National Geographic January 2013, Part 1

Now for the National Geographic post I had attempted back on the 12th:

Restless Genes, by David Dobbs

At first, I thought that this would be a rehash of what we covered back on June 29, 2016 or that the magazine would cover again in June of 2013, depending on your perspective. The thesis in that issue was that people take risks because they get a dopamine rush from it.

Instead, though, we talk about the possible genetic impetus and benefits of exploration. Dobbs discusses how unusual homo sapiens sapiens is for our desire to explore and to cover new territory. Other species may travel with us (rats and cockroaches, for example), but it’s doubtful whether those species would have spread out that far without us. Even our other homo sapiens cousins (such as the Neanderthal) didn’t spread out and conquer the world like we did.

We start out with one gene, DRD4, which controls dopamine (this is where I thought the two articles would overlap). A variant called DRD4-7R seems to correlate highly with exploration. But for all of the studies that seem to make that correlation, there are others that refute it.

One of the scientists who discovered the 7R variant believes that it is a collection of genetic changes, not just that one, that leads humanity to explore. We are better-suited than our primate cousins to walk far distances, and our brains take longer to develop but end up larger than theirs are. And even the long time it takes us to mature may help. Our long childhoods lead us to develop imaginations, which feed our curiosity and lead children to naturally become scientists and explorers. Some of us retain those tendencies into adulthood.

And explorers tend to breed new explorers. A community in Quebec spread out into the wilderness and as they progressed farther into the wilderness, the communities they founded had different traits. They married younger and had more children, and those children married younger and had even more children. Lawrence Excoffier, a population geneticist, believes that this sort of sorting happened over and over throughout human history, leading explorers to perhaps have had more children, and thus had a stronger impact on the human genome in general.

We start and end the article, and possibly also the story of human migration, with the population of the South Pacific. These peoples were the descendants of some of the first to leave Africa. Once they reached the end of the continent of Asia going westward, they started moving from through the islands in small canoes, always within sight of another island. But when they reached the end of the chain of islands that were “intervisible,” they stopped until centuries later, when people from somewhere else, perhaps Taiwan, brought a larger boat that could travel farther distances. And after that, nothing stopped them from conquering that entire part of the world.

Crazy Far, by Tim Folger photographs by Stephan Martiniere

We begin this article with a discussion of the NERVA project, which was an attempt to get humans to Mars in a nuclear-powered spaceship. The original plan was to leave for Mars in 1981. Obviously, we never got there.

In this article, we discuss the technology that could, someday, bring that old dream back to life, including nuclear fusion or a giant sail that would catch solar winds (Hey! I was just reminiscing about that Classic Doctor Who episode!)

The article concludes with the idea that before we can build a starship, though, we will need to build a society that will build a starship. That seemed like a good prospect in 2013. In 2017, I think we’re likely to take a big step backwards before we can even start on that project.

National Geographic April 2016, Part 2

Every Last One, by Rachel Hartigan Shea, photographs by Joel Sartore

In my last National Geographic post, I said that this article will also be tangentially about death. And extinction, cancer, John James Audubon painting the portraits of dead birds, there’s a lot of death, and potential death, going on here.

Joel Sartore is a photographer who used to travel all over the world, until his wife, Kathy, developed cancer. Sartore needed to be there for her and to take care of his kids, so he stopped traveling for his work. Using John James Audubon as his inspiration, he decided that he wanted to start taking portraits of animals. As you may or may not know, Audubon was drawing, which takes longer than photography, and he needed his subjects to sit still longer than they would in life, so every bird that Audubon drew was dead and wired into a natural pose.

Sartore contacted a friend who worked at a local zoo and got his friend to lend him a white box and a naked mole rat. And thus Sartore’s new career was born. Some of the animals that Sartore is photographing are endangered, some even critically endangered. Sartore photographed one of the last five northern white rhinoceros in the world just before she died. Sartore’s photographs are amazing. In this article, we see 77 of his photographs. Sartore estimates that it will take 25 years to finish photographing just the species that are in zoos. He may not live to see that part of his career finished.

