National Geographic March 2013, Part 1

Let’s see if I can get back on this horse here. I try to do NaNoWriMo every year and November is just around the corner. Hopefully I’ll be able to produce at least one blog post a day through the month (though I’ll probably keep going on the every other day pattern for posting). We’ll see what happens once we get there.

In other news, I’m still having trouble reading the issue in one tab while writing in the other, so it looks like I’ll be balancing the issue on my knee for the foreseeable future.

The New Oil Landscape, by Edwin Dobb, photographs by Eugene Richards

It’s interesting that this issue comes along in my reading just as the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline are making headlines, because fracking in North Dakota is what this article is about. Also, the induced earthquakes in Oklahoma have made news recently, though the government of Oklahoma assures us that fracking is not causing the earthquakes. Oklahoma insists that it’s from wastewater wells. I’m dubious about whether that’s for real or not, but I do think that our continued dependence on fossil fuels is a losing proposition in general.

I’ve been pricing rooftop solar and backyard wind turbines. I’d also like to convert my car to electricity some day, but Alex is trying to sell me on biodiesel.

The New Oil Landscape is a long article. I half-expected that it would take up most of the issue because it just kept going and going, taking up pages 28 through 59. I knew that there would be at least one other article because I’d already read the article on bonobos (more on that in a future blog post).

In The New Oil Landscape, we talk a lot about the people affected by fracking, including the workers and a family who were evicted so that an oil company could move their employees into their apartment complex.

Night Gardens, by Cathy Newman, photographs by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

This is another article that’s pretty much just what it says in the title. Two pages of text on gardens at nighttime are surrounded by photographs of, well, gardens at nighttime. And the White Garden of Sissinghurst in the UK gets a mention. Sissinghurst was the first place we visited when we went on our big UK trip in 2002. The white garden was lovely, but I fell in love with the white wisteria tree hanging over the brick wall. I wish that wisteria weren’t quite so invasive, because I would dearly love to reproduce that.

Instead, I’ve planted two Texas mountain laurels, which are similar in look, although purple, rather than white (the flowers actually smell like grape candy!) but less invasive. Upon doing some research I find that there is such a thing as a white mountain laurel. Maybe something to consider for my next spate of tree-planting.

National Geographic March 2016, Part 2

This post should launch on the day when I’ve been telling my friends and co-workers that I’m going to be eaten by a grizzly bear. Alex and I will be on our first day of two in Yellowstone on Friday, July 15 (Leap Year is so weird; last year, Friday was July 17 so the corresponding Friday this year should be the 16th, but because of Leap Year, it becomes the 15th). We fully intend to leave the path and go at least 100 yards into the backcountry. The official statistics say that something like 5% go farther than 100 yards from a paved path. So, since I like to live on the edge, I fully intend to go at least 101 yards from a paved path.

However, I’m not an idiot. At least, I hope I’m not. We’ll have fruit and water and probably something salty (because passing out from hyponatremia’s not my idea of a good time) with us and I fully intend to tell the park rangers that we’re relative newbies and ask where is a prudent place to experiment with the backcountry.  I won’t have a keyboard with me, so I won’t be writing any new posts until I get back. You’ll know on or around July 21 where we ended up going.

Now, on to the issue:

The Other Iraq, by Neil Shea, photographs by Yuri Kozryev

In 1970, Iraqi Kurdistan achieved an autonomous status within Iraq. Iraqi Kurds had their own capital, Hewler/Erbil (depending on if the language is Kurdish or Arabic), their own President and Prime Minister (I’m not entirely sure how that works in practice), even their own army (the Peshmerga).

Since the deposition of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has had a sort of Renaissance. The Kurds sold the oil under their land and used the money to build universities, to establish a health care system, and to upgrade their cities with malls and skyscrapers.

In The Other Iraq, Shea follows two Iraqi men, Kurdish Botan Sharbarzheri, who dropped out of school to join the Peshmerga, and Arabic Sami Hussein, who joined ISIS. Through the tales of these men, we see how Iraqi Kurdistan has suffered from the forces of ISIS.

By Shea’s final visit to Iraqi Kurdistan, Sharbarzheri has returned to school to study international relations and Hussein has most likely been executed. The of Iraqi Kurdistan is a shadow of its former self, with much of its population gone to join family in other parts of the world or just become straight-out refugees.

Tsunami Memories, by Jeremy Berlin, photographs by Alejandro Chaskielberg

Tsunami Memories discusses Chaskielberg’s photographs of the people of Otsuchi, Japan, a town that was destroyed by the 2011 tsunami. Inspired by faded photographs that Chaskielberg saw in a waterlogged photo album, Chaskielberg took black-and-white photographs of the residents of Otsuchi in the places where they lived, worked, or played.  He took his photos at night with a long exposure so that the images turn out slightly blurred and then added colors on his computer using a palette based on the colors in the damaged photo album.

