united states

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I have very little hipster cred, so I’m going take the opportunity to do the hipster thing here and say that I knew about the Bell Witch before it was cool. In 1989, my folks and I were driving from Chicago to visit our family in Florida (remember them?). As we passed into Tennessee, we passed a sign that said, “See the Bell Witch Cave” or words to that effect. My folks were always up for a cave (and for a good supernatural story). So, long before An American Haunting, or Bell Witch: The Movie, we heard the story from the current owners of the cave.

I was looking through the photo album of this trip and saw pictures of a cave. “I wonder if that was the Bell Witch Cave. It would be about the right timing for that.” So I searched for ‘Bell Witch Cave’ on Google Images and saw a (considerably less overexposed) shot of this same location on someone else’s website. So I can say with about 90% certainty that this is, in fact, a picture of the Bell Witch Cave.

According to the legend, in the early 19th century, the family of a farmer named John Bell began to experience something that was generally thought of as supernatural. He, his family, and visitors to his home, heard voices. Sometimes it was the voice of a woman, at other times it was the voices of other people. It was reported that the voices, at one point, began repeating the words of two church services taking place simultaneously in two different churches miles from the Bell home.

The entity claimed to be “Kate Batts’s witch.” Kate Batts was a neighbor that the Bells had had problems with over some kind of economic transaction, either the purchase of land or of slaves. Given the time period that this story took place in, my money’s on the latter. At any rate, the apparition was given the name “Kate” and would apparently respond to that name.

In the end, “Kate,” presumably the spirit and not the neighbor (though in my memory, it seemed that the man telling the story was unclear on this point), fled to the cave.  There are several legends of her interacting with people in the cave.

Do I believe in the Bell Witch? I try to keep an open mind about things like ghosts, because I have seen some things that seem unexplainable (and on several occasions I was by myself, so they couldn’t have been practical jokes or anything of that nature). But I do wonder if the Bell Witch was real or was an attempt to slander a neighbor who had a grievance.

Next up: Stone Mountain, Atlanta. I may have to see if there are any public domain photos of the park because I don’t have a single one in my collection.

Smartphone Americana, story and photographs by David Guttenfelder

Guttenfelder spent 20 years living abroad working as a photojournalist. He returned to the United States in 2014 and began to explore the country of his birth as if he were a new immigrant. Rather than using the expensive cameras he used in his years abroad, however, he chose to use his smartphone.  He says that he “want(s his) images to be imperfect and immediate, to capture something both fleeting and timeless about the America that (he is) rediscovering.”

And the pictures he took really are stunning. I think that my personal favorite is the tail end of an RV with mountainous scenery as it drives past a view of the Badlands in South Dakota.

Great White Mystery by Erik Vance, photography by Brian Sherry

We think we know the great white shark. After all, didn’t Richard Dreyfuss tell us everything we need to know in Jaws? Actually, not so much. Vance lists some of the things we don’t know about the great white shark, including such things as the life expectancy, gestation period or the age at which a great white undergoes puberty (or whatever passes for puberty among sharks). This information was why my first thought about posting a link to my Amazon Associates account wasn’t for Jaws but for Deep Wizardry, the second book in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series.* The whole “we don’t know where they come from or where they go” part of this article reminded me of a great white shark whose very long name the kids shorten to “Ed” in Deep Wizardry.

The article goes on to talk about some of the things we do know about great white sharks, like their anatomy and the areas of the ocean where they are seen most frequently. And the article ends by asking whether the great white shark is a healthy or threatened population. The answer is, as of the publication of this article, as yet unknown

Greece, Gods, and the Great Beyond by Caroline Alexander, photographs by Vincent J. Musi and David Coventry

This is a little bit of text on the evolution of religion in Ancient Greece, from propitiating the gods that were believed to cause good and bad thing to befall them and with a fear of death and the underworld through the mystery cults that eventually informed the religion that became Christianity.

The photographs are of Greek sacred sites, including the Erechtheion in Athens and, in an interesting choice, the Temple of Athena in Delphi. The Temple of Apollo was much more famous, being where the Oracle did her oracle-ing. I wonder if the photograph didn’t turn out as well as the one of the Temple of Athena (which is a lovely photo).

There is also a two-page illustration of what Samothrace looked like at its peak, including where the famous statue of Nike was located. This page also has a reconstruction of what Nike probably looked like before she lost her arms and head.

If you want to see Nike, by the way, and don’t have the time or money to go to the Louvre, a cement reproduction of the statue can be seen at Miraflores Park on Hildebrand in San Antonio. Miraflores Park is still, a decade after the city took possession of it, not open to the public, but you can see the statue from the street.