Oh, and Kathy had another bout of cancer in 2012, but has been cancer-free for four years now. His son, Cole, had Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012, but Hodgkins lymphoma is curable, so his prognosis is excellent.

Urban Parks, by Ken Otterbourg, photographs by Simon Roberts

If you’ve been reading here very long at all, you’ll see that I really love urban parks, so this article was right up my alley. Otterbourg traces the origins of some of our urban parks, mostly focusing on lands that have been reclaimed from other uses, including the rebirths of the Cuyahoga and Chonggyecheon rivers, the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other parks.

I’m disappointed that Millennium Park isn’t listed here. The creation of the park above a parking lot and old railroad lines seems right in keeping with the “reclaming land to make parks” theme of this article. Speaking of which, it’s August, so it’s only about two months before I return to walking San Antonio’s own reclaimed-land park, the Peak Greenway.


National Geographic March 2016, Part 1

I don’t know when I’m going to get the reading done for this post, but I’m going to get started writing it up anyhow.  Hopefully I’ll get the reading done on June 28 or 29 and get this knocked out by the end of the month. I may also get a start on the July 13 post, which will probably be another San Antonio city park, between now and then, as well.

The day after this goes live, by the way, Alex and I are leaving for our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone trip. Assuming that the flight is uneventful, we’ll be landing pretty early in the day, getting our luggage and our rental car, and heading off to Pando, the most massive single organism in the world.

July 6 – I was sort of close.  I got part of the reading done in very early July but then stalled.  I intended to finish up the second article while waiting for a doctor for some jaw pain I’ve been having lately. I got right in to see the doctor and got right back out again.  It’s now July 6 and I’m just now starting on the writing.

Waste Not, Want Not, by Elizabeth Royte, photographs by Brian Finke

First, the meaning of the term “want” had moved from “the lack of” to “a desire for” by such an extent by my own childhood, that it took me a very long time to figure out that “waste not, want not” didn’t mean “if you don’t waste it, you won’t want it.”

Second, this article returns us to the Future of Food series for the first time since I’m-not-sure-when. It’s been so long that the “future of food” tag doesn’t even show up on my widget.

Now, onward.

A shocking amount of food is wasted in the world. Some of it is food that was purchased in grocery stores or restaurants and went uneaten, but a lot of it is actually disposed of at the site where it is grown. Sometimes it comes out malformed and the buyers, either the shoppers themselves or the buyers who work for the retail industry. Sometimes there is actually something wrong with the produce, such as a fungal infection or an infestation by parasites.

We follow Tristram Stuart as he puts together meals from discarded food. We see him buying crookneck squash that took their name just a little too seriously, for example. These squash become part of a squash tempura, turnip dumpling, and zucchini noodle meal.

In this article, we go on to France, Kenya, Peru, and back to the United States (Las Vegas, this time) to see what Stuart, and others, are doing to use unsalable food.

The Cold Rush, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Evgenia Arbugaeva

With the increasing warming of the Arctic region, several countries, including Canada, Norway, and Russia are attempting to harvest the natural resources that are coming closer to (and sometimes actually reaching) the surface. Norway is drilling for oil in the Arctic Circle, and Canada is mining gold and iron. Additionally, some ships (including a cruise ship) are taking advantage of the melting ice to take the proverbial “Northwest Passage”  from Europe to Asia through northern Canada.

It’s not all rosy, though. The Arctic Circle is so remote that workers need to be brought in in groups, the workers then live in those groups for weeks or months, and then they get shipped home. Also, ecological damage is being done. There are no oil pipelines that far north, so the oil has to be dumped into tankers, which leads to the risk of an oil spill. And, of course, mining always leads to damage.

