Great American Rail-Trail

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

Lehigh Gorge State Park with River and cyclist on Lehigh Gorge Rail Trail path, Poconos Mountains, near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. Jumping Rocks / Universal Images Group / Getty ImagesBy Natalie Marchant

Thanks to Natalie Marchant for this news posted on EcoWatch:

The U.S. Is Building a Bike Trail That Runs Coast-to-Coast Across 12 States

The Great American Rail-Trail will be almost 6,000km when complete, and will serve 50 million people within 80km of the route. Continue reading

Chance Meetings On Journeys

Whether you ride a bicycle or not, the story below is a perfect discovery in the final days of 2020. It was published in March and presumably Kim Cross wrote most of it prior to the pandemic becoming a focal point of life for most people in the world. It is a reminder of the randomness that comes with nomadic life, in my case best exemplified by a chance encounter at an airport in 1983. It is also a reminder of a bicycle journey Amie and I took in 1988, prior to my starting graduate school, which is a welcome reminder considering the stationary nature of our lives since March.

We were completely inexperienced at distance riding, but going from Missoula, Montana to Jasper, Alberta still seemed like a good idea at the time.  And it was. The first couple hundred miles, until we got to Going-To-The-Sun Road, were strenuous but not beyond our capacity. Then, that road made us wonder if we had made a huge mistake. Somehow we made it to the top, with the cheering support of the group we were riding with, all experienced distance riders.

The next 500 miles included plenty of other challenges, including headwinds so strong at the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park that we pedaled harder downhill than we had going uphill at Going-To-The-Sun. The support we got from, and brief friendships we made with total strangers on the journey is the reason why Kim Cross’s article resonates. Whether you have lived a nomadic life, or wish you had or could, this story is full of reasons to read. Or just look at the pictures and let your imagination ride:

What Happens When Two Strangers Trust the Rides of Their Lives to the Magic of the Universe

LEON HAD BEEN RIDING WEST FOR 309 DAYS. NOEL HAD HEADED EAST FOR 176. THEIR MEETING IN THE DESERT WAS A SMALL MIRACLE.

Once upon a road in Kazakhstan, two men converge in the desert. Strangers born an ocean apart, riding bicycles burdened like camels, they emerge from either horizon, slowly approaching a common point. Day by day, hour after hour, they make their way through a land as flat and featureless as a page without words. Thousands of miles spool out behind them. Thousands more lie ahead.

One rides east. The other, west. Continue reading

Organikos A Decade Ago & Non-Patagonian Beavers

In a brief interview a student recorded my description of the work I was doing in southern Chile from 2008-2010. The Patagonia Expedition Race had secured Wenger’s sponsorship, and now graduate students from Columbia Business School, as well as from Cornell Hotel School, were developing a strategy for how best to use that sponsorship money to achieve lasting conservation results. The patch on the left arm of my jacket shows another sponsor.

Organikos was a minor sponsor compared to Wenger, but in that earlier iteration of Organikos we were already thinking about what is now the 100% Forward commitment.  As a sponsor, I also served coffee from sunrise to sunset at each station along the Race’s 500-mile route. Somewhere I have photos of the race teams drinking Organikos coffee, but at the moment I only find this one of me prepping coffee in the traditional Costa Rican manner to serve to Race volunteers in a farmhouse where we had spent the night on Tierra del Fuego.

In this photo to the left I was waiting for the racers who would soon be arriving at this station in their kayaks. As serious as I appeared to be, it would take nearly a decade to get that coffee launched more formally into the market.