*As threatened previously, I also need to include a link to the first book, So You Want to Be a Wizard.

 

Beyond Reasonable Doubt, by Veronique Greenwood, photographs by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

This article talks about the latest developments in forensic science. One of the techniques covered is what’s called genetic phenotyping, where they can now take a DNA sample and pull out hair, eye, and skin color and, often traits like whether the source of the sample had freckles. They can even sometimes get a general idea of the shape of the person’s face.

Of course, the hair thing might not be foolproof, as (totally aside from the existence of hair dyes), people do lose their hair sometimes and hair does eventually gray. In fact, I knew two young men in my youth who lost their hair at very young ages. It’s likely that there might be some kind of genetic component to the hair loss, but statistically speaking, in their teens or 20s the reconstructions would probably have shown them with full heads of hair.

We also talk about some of the mistakes made through older versions of forensic science, including Kirk Odom, whose hair was supposedly “microscopically indistinguishable” from a hair found at the crime scene. Turns out that the scientists never examined the hair under a microscope and that even if they had, <a href=https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/july2000/deedric1.htm>it looks to me like they can determine things like the species of the source of the hair and, if human, the race of the source of the hair, but it is not possible to narrow it down to an individual.</a>

The photograph of the photographer, by the way, was created by DNA phenotyping. There’s an interactive feature on the website where you can compare that image to actual photographs of actual photographers to see if you can figure out which was is Max.

The Battle for Virunga, by Robert Draper, photographs by Brent Stirton

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had some unrest in Africa, so I guess we’re due. And since we’re talking about parks in the magazine this year, this article is a “twofer,” part of the Power of Parks series and about unrest in Africa.

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the oldest national park in Africa. It is also part of some kind of turf war between at least two militias. The Battle for Virunga covers some of this recent history and discusses some of the things that the (at the moment) current director, Emmanuel de Merode, is doing to improve the park. One of these things is that they are building hydroelectric power plants in the park, hoping that the electricity being produced will (a) cover the park’s expenses into the future and (b) give potential entrepreneurs the chance to begin to develop businesses in the region that will give the children of the area something to aspire to besides joining a militia.

I’m done with my big 2016 trips, so back to 1988.

I am kind of embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t really into history at this point in my life, so the thing that is causing me to stop and research rather than writing didn’t even register to me back then. Christ Church is the church that a number of prominent Philadelphians, including Benjamin Franklin, Betsy Ross, George Washington (once he was president), John Adams (likewise), and William Penn all worshiped here.

One problem, though. Ross and Penn were Quakers.

So here I am, trying to figure out why a bunch of Quakers were worshiping in an Anglican church. So far, I’ve been able to determine that Betsy Ross’s husband, John, was Anglican, and so she got expelled from the Quakers for marrying a non-Quaker. During the American Revolution, the Quaker meeting in Philadelphia splintered into two groups, one that believed that sticking to their pacifism was important, and one that believed that the revolution was a just war and that they had a duty to support it. Betsy was able to join this second group of Quakers, who dubbed themselves the Free Quakers.

William Penn is the real poser, though. He founded Pennsylvania because he was a Quaker. Quakers were outlawed in England and so he found Pennsylvania to be a place where Quakers would be free to practice their religion. So then he moved here and promptly started attending an Anglican church? It just doesn’t add up. Maybe the Quakers met at Christ Church (the Arch Street Friends meetinghouse wasn’t built until 1804)? I have a coworker who’s from Pennsylvania. Maybe she knows. I’ll try to remember to ask her.

So I did ask my coworker and she didn’t know that William Penn had attended an Anglican church, so that’s a dead end. I guess we’ll just have to leave that as a head-scratcher. If I ever do find an answer, I’ll let y’all know.

After we left the church, we wandered around in the Burial Ground for a while. The website for the church says that there are currently 1,400 markers and that over 5,000 have disappeared. So this little burial ground, just two acres in area, contains over 6,000 graves.

Next up: Fairmount Park, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and the realization that I need to dig out that photo album and rescan the final five pictures.

New Old Libya, by Robert Draper, photographs by George Steinmetz

As we go farther and farther back, the “ripped from the headlines” nature of some of these articles is blunted a bit. Can’t wait until we take a “look forward” at what will happen to Cuba under Castro and things of that nature. Today we look back at the developments in Libya after the 2011 death of Muammar Gaddafi.

Prior to Libya’s independence in 1950, Libya had previously been run by the United Nations, then prior to that, by Italy, and then prior to *that* by the Ottoman Empire and then prior to that by Rome. In fact, emperor Septimius Severus had been born in Libya, in a city known as Leptus Magna. When Gaddafi took power in 2011, he disdained all of this history, particularly the parts where the country had been ruled by Rome and Italy.