The Azolla Event, which is the proliferation of azolla fern that led our carbon-rich atmosphere to go into an ice age, locked up more carbon than just the carbon in the fern. Some carbon dioxide was dissolved in the water and once the water froze, the carbon that was dissolved in it was trapped. Cold Rush points out that the melting ice is releasing further carbon into the atmosphere.

National Geographic February 2016, Part 2

London Down Under, by Roff Smith, photographs by Simon Norfolk

Okay, so cities build on top of the remains of previous generations.  In London Down Under (more on my reaction to that title later), we are told that the old layers of London go down 30 feet.  I would assume that the materials the higher levels are built from came from outside the city and thus the city itself is getting more prominent. If this happens in all cities, would the planet actually kind of start getting bigger?  You can tell I didn’t sleep well last night.  I’m still a little loopy.

London was always one of the places I’ve wanted to visit, and when I had my cancer, I didn’t want to die without having been to the UK, London in particular, so we went.  It took a toll on our credit cards, but it was worth it.  I loved London and would love to go back someday.

London Down Under is about the archaeological digs that they are doing in London, the things they are finding, and how, contrary to what you might have expected, the dampness of London is actually protecting the artifacts. One of the archaeologists that Smith interviews, Sadie Watson, says that items that would have rotted away centuries ago. I’m trying to figure out how that would even work. I can find references to how salt water preserves artifacts, but not fresh water, like that of the Thames and the underground rivers such as the Walbrook. The water would make an anaerobic environment, but that would still leave anaerobic organisms, and anaerobic organisms can break things down.  That is the source of fermentation, after all — fungi breaking down carbohydrates in an anaerobic environment.

Now to my issue with the title.  “Down Under” generally means “Australia,” or, rarely “New Zealand” or, even more rarely, someplace like Chile, Argentina. I haven’t been able to find one dictionary that defines the term as “subterranean.”

The Changing Face of Saudi Women, by Cynthia Gorney photographs by Lynsey Addaria

Gorney and Addaria travel into the world of the women of Saudia Arabia. And I use the term “world” intentionally. Saudi Arabia is one of the most, if not the most, sexually segregated countries in the world.  Women have different places to sit in restaurants, different lines at the grocery store, and entirely separate areas of the shopping mall.  Not that men are forbidden entirely in some of these places but the only men who are allowed there are husbands or immediate family members of the women in question.

Apparently, some of the women of Saudi Arabia, at least, don’t see their segregation as creating a female ghetto but rather as a safe space rather like women-only colleges and universities.  Women got the right to vote in 2015, the same year that women were first allowed to be members of the Consultative Assembly, which is, from what I can tell, more or less like a combination of Congress (in that they draft laws) and the President’s Cabinet (in that they are merely advisory and don’t make the actual decisions) in the United States. But Saudi women still cannot drive in Saudi Arabia.  Some women drive outside the country, and it apparently is pretty common for cars to stop just over the border into Bahrain and for the woman to take over driving.  So, when women do get the ability to drive legally in Saudi Arabia, at least some won’t need to be taught.

For the entertainment value, I went to look at the King Fahd Causeway, which links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, on Google Earth to see if I could see any cars doing this, and there definitely appears to be a car on the shoulder just past Bahrain Passport Control. Maybe that car wasn’t switching drivers, but just maybe it was.

Midnight Slalom, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Oskar Enander

Midnight Slalom is a short piece with accompanying photographs about a 2014 nighttime shoot of skiers on the slopes of mountains in Alaska and British Columbia. The pictures are breathtaking.

We’re Possibly Rearranging Our Upcoming Travel . . .

I’m currently in the process of rethinking our upcoming travel schedules.  Not for 2016; those are paid for and thus graven in stone at this point. Rather, I’m rethinking 2017 and following years.  Originally, we were planning to go to Europe in 2017, but then I discovered the SAIL Amsterdam event, which is an event where tall ships converge on Amsterdam every five years.  The next one will be in 2020.  I really wanted to take Alex for this, however, SAIL Amsterdam is held in late August, which would interfere with his school schedule (even though Alex will be in college by then).