Images Andrew Wilson, Mark Humpfrey, Nicola MaCleod and Bruce Duncan of Team Helly Hansen-Prunesco paddling their way to victory in stage 15 of the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race on the island of Tierra del Fuego in southern Chile. Michael Clark Photography

Not long after the photos above were taken, we accepted a new assignment in India that would put the original idea of Organikos on hold. Recently, when Seth took the name and gave it a clear conservation mission, coffee was still the most viable product to start with. I am reminded of all that thanks to Sandra Laville, and the Guardian. Her article, full of good news related to conservation funding in the UK, triggers my memory of the fact that beavers are an invasive species in Patagonia and the Race had the mission of controlling their spread, in the interest of wilderness conservation. Beavers in their natural habitat are in need of protection in some locations, I see:

Wetlands, beavers and Cinderella causes; the growth of environmental funding

Donations from individuals and charities to green causes more than double since 2016

Funding from the People’s Trust for Endangered Species helped reintroduce beavers in Knapdale Forest in Scotland. Photograph: Steve Gardner/Scottish Wildlife Trust/PA

Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.

The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from £5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.

It includes a £10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels. Continue reading

Farming & Influence

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ellen Barry, somehow, has not shown up in our pages before today. Strange, because she was based in India during our years there. Her audio adaptation of a dream-like experience, The Jungle Prince of Delhi, ranks with the best serialized podcasts out there. After her time in India she became New England Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a transition I will presume to understand: India can be so transformative and so profound an experience that landing back in familiar territory is a great next step. And today she shows up on my screen with a topic so different from that, and so related to my recent interests and activities that I finally must add her work to our recommendations:

In a Wistful Age, Farmers Find a New Angle: Chore TV

It’s hard for small farmers to earn a living selling their products. Enter the “farmer-influencer,” who can earn more by streaming farm life, in all its comforting monotony, to a growing online audience.

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farm in Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products. Continue reading

Scientific Expeditions Then, Considered Now

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The HMS Challenger set sail from England in 1872 and changed the course of scientific history (Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy)

Thanks to the BBC for reminding us of the value of such voyages in earlier centuries, and their contributions to science, among other things:

HMS-Challenger: The Voyage That Birthed Oceanography

The 3.5-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe reshaped marine science and permanently changed our relationship with the planet’s oceans.

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During the four-year journey, the ship uncovered many new species and shaped our understanding of the seas (Credit: LeeYiuTung/Getty Images)

In the foyer of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, stands a ship’s painted figurehead. It towers well above head height and depicts an armoured knight with a silver chest plate, a raised visor and a thick handlebar moustache. The knight’s eyes have a faraway gaze in them – and well they might. This wooden statue is the sole remnant of a square-rigged ship that once embarked on a three-and-a-half-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe, reshaping marine science, unearthing all manner of underwater oddities and permanently changing our relationship with the planet’s oceans. The vessel’s name was HMS Challenger. Continue reading

Field Expeditions, Adventure & Risk

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For all the fulfillment we get from our work in remote locations, and especially the wilderness work visits, we are, relatively speaking, conservative conservationists. After casually linking out to this article with references to expeditions, and hinting at our love of adventure, it occurs to me now to put it in perspective. What we do is not like what Roman Dial does. It is not like what Roman Dial Two did. I am sobered by Blair Braverman’s review of this memoir, written with respect as well as unflinching admiration:

His Son Hiked Into the Costa Rican Jungle, and Never Came Out. What Happened?

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Ben Weissenbach

Years ago, I brought a city friend hiking. We had to cross a river of snowmelt on a cold, rainy day, and though the water normally stayed shallow, it was deeper and faster than I’d ever seen it. I crossed first, testing the depth; I showed my friend how to face upstream, how to unbuckle his pack and use a stick for support. He made his way after me, a wake rising around him, feeling with his boots for solid ground — and he stumbled. For a moment I saw it all play out: him swept away in the frigid water, the near-instant hypothermia, how I’d struggle to start a fire in the rain. And then he caught his footing and came to shore.

Everything’s fine, I told myself that night in my sleeping bag. It’s fine. Nothing bad happened.

Nothing bad happened, but it could have. Continue reading

Citizen Science & Northern Lights

We believe citizen science, in all its forms, is one of the latest greatest innovations of mankind, and here is one more example:

A New Form Of Northern Lights Discovered In Finland – By Amateur Sky Watchers

People in northern climes have long gazed at the wonder that is the aurora borealis: the northern lights.

