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All posts for the month June, 2016

Last Song, by Jonathan Franzen, photographs by David Guttenfelder

Last Song is about songbird hunting and/or poaching in countries near the Mediterranean (primarily Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Croatia, Iraq, Jordan, Kosovo, Morocco, Romania, Spain, and Syria). One of the nice things about this article is that Franzen is against this poaching and he isn’t afraid to admit that he’s emotionally affected by the things he sees in the article.

Albania might be of the worst countries for hunting of songbirds.  At one point, Franzen says that almost none of the songbirds that enter the country ever leave it.  I did a little digging and the government of Albania finally did something about it in 2014, when they forbade all hunting in the country.  It was a pilot program that was supposed to last two years, but in February of 2016, it was extended for another five. While this has lessened the hunting somewhat, it has, obviously, only increased the level of poaching and Albania doesn’t have the resources to really crack down on poaching. Of course, what this means is that eventually only songbirds whose ancestors took migratory routes around Albania will survive to reproduce, and eventually Albania will lose all of its songbirds.

6/13/2016 Note: We went on a road trip yesterday and I finished reading July, 2013 and February, 2016.  I didn’t finish this post last night because I was exhausted when I got back.  I will, however, be able to knock out those three posts pretty quickly once I have some time to sit down and write (some of which will be after I finish today’s road trip). Now on to get started reading June 2013 . . .

The Case of the Missing Ancestor, by Jamie Shreeve, photographs by Robert Clark

In the 18th Century, a hermit named Denis supposedly lived in a cave in Siberia. Around three hundred years later, a piece of a pinkie bone was found in that cave, known as “Denisova.” When the scientists examined the DNA of that bone, they found that the owner of the bone, a girl estimated to have been around eight years old, had been of a species distinct from, but related to, modern humans.  They now call her people the Denisovans.

The Case of the Missing Ancestor goes into the discovery of the phalanx along with the discovery of two Denisovan molars, a Neanderthal toe bone, and part of a stone bracelet that, at press time was deemed probably too recent to have been made by a Denisovan or a Neanderthal, but may actually have been made by a Denisovan after all.

Speaking of things that have changed since press time, Shreeve says that the only living descendants of the Denisovans live in Oceania, including on the Aborigines of Australia and the Melanesians of Papua New Guinea. DNA studies done later indicate that there are also descendants of the Denisovans living in Tibet, including the Sherpa.

I got my pictures of the San Antonio Museum of Art.  I’m going to stay in Brackenridge Park for now, since that’s the current plan.  I also probably will need to return to the Witte Museum before making that writeup. Admission is (as I write this) free on Tuesday nights so if I have an early day on a Tuesday coming up in the near future, I’ll go out and nose around and take some pictures. They’re remodeling the museum right now, so I will probably have to visit it again and then do an updated post once the work is done.

As I wrote in my previous post on Brackenridge Park, the Japanese Tea Garden has its origin in the Alamo Cement Company quarry.  The other half of the origin of the garden is a man by the name of Ray Lambert.  Lambert was commissioner of the San Antonio parks in the early 1900s, just as Brackenridge Park was being organized.  Lambert originally tried to turn the Alamo Cement Company buildings into a mini theme park on a Mexican theme.  They opened shops selling Mexican crafts and had a restaurant in those buildings.  That idea didn’t last, but one of his other ideas did.

In 1917, Lambert decided to turn the quarry into what was then called a “lily pond.”  They got donations of lily bulbs and more exotic plants to include in the “pond” and set up water features, including a waterfall.  Nine years later, a Japanese artist by the name of Kimi Eizo Jingu was invited to move himself and his family into a combination house and tea room that was built on the property.  The Jingu family had eight children, who all lived in that house with them for a period of 16 years.  In 1942, some of the people of the United States, which was at war with Japan, began to mistrust the Japanese. Because of this mistrust, the Jingu family were evicted, the name changed to the Chinese Sunken Garden (the sign is still there as a testament to this period of history) and a Chinese family, the Wus, moved into the house.

Gazebo Entrance with Smokestack, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio

The gazebo near the entrance to the Japanese Tea Garden with the smokestack from the cement factory kiln in the background.

