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Britain: only recently an island

A great part of Britain's identity is wrapped up in the fact that it's a part of Europe, but it stands apart, quite literally, as an island. According to new sonar studies of the Channel which runs between Britain and France, that wasn't always the case. Until about 200,000 years ago, Britain was a peninsula of Europe, and could be walked to from mainland France -- as many early humans did. So what severed the soil? An almost unimaginably huge flood, possibly triggered by a small earthquake, pushed a giant, river-fed lake through the narrow isthmus which once stood where the English Channel now flows; then, the proverbial dam broke. At its peak, the flood may have discharged up to a million cubic meters of water per second, making it one of the most significant known megafloods in the Earth's history.

gorge.jpgTo Pacific Northwesterners in the know, this may sound a bit familiar: the beautiful Columbia River Gorge which separates Oregon and Washington wasn't there a few hundred thousand years ago, either. The end of an ice age sent huge amounts of rocky glacier meltwater cascading (no pun intended) from eastern Washington toward the sea, and with it, it took some really significant chunks of what was then simply the Cascade mountain range. Which is why the Gorge boasts some of the highest and most impressive waterfalls in the country; until that precipitous flood, those were rivers flowing through a more or less uninterrupted mountain range! At its height, the waters were over 1,000 feet deep, moved at more than 90 miles per hour and carrying house-sized boulders. Perfect for a little x-treme tubing, ice age style.

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Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
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History
The Concept of the American 'Backyard' is Newer Than You Think
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
A home in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington Library in San Marino, California

Backyards are as American as apple pie and baseball. If you live in a suburban or rural area, chances are good that you have a lawn, and maybe a pool, some patio furniture, and a grill to boot.

This wasn’t always the case, though. As Smithsonian Insider reports, it wasn’t until the 1950s that Americans began to consider the backyard an extension of the home, as well as a space for recreation and relaxation. After World War II, Americans started leaving the big cities and moving to suburban homes that came equipped with private backyards. Then, after the 40-hour work week was implemented and wages started to increase, families started spending more money on patios, pools, and well-kept lawns, which became a “symbol of prosperity” in the 1950s, according to a new Smithsonian Institution exhibit.

A man mows his lawn in the 1950s
In this photo from the Smithsonian Institution's exhibit, a man mows his lawn in Long Beach, California, in the 1950s.
Maynard L. Parker/Courtesy of The Huntington
Library in San Marino, California

Entitled "Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Back Yard," the exhibition includes photographs, advertisements, and articles about backyards from the 1950s and 1960s. The traveling display is currently on view at the Temple Railroad & Heritage Museum in Temple, Texas, and from there it will head to Hartford, Connecticut, in December.

Prior to the 1950s, outdoor yards were primarily workspaces, MLive.com reports. Some families may have had a vegetable garden, but most yards were used to store tools, livestock, and other basic necessities.

The rise of the backyard was largely fueled by materials that were already on hand, but hadn’t been accessible to the average American during World War II. As Smithsonian Insider notes, companies that had manufactured aluminum and concrete for wartime efforts later switched to swimming pools, patio furniture, and even grilling utensils.

A family eats at a picnic table in the 1960s
A family in Mendham, New Jersey, in the 1960s
Molly Adams/Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Maida Babson Adams American Garden Collection

At the same time, DIY projects started to come into fashion. According to an exhibit caption of a Popular Mechanics article from the 1950s, “‘Doing-it-yourself’ was advertised as an enjoyable and affordable way for families to individualize their suburban homes.” The magazine wrote at the time that “patios, eating areas, places for play and relaxation are transforming back yards throughout the nation.”

The American backyard continues to grow to this day. As Bloomberg notes, data shows that the average backyard grew three years in a row, from 2015 to 2017. The average home last year had 7048 square feet of outdoor space—plenty of room for a sizable Memorial Day cookout.

[h/t Smithsonian Insider]

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