Those celestial streaks of light and color are often seen on clear nights in Finland, where they’re so admired that a Finnish-language Facebook group dedicated to finding and photographing them has more than 11,000 members.

There aurora aficionados gather to discuss subjects like space weather forecasts and the best equipment to capture the northern lights. Continue reading

Life In Southwest India

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An elephant eats jackfruits in the backyard of a house in Valparai, Tamil Nadu. COURTESY OF SREEDHAR VIJAYAKRISHNAN

Thanks to Yale e360 for this reminder of the amazing nature we witnessed from 2010-2017 while living in the Western Ghats.

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The Anamalai Hills in India’s Western Ghats region, shrouded in mist. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

The Young Writers Awards, presented by Yale Environment 360 and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, honor the best nonfiction environmental writing by authors under the age of 35. Entries for 2020 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner. Read all the winners here.

Song of the Western Ghats: A Green Island in a Crowded Land

For a young ecologist, the mountains of the Western Ghats are a respite from India’s intense urban life — a lush land of monsoon rains, elephants, king cobras, leopards, and a spectacular assortment of birds — and a place where wildlife and villagers still largely manage to coexist.

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A dhole, or wild dog, in the Western Ghats. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

What is it that draws us to the quiet, to the green? To the mist-curtained mountains, where everything is crystal clear – leaves in high definition even against an overcast sky. Where leopards leave their mark in soft mud, and you smell where an otter has walked. Continue reading

Disrupting Camping Does Not Immediately Sound Like A Good Idea

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The minimum land requirement for a Hipcamp site is generally just two acres. Some listings look like ordinary suburban back yards, but there are also off-grid plots, Airstreams, and tree houses. Photograph Courtesy Hipcamp

Disruption has so much baggage now due to the unintended consequences of various social media platforms, not to mention other tech juggernauts, that another disruptor does not make me think I can’t wait to try it. And disrupting camping? Hmmm. For these and other reasons this article is at the top of my reading list for this week:

How Hipcamp Became the Airbnb of the Outdoors

Can a startup save the wilderness by disrupting it?

In Northern California, booking a public campsite is a blood sport. The Bay Area overflows with young people who have R.E.I. Co-op memberships and drawers full of sweat-wicking apparel—people who spend Friday and Sunday nights packing and unpacking their Subarus, who own cat-hole trowels, who love to live here because it’s easy to leave in pursuit of the sublime. From Big Sur to Mendocino, many public campgrounds are booked months in advance; Yosemite is a lost cause. It’s common practice to wake at five in the morning to hover over a computer, poised to nab a site as soon as it becomes available. This is both a regional issue and not. Across the country, America’s national parks are overcrowded and overbooked. The reservation system is riddled with bots. A cottage industry of apps and services has emerged to monitor campsite availability and, in some cases, provide alternatives. Continue reading

Countries Where Troubles Are Left Behind

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Illustrations by Peter Arkle

Since finishing my doctoral work in the mid-1990s I have been working for and in emerging or re-emerging tourism destinations. I do not have time to comment on this now, but quick appreciation out to Tariro Mzezewa for this story, How to Rebrand a Country.

Having worked in two of the three countries she features, and having proposed work in the third (learning quite a bit about Rwanda for that proposal, nearly a decade prior to Seth’s work there this year) I will have more to say on this when time permits:

Colombia, Rwanda and Croatia were seen as dangerous and conflict-ridden. Now they top travel bucket lists. How other countries can follow their lead, in seven steps.

Twenty years ago, an opinion writer for The New York Times described Colombia as a country dominated by “drug killings, paramilitary massacres, guerrilla kidnappings, death squad murders and street crime.”

Five years before that, a 1994 Washington Post article grappled with the question of whether people would want to visit war-torn Croatia. “Only the more intrepid will consider a trip,” the article stated.

And a New Yorker article the same year described the genocide in Rwanda as being so dangerous that foreigners providing aid never went beyond the airport perimeter. One street was described as a place “where everything is shot up and every building is riddled.”