In this article, we see a picture of Libya in very late 2012 as a country that is moving both toward its future while trying to recapture the past that Gaddafi tried to suppress. We see the unrest that still existed in late 2012, but we also see people going on with their lives, hopeful that they will have a future.

And, of course, as we know now, the first war in 2011 that led to the fall and death of Gaddafi, was followed by a second war that continues, well, at least until I’m writing this in 2016. Now Libya his hemorrhaging people, with thousands of people fleeing every year.

I’m hoping to start studying Vietnamese in 2017, because it’s one of the languages that I have to use the translation service for most in my job. It looks like I may also need to learn Arabic because immigrants from Arabic-speaking nations are on the rise here, as well. My side of town is where groups like Catholic Charities like to resettle the refugees because services are easy to access in this area.

The Bite that Heals, by Jennifer S. Holland, photographs by Mattias Klum

In The Bite that Heals, Holland takes us to speak with scientists who are making medication from venom. We start in Mexico, where a man named Michael was healed of his ankylosing spondylitis apparently by a scorpion sting. At the time this article went to press, about a dozen medications had been developed from venom, including the blood pressure medication captopril. The web page of Zoltan Takacs, one of the scientists that Holland speaks with, has a list of (at this time) around 15 medications that are currently being sold that are derived from venom. This list has an additional five that are in clinical trials.

This finishes off this issue. In other news, now that the summer heat is over (or is it?), I’m back to walking the greenways, which means that I’m back to listening to the issues from the 1800s. And they are just as gripping as always. I’m counting down the issues until 1915, when National Geographic starts to appeal to a more general audience.

Also, as of the day I’m writing this (November 26), I’m finally caught up on my steps (nothing like waiting until the last minute!). I’m actually a bit ahead. I’m done with today’s steps already. And, finally, I’m sticking to the Duolingo thing. I’m averaging 4.7 lessons per day, and I plan to invest this money in the stock market as I save up enough to buy shares of stock (probably a share every nine months or so). This certainly won’t make me rich, but it won’t hurt, either.

Swimming with Tigers, by Glenn Hodges, photographs by Brian Sherry

Swimming with Tigers is the first story in a three-part Summer of Sharks series. Hodges admits that he was afraid of sharks, but that when he was given the assignment to write this article, he decided not just to research tiger sharks, but to actually get in the water and swim with them.

Additionally, Hodges was not an experienced diver. In fact, the tiger shark experience was his first dive ever. We accompany him and watch the tour operators feed the sharks to make sure that they aren’t hungry when the divers get in with them. We also see a frightening moment when an angelfish swam into their group followed by smaller sharks. Then, after the swim, Hodges goes to Hawaii to visit with a scientist who studies tiger sharks.

Juárez Returns to Life, by Sam Quinones, Photographs by Dominic Bracco II

Despite having lived in San Antonio for nearly a quarter of a century, I have only been to Mexico once. When my former in-laws were visiting, they had one day that they hadn’t made plans for. We offered them a choice of a water park or of visiting Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. They opted for Mexico. We went down and ignored the panhandlers (of which there were many) and did a little shopping. What’s funny is that I was the least not-impressed of the four of us and yet my former mother-in-law goes down there regularly now (she is decorating her house with things she’s bought in Mexico).

And I admit that Mexico would definitely be a good place for me to explore for my blog. However, there’s the War on Drugs going on in Mexico right now, and while our War on Drugs has been largely metaphorical, the war in Mexico . . . isn’t. Travel Blogger Wounded in Drug Shootout isn’t really the kind of attention I’d like to garner. And until the State Department’s Travel Warning for northern Mexico becomes a Travel Alert (or even better goes away completely), I think I’m going to stay out of that area. This does not rule out travel farther into the country, by the way, Alex and I visit a volcano in even-numbered years and a trip to Mexico City and Popocatépetl sounds like it might be in the cards for the 2020s.

All is not lost for Norther Mexico, however. In this article, we watch the rebirth of Juárez Mexico, once considered the most dangerous city in Mexico and possibly in the world. There’s a nifty chart showing the spike in killings  in Juárez in 2010, how it increased, and how killings have declined in the years since.

The Art of Solar Energy, by Jamey Stillings

This is another in the ongoing Photographer’s Journal series, in which Stillings shares with us some of the photographs he has taken of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada.

