Back in August I took note of the date on which Christopher Columbus set sail on his voyage to the East Indies. Nearly seventy days later (with a stopover in the Canary Islands) Columbus made landfall somewhere near Watling Island in the Bahamas. He was nowhere near his destination.
For some reason the story of Columbus bugs the heck out of me. In elementary school, even though it was a good-quality private school in the 1970s, we still got the "proved the world was round" myth. No sooner was that put to rest than Columbus was de-rehabilitated (if such a word exists) and transformed into a villainous imperialist bringing ecological devastation and insensitive pronouns to the untouched, Eden-like environment of the New World. That's just as much hogwash as his proving the Earth is round.
Christopher Columbus was an absolutely great sailor, on a par with William Bligh. He planned and executed a round-trip across vast expanses of unknown water. He may well have worked out the Atlantic trade wind pattern, a remarkable feat decades ahead of its time.
He was a terrible geographer -- and when his estimate of the Earth's diameter was proved wrong by his own voyages, he began speculating that perhaps the Earth was really pear-shaped, with the New World on a kind of "breast" sticking out of one side. So, far from insisting the Earth is round, Columbus was actually willing to imagine other shapes just to avoid admitting he'd been wrong about something.
And as to his imperialist eco-whateverness, he's as "guilty" as the first human who stepped from Africa to Asia, or the ones who walked from Siberia to Alaska. Happy Columbus Day!