In the years since, conflict and strife have receded, with infrastructure rebuilt and economies recovering. And through a combination of marketing, social media and development — and with the fading associations of discord that come with the passage of time — these three countries are now booming tourist destinations, topping travel rankings, bucket lists and flooding Instagram feeds…

Read the whole story here.

Our Favorite Form Of Prospecting

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Expedition members sprint to flush Slender-billed Flufftails, among the world’s most elusive birds, in a marsh in Bemanevika reserve. Photo: Tristan Spinski

Bioprospecting, a topic we have not posted enough about, came to our attention in the mid-1990s through Costa Rica’s National Institute of Biodiversity. Kimon de Greef, writing for Audubon Magazine, offers an inside view of a prospecting expedition in one of the most wondrous, and at-risk natural habitats on the planet:

Scientists Race to Uncover the Secrets of Madagascar’s Treasure-Filled Forests

The rediscovery of a long-lost duck spurred the creation of two protected areas in the country. Now researchers are scouring these spots for other endemic species before it’s too late.

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With only a few kilometers to go during day-long to Bemanevika, challenging road conditions forced the group to disembark from the two Toyota Land Cruisers and push them through the deep mud. Much of the terrain required the forest technicians to utilize the wench, which they fastened to tree stumps to wind the vehicles up the muddy mountain roads. Photo: Tristan Spinski

We had come this far and now we were stuck, dug in on a dirt track high above the plains. It was monsoon season in Madagascar, and thunderstorms had laid waste to the deeply rutted road. Already we had traversed seemingly unnavigable passes on our way to the remote northern mountains, mud churned to slurry by each passing set of wheels. Almost 24 hours later, this slope flanked by agave plants had defeated us. Our drivers took up shovels: There were ruts to flatten, boulders to excavate and heave into the bushes. As the workers toiled, cicadas hissed from the treetops.

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Map: Mike Reagan

For the field biologists I was accompanying, this breakdown of rural infrastructure held great promise. They were on their way to survey some of the island’s last remaining virgin rainforests—shrinking havens of exceptional biodiversity, including some of Earth’s rarest birdlife. “There’s definitely a correlation with how hard it is to get in,” said John Mittermeier, an expedition leader, ornithologist, and geography Ph.D. student at Oxford University, “and how likely you are to find new stuff.”

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Clockwise from top left: Spearpoint leaf-tail gecko; Andreone’s tree frog; Compsophis fatsibe snake; Boophis goudot frog; Calumma nasutum chameleon; Spinomantis nussbaumi frog. Photos: Tristan Spinski

Now a cry went up among the team. A snake was moving its way through the undergrowth, and with abandon they leapt after it. Luke Kemp, the herpetologist on the expedition, crouched beside the bushes, poking around but coming up empty. “It’s like an addiction,” he told me. “I can’t stop.”

The biologists had congregated from four countries, united by a relentless, even maniacal fascination with wildlife. They wore faded shirts from scientific conferences and were never without their binoculars. Instead of making small talk, they discussed bird calls and sampling methods, animated by purpose and shared expertise. In unison, like meerkats, Mittermeier and the other two birders swung their binoculars from side to side, trying to glimpse what sounded to them like an endemic robin. The two entomologists swept the air with butterfly nets; they would not hesitate, when their hands were full, to pop wriggling insect specimens between their lips. Continue reading

Vegan Hooligans @ Abby’s Diner

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When I started reading this short piece below, subtitled “The chefs Roy Choi and Jose Mejia sample the Vegan Hooligans’ plant-based junk food at an L.A. pop-up.” and containing no photos, before getting two paragraphs in I had to see what Abby’s Diner looked like, and found the image above and those below, on Instagram and in a story by KCET, so following is a mix of the sources:

The chef Roy Choi posted up at the counter of Abby’s Diner in Los Angeles recently. Several times a week, the place morphs from a traditional greasy spoon—booths, tiled floor, B.L.T.s—to a greasy spoon that serves vegan renditions of such drive-through classics as the McDonald’s McRib.

