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Where Will the New Horizons Probe Go After Pluto?

Smithsonian Magazine

Space exploration is often an exercise in delayed gratification. When the New Horizons spacecraft started its voyage to Pluto in 2006, Twitter had just made its public debut. Now, almost a decade later, social media is awash with gorgeous close-ups of the Pluto system, which is turning out to be more textured and complex than anyone imagined.

The closest part of the spacecraft's visit was brief, just a swoop past Pluto's sunlit face that lasted mere hours. But on-board instruments managed to capture a mountain of data that scientists will be sifting through for years, including signs of large impact craters, multicolored terrain and a dusting of Plutonian atmosphere on the poles of the large moon Charon. The first taste of high-resolution data from the flyby is expected to debut this afternoon.

"New Horizons has sent back and will continue to return the most detailed measurements ever taken of Pluto and its system," NASA administrator Charlie Bolden said in the euphoric moments after the team received word that New Horizons had safely completed its close flyby. "It's a historic win for science and for exploration." So with mission scientists hard at work on Earth, what will New Horizons do now that Pluto is in its rear-view mirror?

For the rest of its operational life, the spacecraft will be barreling on through a region of space called the Kuiper belt, a reservoir of cold, icy bodies on the outskirts of the solar system. In late August, mission managers will select a potential follow-up target: a small Kuiper belt object (KB) in the right orbital spot for a possible rendezvous. These objects are some of the oldest, most pristine nubbins of ice and rock in the solar system—leftovers from the process that formed our cosmic neighborhood some 4.6 billion years ago.

"This would be totally unexplored territory. We've never been close to any of these smaller objects in the Kuiper belt," says mission scientist John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute. "In the Kuiper belt, the original building blocks of the solar system are still out there, many in the locations where they formed. We can see that record in these smaller objects."

Pluto is also a KBO—the largest one known—and that's actually why it's not as good of a record of the solar system's past, says Casey Lisse, a mission scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). "Pluto is so big that it has altered itself from when it first formed, it densified and contracted," he says. "How we see that is because it's round—it's big enough to have coalesced by its own self gravity to round out the rough edges." If we want to study the most primordial things in the outer solar system, we need to visit much smaller bodies.

Finding the right targets for an extended mission took a combination of grit and luck. "We would not come close to one by random chance—we definitely needed a target," says Spencer. But if Pluto was just a pixelated orb of light even to the powerful eye of the Hubble Space Telescope, how could anyone hope to find images of more distant objects a fraction of its size?

To the scientists' relief, in October 2014 the search team announced that they had spotted three promising options about a billion miles beyond the Pluto system. Two of the objects are brighter and so are probably bigger; early estimates put them both around 34 miles wide. The third option is smaller, maybe about 15 miles wide, but it would be easier to reach after the Pluto encounter.

"One criteria for selecting the target will be fuel," says Curt Niebur, lead program scientist for NASA's New Frontiers program, which funded the New Horizons mission. A course correction requires a big burn of fuel, so the team has to decide on a target and orient the spacecraft by late October or early November to ensure a safe arrival in 2018.

No matter which KBO makes the cut, New Horizons would then give us an unprecedented look at the landscape in this frigid frontier. "We'll only fly close to one KBO, but we'll observe maybe a dozen from a distance," says Spencer. "We'll be looking for moons, looking at the brightness from different angles, so we'll be exploring other objects, but not in nearly the detail as the main target."

This follow-up mission is not yet a given: the Pluto flyby was the primary point of New Horizons, and the team must apply for more funding to extend their science to a small KBO. On the off-chance that the extension doesn't come through, the New Horizons science team will still be collecting information about the waning breezes of the solar wind in this distant region of space, akin to the magnetic and plasma data being still being collected by the two Voyager probes. Voyager 2 may even serve as a guide for New Horizons as it explores the heliosphere, the bubble of solar material that cocoons our solar system as we hurtle through the galaxy.