When I was considering taking Alex to SAIL Amsterdam, I thought about taking Alex to Canada in 2017.  Then I discovered that SAIL Amsterdam was too late in the summer, so I was back to Europe in 2017. However, when I was researching other tall ships events, I found that there is a tall ships thing in Quebec City during what would be my normal window for our big vacation (from the Monday after the second Friday in July until the fourth Friday in July) in 2017.  This is perfect.  I had also hoped to return to New York City in July of 2017 anyhow, so we could fly out to New York, then take the train from there.  It would probably be easier to take the train from New York to Toronto then go in a circle, coming back to New York from Montreal, but we wouldn’t be able to spend much time in Toronto that way, not and make it to Quebec City in time.  Maybe Montreal, then right to Quebec City and then take our time coming back through Montreal to Toronto and back to New York?  That’s got some potential.

I’m not sure what will happen with Europe now.  2018?  We usually go to see a volcano in even-numbered years, and there are three volcanoes in Germany, so we could do that.  Or we could stick with our current plan to go to Seattle (Mount Rainier would be our volcano in that case) in 2018 and go to Europe in 2019.

If we do the New York to Canada and back to New York thing in 2017, both times I’ve flown out of Terminal 2 at JFK, I’ve had terrible vertigo, so don’t let me forget my Benadryl.

My Travel Memories: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

All of this remembering our 1981 Canada trip has me thinking about taking a similar trip in the future.  We could, in theory, at least, fly into Toronto, then take the train to Montreal and Quebec City.  We could rent a car and explore some of the areas to the east of Quebec City or, if I don’t want to rent a car (I suspect I’ll have had enough of that after our Salt Lake City/Yellowstone/Dinosaur National Monument trip to last me a while), we might be able to take a side trip to either Halifax or Ottawa (but not both).

As I recall, we spent most of our time in Montreal in the Old City area.  We stayed at a hotel in the suburbs and took the Metro into the city.  It saved us a bundle, but wasted quite a bit of time.  I think Montreal was where we went in search of beignets, but since this was in the days before everyone had access to the Internet, we never did find any.

I also bought a French-language Wonder Woman comic book compilation while I was in Montreal.  I planned to learn French someday and figured that the comic book would give me some incentive.  Since then, I have made two attempts at learning French and was interrupted by tragedy both times (I think it was cancer the first time and my divorce the second).  So I gave up.  I will still learn it someday, but not until I’ve become close to proficient in all of the other languages, and I do mean all of them — Hindi, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, Lithuanian, Igbo, Korean, Vietnamese . . . .

While looking for pictures of the frescoes and wood in Notre Dame referenced in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, I found some surprisingly lovely pictures of Notre Dame that showed it full of color and gorgeous carved wood.  Score one for Brown, I guess.  This surprised the heck out of me.  Then I noticed the caption — Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. So if you want to visit the version of Notre Dame that exists in Brown’s imagination, you’ll have to go to Montreal to do so.

Since we didn’t do anything in Toronto, I guess that next we’re on to our 1982 trip to Florida.  If I recall correctly, it was more days of hanging around the house (I seem to recall doing a lot of reading and we saw Poltergeist).  We also went to EPCOT during that trip, so that’s probably what I will focus on next.

I wish I could find pictures of our 1981 and 1982 trips.  I also wish I could remember where, if anywhere, we went in 1983 through 1986.

My Travel Memories, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

This is one of those days that make me wish I had pictures of this trip available to me more than most. This is because Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I don’t remember seeing much in the way of sightseeing, but my family and I spent all day just walking around.  I do remember spending a few hours on the
Île d’Orléans, though I think we just drove Route 368 around the perimeter of the island.

