out_of_eden_walk

All posts tagged out_of_eden_walk

To Walk the World, by Paul Salopek, photographs by John Stanmeyer

And finally I reach the beginning of the Out of Eden Walk series.  From now on, all posts on this topic will be in chronological order.

In this introductory article, Salopek explains his motivation for attempting this walk. He tells us how he wants to understand how small groups of a couple of hundred humans who originally left Africa, came to dominate the globe in such a relatively short space of time. He says that he wants to take this at the pace of a human’s walking speed so that he can learn everything he can, and also to document “current events as a form of pilgrimage.”  He will be following humanity as it spread out from Herto Bouri, Ethiopia, where the earliest human relics have been found, and eventually end up in Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

In this article, Salopek starts out at Herto Bouri, then goes northeast to Djibouti.  I feel the need to warn for one graphic image. On page 46 of this issue, there is a picture of a dead body on a lava field.  The body is in what looks to me to be an advanced state of decomposition and one can see some of the bones.

There is a map of Salopek’s expected path, and it looks to me, two years later, that he’s behind schedule.  There are years given, but no indication whether they are the beginning, middle, or end of the year.  The point for 2014 is in Tajikhstan and the point for 2015 is in India.  As of October 27, 2015, Salopek was in Georgia, which means he hasn’t even made it to that 2014 marker yet. So I guess we’re looking at this project going on until 2018 at least, rather than ending in 2017.

Ghost Cats, by Douglas Chadwick, photographs by Steve Winter

Ghost Cats is about the status of the American cougar in the United States.  The cougar is an apex predator, which means that a lot of humans are afraid of them. As a result, they have been driven out of a lot of inhabited places, which has thrown the ecological balance out of whack. But cougars are making a comeback. Scientists are tracking them with collars and cameras and observing their behavior, and the behavior of cougars is nothing like the scientists expected.  They expected the cougars to be largely solitary, but they seem to share space and prey fairly easily.

One of the reasons why humans don’t like cougars is the fear that they will kill livestock, pets, and be competition for prey with human hunters.  But it looks as though once a male gets established, a lot of the mayhem that humans have come to expect from cougars. One male being in charge of an area seems to reduce the number of other males that come into the area looking for food.

The photographs that accompany this article were largely taken with automatic cameras. And the camera must be very fast indeed, because the photos are so clear and crisp that they look almost like photographs of taxidermied animals, rather than living ones.  I looked carefully for any indication that taxidermy was involved, but all of the pictures seem to indicate that they were of living animals.

The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth, by Michael D. Lemonick, photographs by Mark Thiessen

The Hunt for Life Beyond Earth is pretty much just like it says:  it’s about scientists’ attempts to find life on other planets.  Needless to say, Mars is one of the planets they are considering as home for this extraterrestrial life, but Mars is too close.  Rocks travel back and forth between Earth and Mars periodically.  As a result,  the discovery of life on Mars would not prove that said life developed there.  It could be terrestrial life that made the trip between the two planets.

Based on the premise that life should be develop in places with liquid water, we are also looking at two of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, as possible sites of life.  Saturn’s moon Titan also has liquid, but that liquid is methane and not water.  As a result, scientists who are looking for life haven’t ruled Titan out, but they are uncertain what kind of life would develop in liquid methane.

Then there is the possibility of life beyond our solar system.  In 1961, an astronomer named Frank Drake created what is now known as the Drake Equation, which is an equation to calculate how many extrasolar civilizations we should be able to contact.  The equation included the number of sunlike stars in our galaxy, the number of those stars that had planetary systems, the number of planetary systems that have planets capable of sustaining life, the number of planets that actually do develop life, the number of those whose residents develop intelligence, and the number of those who develop radio signals that we could detect.  We are just now starting to be able to apply numbers to these variables.

As someone who has read and watched entirely too much science fiction for her own good, I think that the Drake Equation may understate the number of planets that we might be able to communicate with.  What if a society jumped right to television?  Or used some other form of radiation that we cannot yet detect to communicate?  Or evolved while orbiting a sun completely different from ours?  The Drake Equation might be a good estimate, but there are no guarantees that it is the only way for life to develop.  It’s just the way that our life developed.