The Garden retained the “Chinese” name for another 42 years until the “Japanese” name was restored in 1984.  The house is now known as the Jingu House Restaurant. They serve California rolls and bento boxes along with other Asian-inspired meals. I don’t believe that anyone lives in the house anymore.

The city website says that the Garden is wheelchair accessible, but I distinctly recall (and can see in photographs) stairs that look awfully narrow, in addition to being, well, stairs.  And one of the TripAdvisor reviews backs me up.  Some, but not all, of the paths are accessible.

1. It looks like my step count will likely be a lot better for June than it was for May.  It’s bedtime on June 9 and I’m done with my average step count through June 11.  I will still have to get the actual steps on those days, but if I’m two days ahead already, I doubt that I’ll end up behind like I was in May.  Also, hopefully July will be pretty easy to take care of, despite the 2nd and 3rd being weekend days because July will be our big vacation and I suspect that between running through two airports twice and visiting the Fishlake National Forest*, Salt Lake City, the Golden Spike National Historic Site, Yellowstone, and Dinosaur National Monument (also, possibly Craters of the Moon National Park), I can probably come up with a few steps. It probably won’t be as step-heavy as Italy and New York were because we will have a rental car with us. I have pretty high hopes for August, though, since we’ll be spending four days in Chicago without a rental car.

2.  Originally, our 2017 vacation was supposed to be our return to Europe.  To that end, I started saving up for our 2017 vacation when we returned from our 2014 vacation. Since we’re not going to Europe, but Canada instead, I’m now done saving up for that trip.  Now I am going to continue saving money for two smaller trips next year — a long weekend in Southern California (the last time I was there, Alex was a baby) and the eclipse weekend.  Let’s see how that goes.

3(a). I still have a box full of envelopes of pictures to scan, but the other day I passed the 20,000 picture mark.  I really need to remember to pick up two more SD cards to back up the pictures. Then I have to remember to take them to my safe deposit box. No sense making a backup if I then lose it in a fire or something.

3(b). My dad has a shelf full of genealogical materials.  After I finish my photo scanning project I will, likely, begin scanning all of that in.  Wish me luck.

*Because if you’re that close to the most massive single organism on the planet, it would be foolish not to see (and photograph!) it.  I doubt we’re going to get far enough east on our planned 2018 trip to Washington and Oregon to visit the largest organism in terms of area.

I still can’t access the text version of these issues on-line. I wonder why they even have that functionality if you can’t get to it.

While digging around I found that they do have an Android app finally.  I wonder if I’d be able to read the issues on my phone, or if the text would be too small. Maybe I’ll try it tomorrow.

Field Trip on Mars, by John Grotzinger

Grotzinger is a geologist who was the project scientist on the Curiosity rover for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Grotzinger still works on the project, but stepped down as project scientist in 2015.  In Field Trip on Mars, we get to see how Curiosity does its geology work.  Curiosity drills through rocks and analyzes what’s inside them.  The scientists with the project were able to see that Mars once had water capable of sustaining life with the very first rock it drilled through.

As the magazine went to press, Curiosity was heading into a crater towards Mount Sharp, a mountain that, according to Grotzinger, looks more Earthlike than other places that rovers have been sent to.  Curiosity reached Mount Sharp on September 11, 2014.

It All Began in Chaos, by Robert Irion, photographs by Mark Thiessen, Art by Dana Barry

Kind of off-topic, but every time I look at the credits for this article, I see “Diana Barry” as the name of the artist.  Diana Barry, for those who aren’t Anne of Green Gables fans, was Anne’s raven-haired childhood friend from that series.

It All Began in Chaos is about the early formation of the solar system and our evolving understanding of it.  We start with Newton’s idea that the planets move in perfectly circular orbits and then to the idea that orbits are elliptical and the to the idea that orbits are elliptical right now and are likely to stay that way, but that no one can know for certain what will happen in the future because there seem to have been unexpected events in the solar system’s past (for example, Uranus, Neptune, and Saturn apparently used to be much closer to the sun than expected, then something happened to move them).

As to the future of the solar system, all scientists can do is speak in percentages like with meteorology because things are still moving and drifting and something like the event that may have moved three of our four largest planets to the outside of the solar system could always happen again.  We just don’t know.

