Day 265: Ear-Marking The Confluences

originally published September 21, 2012

One of the greatest things about the Internet is its vast repository of seemingly inane and/or insane projects. I tell myself this in the mirror every morning; sometimes this is the only way I can get through the day.

There is a metaphorical plate of warm, crispy bacon in my soul for the insane – yet in a way necessary – online Curators With A Mission, whether it be one man’s quest to torture his neighbor with rotting meat, a musician’s aim to cover the songs of the Beatles with the ukulele in the forefront, or some schmuck who wants to see if he can write a thousand words a day for a thousand straight days (no link needed for that one).

It is with this toasty dish of affection that I happily embrace the existence of the Degree Confluence Project, a concept which was created for the simple reason of why the hell not. It’s a brilliant idea, and with well over fifteen years of mileage behind it, the project has turned into a masterpiece of because-it’s-there-ness.

Here’s the idea: the world is, as you have probably heard, divided by latitude and longitude. There are 64,442 intersections of integer (meaning no decimals) latitude and longitudes around the world, where the invisible lines cross. Ruling out the scads of intersections around the poles, where you can cross ten degrees of longitude in a single stride, and eliminating all the ocean intersections, there are over 16,000 intersections which meet the site’s requirements.

The Project aims to capture photos, along with a brief narrative by the visitor, of every applicable intersection of latitude and longitude around the world. The site presently hosts almost 100,000 photos, despite still missing visits to about 10,000 of the available intersections around the globe.

So why bother with this? What’s the point?

The site offers a few answers to this: “randomness that emerges from strict order”, a connection to the heart of a given region, a desire to watch a given point in space evolve over time…

I don’t really see the need for a reason. Anybody who has devoted the most passing of morsels of their time looking at a globe has probably wondered – consciously or unconsciously – what it looks like where any two of those invisible lines meet. This is a snippet of history, of past and present. Not a lot of these sites are found in metropolitan areas; some are on private property, and a lot of them are in the wilderness.

A trio of explorers hiked through the flora of Waterton National Park along the southern boundary of my home province, Alberta. This shot is from the junction of 49 degrees north and 114 degrees west.

Imagine, you spend a day skirting the cutline, forging through an untempered tree orgy, presumably hacking at branches, vines and three-headed hydra to get to this spot. A spot just like one five feet away, except your portable digital GPS readout registers all zeroes after the decimal. You take some pictures. You’re done. Go home.

The Project is happy to accept submissions for water-logged confluences, so long as there’s a smidgen of land dotting the horizon. This shot, taken in 2004 from about 9.6 miles off the shore of Isola di Capraia, a part of Tuscany, covers the meeting of 43 degrees north and 10 degrees east.

185 countries are represented at this site, and finding photos is tremendously easy. Alex Jarrett, the visionary who came up with the idea to capture snippets of the world and present it this way, has been toiling on this labor since February, 1996. He has amassed an army of volunteers who have scoured the earth, planting snapshots as flags, united under the colors of exploration, curiosity, and batshit arbitrariness.

New Zealand has a total of 34 confluences scattered among its islands, with only half covered. If you’re done touring the settings of the Lord of the Rings films (“Hey! Here’s that path from that scene when they were walking!”), and you’ve given up hunting down the elusive toothbrush fence, you can carve out your own little slice of the web by covering one or more of the untouched bases around the country.

Most of them are off the coast, of course. The one pictured above was located on a private farm. Jarrett strongly discourages trespassing, but provides a handy form letter to give to landowners for those who hope to snap a few precious confluence pictures. He has thought of everything, it seems.

Not every confluence point will take its photographer to a rural landscape. On Halloween, 2006, A guy named Woody Harrell drove from his home in Mississippi up to Knoxville, Tennessee to fire off a few shots of the intersection of 36 degrees north and 84 degrees west, right in some lady’s backyard. Naturally, the homeowner had no idea that her land was the nexus of two invisible map-lines. I assume the value of her home quadrupled immediately, and she retired to a palace made of pure gold.

Okay, she probably didn’t care. But that’s the beauty of the internet. Somewhere, somebody will be looking at their laptop screens and they’ll care. Again, this is something else I tell myself in the mirror every morning.

On the fringe of Dallas, Texas, the intersection of 33 degrees north and 97 degrees west appears to be in a prison yard. Maybe hold off on visiting this one.

Over in Luxemburg, the nation commemorated its only confluence point (50 degrees north, 6 degrees east) with a metal pole. It’s not much to look at, but at least they’re making an effort.

This one was a bit surprising. While 0 degrees latitude (the equator) and 0 degrees longitude (straight through Greenwich, England) meet somewhere in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, I wanted to find something along one of those lines. The above photo was taken in Ecuador, almost six miles outside Monjas Bajo. This is where 78 degrees west encounters the equator: over 15,000 feet above sea level and ensconced in snow. I didn’t expect to see snow in the middle of the planet’s ample bulge.

This is why this Project, though it may appear trivial and insignificant on the surface, is in fact inarguably valuable. Jarrett encourages repeated visits; the appearance of a confluence can change over time, and this site is the perfect place to document that. These are seemingly arbitrary points on our planet, all sharing the unique link of our geographical tradition.

As far as crazy online projects go, I concede that this guy has me beat.

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