The Next Breadbasket, by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., photographs by Robin Hammond

The Next Breadbasket is another installment in the Future of Food series.  For this installment, we travel to Africa to watch the various ways that the fertile land, and those who work it, are being both used and exploited by agribusiness.  In too many African countries, the government allows the agribusiness entities to run people, some of whom have been farming this land for generations, off of their land.  Bourne names names, both of the companies that have treated the indigenous people well and those who have treated the people poorly.

So far, two of the ones that Bourne seems to support are a company called African Century Agriculture which uses an “outgrower” model, in which African Century provides soybeans, weeding, and training in conservation agriculture to small farmers. The farmers then sell the soybeans that they grow back to African Century, which deducts the costs of their services from the payment.  This way, the small farmers get to keep their land and also get education in the latest agricultural techniques.

Another company that Bourne seems to me to think well of is Bananalandia, the largest banana farm in Mozambique.  The owner of Bananalandia, Dries Gouws, pays his workers at least 110% of the Mozambican minimum wage and he also has done things to improve the lives of the people in the surrounding villages, including paving roads, providing electricity, building a school, and making improvements to the sewage system.  I know well that 110% of minimum wage is in no way going to raise these people out of poverty, but I feel that the other improvements in the quality of life that Gouws has made are not insignificant either.

The Wells of Memory, by Paul Salopek, photographs by John Stanmeyer

In The Wells of Memory, the second installment of Salopek’s Out of Eden Walk series, Salopek is walking up the western coast of Saudi Arabia, through an area known as the Hejaz.  The Hejaz was added to what is now Saudi Arabia in 1925. Both Mecca and Medina are in the Hejaz, so until the era of airplane flight, most of the pilgrims coming from around the world had to pass through the Hejaz. Jeddah, also in the Hejaz is the burial place of Eve, according to legends.

Salopek focuses in part on the wells that are spread, a day’s walk apart, through the Hejaz.  The wells date back to the Caliphate of Caliph Umar in 638.  There were also guesthouses, forts, and hospitals along the route, courtesy fo the Caliph.  Today, in addition to the ancient wells, there are asbila, outdoor electric water coolers along the route these days.

Salopek is one of the first, if not the first, Westerner to travel this route in close to a century, but this is the route taken by other Westerners in the past, including Lawrence of Arabia.

As with nearly all National Geographic stories, The Wells of Memory is punctuated by photographs.  However, some of the photographs in this story were taken with a smartphone and then edited to look like vintage, sepia-toned photographs with an app called Hipstamatic.  Stanmeyer chose this approach to reflect his feeling that he “had one foot in the present, and the other had stepped back a hundred years.”

Big Fish, by Jennifer S. Holland, photographs by David Doubilet and Jennifer Hayes

For the past 25 years, the Altantic goliath grouper has been a protected species.  Once sport fishermen would catch them by the dozen, but goliath groupers are long-lived and reproduce slowly.  This meant that the fish were not able to replace their numbers as quickly as they were being harvested.  This resulted in the species being granted legal protection as an endangered species.

Now, some fishermen believe that their numbers have rebounded enough that it should be safe to start catching them again.  In part they want the trophies, but these fishermen also believe that the goliath grouper is eating fish that the fishermen should legally be able to catch, thus reducing the numbers of legal fish even farther.

Holland seems unswayed by these fisherman’s arguments.  She has spoken with scientists who are studying goliath grouper and who believe that the population is still too low.  Goliath groupers tend to stick to one area, and until they start to overpopulate that area, they will not spread elsewhere in their range.  Additionally, according to Holland, there are a number of studies (she doesn’t tell us which ones) that show that there is not much overlap between the targets of the fishermen and those of the goliath grouper.  If the fishermen are finding it difficult to find fish to catch, it is not the fault of the goliath grouper.