This article was also one of the first times I’ve felt the passage of time from when the article was written (aside from the few articles I’ve read from the 19th century, of course). Irion tells us that in July 2015, New Horizons will fly past Pluto and take pictures of the dwarf planet and its satellites. This flyby happened almost a year ago now.

The first time we visited Detroit, it seemed like a nice enough city.  Of course, looking at the long term, Detroit was about halfway declined by then (Detroit had peaked in the 1950s).  The decline, however, was much more obvious to us in 1987.  Maybe we just visited more obviously declined neighborhoods on this trip, but we found that to be really sad.

Cincinnati was also kind of depressing as well.  In 1980, my mom and I had spent the day at Union Terminal, which was, at the time, a shopping mall.  When we returned in 1987, the mall was closed.  We had, at that point, no idea that three years later Union Terminal would reopen as the Museum Center.  We had had dinner in the rotating restaurant atop the Quality Inn which is now a Radisson in 1980.  That restaurant was closed as well.

I’m hoping to redeem the memory of that trip to Cincinnati, at least, the weekend of the total eclipse in 2017.  We won’t be able to see the eclipse in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, which will be where the eclipse will be total for the longest period, as the trip back to San Antonio will take too much time.  If all goes as planned, we’ll be going up through Memphis and Nashville to Cincinnati and then across to either Kansas or Nebraska, depending on where we can get a room at this point.  Then we’ll come straight back and go back to work and (likely, though the calendar hasn’t been released yet) school the next day.  And we don’t need to stay right on top of the eclipse site, since we’ll be driving.  We can stay a bit out of the way and drive to the eclipse site.  Having our car will also open up more possible places to see the eclipse.  If the place we stay ends up being overcast that day, we can go northwest or southeast until we find a place that’s open.

I still can’t get to the text version of the articles on the website despite, again, being logged in.

Riding the Rubber Boom, by Charles C. Mann, photographs by Richard Barnes

So, earlier today, I was reading an Atlas Obscura article on the American Geographical Society library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  One of the maps that they have is of Fordlândia, a town that was set up by Henry Ford to grow rubber for his automobile manufacturing operations. The article describes it as a “lost jungle utopian city,” so I had to check it out.  The Wikipedia article on Fordlândia said that the town failed in part because of the development of synthetic rubber.  So, armed with that little bit of knowledge, I began reading Riding the Rubber Boom, which is about farming natural latex rubber in Southern Asia.  If synthetic rubber caused the failure of Fordlândia in the early 20th century, then wouldn’t there be even more difficulty making a living from farming rubber today?

Well, as the saying goes, it’s more complicated than that.  Latex is as big as it ever was.  We still need it for things like car tires and, even more crucially, for airplane tires.  We also need it for latex gloves and condoms.

As for Fordlândia, the site chosen was too far north and too dry for growing rubber trees, for one.  They also had a nice monoculture going, where all there was was rubber trees.  And, as I’ve mentioned before, monocultures of trees are vulnerable to pests and diseases because they can easily move from tree to tree.  If there are other species of tree in between, though, it becomes more difficult for the pest or disease to travel across the space between the trees.  The pest or disease in question here is a fungus called Microcyclus ulei, which damages the leaves of the tree, killing it.  Fordlândia got infected by M. ulei, so it was just a matter of time.

The rubber farms in this article have a relatively new variety of rubber tree that are more cold-tolerant, so at least they will avoid that failure on the part of the developers of Fordlândia.  However, the farms are also monocultures, but since M. ulei is native to South America, the trees are, so far, safe from it.  However, it will only take one spore being introduced at the wrong time to doom entire farms. The UN has recommended that anyone who has been in the area where M. ulei is present for the previous three weeks and who has arrived in Southeast Asia be inspected, but, at least as of press time, none of the countries in question have followed through on the suggestion.

Kingdom of Girls, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Karolin Klüppel

Kingdom of Girls focuses on Klüppel’s photographs of the girls of Mawlynnong, India.  For some reason (no one is apparently sure what), Mawylnnong has a female-dominated culture.  Property passes from mother to daughter, rather than from father to son.