The city is what made the real impression on me (I’m a city girl, after all). We wandered the streets of the Old City, which is like visiting a 17th century European city. There weren’t even any cars there, that I can recall. We also walked the walls of the citadel. We walked at least ten miles that day and I would have been willing to spend more time there, but we were scheduled to go to Montreal and had to leave.

I always intended to return. In fact, I kind of dreamed of having my honeymoon there.  Instead of Quebec City, my now-ex and I ended up going to Indianapolis (more on that trip once we get to 1991).  We got married in November, so going north was not a good idea, plus he had only been out of college for three months at that point, so he hadn’t earned any vacation time yet.  He took two days off without pay, so we had to stay fairly close to home. I may get married again someday, if I ever get to a point where I want to date again (we’re coming up on the sixth anniversary of our divorce and I haven’t felt that desire yet) and, once I do, if I ever find someone I love well enough to marry again and maybe we’ll go to Quebec City for our honeymoon.  I’ve heard of people “dating themselves” (in the sense of going out and doing fun things alone and not in the sense of revealing how old they are) so maybe, someday, I’ll take myself on a honeymoon.

National Geographic October 2015, Part 3

Sea Wolves, by Susan McGrath, photographs by Paul Nicklen

Sea Wolves is about, well, wolves that live near the sea. Apparently, scientists generally considered the wolves that they saw on the beach of the coast of British Columbia to be ordinary forest-dwelling wolves that were searching for food at the beach.  But recently, scientists have begun studying the wolves that they see near the shores and they have discovered that the wolves never really leave the shoreline. They live on barnacles and dead whales, but during spawning season, salmon can make up to 25% of their diet. The shore-dwelling wolves also mate pretty much exclusively with other shore-dwelling wolves, so the populations are totally distinct from one another and are likely to become more so.

Of course, the local residents had known most of this for years.  It just took a little longer for the scientists to catch up, apparently.

Abstraction Finds Beauty in Beasts, story and photographs by Michael D. Kern

Yep, that’s the title.  Don’t ask me.

Kern is a photographer who has always has liked reptiles and invertebrates and other “icky” animals.  He first takes a photograph of said animal and looks for patterns, colors, shapes, and so forth.  Then he uses that to build an abstract photograph of the animal in order to show off the beauty of the animal.

In this article, we see Kern’s original photographs and his abstract art based on those photographs for a bird, a snake, a tarantula, a millipede, a mantis, and two different species of chameleon. I think the millipede is my favorite.  The original animal has red legs and black-and-white stripes on its shell.

I have a very high tolerance for bugs and things.  I’m the only person I know who, when asked, “Would you like to (hold/touch) (name of “icky” creature)?” almost always says “yes.”  I’ve been able to hold, touch, and/or pet several species of snake, a tarantula, and a bat, among others.  For anyone reading this who is worried about my rabies status, the bat had been confiscated from traffickers and it was impossible to repatriate it, so it was given into custody of a trained professional bat-handler.  She had had custody of it for several years by then, so I knew that it wasn’t infected with rabies or ebola or anything. The fur was, by the way, incredibly soft.

National Geographic February 2014, Part 2

Yukon: Canada’s Wild West by Tom Clynes, photographs by Paul Nicklen

In the 1800s, prospectors discovered gold in the Yukon, and a gold rush began. The government passed laws allowing people to stake claims pretty much anywhere they wanted, regardless of whether it was private property or tribal lands, or anything else. They also failed to limit the types of equipment that could be used in any way. This made sense at the time because most prospectors just had a pick and a shovel.

However, those laws are still in force, and the mineral wealth of the Yukon goes far beyond gold. Modern-day prospectors are digging for copper, iron, uranium, and zinc, in addition to gold. Modern-day prospectors are also staking thousands of claims and using heavy machinery to excavate. This is leading the areas where the prospectors are working to basically be strip-mined, and chemicals are leaching into the rivers.

It isn’t to the level of an ecological catastrophe — yet. And new legislation has been introduced that hopefully will help prevent one.