Additionally, just because their numbers are rebounding now does not mean that this will continue indefinitely.  Goliath grouper juveniles live in mangrove swamps, and the mangroves in their home range are being decimated.  To make matters worse, due to mercury levels, goliath grouper are coming down with lesions in their livers.  This may also have an impact on their population numbers in the long term.  It also makes goliath grouper unsafe to eat, so fishermen who catch them would need to throw them back, or use them only for trophy purposes, which would be wasteful.

Empire of Rock, by McKenzie Funk, photographs by Carsten Peter

Alas, Empire of Rock has nothing to do with popular music.  It is, in fact, about the karst caves underneath Guizhou, China.  This part of China was once covered by a sea.  Over the centuries, the mollusks left their shells behind, which compressed into a  limestone formation known as karst.  Karst is limestone which is punctured by holes.  Water seeps down into the holes, which wears the holes away until they join together and eventually form caves.  This area is relatively unique in that this process has taken place over so many centuries that there are entire mountains of karst on the surface.  Have you ever seen photographs or Chinese paintings of large, steep stone mountains, usually surrounded by mist?  Those are karst mountains.

Funk accompanied a group of scientists and cavers who were attempting to measure the volume of one of the largest cave chambers in the world, the Hong Meigui chamber.  Though Funk’s eyes we watch them descend into the chamber and see their laser scanners, which Funk tells us is about the same size as a human head, measure the volume of the cave.  Funk and her hosts also visit other caves and karst formations in the area.

“Hong Meigui,” by the way, is the word that inspired me make my last post, on my experiences with foreign language.  “Hong Meigui,” depending on the tones, can mean “red rose.”  And I suspect that may be the meaning here, since there is a caving organization called the Hong Meigui Cave Exploration Society and the characters for the name of that group are the “hong,” “mei,” and “gui” of “red rose.”  Another chamber mentioned is the Miao Room, and my first instinct was that the “miao” in question is “temple,” but, when looking at a list of other “miao”s, it could also be the “miao” that means “infinity,” or any of a number of other Mandarin words that can be transliterated as “miao.”  I just don’t know.  To make things more frustrating, Funk does imply one translation when he tells us that the Yanzi cave is named for the swallows that live in the walls.

Two months after the cover date on this magazine, in September 2014, the title of the largest cave in the world was granted to the Miao Room.

(originally posted June and July 2015)

The Age of Disbelief, by Joel Achenbach, photographs by Richard Barnes

The cover of this issue of National Geographic calls The Age of Disbelief,  “The War on Science.”  That’s really oversimplifying this article.  In fact, there are so many ideas here that I’m having a difficult time figuring out where to start here.  I guess I can see where they were coming from on that “war on science” blurb.  Oversimplification is certainly tempting. Continue Reading

As I write this, it is around 6:45 (I say “around” because my cat is sleeping in front of the clock on my computer) on July 9, 2015.  When this posts, it will be midnight, Central Daylight Time, on July 16, 2015.  If all goes as planned, my son and I will be asleep in New York City, recovering from our first full day of vacation.  We will definitely have just visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before and hopefully will have been to the United Nations as well. We probably will have taken the bus to Battery Park so that we could make it in time for our tour, but I may have convinced my son to walk at least some of the way back.  Let’s see how it all plays out in the end.


The theme for this issue is food. There are other articles, on the Middle East, 3-D printers, and the like, but the first three articles (well, technically, article and two pictorials) are about food, so I am going to group them together.

The Joy of Food Text and photos by various writers.

The Joy of Food is the first pictorial in the article. There are both historical and current pictures of people eating (mostly of them sharing food) from as far back as 1894 and from locations all over the world.

We open with two children in England sharing an apple in a photograph first published in National Geographic in 1916 accompanied by text by Victoria Pope. Following this are images from Afghanistan, Germany, England, and the United States (one from California and one from Washington, DC). The 1894 photograph takes up two pages. It is of picnicgoers in Maine eating watermelon. The next pages feature images from Croatia, Ghana, China, and one of a family saying grace where the location is unknown (but likely is the United States once again). We get another two-page photograph, this one likely to be a modern photo of nuns in Beirut making marzipan. The final five photographs are of 1934 birthday party, an Armenian wedding, food laid out for the dead in Belarus, a fisherman in Alaska, and a boy eating porridge in Denmark.