National Geographic, March 2014, Part 2

I thought I wasn’t going to be able to finish this issue prior to the scheduled posting date of September 8.  But I did.  Whew!

Quicksilver, by Kenneth Brower, photographs by Brian Skerry

Quicksilver is a picture of overfishing, which seems to be a common theme in National Geographic in recent years, told through the population of bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna live in all of the world’s oceans except, traditionally, for the Arctic Ocean (this has apparently changed in the months since this issue went to press).

Along the way, we see how important bluefin tuna are to Japanese culture. The first bluefin tuna of the season is subject to a bidding war that raises the price far above what a bluefin normally would cost. In 2013, the first bluefin tuna went for $1.76 million. We also watch scientists who are studying bluefin tuna using tracking devices to watch the movements of the fish. Scientists used to think that different populations of bluefin stayed to their own oceans, but the use of tracking devices has put an end to that idea.

Hopefully with proper studying and fishery management, the population of bluefin tuna will rebound and reach numbers that will ensure that people will be able to eat bluefin tuna long into the future.

Star Eater, by Mark Finkel, photographs by Mark A. Garlick

Star Eater starts off on the cheerful note of the expected extinction of Earth’s sun. This made me nervous. Contemplating the death of the universe is a nice thought experiment, I guess, but it’s not really something that makes me comfortable.

Things become a lot less personal in the second paragraph, though. This is when we start to talk about the forces that cause the creation of a black hole.

The rest of the article is about the way that black holes function, only now I’m more confused than ever. In one paragraph, Finkel tells us that black holes “roam the galactic suburbs” and, later, that some are “star-shredding, planet-devouring Godzillas,” but then later, he says “A black hole has no more vacuuming power than a regular star.” I am now thoroughly confused. So there are stars that wander the galaxy and the star-shredding Godzilla would have done it anyhow even if it hadn’t been turned into a black hole?

Then we talk about the relationship between the black hole and time. Finkel tells us that if you were to fall into a black hole, time is so elongated there that we would never see you fall in. You would just be stuck there on the edge of the black hole, from our perspective, “for an infinite amount of time.” But earlier Finkel told us that at the time this magazine went to press, a gas cloud was headed towards the black hole and that we would see a ring of debris form around the edge of the black hole as it eats the cloud. Why will we see the debris of the gas cloud form, but the person on the edge of the black hole would never fall in?

I actually very, very briefly considered studying astronomy at one point, and I’m glad that the consideration was very, very brief, because I’m clearly not smart enough for this.

People of the Horse, by David Quammen, photographs by Erika Larsen

The horse evolved in what is now North America. During the era of the Bering land bridge, some horses moved to Eurasia and then an extinction event happened in North America (perhaps they were hunted to extinction), leaving North America horseless. Horses were domesticated in Eurasia, and then thousands of years later, Christopher Columbus and future colonizers brought horses back to North America, where horses settled in as though they were at home, largely because they were. Many nations of Native Americans embraced them and made them part of their culture. And they are still a major part of Native American culture today.

Quammen gives us a little of the history of the horse, but People of the Horse is largely about the relationship between modern Native Americans and their horses. We meet Toni Minthorn, whose family didn’t have enough money to provide their children with toys. The family had 47 horses, however, which saved Toni’s self-esteem.

People of the Horse goes into the events of the Native American rodeo in great detail. I won’t even try to summarize, because I couldn’t do justice to it without quoting Quammen in detail. However, if you need information on the Native American rodeo and the Indian Relay, this article is definitely a good resource.

Call of the Bloom, by Susan McGrath, photographs by Merlin D. Tuttle

I love bats. Sometimes living in Texas gets me down (particularly when the temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit), but the abundance of bats is definitely a plus. Just yesterday (as I write this; it will post about six days later), Alex and I were in Fort Worth, and we saw the wings of several bats in the parking garage. So, yeah. Bats.

There are numerous species of night-blooming flower and if you think about it, with nothing to pollinate them, the flowers would have died out. Sometimes the pollinator is a moth or the rare nocturnal variety of bee, but quite often the pollinator is a bat.

Call of the Bloom goes into the mechanics of how nectar-drinking bats find the flowers that produce the nectar, including having dish-shaped leaves that bounce the sound of the bat’s cry back at them strongly. We also see how those flowers have evolved to make it easy for the bat to get the nectar out While the bat is drinking the nectar, the stamen will drop pollen onto the bat, and the pollen sticks in the bat’s fur, where it remains until it falls off into the next flower. Interestingly, while many night-blooming flowers have smells that are pleasant to the human nose, the flowers that attract bats don’t necessarily smell so good to us. McGrath describes the smell as being like cabbage, sour milk, and skunk, among other smells.

The Mexican free-tailed bat is the bat that summers here in San Antonio, and they are known to drink some nectar. The night-blooming cereus, which does have a pleasant smell to the human nose, is one of the plants that bats pollinate.. I am tempted to get one for my front yard (so that the bats don’t get into conflict with my dog) and see if I can attract some bats next summer.