The government and people of the Yukon aren’t even getting much financial benefit from the mineral rush, because the cost to mine in the Yukon also hasn’t been raised in decades. This rate was set at 2.5%, assuming $15 per ounce of gold and was set back in 1906. This means that for every $1,501.62 (Canadian) ounce of gold that is removed from the ground today, the mining company only has to pay $0.375 to the Canadian government for use of their land. Setting a flat value on gold in the law made sense back when no one out that far in the wilderness could know what the current value of gold was, but these days, all you need is a satellite phone or, if you are close to civilization, a cell phone, and you can track the value of gold nearly by the minute, the rate should be set to a percentage of the current value of gold, rather than a percentage of the value of gold in 1906.

Brunelleschi’s Dome, by Tom Mueller, photographs by Dave Yoder

My neighbor is something of an Italophile. While Alex and I were planning our 2014 trip to Italy, my neighbor insisted that we had to go to Florence. I wasn’t willing to commit because we only had six nights available (I was still part-time at work and only got four days a year of vacation, so I had to take some paid personal time to make it that far), but I promised him that if we had a free day, we’d take the train up to Florence for the day. As you will discover sometime in 2017 or 2018, once I get around to writing up the Italy trip, we never made it to Florence. We are planning a return trip to Italy once Alex is out of college, in part to see the Blood Miracle, so we’ll pencil in a few days in Florence on that trip, perhaps.

In any aerial photograph of Florence, one feature stands out — the dome of the cathedral. Brunelleschi’s Dome is about the construction of that dome. The cathedral was built in the very, very late 13th and early 14th Centuries, but no one knew how to construct the dome that was planned to finish the building. The dome had to be about two meters farther across than the one at the Pantheon in Rome, and to make things more interesting, the space that the dome had to cover was octagonal. As a result, they couldn’t just crib the design of the Pantheon dome as so many have done in the centuries since the Pantheon was built.

As a result, the cathedral stood roofless for over a century. Then, in the early 15th Century, a goldsmith named Filippo Brunelleschi came to the city fathers and said that he had a solution. Brunelleschi was made superintendent of the dome project, and construction started, a project that would take 16 years.

Karma of the Crowd, by Laura Spinney, photographs by Alex Webb

Karma of the Crowd is about the importance of crowds to human psychology viewed through the Kumbh Mela. My experience with foreign languages — in this case, Italian — rears its ugly head here . My first thought was, “so it has something to do with apples?” because “mela” is “apple” in Italian. It has nothing to do with apples. “Mela” is the Hindi word for “festival.”

The Kumbh Mela, literally “Pitcher Festival” is a Hindu religious festival held every 12 years on several rivers in India. The Kumbh Mela that we visit in Karma of the Crowd is the one held in January and February of every 12 years near the city of Allahabad. The myth is that the nectar of immortality spilled from a pitcher into the river and so tens of millions of Hindus gather at the river to drink the water (despite the coliform bacteria found in the river) and share their common faith together.

Some studies, including one done at the 2011 mela, which is a smaller annual festival held in Allahabad, have shown that being in crowds can have the same kinds of effects on the attendees as personal social connection has on individuals. Some of these positive effects are physical. Socially connected people experience less inflammation and have more efficient immune systems. And these positive effects last for a while after the gathering ends, as well.

This research is particularly timely considering that more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Scientists are discovering that people who live in cities tend to be more socially connected than those who live in more isolated situations, and this has positive effects on the residents, both in terms of physical health, but also in psychological terms. People who live in cities tend to create art and knowledge (and also money) better than those who live in other places.

I have to say that as someone who loves cities and who wants to live in a city center someday, this is good news for me.

National Geographic June 2015, Part 2

Living Goddesses of Nepal, by Isabella Tree, photographs by Stephanie Sinclair

Living Goddesses of Nepal is about the tradition of the kumari, which are prepubescent girls who are believed to be the living incarnation of the goddess Vajradevi for Buddhists and Taleju for Hindus. Our guide to this world is a kumari candidate, six-year-old Unika Vajracharya. The tradition goes back at least as far as the 900s, when both boys and girls were considered to be conduits for the Divine. Eventually, the boys fell out of favor and the girls were elevated to the status of goddesses.

