National Geographic April 2015

Lincoln, by Adam Goodheart, photographs by Eugene Richards

April 15, 2015 was the sesquicentennial (they use “150th anniversary” in the article, but we have such a nice word for “150th anniversary” that I couldn’t resist) of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In recognition (and, of course, anticipation, since the trek had to be done ahead of time so as to make it to print in time for April) of the occasion, Goodheart traced the train that carried Lincoln’s body as it made the journey from Washington, DC to Springfield, Illinois.  There was no continuous rail line between the two, so the body ended up making a two-week journey up through Maryland, then into Pennsylvania, to New York (both the city and the state), then through Ohio and Indiana before arriving in Illinois.  The body the went from Northwest Indiana to Chicago and then down to Springfield.  Lincoln’s body had stayed in Washington, DC from the 15th through the 21st, so by the time the body arrived in Springfield, it was three weeks old and had deteriorated considerably.

We see, through Goodheart’s words, we see the body as it travels through the night along tracks lined with people and at its stops in Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York City, and then on to Springfield, where his remains ended up being moved 14 times during the years after Lincoln’s death.  Then, they proceeded to reconstruct the tomb — the current structure is from the 1930s.

Most of the tracks that carried Lincoln’s funeral train are long gone.  There are markers along the way showing where the train passed, and some of the tracks were removed recently enough that you can still see the gravel.  I grew up in Chicago, and it is very likely that those tracks still exist, as Chicago is still a major rail hub.  Additionally, the freight lines connecting the suburbs to downtown carry commuter trains today.  In fact, doing some digging, it looks like if you wanted to travel some of the Lincoln funeral train trail yourself, you could take the Metra Heritage Corridor line from Chicago to Joliet.  Metra’s website says that the Lemont and Lockport stations were there when the funeral train went through.

Hubble’s Greatest Hits, by Timothy Ferris

Ferris shares some of the history of the Hubble telescope.  Originally, the astronomers wanted the telescope to be farther out, but instead the telescope ended up being put close enough to be reached by space shuttle.  And it turned out to be fortunate that it was put so close in.  Problems plagued the early days of the telescope and if it had been unreachable, it would have been a waste of billions of dollars.  Since it was put in closer orbit, however, astronauts were able to bring replacement parts and fix the telescope, which has been sending amazing pictures of deep space for 25 years as of April 24, 2015.

The photos which accompany the article are actually colorized composites.  The one at #9, for example, of the Crab Nebula, is a composite of four images.  The most complex photograph, and the one that captured my attention best, is the image at #2, which is created from 32 images of the Carina Nebula.  It looks almost like one of the later works of JMW  Turner.

How Coal Fuels India’s Insurgency, by Anthony Loyd, photographs by Lynsey Addario

How Coal Fuels India’s Insurgency is about the Naxalites, a Maoist group that is causing problems for the government of India.  Loyd jumps right into the violent nature of the conflict by introducing us to a leader who goes by various names, including Prashant, Paramjeet, Gopalji.  This man of many names introduces himself to Loyd as “Manas.”  Manas had just been part of a confrontation that killed six policemen and injured eight more.

The Naxalites, who take their name from a village in West Bengal where the movement began.  However, now all Maoist rebels are known as Naxalites, regardless of their place of origin.

Most of the followers of the Naxalites are the poorest of India’s poor.  They are poor farmers, Dalits, and members of an aboriginal group known as the Adivasi.  There are a number of college students who have found common cause with the Naxalites, as well.  The Naxalites flourish in the undeveloped parts of eastern India, mostly in the states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.  This region, as it happens, is also the center of India’s mineral wealth.  Beneath the lands where the Naxalites and their followers live, work, and fight are bauxite, dolomite, iron, limestone and, above all, coal.  An area where there used to be farmlands and wildlife is now given over to mines, much of which is done in open “strip” mines.  And effectively none of the wealth generated by these mines are being given to the people of the region.  This feeds the resentment and leads to further recruits for the Naxalites.

And so, until the government of India finds a way to reach out to and communicate with the residents of this poverty-stricken area, it is unlikely that the question of the Naxalites will ever be resolved.

