Some of us like maps. Some of us don’t dislike them as much as we never thought much about them. If you study geography, you spend a lot of time with maps. Map people love when non-map people confuse Sweden with Switzerland — the latter is where they yodel, the home of Heidi; the former is home to thin blond people whose spoken language sounds like a 78 rpm phonograph record played at 33 rpm. These non-map people don’t  even know where Minnesota is and don’t seem to care.

A recent television show featured a segment in which passersby were asked to point to and name any country on a map of the world. Most of them couldn’t even point to where they lived. North America? USA? Don’t tell me. We’re going to take care of that right here and now. Because where you live influences how you think, individually and as a group.

What piqued my interest in all this was when years ago I was visiting relatives in Missouri — isn’t that a river — and noticed in a nearby athletic complex that all the dugouts where team players sat in between play had roofs to protect from the sun in a climate where warmth was never too far away, in the wings, so to speak. Places like Atlanta, New Orleans, Memphis, Kansas City. City planners in those places must take the sun and heat into their calculations just as we up north must consider how much snow to expect and how cold it will get.

In search of an answer I came across this astonishing fact: North America is the only continent in the world with its major mountain ranges – the Rockies and Appalachians —  situated in a north-south axis. This choice of nature means that for us in North America, the cold Canadian air that sits over the North Pole has an unimpeded path directly to the Equator, allowing arctic air masses a straight path to your backyard.

In contrast,  Europe’s major mountain chain, the Alps, is situated in an east-west axis. This results in a warming of the air mass traveling over the mountains. That is why Florence, Italy, on the same latitude as Bath, Maine — the 43rd Parallel — has a normal average high temperature in January of 48 degrees while Bath has an average high January temperature of 30 degrees, almost 20 degrees colder.

This kind of geographic learning should be taught in our schools. Geography, the study of place, can teach you why Florentines spend their winters drinking expresso outdoors on the piazza while we in North America ride our snowmobiles on frozen lakes and fish for smelt.

Don’t forget that most of Europe lies above 45 degrees north, and without the Alps and the Gulf Stream —  also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, a steady river of warm water that ends up off the Norwegian coast — its climate would be more like ours. Had that been the case, might Bath be known as the City of Domes?

That’s why geography is important. You’re welcome.

Bob Kalish is a Coastal Journal contributor. He can be reached at [email protected]