Peru’s World Apart, by Emma Marris, photographs by Charlie Hamilton James

We return to the Power of Parks series with Manu National Park, a park in Peru that is home to “uncontacted” tribes of indigenous people, including (but not limited to) the Mashco-Piro and the Matsigenka. I put “uncontacted” in quotes because that is how they are generally referred to, but some of the indigenous tribes that had previously been keeping to themselves (and, by policy, outsiders were forbidden to initiate contact with) are starting to reach out to the outside world.

Of course Peru and Brazil are two different countries with different policies, despite their proximity to one another. Brazil’s ban on contacting their indigenous people dates back to the 1980s. Peru’s only goes back to 2006. One of Marris’s guides, Glenn Shepard, has been living with the Matsigenka for “30 years,” so before the limits on contact were put in place.

There is a lot on the history of the area and also on the geography, geology, and natural history of the area. Natural history is, of course, not really history as we think of it. It’s the study of the flora and fauna of a place (we get another of those strange trap camera photos that make the animal look more like taxidermy than like life, this time of an ocelot). And we get some idea of the llifestyle of the Matsigenka. We go along as Marris goes monkey hunting with them, for example.

Plundering the Past, by Tom Mueller, photographs by Robert Clark

Mueller takes us into the world of illegal artifact trafficking. We are introduced to the mummy of Shesep-amun-tayesher (who, for some unknown reason, loses her hyphens after the first time she’s named) and as we watch how her mummy got transported from Egypt to Birmingham, Alabama, we also see how the business of trafficking works with other artifacts as well.

We also see the conflict that museum curators and others who work with these artifacts are trying to deal with. You see, a lot of these artifacts are being trafficked by terrorists and so, by dealing with them, the collectors and the museums and other institutions are probably supplying terrorists with money. However, if ransoming these artifacts weren’t lucrative, there’s a good chance that the terrorists would just destroy them, or that the artifacts would be “collateral damage” of the wars in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question, and there probably never will be, until some farflung future date when the terrorism in the Middle East finally stops.

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.

The drive back to Salt Lake City from Jensen took a bit longer than Google Maps said it would. This was at least partly due to the fact that I was so over the seats in that car.

Once we arrived back in Salt Lake City, I had three goals: 1. to see the state capitol building (and, at one point, I could have crossed a moon tree off my list, but it is dead now); 2. to see City Creek, which was the water source for the early city (and still supplies water to the city today); and 3. to make it back to the airport in a timely manner.

And I achieved all three.

The trip to the capitol building took us up State Street (which makes sense), which eventually becomes one very lane going uphill. It was near the end of the work day (around 4:30 or so), so I figured that most traffic would be headed away from the capitol. I’m not sure why so many cars were headed towards the building at this time of day, but the road was very congested. This was not my favorite part of our trip, and made me wish we had had a little more time and energy on our first day in Salt Lake City to hike up the hill to the capitol. The view of the capitol building once you emerge from this narrow street is very impressive, I’ll give it that.

Once you reach the capitol, you find a street, with the understandable name of “Capitol Street” that makes a circuit around the building. Due to the congestion we didn’t even attempt to make a left and instead just took a right turn. Along the eastern side of the capitol is a very small parking area, so we parked and I got out to take pictures. There was no time to go inside the building.

It was so late at this point, that I despaired of being able to see City Creek until I looked at my phone and noticed that the creek went right past the spot where we were parked. The parking area is at the very edge of City Creek Canyon. So Alex stayed by the car and I took the winding path down into what turned out to be Memory Grove Gardens.

At first, I have to admit that I thought that Memory Grove Gardens looked like a cemetery. I was unaware of the name of this plot of land at this point, but  even the name sounds kind of cemetery-like. The path ended at a replica of the Liberty Bell. As I looked around a saw several marble monuments that looked more than vaguely like graves to my eyes.

City Creek, Memory Grove Gardens Park, Salt Lake City

City Creek, Memory Grove Gardens Park, Salt Lake City, 2017

I spent quite a bit of my childhood visiting a great-aunt and great-uncle who lived down the street from a cemetery, so I’m no stranger to spending time in cemeteries. I thought it might be disrespectful to take pictures, though. Then I noticed some people walking dogs and decided that if it’s okay to walk dogs, it’s probably okay to take pictures there.

I think I saw some kind of sign indicating that this was a park at this point. I’m trying to remember (it was two and a half months ago and the Google Maps car has apparently not been along Canyon Road down there yet). I think the sign indicated where the off-leash area for dogs stops. So I got some pictures of the park, the creek, and the walls of the canyon and went back up to the car. I had been down there for a while, and Alex was about to come down after me.

We got back in the car and filled our gas tank at a very small gas station down the street from the Temple and then headed back to the airport. And even with the late start and everything we still got there in time to recharge our phones before we got on the plane (I also caught a Ponyta at the gate).