In addition to the Victoria Pope quote, the text is from Erma Bombeck, M.F.K. Fisher, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The Communal Table Text by Victoria Pope, Photographs by Carolyn Drake

I think that this is the first article I’ve reviewed that has both text and photographs by women.

The Communal Table is about a meal in Milpa Alta, the poorest borough of Mexico City. Milpa Alta, which is Spanish for “high cornfield,” is the site of around 700 religious festivals a year, culminating in an annual pilgrimage, which begins on January 3, to a holy site in Chalma, 59 miles from Milpa Alta.

This meal, which is held just before Christmas, is called </i>La Rejunta</i> (Spanish for the roundup), is a meal of tamales and atole, which is traditional Mexican chocolate drink. The tamales and atole of La Rejunta given to thank those who made donations to the pilgrimage, and the amounts of each are proportional to the value of the donation.

The Communal Table focuses on the people who make La Rejunta work, particularly on the 2013 majordomos of the event, Virginia Meza Torres and Fermín Lara Jiménez. Pope takes us through the steps of preparation for La Rejunta until the day of the event.

My only issue with this article is that the focus on the people leaves the places shrouded in mystery. The reference to “the ancient place of the holy cave,” and to “a life-size darkened statue of Jesus” led me to the conclusion that the pilgrims still visited the original cave. Instead, the “statue” is a crucifix and the current pilgrimage is to a baroque church that stands in front of the cave. There are references in the text to Milpa Alta being “rural,” but the images are all very crowded looking. In reality, the area is spread out enough that three major hot-air balloon festivals are held in the area every year.

By Their Fridges Ye Shall Know Them, photography by Mark Menjivar

This is a two-page spread featuring several photographs from Menjivar’s “Refrigerators” project. Menjivar takes pictures of the insides of people’s refrigerators and displays them full-sized, so that the viewer gets the feeling that he or she is really looking into someone’s refrigerators. Four images are featured in this spread, including the refrigerators of a football coach and social worker, of a midwife and science teacher, of a street advertiser, and of a bartender.

The bartender, by the way, has a container of mayonnaise from the Central Market Organics line which is local to South Texas (where I live currently). I looked up Menjivar’s CV, and he is in South Texas, as well.

Cross Currents, by Kennedy Warne, photographs by Thomas P. Peschak

Even though this isn’t an official part of the food theme of this issue, this is also an article on food — fishing in particular.

After apartheid ended in South Africa, the government set up a new policy regarding fishing, allowing a certain number of licenses to commercial, recreational, and subsistence fishermen.  The subsistence fishermen group were largely indigenous Africans who fish to provide food for their families.  Subsistence fishermen had previously been shut out of getting licenses, so it was a huge step forward to allow them to have a certain percentage of the available licenses.

The are two problems  with this scheme.  The first problem was that the commercial licenses all went to large operations, leaving the smaller commercial operations (who are described in the article as “artisanal”) without licenses.  The second was that they overestimated the ability of humans to overfish.  As a result, the government ended up rescinding a bunch of licenses and set aside “marine protected areas” where the fish could, theoretically, reproduce undisturbed.

The end result of this, however, was that poaching is now skyrocketing.  Warne spends much of this article talking to the poachers and trying to balance their viewpoints with those of the people who are in favor of keeping, or even expanding, the marine protected areas.

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed:  On Foot Through the Holy Lands: (Out of Eden Walk – Part 3) by Paul Salopek, Photographs by John Stanmeyer

Blessed, Cursed, Claimed is the third installment of Salopek’s series, Out of Eden Walk, where Salopek is walking from Africa’s Rift Valley and across the Middle East, then through Asia, into North America and then down into South America.  Apparently Salopek is taking a fairly liberal interpretation of the term “walk,” since he is doing some of the trip by boat.  Salopek began the walk in 2013, and hopes to complete it in 2020.

In this installment, Salopek walks from Jordan to Jerusalem.  We see archaeological sites, refugees, Bedouins, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, in this part of the walk.