Launched in August 1977, Voyager 2 sped past Uranus and Neptune before continuing deeper into the heliosphere. It even crossed near Pluto's orbit in 1989, but aiming for a visit would have meant flying through Neptune—obviously, not an option. Now Voyager 2 is about 9.9 billion miles from Earth, in the outer part of the solar bubble called the heliosheath, and it's still transmitting data. New Horizons will be following a similar path into the mysterious fringes of the solar system.

"It's very fortuitous that New Horizons is in about same heliospheric longitude as Voyager 2," says mission scientist Ralph McNutt at APL. "Even though Voyager 2 is a lot farther out, we kind of have an upstream monitor." As with the Voyager probes, the data returned from New Horizons should help scientists better understand what happens when the solar wind starts to fade and interstellar space takes over—important clues to how the heliosphere shields us from damaging high-energy particles known as galactic cosmic rays. New Horizons probably won't make it to the very edge of the bubble before it runs out of fuel, but it will contribute valuable science for decades to come.

"We should have power until the 2030s, so we can get into the outer part of the heliosphere," says Spencer. "As long as we can continue to get good data—and persuade NASA to pay for it—we will keep getting the data, because we will be in a unique environment that we've never been in before." 

What Gives Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” Its Power?

Smithsonian Magazine

It’s a small irony in the career of Robert Frost that this most New England of poets published his first two books of poetry during the short period when he was living in Old England. Frost was very careful about how he managed the start of his career, wanting to make the strongest debut possible, and he diligently assembled the strongest lineup of poems possible for his books A Boy’s Will and North of Boston. Frost had gone to England to add further polish to his writing skills and to make valuable contacts with the leading figures in Anglo-American literature, especially English writer Edward Thomas and expatriate American Ezra Pound; Pound would be a crucial early supporter of Frost.

While reviews of the first book, A Boy’s Will, were generally favorable, but mixed, when it was published in 1913, North of Boston was immediately recognized as the work of a major poet. Frost’s career was as well-launched as he could have hoped, and when he returned to the United States in early 1915, he had an American publisher and a dawning fame as his work appeared before the general public in journals like The New Republic and The Atlantic Monthly.

The years in England were crucial to Frost, but they have also caused confusion in straightening out his publishing history – the books appeared in reverse order in America and the poems that appeared in the magazines had in fact already appeared in print, albeit in England. What mattered to Frost was that his English trip had worked. 1915 became the year in which he became recognized as America’s quintessential poet; in August, the Atlantic Monthly published what is perhaps Frost’s most well-known work, “The Road Not Taken.”

In North of Boston, Frost establishes himself as a close and careful observer of man in the natural world. The wonderful title evokes the rural hinterland of New England, away from the Boston society and economy. It is a region of isolated farms and lonely roads, and it is in writing about that landscape that Frost merges the traditional with the modern to become a writer who is simultaneously terrifying and comfortable. Frost’s technique is to take a familiar, even homey scene – describing a wall, birch trees, two roads – and then undermine or fracture the sense of comfort that those scenes evoke by exposing the capriciousness of modern life. Frost always draws you in, and then reveals that where you are isn’t at all what you expected.

“The Road Not Taken”, which was collected in Mountain Interval (1916), seems to be a fairly simple homily about making choices:

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler ...”

The roads divide, but the self cannot be divided so the poet has to choose. Working through the problem of choice, by the end of the poem he makes his choice in a famous statement of flinty individualism, the very characteristics said to define the New Englander and Frost himself:  

“I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

The decision again plays off against the title North of Boston as an apparent declaration of independence against cosmopolitanism, society and the opinion of others. Since everyone wants to consider themselves self-reliant and unique – we don’t follow fashion or the crowd, no sir – the conclusion of the poem taps into and appeals to our self-regard.

Yet when you read through the description of the roads after Frost has set out the problem in the opening stanza about having to make a choice, one realizes that neither road is “less travelled by.” The poet/traveler looks at one “as far as I could/To where it bent in the undergrowth;” and doesn’t go that way but instead:

"Then took the other, as just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black."

