The Invisible War on the Brain, by Caroline Alexander photographs by Lynn Johnson
This was a kind of difficult article to get through for me. Partly this was because I had a dear friend at one time who had had multiple head injuries as a child. When I knew him, he was an adult, but he had impulse control problems, focus and memory issues, and a volatile temper. Years after I lost touch with him, I read an article on traumatic brain injury and it was kind of eerie how much this sounded like my old friend.
Additionally, there are pictures of an injured Marine, Corporal Burness Britt, and an art therapy project where the survivors of this kind of blast force trauma were encouraged to make masks depicting their feelings about the injuries. Some of the images, including the image of Corporal Britt, and of masks with the faces ripped open, were disturbing.
Alexander’s article discusses the ongoing study into whether blast force trauma can induce traumatic brain injury. After World War I, soldiers came home with similar symptoms to the ones we are seeing in Gulf War veterans. This was termed “shell shock,” and presumed to be the result of exploding artillery shells. Over the years, this cluster of symptoms were dismissed as a psychological phenomenon known as post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, with improvements in imaging equipment, the pendulum is swinging the other way. Scientists are beginning to believe that some of the symptoms really were from blast force.
We find out at the end of the article that this is a personal issue for Alexander. Her brother-in-law had been the victim of blast force trauma during his tour of duty in the Middle East. After he left the military, he trained explosive experts, using live explosives. He later took his own life. The ending paragraph is downright chilling after what came before it.
Pure Hawaiian, by John Lancaster, photographs by Paul Nicklen
Once again, we return to travel, this time Makaha, a beach on the western side of Oahu, which is mostly frequented by native Hawaiians. Lancaster had been told stories about how the Hawaiians at Makaha are unfriendly to haoles (white people), and he recounts his first experience there, which seems to bear this out.
Then Lancaster goes deeper into the culture. He discusses the history of surfing, and we meet some of the residents of Oahu’s West Side, an area plagued by poverty. The first one we meet, Richard Keaulana, is a full-blooded Hawaiian who grew up in the area. We later meet a young surfer who dropped out of high school, Sheldon Paishon. Paishon’s mother is a haole. His father’s family has been on the islands for centuries, but his ancestors were Portuguese. The Paishons assume that there is native Hawaiian blood in the family, but they cannot know for sure. Paishon has dreams of becoming a professional surfer, but first he has to get his life together. We find in this article that he has gotten a job and that he might be on the right track now.
At the end of the article, Lancaster finds out his mistake — newcomers are expected to introduce themselves to the locals at Makaha. He had a conversation, getting to know one of the locals and got the seal of approval to surf there.
This was interesting to me from a totally different angle than the one I was coming from for the previous article. When I got my divorce and started my job, one of my priorities was to begin taking vacations again (except for family obligations, I hadn’t traveled for five years). I set up a fund that would pay for “entertainment” — movies, restaurant food, bowling, and so forth. At the end of the month, anything that was left over went to pay for travel. My first two years, my son and I took a long weekend. Our first week-long vacation was to the Big Island. We didn’t have the money or the time for surfing lessons, but we did go snorkeling. We had such a good time on that vacation that I actually puddled up a little when the time came to check out of our hotel. We hope to return to Hawaii in another three or so years from now, once I’ve worked my way up into making a little more money at my job and have enough money to take two vacations a year.
Mighty Mites, by Rob Dunn, photographs by Martin Oeggerli
Mighty Mites is, as it says on the tin, a look at the world of mites We start out with Dunn having made a “bet” (he says that scientists call them predictions, but they are in essence the same things as bets) that there were more facial mites out there to be discovered. Dunn goes on to tell about the lifecycle of facial mites — they lack an anus, so facial mites live only so long as there is room for feces in their bodies. Not all mites lack an anus, however. Mimolette cheese is, in part, flavored by mite feces.
Dunn tells us about some of the wide variety of mites, including aquatic mites,and soil mites, there are mites in the tracheas of bees and in the pubic hair of male vampire bats. There are so many mites in the world, that most have never been named.
Mites have strange, sometimes tragic, methods of reproduction as, for example, one mite that mates with its sister and then they kill their mother in the process of being born. My favorite line in the article, “In the nostrils of hummingbirds and the ears of moths lurk Greek tragedies of small, strange lives.”
Mighty Mites is illustrated by the microsopic photos of six species of mites, showing their various adaptations that help them survive in their home environments. If pictures of tiny arthropods bothers you, you might want to skip this article.