The Bug That’s Eating the Woods, by Hillary Rosner, photographs by Peter Essick

The Bug That’s Eating the Woods is about the mountain pine beetle, a tiny bug that has killed pine trees in an area stretching from northern British Columbia down into California and as far east as South Dakota.  In some areas, such as the area around Wolf Creek Pass in Colorado, nearly all of the trees in the region are killed.

Scientists are trying to figure out why the beetle has had such a devastating effect in recent years and at least part of this devastation is laid at the feet of climate change.  The beetle can travel farther during the warmer months because the farther northern reaches are no longer too cold for them.  Additionally, we have significantly cut down on forest fires, which has made it easier for the beetle to spread.  Some areas are experimenting with controlled burns to isolate the beetle, but it is too soon to see if that will do any good.  There is also some hope that climate change may help.  The beetle’s actual source of food comes from two fungi that it carries with them, one of which needs cold weather.  As cold weather ceases to be quite so cold, perhaps that fungus will become less effective and end the life cycle of the beetle.

I was a small child during the Dutch elm disease outbreak of 1950s through 1970s (specifically the 1970s end), and currently live in an area where oak wilt is always a concern.  As a result, I am aware of the maxim of urban forestry that no more than 10% of an area should be one particular species of tree.  I cannot help but think that something like that might not be a bad rule to follow when planning what to do with the areas that the beetle has hit, even though it is not technically urban.  Perhaps the forestry departments of the various governments could look into broadleaf trees that would fill a similar niche ecologically and economically.  Then they could  plant 50% pine trees and 25% each two chosen broadleaf species, or a 68%/16%/16% mix, perhaps.

Trajan’s Amazing Column, by Andrew Curry, photographs by Kenneth Garrett

Trajan’s Column is a monument in Rome which chronicles the defeat of the Dacians by the Romans during the rule of Trajan.  The column is also where Trajan’s ashes were laid to rest after Trajan’s death in 117 AD.  We are certain that at least that second statement is true. Trajan’s Amazing Column lists some of the arguments that historians are using against the idea that the details given on the column are as accurate as has generally been assumed.  Some of the details match up with what archaeologists are discovering, but much of it may be made up to conform with the idea of how the war should have gone.

When my son and I were in Rome in 2014, we discovered Trajan’s Column by accident.  I’m not sure how we managed to miss it standing there being all columnar and monumental, but we did.  It wasn’t until our last day in Rome that we found it.  We had been to the Trevi Fountain and stopped in a carryout pizza place.  Our purchase of pizza was purely in the interest of science, of course.  We had had pizza in Naples and needed another sample so that we could compare the two.

We now had two slices of pizza and no place to eat it.  So we walked back in the general direction of our hotel, figuring that if we didn’t see any place to sit down before we got to the hotel, we could eat the pizza in our room.  After walking for a while, we found some people sitting on the steps of a church.  This looked as good a spot as any to eat, so we sat, too.

That’s when we noticed the huge monument right there.  Once we finished our pizza we explored the area, taking lots of pictures of the monument and of the ruins of the forums (fora?) of Trajan and Augustus.  I took a panoramic photo of the column.  It wasn’t perfect, since I didn’t have my tripod, but it turned out pretty well.

In the article, Curry mentions tour guides explaining the column.  The signage, at least when we were there, is excellent, though, so one doesn’t need a tour guide.  There is a long sign running alongside the ruins of Trajan’s forum with pictures of the sections and an explanation of what is there (see image).  This sign must be new, since I cannot see it in Google Street View in June 2014, but it was there in July and Google Street View shows it in October, as well.

Sign at Trajan's Column
The interpretive sign at Trajan’s Column in July, 2014.

Argentine Identities, story and photographs by Marco Vernaschi

Vernaschi is an Italian native living in Argentina.  Vernaschi loves his adopted country and feels that the increasing reliance on soybeans as an agricultural industry is counterproductive.  As a result, he and his wife traveled across the country helping small family farmers find new sustainable agricultural projects.  He also took pictures of the residents of the areas that he traveled to.  He stayed away from the “poverty tourism” aspect of photography, where small rural farmers are shown as impoverished.  Instead, he wanted to focus on their culture, including two photographs in which the subjects are wearing ceremonial clothing and one which features a female gaucho. Tags: