10,000 miles

One of the items my local choir is singing is a medley of the American folk songs Shenandoah (which I previously knew) and He’s gone away (which I didn’t). Because of the folk origins of both songs, information about them is confused and confusing. Shenandoah might be the Oneida Iroquois chief (“I love your daughter”) or the river in Virginia and West Virginia (“Away, you rolling river”) or both. On the other hand “Oh Shenandoah, I love your daughter” might just be a poetic way of saying “I love a young woman who lives in the Shenandoah Valley”.

The only information I could find about He’s gone away is that it’s from North Carolina. It contains the line “Look away over Yandro”. Where is Yandro? It probably isn’t. There is a possibility that it’s a local name for a local watercourse or mountain which (the name) didn’t survive, but the consensus of opinion on a discussion site for choral directors is that it’s a local pronunciation of yonder (indeed some versions of the words render it “over Yondro”, which might have originated as “over yondro”). One participant linked to what looks like a personal blog which claims that yandro means “the place we put our hopes and our longings. It is the place of reunions dreamt of fondly. It is the place, wherever it may be, that we meet our hearts”.  Yeah, right. That blog is private, so I can’t check its writer’s credentials.

I sent a message to a former colleague/Facebook friend who lives in Tennessee. She immediately replied that it’s really “over yonder” and may have wondered what on earth I was talking about until she did her own research and found that really is Yandro (or Yondro). She found this page (Jim Moran), which I hadn’t seen (it was there in my search results but I hadn’t looked at it). It has videos of various performances, and a discussion of the song but not of the word Yandro. He compares He’s gone way to Shenandoah and The water (river) is wide/O waly waly (and Wikipedia).

Another line in the song is “He’s coming back, if he goes ten thousand miles”. That immediately reminded me of the song variously known as Fare thee well or 10,000 miles, an English folk song best known in the version by Mary Chapin Carpenter used in my favourite movie, Fly away home (non-spoiler trailer, spoiler fan edit – well guess how it ends: a) she succeeds, or b) she fails). Another song which uses the same distance is an Irish/Australian folk song Ten thousand miles away, in which the distance is more literal, referring to someone (either the singer or her/his love) being transported as a convict to Australia.

So what is it about ten thousand miles? The circumference of the Earth is approximately 24,900 miles/40,070 km, meaning that antipodal points are approximately 12,450 miles/20,035 km apart. But sailing ships use nautical miles, which are slightly longer, and this converts to approximately 10,818 nautical miles. But song lyrics do not have to be exact, and we can make some allowance for approximation and poetry.

Aeroplane flights can be close to a direct line (note that a direct line on a three-dimensional globe doesn’t always look like a direct line on a two-dimensional map – aeroplane routes almost always looked curved on a map). But sailing voyages can’t travel any great distance in a direct line because of all that land in the way. The First Fleet, which transported convicts to Australia in 1787/8, travelled approximately 15,000 miles/24,000 km in visiting Rio de Janeiro and getting round Africa.

Because the northern hemisphere is mainly land and the southern hemisphere mainly water, there are very few antipodal points on land. Africa, Europe and most of Asia is antipodal to the Pacific, and North America to the Indian. Conversely, Australia is antipodal to the north Atlantic and most of South America to the north Pacific. So the only antipodal points on land are clustered around Chile and Argentina with China and Mongolia, northern South America with South-East Asia, New Zealand with Spain/Portugal, Africa and western Asia with a few Pacific islands, and Australia with Bermuda and the Azores. The north and south pole are antipodal but the former is not on land. The east and west poles are a silly joke by A A Milne in one of this Winnie-the-Pooh books.

What is the longest distance mentioned in a song lyric? Space oddity (Wikipedia, video) by David Bowie mentions one hundred thousand miles (and I can’t resist also linking Chris Hadfield’s version, more information about which). There’s something about round numbers. (The international space station isn’t that far away. It isn’t even 10,000 miles away. It’s in low earth orbit, between 205 and 270 miles/330 and 435 km, which means you could drive there in a morning, if your car could drive straight up. Only the astronauts of Apollo 8 and 10-17 have travelled more than 10,000 miles away from the Earth, though many now have travelled more than 100,000 miles around in a circle (or ellipse).)

But there’s more. My research also found a Taiwanese movie titled (in English) 10,000 miles. (Google Translate says that the Mandarin title 一萬公里的約定 means Ten thousand kilometres agreement.) Wikipedia provides no synopsis, but IMDb provides:

Kevin, a young, fearless runner from a rough neighborhood in Taiwan, falls in love with his tough coach Ellie. When Ellie becomes sick and distant, Kevin fights to survive and conquer the famous 10,000 Miles Silk Road Ultramarathon in order to win her heart.

The two critics quoted by Rotten Tomatoes are scathing.

The 10,000 Miles Silk Road Ultramarathon is and isn’t a real thing. There really is an ultramarathon race in Iran, but it’s ‘only’ 250 km (the Integral division) or 150 km (the Lite division), run over six stages (?on six successive days, or with rest days). That’s a whole lotta nope from me. When I was in my first year of high school, I ran 100 miles. One of the teachers had mapped out 1 and 2 mile courses around the neighbourhood of the school, which we could accumulate to 100 miles.

And a pair of friends from Singapore have a website named 10,000 miles to chronicle their travels.

(PS I like being discursive, but a single post encompassing a local choir rehearsal and the International Space Station is probably a record.)


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