And Dunn did, indeed, find another facial mite — one that seems to live on the faces of people of Asian descent. He was understandably thrilled to find this new mite. Some of his colleagues were less excited, since in their field, they find new mites every day.
This is a very short, well-written article. If the tiny unseen world that exists all around us holds any interest for you, you might want to check it out.
Paradise Found, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Stefano Unterthiner
Paradise Found is about Gran Paradiso National Park in the Graian Alps. The park was founded in 1922 but prior to that it was a private hunting ground for King Victor Emmanuel II. There has traditionally been a population of ibex in the area that had nearly been hunted to extinction. So in 1856, the king set the land aside for his own ibex hunting. The outbreak of World War I left King Victor Emmanuel III too busy to hunt, so he donated the land to the state and in 1922, Gran Paradiso became Italy’s first national park.
However, after a 1993 peak of 5,000, the ibex are in decline. “Last” September (by which I assume they probably mean September of 2013), the population of ibex had declined to 2,772. No one knows the reason for the decline. It might be due to global warming. The best grasses for baby ibex are now growing earlier in the year, which means less food for the babies. It is also kind of surprising that the ibex do so well at all, since they are not adapted to the winter snows in such a high elevation. It seems possible, if not likely, to me that the population of 5,000 was just too high and the park cannot support that many ibex.
Treading Water, by Laura Parker, photographs by George Steinmetz, maps and graphics by Ryan Morris, Alexander Stegmaier, and John Tomanio
That might be the longest list of contributors I’ve credited in a National Geographic article so far. And this might be the longest article I’ve ever written on. There is no way that I will be able to include even half of the points in this article, so here are the ones that stick out for me.
Overall, this article is about the effect of global warming on Florida. We see, for example, a map showing which areas will be below the high tide line if the ocean were to rise five feet. I mentioned my cousins’ house in Florida in an earlier post. If their house does not end up below the high tide line, it will be a very near thing. It’s nearly certain that the former home of one of my grandmother’s friends will be beneath the high tide line.
The article opens with Parker visiting Dutch Docklands, a company based in the Netherlands that is building a village consisting of floating islands. The theory is that this may be the solution to climate change for Florida — simply build your home on a floating island and you and your property will be safe no matter how high the water gets. Less clear is how people will get to the homes, or travel to places other than this village, since there is no mention of floating streets in this village. In a car-centric culture like ours, having a personal boat to take you to other places in the village will not get you a whole lot farther than that.
Dutch Docklands is contrasted with the building boom that has overtaken much of South Florida and which relies upon things remaining pretty much as they are.
But things will not remain as they are, so long as the arctic and antarctic ice fields continue to melt. In fact, until recently, scientists didn’t realize just how far the oceans will rise as a result of ice melt. And the effects won’t end with rising sea levels. The planet will continue to experience wild variations in weather, with increasingly hot summers, increasingly violent winters, and longer periods of both drought and flooding.
Other Dutch companies have entered the region, offering other solutions to Florida’s problems, including building new seawalls, but South Florida is built on a base of limestone which is filled with water. Flooding does not just come from overflow from bodies of water on the surface; it also comes from the very ground beneath you. One of the possible solutions to this, for places like Miami, is to raise the street level, and Miami is experimenting with this right now.
We also visit Key West, which is considered to be the very tip of the continental United States and which has a population limited by how many people can be evacuated within 24 hours in case of a hurricane. It is likely that, while places like Miami may be able to adapt, Key West may be lost completely as a result of rising sea levels.
This is all having an effect on homeowners, as well. In some places in Florida, people spend more on homeowner’s insurance than they spend on their mortgages. And homeowners are required by mortgage lenders to carry insurance. Eventually homeowners will be unable to afford both, which means that the mortgage lending business will collapse. If no one can afford to live there, no one will be spending money, and that will likely spell the end of the economy of South Florida.
I love the maps that come with this article, to the extent that one can love anything spelling out the future doom of an inhabited area. Visual learning is one of my major learning styles, and these maps go a long way to bring the plight of South Florida into sharper relief.
Drowning World, by Gideon Mendel
Drowning World is labeled “A Photographer’s Journal.” Mendel is a photographer for National Geographic, and in this article he shares some of the photographs he has taken of people living in flooded conditions. We see a woman returning home with groceries in Thailand, floods in the United Kingdom, a Nigerian family standing outside the gate of their flooded home, a man standing in his flooded home in Thailand, and a flooded village in India.
(originally posted April and May 2015)