united kingdom

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Stranded on the Roof of the World, by Michael Finkel, photographs by Matthieu Paley

In this article, we visit the Kyrgyz of the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan. The Wakhan Corridor runs from a low of about 10,000 feet to a height of about 16,000 feet. That puts the entirety of these people’s world above the tree line. Many of them have never even seen a tree. At the time this was written, there were no doctors and no roads. The closest road to their territory was  a three-day hike away.

Their entire lifestyle revolves around their livestock. They live too high to grow crops, so they raise sheep and yaks and goats both to eat and to use as currency. They have been able to enter something like the 21st century by trade as well. They have solar-powered batteries and use them to charge cell phones, which they use to play music and take pictures. They cannot use them as phones, however. There’s no service that high up.

So far, however, it looks like that is as far as modernization has gone. They still lack basics like plumbing, roads, schools, and medical clinics.

Joy Is Round, photographs by Jessica Hilltout, text by Jeremy Berlin

Hilltout traveled to Africa and took photographs of African youths playing soccer (football to the rest of the world) and posing with their homemade soccer balls both to chronicle the development of the youth soccer leagues of these countries but also, from what I can tell, to convince people to donate money to a project that would buy real equipment for these leagues. As she traveled through Africa, she swapped the homemade balls for real balls that she carried in her car. Included in this article are the photographs she took of those balls.

While researching Hilltout’s project, I found Futbol Friends International’s website. They are raising money for soccer-related projects in Africa. I looked to see if they’re on the up-and-up and so far have found that Charity Navigator has a page for them, but hasn’t rated them because they are too small to have to file the form that Charity Navigator gets their information from. If you’d be interested in donating, however, their website is at Futbol Friends International.

The Sultans of Streams, by Adam Nicolson, photographs by Charlie Hamilton James

The Sultans of Streams, in addition to getting an old Dire Straits song stuck in my head, is about the decline and resurgence of otters in England (their numbers never declined much in Scotland). Industrialization and DDT caused the decline of otter habitat to only 6 percent of streams in the 1970s. Since then, however, they have been making a comeback. As of 2010, otters were present in 59 percent of streams and the numbers have probably increased even farther since then (I cannot find anything definitive).

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.

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.

 

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.

The Invisible War on the Brain, by Caroline Alexander photographs by Lynn Johnson

This was a kind of difficult article to get through for me.  Partly this was because I had a dear friend at one time who had had multiple head injuries as a child.  When I knew him, he was an adult, but he had impulse control problems, focus and memory issues, and a volatile temper.  Years after I lost touch with him, I read an article on traumatic brain injury and it was kind of eerie how much this sounded like my old friend. Continue Reading