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Entrepreneur, social activist and chef Roy Choi takes a journey through his hometown of Los Angeles to explore complex social justice issues including food deserts, food waste and sustainability. Learn more about “Broken Bread.” Watch this trailer.

Sheila Marikar has not appeared in our pages before, but I will be on the lookout for more from her, because even without images (thanks to KCET and the Hooligans’ Instagram account for those here) her words make vegan more compelling:

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Jose Mejia is the man behind the Vegan Hooligans.

“I like to re-create a lot of stuff from fast food so people feel comfortable,” Jose Mejia said. He is a founder of the Vegan Hooligans, which began popping up last February. (The name is a nod to his love of punk rock and soccer.) He wore overalls and a brown beanie. “I wanted to create a brand that didn’t just capture the eyes of, like, vegans,” he added.

BeLeaf.jpgEleven years ago, Choi co-founded Kogi BBQ, a fleet of Korean-taco trucks that fuelled a food-truck renaissance and got him on a number of best-of lists (Food & Wine Best New Chef, Time 100). He is not a vegan. “Kogi, for Pete’s sake, means ‘meat’ in Korean,” he said. But after meeting Mejia while filming an episode of his TV series, “Broken Bread,” a less hedonistic version of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” Choi decided to try more meat substitutes. Now he eats animals maybe once a week. Continue reading

Trick Question From Rwanda

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A recent message from Rwanda, in spite of what I said about Seth being plenty verbal, was as quiet as what you see above. Amie, whose eye inclines this way and makes sure our platform shares stories like this, thought it was the fruit we were supposed to guess the identity of. Because of my coffee focus of the last year, and Seth’s experience planting coffee, I immediately thought it was about whatever pest might be ravaging the leaves. Neither. Continue reading

Rwanda, Third Message

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The image above was taken after the last giraffe photo, but I do not know where. Today Seth sent more photos after he and his colleagues hiked up, through a national park, to the upper reaches of a volcano.

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Hiked to the summit of Visoke volcano in the national park, the toughest hike I’ve done just for elevation (got up to 3711 meters asl) through the wettest slush mud

Seth is plenty verbal. But under these circumstance I appreciated the parsimony of words in his message accompanying the photos. I have been at that altitude and it does not encourage chit chat.

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We have lived and worked in beautiful places; again, all I can say is I look forward to Ghana.

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And again, my favorite image is not the one I would have expected.

Hill Culture Contemplation

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The Hutchison Memorial Hut, colloquially called the Hutchie Hut, illuminated by moonlight in Scotland’s Cairngorms National Park. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

How did Stephen Hiltner know? I was just looking through photos from the 2009 edition of the Patagonia Expedition Race, and remembering the huts along the way. They were perfect places to escape the realities of the rest of the world, in order to contemplate more clearly. With perspective. They could come in handy for plenty of folks these days, I am sure. Seems certain to me now that those huts at the southern tip of the South American continent were built by folks from the hills sampled in the story below:

In Britain, Enraptured by the Wild, Lonely and Remote

Rustic shelters called bothies — more than 100 of which are scattered throughout England, Wales and Scotland — are an indispensable, if little-known, element of British hill culture.

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Warnscale Head at night. Since bothies are often built with local stones, they’re easily camouflaged in their surrounding landscapes. Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

 

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Shenavall Stephen Hiltner/The New York Times

By the time the tiny hut came into view, nestled high in a corrie in Scotland’s 1,748-square-mile Cairngorms National Park, I’d trekked for nearly nine miles, three of which, regrettably, I’d had to navigate after nightfall. The hike, through a broad valley in the Eastern Highlands called Glen Derry, carried me past groves of Scots pines and over a series of streams, some of which, lined with slick steppingstones, made for precarious crossings. All the while, two rows of smooth, eroded mountain peaks enclosed me in an amphitheater of muted colors: hazel-hued heather, golden grasses. Though much of my walk was solitary, the flickering glow in the hut’s main window, I knew, meant I’d have some company for the night and the warmth of a fire to greet me. Continue reading

Tigers, Tales, Illumination

ImpossibleOwl.jpgBrian Phillips has not featured once in our pages until now, nor has The Ringer. If you read his essay below, featured also in the book to the right, the fit with our platform here is clear. Strange, though; I would not have expected to see it featured on a website that looks to be mostly focused on sports.