I really need to start a list of places I’ve written up so that I don’t repeat destinations.  On the other hand, so long as I don’t say exactly the same thing each time, I suppose that several writeups on the same destinations might be acceptable.  It’s not like I am likely to run out of things to say about any given destination.

Also, I’m now two months and almost a week out from my trip to Chicago and a return to Northern Illinois Destinations. I had planned to post this on June 2, but it’s been storming lately and I’m old school — I unplug my computer when there’s thunder and lightning.  This has cut into my writing time. I’m writing this very early in the morning of June 3, and more rain is expected, but it doesn’t look like it will storm any time soon.

I was hoping to find my photos of the San Antonio Museum of Art before now, but I haven’t.  Failing that, I was also hoping to make a trip out to the museum to take some new pictures, but that didn’t happen either.  So, on to another park (and then to three destinations within the park).  That should buy me another couple of weeks before I need to get those pictures.

George Washington Brackenridge was a “Yankee” from Indiana who made a fortune, near as I can figure, selling cotton on the black market during the Civil War. After the war finished, Brackenridge moved to Texas.  He settled in San Antonio, where he founded the San Antonio National Bank and its sister institution the San Antonio Loan and Trust (I believe that the San Antonio National Bank that existed in the late 20th Century and is now known as Vantage Bank Texas is a different bank).  Brackenridge designed the headquarters of the San Antonio National Bank, which still stands on Commerce Street and, at the time I’m writing this, is a law office.  I’ve always wondered where the vault was in the bank.  Perhaps someday when I’m downtown I will knock on their door and ask.

Brackenridge also was involved in the San Antonio Water Works Company, one reservoir of which is now on the property of the San Antonio Botanical Garden.

In 1869, Brackenridge bought a house near the headwaters of the San Antonio River and enlarged it into a mansion, which he named Fernridge. He purchased land alongside the river to the south of Fernridge as well, though I’m not sure how much of the land between the two, which is now the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word, Hildebrand Street, and the Miraflores estate, he owned.  The land to the south of Hildebrand, which was owned by Brackenridge, was, at first, part of the San Antonio Water Works. Two of the pumphouses still stand in the park today, one is at the northern end of the park and the other is near the clubhouse for the Brackenridge Park Golf Course.

The land which is now Brackenridge Park was also the original headquarters of the Alamo Cement Company (which has had several names, including the Alamo Portland and Roman Cement Company).  In 1880, two men, William Lloyd and George Kalteyer, realized that the stone near the river was of a quality suitable for making cement.  They founded the Alamo Cement Company and set up operations.  Some of the buildings of the company, including the kiln, still stand in the park today.  The quarries are now the sites of the Japanese Tea Garden and the San Antonio Zoo.

Alamo Cement factory kiln, San Antonio, Texas

The smokestack of the kiln of the Alamo Cement factory.

Brackenridge’s original gift to the city was of 199 acres.  Brackenridge was fairly progressive for his time, supporting women’s right to vote. Brackenridge did live to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gave the vote to most American women. There was a hink in that women who married foreign nationals between 1907, when the Expatriation Act, and 1940 lost their citizenship.  Some women who married  foreign nationals got to retain their citizenship after 1920, when the Cable Act was passed, but the Expatriation Act was not repealed until 1940.  There were also practical barriers, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, to voting for immigrant and non-white women in much of the country as late as 1966.  But that’s all beyond the scope of this blog post.

Brackenridge was also a prohibitionist.  The argument went that alcoholism (and alcohol use in general) was hurting the people of the United States, women and children in particular, and so prohibitionists wanted to make alcohol illegal.  And they got their way for 13 years.  Prohibition didn’t work out. Illegal production and sale of alcohol flourished which just exacerbated the problems that the prohibitionists had wanted to stop.  Additionally, since the sale of alcohol was illegal, it wasn’t taxed, which hurt the economy. Since Brackenridge was a prohibitionist, he forbade the drinking of alcohol in the park.  In a twist ending, though, Emma Koehler later donated an additional 144 acres to the park.  Koehler’s late husband had been owner of the Pearl Brewery.  Since Koehler’s money had come from the sale of alcohol, she allowed consumption of alcohol in her gift.  This divide is still present today.  In the Brackenridge gift, there is no consumption of alcohol, but it is allowed in the Koehler part of the park.