The article opens on the second attempt to make Unika a kumari. I gather that it is not terribly common for a girl to be a candidate twice, since kumari lose their position the first time they bleed. Sometimes a reign can end by a simple scratch and it always ends at the beginning of the reigning kumari’s menstrual cycles. Since loss of blood ends the reign, kumari are never allowed to touch the ground outdoors, and their activities even within doors are fairly restricted. As a result, most kumari leave at the onset of menses. So a kumari chosen at three or four would then reign for around 10 years, which would make most of the candidates from the previous round also too old for the position.

Traditionally every village in the Kathmandu Valley had a kumari, but with time, the number of kumari has dwindled. Part of this is that only some girls qualify to even be candidates. They must all be from the Shakya caste of the Newari, and traditionally there are 32 traits that a kumari must have to even be considered, including such poetic items as the body of a banyan tree and the soft voice of a duck (I, personally, have never thought of ducks as quiet animals — maybe Nepalese ducks are quieter than mallards) and fearlessness.

In fact, the candidate pool has shrunk so much that the selection process sometimes just boils down to checking the horoscopes of the candidates and choosing the one with the most auspicious signs. As fate would have it, Unika has a horoscope more auspicious than that of her rival, so she is chosen.

There is a note on the National Geographic website version of this article that tells us that all of the kumari and former kumari mentioned in the article survived the earthquake that hit the Kathmandu Valley in April and May 2015.

Canada’s Little Park of Wonders, by McKenzie Funk, photographs by Peter Essick

We begin Canada’s Little Park of Wonders, an article on Yoho National Park in British Columbia, by looking at the Cambrian fossils found there, and the evolutionary dead ends that the represent. We then leave that topic to focus on the Vaux family, a family of liberal Quakers. Mary Vaux, the daughter of the family, was a naturalist. She also eventually became the third wife of Charles Doolittle Walcott, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution (Walcott also took one of the first panoramic photos to be published in National Geographic).

Quakers were not supposed to be interested in art, and yet the Vauxes took many photographs of Yoho National park, and Mary in particular, both took photographs and made numerous paintings of the plants found there. Yet their art was mixed in with science — whether they were scientists whose science was artistic or artists whose art was scientific is up for debate. Over 20 years, they documented the changes in the park (the retreat of the Illecillewaet glacier in particular) through photographs.

Sins of the Aral Sea, by Mark Synnott, photographs by Carolyn Drake

This title just gets me every time I see it. I didn’t even know a sea could sin. I’ll try to let go of that. We’ll see how well that works.

The Aral Sea, which sits on the coast between Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, was once the fourth-largest lake in the world, in between Lake Victoria and Lake Huron. Then, driven at least in part by siphoning off water from the river that fed the sea in order to raise cotton, the Aral Sea began to shrink. By 1998, the Aral Sea was the eighth largest lake in the world, and now it barely ranks at all. In fact, in 2015, the Aral Sea is actually two smaller bodies of water, with salinity levels one-third that of the Dead Sea, and the southernmost half of the sea is evaporating so quickly that the ground it leaves behind is still wet.

The land left behind is covered in remains of the sea that once was, including docks and piers, grounded fishing ships, and acres and acres of salt. They had hoped that the salt would form a hard crust, but instead, the salt is friable, and blows up in dust storms that are also contaminated by agricultural chemicals.

There are still fish in the northernmost body of water, but the southern part of what remains is inhabited only by one species of brine shrimp. In fact, thanks to dams on the local rivers, the northernmost part of the sea is reviving. However, one of the rivers that they dammed is the river that would have fed into the southern portion. In trying to save one part of the sea, they are killing the other.