Again there is confusion about the condition of the roads. The traveler/poet avoids the one that disappears in the (slightly ominous) underbrush, but then describes the one that he does take as “just as fair” as the one he rejects. And then it becomes clear the neither road has been travelled much at all. In fact, do the roads even exist at all? It appears they don’t.

Frost’s gently presented point is not just that we are self-reliant or independent, but truly alone in the world. No one has cut a path through the woods. We are following no one. We have to choose, and most terrifyingly, the choice may not actually matter. One way is as good as the other and while we can console ourselves with wishful thinking – “I kept the first for another day!” – the poet knows that there’s no turning back to start over: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back.”

The conditional tense doesn’t really apply here although Frost uses it to maintain the tone of regretfulness and nostalgia. Frost knows, as the reader gradually intuits, that you won’t go back because you can’t. The determinism of a choice, way leading on to way, in a string of events that becomes a life is unescapable. Frost’s popular appeal is all here in the layers of the poem, from the deceptively simple (yet masterfully rhyming) iambic lines to the evocation of mild regret of having made a seemingly innocuous choice. And then, the existential rug is pulled out from under your comfortably situated feet with the revelation that you have to make your own road – and it may not be of your choosing.

It’s the last stanza, though, that makes Frost into a genius, both poetically but also in his insight into human character, story telling and literature. The stanza is retrospective as the traveler/poet looks back on his decision – “ages and ages hence” – and comments how we create a life through the poetic fictions that we create about it to give it, and ourselves, meaning. The story that the poet will tell is that:

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference."

Notice the stuttering, repetitive “I” that Frost uses both to maintain the rhyme scheme (“I/by”) but also to suggest the traveler/poet’s uncertainty about who made the choice. The narrative drive is reestablished with the penultimate line “I took the one less traveled by,” to conclude with a satisfying resolution that ties everything in a neat biographical lesson “And that has made all the difference.” But it has made no difference at all. The difference, the life, is created in the telling, something that Frost does, of course, masterfully.

It is hard not to see the poem’s conclusion as Frost’s early commentary on his own career. The carefully crafted personae of the New England farmer, a seemingly artless concern for the doldrums of rural life, and an adherence to the traditional forms of poetry, even as those forms were breaking down under 20th-century Modernism. Frost was always rueful that he didn’t win the Nobel Prize for literature, an honor denied to him possibly because the prize committee saw him as too popular, but also too provincial and maybe even reactionary. Frost perhaps succeeded too well in his pose of the apparently artless rube sitting on that wall. But where he succeeded was in being a truly great poet who also had widely popular appeal. Frost’s poetry always engages us on several levels, from its sound to the seeming simplicity of its subject matter and to the depths that are revealed when his poems are given the close attention they deserve.          

Robert Frost by Doris Ulmann, platinum print, 1929. (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution © Knight Library Special Collections, University of Oregon)

Ken Kesey’s Pranksters Take to the Big Screen

Smithsonian Magazine

Before there was a Summer of Love, before the phrase “Turn on, tune in, drop out” became a counterculture rallying cry, before Easy Rider and the Grateful Dead, Ken Kesey set out on a journey to free America from a society he believed had grown intolerant and fearful. The success of his novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, whose anti-hero Randle McMurphy rebelled against conformity, gave Kesey the financial freedom to test his theories in public.

In 1963, the author was in New York attending rehearsals of a Broadway adaptation of Cuckoo’s Nest when he came up with the idea of leading a cross-country bus trip from California to the world’s fair, which would open the following year in New York. He was inspired in part by On the Road, the 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac that raised “road trip” to an art form. Kesey would use his journey not only to discover a “real” America where rugged individualism and a frontier ethos still reigned, but to show a new way to live, one free of outdated norms and conventions.

Back in California, Kesey and his friends, who would call themselves “The Merry Band of Pranksters,” outfitted a school bus for the journey, adding a generator, building a rooftop turret, and daubing the bus with psychedelic paint. Kesey cemented his connection to Kerouac by asking Neal Cassady to fill the “Dean Moriarty” role from On the Road and drive the bus.