Today, Brackenridge Park holds three pavilions, 1.7 miles of walking trails, the San Antonio Zoo, the Japanese Tea Gardens, sports fields, the Sunken Garden Theatre (an outdoor venue for plays, concerts and other kinds of gatherings), a golf course, and the Witte Museum.  The park also has several interesting bridges across the San Antonio River, including a cement bridge carved to look like wood and an iron bridge which was moved to the park from St. Mary’s Street downtown (see image below).  I will be doing writeups on the zoo, the tea gardens, and the museum in future South Texas Destinations postings.  The Museum Reach portion of the River Walk goes around the golf course and then through the park.

St. Mary's Steet Bridge, Brackenridge Park, San Antonio, Texas

The St. Mary’s Street bridge in Brackenridge Park. I cannot for the life of me remember how I managed to get this angle on the bridge. I think that the river must have bent right there. I do know that I was not standing in the water when I took this.

Most of Brackenridge Park is wheelchair accessible. I’ll try to cover specifics as I write up other parts of the park.

This is ridiculous.  I’m having the worst time ever getting to the online version of this issue.  I’ve had to log in twice now. My browser used to keep me logged in and I used to be able to just get to it by searching Google for the issue number.  Now all I can get while logged in is a photograph of the pages.  When I try to get to the text version, it keeps telling me “This National Geographic content is only available to subscribing members” and gives me a link to a login screen.  And I can see that I’m still logged in behind it.  I’ve actually sworn at this thing.  Twice.

Well, I guess I’ll have to make the best of this bullshit.  I’m not happy, though.  Having to zoom in to read the text is a pain in my left buttock.

In other news, I did make it to an average of 8,200 steps per day for May, finally.  I couldn’t remember if the number I got on the final day of the month was the final count, or if it would drop at midnight, so I put in a couple thousand extra steps so that I had one day of wiggle room.  I ended up with 8,467 steps on average for the month.

Bloody Good, by Elizabeth Royte, photographs by Charlie Hamilton Jones

I got a kick out of the title that the website gives this article, Vultures are Revolting.  Here’s Why We Need to Save Them. The mental image of vulture revolutionaries amuses me.

Bloody Good focuses on the life and current plight of vultures in Africa and Asia. Some of the vultures in these areas are critically endangered.  Vultures reduce the number of animal carcasses rotting in the sun, which means that they also reduce the chances that people and livestock will be made ill by the kinds of illnesses that develop from rotting meat.  I know that vultures have a bad reputation, but there’s one photograph of cape vultures in South Africa that is truly beautiful.

We have traditionally had a lot of black and turkey vultures here in Texas.  I made sure that Alex grew up appreciating the good they do for the environment. We once actually found the remains of a raccoon at Guadalupe River State Park and we had seen vultures in the park earlier that day. Now I didn’t get cozy enough with the bones and fur that remained to see if there were beak marks on them, but the corpse was just to the side of the walking path, so I suspect that if the poor thing had been left to rot, someone would have removed it, or alerted a park ranger so that it could be removed.

By the way, it looked like the poor thing had become tangled in fishing line, so please be careful when you go fishing to always account for all of your fishing line before you go home.

Into Thin Ice, by Andy Isaacson, photographs by Nick Cobbing

I’m somewhat nonplussed by the title here.  I think that the usual saying is “on thin ice,” and the focus of this article (aside from — what else? — global warming) is on boats that examine the Arctic by attaching themselves to ice floes, so the word “on” would seem to apply there. But it’s the editors’ choice what to name the articles, even if it is somewhat cumbersome.

And, of course, the ice is melting more rapidly than is traditional and scientists are very concerned.  The warming oceans are releasing carbon dioxide into the air, which will hasten global climate change.

Stay tuned for my next National Geographic recap in which the rubber plantations of Asia are about to precipitate an ecological catastrophe.  Unless I can knock out the rest of July 1889 by then, in which case my next National Geographic writeup will be about the rivers and valleys of Pennsylvania in great detail.