Much of this article focuses on barriers.  not only does Salopek cross a national border, he also crosses through the West Bank, where the two-state solution would have the nation of Palestine be.  We also cross the barrier between the main city of Jerusalem and the community of the Haredi, ultraorthodox Jews who have a strict separation between men and women in their society.  We also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The actual site where Helena (mother of Constantine the Great) believed that Jesus was born is now a Greek Orthodox church.  At the height of the tensions between the Greek church and the Catholic Church of St. Catherine next door, the only way that Catholic visitors could see the church was through a peephole in the common door between the two churches.  And, finally, we see the gulf of darkness that separates a Bedouin family that was  Salopek’s host on the shores of the Dead Sea from the nearby luxury resort.

Just Press Print, by Roff Smith, photographs by Robert Clark

I think that this may be the first non-travel-centric article that I’ve written about here, aside from the prefatory material from 1888.  Though there is some geography-related content in the article, the article is mostly about the advances in technology that comes from 3-D printing.  Most of the results of 3-D printing that I have heard of has been plastic and since the results of the 2-D printing industry, in the form of junk mail, has been a big stressor for me, my reaction has usually been “Oh, goody.  Plastic three-dimensional stuff to take up even more space.”

So, this article was good for me to read, since we see some of the useful things that can be made, including a new face for a man who lost much of his face to cancer (warning: if you are squeamish about these types of things, don’t read this article, because there is a beautiful photograph of the man and his prosthetic face) and living tissue, with a view towards perhaps being able to print replacement  organs for people.

The travel hook in the article is a bit about a printed house that the firm DUS is building in Amsterdam.  They expect the house to be finished in around three years.

Wasteland, by Paul Voosen, photographs by Fritz Hoffmann

Wasteland is an article about Superfund sites in the United States.  In 1980, Congress created a program, called Superfund, that was designed to remediate lands that were damaged by toxic waste.  The Superfund program arose after toxic waste was discovered in the Love Canal neighborhood of Niagara Falls, New York.  The original plan was for the companies that caused the waste to be left there to pay some of the cost of remediation and for the government to pick up the rest of the cost, but a number of the companies were unwilling or unable to pay for their share, leaving the government to pay the entire cost.

There are more than 1,700 Superfund sites in the United States, and one statistic given says that one in six people in the United States lives within three miles of a Superfund site.  I have lived, if not within three miles, pretty close to that, of two in my life, one in the Chicago area when I was a child and one in the San Antonio area as an adult.

The article talks about the different types of remediation being done on some of the sites in the United States and also the increasing difficulty the government is having coming up with the money now that the tax that had previously paid for the government’s share, a tax on chemicals and oil, has expired.

Images of other sites profiled in this, article, aside from Love Canal, are Tar Creek in Pitcher, Oklahoma; a landfill in Monterey Park, California;  the Gowanus Canal in New York City; and the Berkeley Pit in Butte, Montana.  There is information on even more sites in the text of the article.

Cowboys on the Edge, by Alexandra Fuller, photographs by Tomás Munita

Cowboys on the Edge is the tale of baguales of Estancia Ana María, in Patagonia in Chile.  In the early 20th century, Estancia Ana María was owned by Arturo Iglesias.  Some of his herd of cattle went feral and natural selection caused them to become wilder and stronger than regular cattle.  Now, rather than vacas, the name for this type of literally savage cattle is baguales, and the men who herd them are bagualeros.

Fuller traveled with the bagualeros as they went to round up as many baguales as they could in the period before the Iglesias family sells the land to a rancher.  The bagualeros hoped to collect as many as 50 baguales, but it was a tougher job than they expected.

I am used to running with a fairly sensitive group online, so I want to put a small content warning on this article. Several of the baguales die on the trip and there is one reference to invading Poland that is kind of tone-deaf to those who are sensitive to Nazism.

Otherwise, this is a quick read written in a pretty informal style.  I did have to wonder about Fuller’s assertion that boat or a 10-day horse ride through fairly deep water are the only ways to get to Estancia Ana María.  I wondered if there are some extreme updrafts preventing one from reaching it by helicopter or if that was an oversight.

(originally posted March 2015)