The Pranksters’ journey led them through the deserts of Arizona to the Louisiana bayous, from the Florida Everglades to the streets of Harlem. Along the way Kesey met with the Beats and with Timothy Leary, but found their vision of society as disappointing as the corporate future on display at the world’s fair.

Kesey purchased state-of-the-art 16-millimeter motion picture cameras and crystal-synch tape recorders to document his journey. The resulting 40 hours of film and audio form the basis of Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place, a new documentary directed by Alex Gibney and Alison Ellwood.

Image by Ted Streshinsky / Corbis, Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. In 1963, author Ken Kesey came up with the idea of leading a cross-country bus trip from California to New York. Along with his friends, Kesey outfitted a school bus for the journey, adding a generator, rooftop turret and psychedelic paint. (original image)

Image by Ted Streshinsky / Corbis. Kesey was inspired in part by On the Road, the 1957 novel by Jack Kerouac that raised "road trip" to an art form. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Kesey's friends called themselves "The Merry Band of Pranksters." Shown here is Gretchen Fetchen, The Slime Queen. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Kesey purchased state-of-the-art 16-millimeter motion picture cameras and crystal-synch tape recorders to document the journey. Shown here is George Walker, member of the "Merry Band of Pranksters," getting a haircut. (original image)

Image by Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Kesey and The Pranksters felt they could figure out the video equipment themselves, and in fact did manage to achieve good exposures with the notoriously difficult 16-millimeter reversal stock. But they never mastered synchronizing their sound to film. Shown here is Kesey. (original image)

Gibney points out that none of Kesey’s footage had been screened properly before. For one thing, filming during the trip was a haphazard process. “They were farm kids,” Gibney (whose films include Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side) explains. “They had great confidence in machinery, and a great skepticism of experts.” The Pranksters felt they could figure out the equipment themselves, and in fact did manage to achieve good exposures with the notoriously difficult 16-millimeter reversal stock. But they never mastered synchronizing their sound to film.

“Every time you run a camera and an audio recorder simultaneously, you have to make a synch point,” Gibney says. “Over the 100 hours of footage, Kesey’s people did that exactly once, when they hired a professional sound person in New York, who would put up with them for only one day. My co-director and editor Alison Ellwood had to comb through the footage looking for a bump or a clap or someone pronouncing ‘p’ in order to find a synch point. But even when she did, there was another problem. Since the Pranksters were running the recorder off the bus generator, which would pulse according to how fast they were driving, the sound and picture would go out of synch almost immediately. We even hired a lip reader at one point to help.”

And while Kesey showed some of the footage during his “Acid Trip” parties immortalized in Tom Wofle’s best-selling 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, for the most part, the films and audiotapes remained in storage. By the time Kesey’s son Zane granted Gibney access to the material, it had suffered from decades of neglect. Backing from the Film Foundation helped pay for restoration and preservation work at the UCLA Film and Television Archives.

What Gibney and Ellwood discovered when the footage was finally ready for editing was more than a time capsule and more than a nostalgic trip back to the ’60s. For all their miscues and technical glitches, Kesey and the Pranksters recorded an America on the verge of tremendous change, but also a country surprisingly open and friendly to a ragtag group of wanderers. “Hippies” had yet to be defined, drugs were still under the radar and observers seemed to be bemused rather than threatened by the Pranksters. Gibney notes that they were stopped by police a half-dozen times, but never received a traffic ticket—even though Cassady lacked a driver’s license.

“What they were doing was glorious, fun and magical in the best sense of the word,” Gibney says. The director sees Kesey as an artist and adventurer who was at heart a family man, the coach of his local school football and soccer teams. “In a way, the bus trip is kind of Kesey’s art piece,” Gibney argues. “I think part of his mission was to be a kind of Pied Piper for a country that was just enveloped in fear. He was saying, ‘Come out of your bomb shelter. Have fun. Don’t be trapped in a maze.’”

Watch this video in the original article

Gibney agrees that Kesey was attracted to the chaos of the journey, a chaos amplified by the extraordinary amounts of drugs consumed by the Pranksters.