But it is a welcome surprise. It serves as another welcome reminder of some of the highlights of our years in India. And it provides a reason to track the author. The blurb the publisher chose to accompany the book (click the image to the right) is telling: “…Dogged, self-aware, and radiating a contagious enthusiasm for his subjects, Phillips is an exhilarating guide to the confusion and wonder of the world today. If John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead was the last great collection of New Journalism from the print era, Impossible Owls is the first of the digital age.”

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Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Man-eaters

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Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree. One stepped out of high grass, crossed the road in front of me, and disappeared into grass on the other side. One walked along a low ridge on the edge of a different road, oblivious or indifferent to the tourists taking her photograph. One looked out from a cover of branches and red leaves, so perfectly concealed that from thirty feet away he kept stereoscoping in and out of sight. Three were cubs, just four or five months old. Three were juveniles, aged around one year. The rest were fully grown. All were tired, because the days were hot, and because the days were dry they moved and breathed and slept in a film of clay-colored dust. Continue reading

Foraged Wild Foods

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this brief story by Maia Stern, which expands our knowledge of foraged wild foods:

The first insect that Pascal Baudar ever tried eating was an ant he found in his kitchen. The verdict? “It tasted like some kind of chemical,” says Baudar.

Most people would have probably given up on the bug-eating experiments right there. But Baudar? He’s made it part of his life’s calling. Continue reading

The Only Virtual Reality A Surfer Might Enjoy

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Slater has spent a career searching the world for waves, adapting to tricky conditions with unparalleled intuition. Now his Surf Ranch, in California farm country, can produce a perfect wave on demand. Photograph by Ben Lowy for The New Yorker

I have surfed, but I am not a surfer. I have surfer friends, including some who have travelled the world searching out the waves described in the story below, and family friends of ours have an adult child ranked in the top ten in the world. I do not care about surfing as much as any of them, but because of them I care deeply about surfing. Evidence of that is the fact that surfing is the #1 metaphor I use within my own family to describe the pivots we make from time to time, explaining a move to France, Croatia or India or back to Costa Rica is due to a new wave of opportunity that we might catch. Below is a story I appreciate for other reasons as well, because it is about a man-made replica of the ultimate pleasures of a real-life experience. This is kind of what we do for a living. But it is really about surfing. And even non-surfers can enjoy this. William Finnegan’s story is complemented by two interactive features, the first with the author himself and the second a remarkably clear explanation of the technology.

Kelly Slater’s Shock Wave

The best surfer in history made a machine that creates perfect conditions on demand. Will his invention democratize surfing or despoil it?

The first few hours I spent at the W.S.L. Surf Ranch, a wave pool built for surfing in the farmlands south of Fresno, California, were for me a blur. I was fine on arrival, hiking through a little forest of scaffolding, eucalyptus, and white tents with a publicist from the Kelly Slater Wave Company, which built and runs the place. The valley heat was fierce but dry. House music rode on a light northwest breeze. We passed a bright-red antique row-crop tractor parked on wood chips. Then I looked to my right and felt my mind yaw. The wave was probably six hundred yards away, a sparkling emerald wall, with a tiny surfer snapping rhythmic turns off the top. I had come expecting to see this wave, out here in cotton fields a hundred-plus miles from the coast. Still, my reaction to it was involuntary. Kelly’s Wave, as it’s known, seems designed to make someone who surfs, which I do, feel this way: stunned, turned on, needy. Surfers spend much of their lives looking for high-quality waves. Now a machine has been invented that churns out virtually flawless ones on command. “We call it the smile machine,” someone, possibly the publicist, said. I had trouble paying attention. Every four minutes, I had to turn and crane to watch a wave make its way the length of the pool. Continue reading

