YOU CARE? Do you even know where it is? I do, and yes I do care and so should you, if you live in Santa Monica.
You’ll never guess how I know anything about Greenland. (Way before Google.)
It’s because I was a stamp collector. From age 7 to late teens, when I got the call from my Uncle Sam and foolishly didn’t just let it ring. You wouldn’t make it past the first day of Basic Training if you pulled out the old stamp albums in the evening, sitting on your bunk, while your fellow grunts were raucously thumbing through Playboy, Popular Mechanics and Modern Warrior. Never mind explaining that it was the hobby of Presidents and Kings. So the stamps got put away, for good. But I’m telling you, it was a great source of knowledge, useful to this day.
And collecting is always fun, watching something you have a passion for expand towards completeness as you pursue it, organizing and enjoying your collectibles. I won a handful of blue ribbons at the New Mexico State Fair for my stamp and coin collections, yes I did. (I’ll wait a moment while you finish sniggering.)
While they sat in boxes for years, rarely pulled out for perusal and pleasure, I took satisfaction knowing that as their worth steadily climbed, like the gold bullion I should have bought but didn’t, someday I could painfully part with them and pay for my son’s college. A year or two, anyway.
It was a false comfort. Timing is everything. And in the time it took for my sprout to reach university age, stamp collecting had plummeted out of favor. So when I reluctantly trudged over to Brosius Stamps and Coins on Main Street, I got the bad news I expected, that my precious collection would pay for a couple of months’ rent on his Santa Cruz apartment, that’s it.
Supply and demand. Too much supply because all the geezers who collected were dying off and their families were dumping it all on a market demand that had dwindled to near zero.
It could have been at least a bittersweet experience to wander in to the Brosius brothers’ relic of a bygone era, tucked away on Main Street, to hand over my childhood labor of love, but there was no sweet. The shop, dating from 1948, was stacked with boxes, everywhere, that I guessed were full of entire collections they had purchased, waiting to be sorted. Therein, the history and stories that stamps and coins carry, and the unknown ones of the people who cherished and then parted with them.
I know where Greenland is because it was one of the pages in my stamp album, and that page showed me a lot as I picked up Greenland stamps here and there. I know what the countryside looks like (no, it’s not all ice, snow, glaciers), their flora and fauna, their currency, what they call themselves, their language, their flag, where in the world they are geographically, who their political leaders and historical heroes were, what their treasured monuments and buildings look like, their lakes and mountains, their art, their livelihoods.
All from stamps, miniature works of art that were sometimes glorious to behold, ornate and brightly, richly dyed, even before you looked closer to see what the details were all about. This is true of most any nation’s stamps, though some were more artistic, more attractive than others. American stamps, up until around the late ’50s, were among the best. (From them I learned the Presidents, in order, what they looked like and when they served, and all sorts of other useful and useless Americana.)
I learned that the people who live in Moscow call it Moskva, Moroccans speak mostly French, after Arabic, and Sweden to a Swede is Sverige (pronounced Sur-idj’, long “i”). You never know about this stuff. You might meet a gorgeous Swedish man or woman (what?? impossible) in a bar and start the conversation off with something like that, that few untraveled Americans would know, and you could be on your way. Just appear erudite and don’t let on that you learned it from your nerdy numismatic days.
So from an early age, I knew my geography. And I was always fascinated by Greenland. What is that humongous island up there at the top?
Greenland was huge on maps because when you try to show a round object like the Earth on a flat, rectangular surface, you either have to cut slices out of it (distracting) or spread out the areas near the top and bottom. So Greenland, the world’s largest island that isn’t a continent, appears way huger than it really is.
WHAT’S ALL THIS GOT TO DO WITH SANTA MONICA? Greenland’s glaciers, covering 81 percent of the island, are melting faster than anyone thought, a recent L.A. Times article brought to my attention. All of the north polar ice could melt and it wouldn’t make much difference, because that ice is floating in the ocean and it’s only displacement. But Greenland’s glaciers, like those at the South Pole, are on land, and when they go, just Greenland’s, you’re looking at world sea levels rising 20-23 feet.
So where in Santa Monica do you live? We’ll lose Harry Shearer’s homes on Ocean Park (hey, he’s a New Orleans guy, he’s used to it, and he can take a cosmic joke — Greenland??), but I’m on the hill at Sixth Street and I’ll gain oceanfront property. Oh yeah.
In 2007 we were flying back from a visit to Ireland. I love to look out below when I’m flying and always fight for the window seat. As the pilot announced we were flying over Greenland I eagerly got close to the window, but slowly withdrew in sadness and a bit of shock. I could see, from way up there, rivers of water pouring off Greenland, all over the place. I knew it had some rivers, but this was different, this wasn’t right, this was Greenland melting, and that was eight years ago.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” —George Bernard Shaw
Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for almost 30 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Come hell or high water. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.