Stacked Stones Had Nothing To Do With It

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After writing yesterday’s post I got a message from the “new friend.” She is the one on the right in the photo above. I am the one on the left. My two childhood friends are in the middle. The new friend’s name, Amie, will be familiar to regular readers on this platform. After reading my post yesterday she sent me these three old photos. Above is at the top of the gorge, just as the sun is coming over the mountain. Dawn’s rosy tipped finger, someone among us surely said. By late morning, time for a fruit break, below is the place where I might have started thinking of stacking stones, in the figurative sense of wishing something of the future. But I did not then, nor do I now, believe in totemic powers of objects, or good luck.

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I believed that a new friendship was sufficient good fortune, and being in that natural setting was the closest I got to worshiping things.

SamariaC&A2.jpegNo need to stack stones. As we made our way down to the bottom of the gorge, to where those sky-high rock walls allowed single file passage to the black stone beach, conversation was the thing.

The black stones were a surprise because they seemed to bear no relationship with the geology of the gorge. And I do remember now, playing with the stones, and surely stacking them while we sat there looking out to the sea, continuing the conversation. But I was not stacking stones in the way Sophie Haigney’s story refers to.

Really. I can say that with confidence because Amie reminds me that the oblong oval-shaped stones were not stackable. So I tried my best, but could not get one to rest upon another. That said, I am also confident that while not superstitious I was still able to make wishes, and then take actions to fulfill them.

Stop Stacking Stones

 

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The steep downhill path starting from Xyloskalo

If I have done it, it would have been once. And hopefully less of an issue than the examples given in this story below. It was a day in September, 1983 and I had traveled to Greece with two childhood friends, all of us now in early adulthood. With us was one new friend, who we had met in JFK airport just prior to departure.

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The peaceful river crossing Samaria Gorge

On the island of Crete, we left Xania well before sunrise to hike from the top to the bottom of Samaria Gorge, as far south in Greece as you can get and still be on land. With every switchback of our descent, I was getting more and more lost in conversation with our new friend, so that by the time we reached the bottom of the gorge I wondered where the day had gone. After a full day of hiking, lost in conversation or otherwise, the stones of the gorge play on your mind.

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The impressive Portes in Samaria Gorge

At this point you pass through one last formation that is so stunning that if you had not been thinking of playing with stones until now, you had not been paying enough attention. And that was my case. I remember walking silently through this last section and not talking again until the very end, when you spill onto a beach formed by smooth black stones, facing south, nothing but water until you reach Africa. There, in Agia Roumeli, you can get a cool drink before a boat takes you back to Xania. And while you wait for the boat, if you have something to wish for, you may find yourself stacking those smooth black stones.

My photographs from that day, somewhere in storage, would show the beginning, long middle sections, and end of that day. If I did stack stones the evidence will be in those photos, and I will find them. For now I have linked to photos from the blog of a Cretan travel consortium to give a hint of what the place looks like, and as a recommendation to others to visit. Sophie Haigney, writing on the New Yorker website, gave me reason just now to think about my own culpability in what can now be described as a dangerous, destructive form of travel footprint, and I thank her for bringing this to our attention:

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An Instagram trend that’s littering national parks with towers of carefully balanced stones, #StoneStacking can cause erosion and damage ecosystems. Photograph by Sam Oakes / Alamy

People Are Stacking Too Many Stones

The photograph in the Facebook post is pretty: piles of red rocks balanced at the edge of a cliff, suggesting a miniature mirror of the jagged rock face opposite. The stacks look like small shrines to mountain solitude, carefully balanced at the edge of a precipice. But when Zion National Park posted the photo, in September, the social-media coördinators for the park included a plea: “Please, enjoy the park but leave rocks and all natural objects in place.” The post noted the “curious but destructive practice” of building small stone towers, and said, “stacking up stones is simply vandalism.” Continue reading