Unlike many of his followers, Kesey tried to use drugs to explore his personality, not to repeat the same experiences. “You take the drug to stop taking the drug,” he said.

“He was talking about enlightenment,” Gibney explains. “At one point Kesey says, ‘I didn’t want to be the ball, I wanted to be the quarterback.’ He’s trying to gently guide this trip to become a sort of mythic journey rather than just, you know, a keg party.”

In execution, the trip turned into an extended binge, with the Pranksters using any excuse to drink, smoke and drop acid. Early on Cassady swerves the bus off an Arizona highway into a swamp. Kesey and his companions take LSD and play in the muck while waiting for a tow truck to rescue them. Whether visiting author Larry McMurtry in Texas or poet Allen Ginsberg in New York, the Pranksters—as their name implies—become a disruptive force, leaving casualties behind as they set off on new adventures. For viewers today who know the effects of hallucinogens, the sight of Kesey passing around a carton of orange juice laced with LSD is chilling.

Kesey and his companions returned to California by a different route, a slower, more contemplative journey. Gibney likes this section of the film best. By now the camerawork, so frustrating in the opening passages, feels more accomplished. The imagery is sharper, the compositions tighter. The Pranksters detour through Yellowstone, drop acid by a mountain lake in the Rockies, and drift through beautiful but secluded landscapes. Back at his ranch at La Honda, California, Kesey would screen his film at extended "Acid Test" parties, where the music was often provided by a group called the Warlocks-soon to evolve into the Grateful Dead.

Gibney came away from the project with a greater appreciation for Kesey’s presence. “He’s a Knight of the Round Table and a comic book figure all at once, a classic American psychedelic superhero. He’s got the barrel chest of a wrestler, and when he puts on a cowboy hat, he’s like Paul Newman. But there’s always something bedrock, Western, sawmill about the guy.”

Magic Trip lets you participate vicariously in one of the founding moments of a new counterculture. Directors Gibney and Elwood give you a front row seat to the all-night drives, bleary parties, sexual experimentation, mechanical breakdowns, breathtaking vistas, Highway Patrol stops and even the occasional compelling insight into society and its problems. In a sense this is where hippies started, and also where their movement started to fail.

Magic Trip opens Friday, August 5, in selected cities, and is also available on demand at

WANTED: The Limping Lady

Smithsonian Magazine

The Nazi secret police were hunting her. They had distributed "wanted" posters throughout Vichy France, posters with a sketch of a sharp-featured woman with shoulder-length hair and wide-set eyes, details provided by French double agents. They were determined to stop her, an unknown "woman with a limp" who had established resistance networks, located drop zones for money and weapons and helped downed airmen and escaped POWs travel to safety. The Gestapo's orders were clear and merciless: "She is the most dangerous of all Allied spies. We must find and destroy her."

Virginia Hall, the daughter of a wealthy family in Baltimore, Maryland, wanted to become a United States Foreign Service officer, but was turned down by the State Department. Instead, she became one of World War II's most heroic female spies, saving countless Allied lives while working for both Britain and the United States. Now, more than two decades after her death at age 78, Hall's extraordinary actions are in the spotlight once again. In December, the French and British ambassadors honored her at a ceremony in Washington, DC attended by Hall's family. "Virginia Hall is a true hero of the French Resistance," wrote French President Jacques Chirac in a letter read by the French ambassador. The British ambassador presented Hall's family with a certificate to accompany the Order of the British Empire medal Hall received from King George VI in 1943.

Despite their relentless efforts, the Gestapo never captured Hall, who was then working for the British secret paramilitary force Special Operations Executive (SOE). The SOE had recruited her after she had a chance meeting with an SOE member on a train out of France soon after the country fell to the Nazis in 1940. In joining, she became the SOE’s first female operative sent into France. For two years, she worked in Lyon as a spy, initially under the guise of a stringer for the New York Post, then, after the United States entered the war, she was forced to go underground. She knew that as an enemy she would be tortured and killed if she were caught, but she continued her work for another 14 months.

Hall fled France only after the Allies landed in North Africa and Nazis started flooding the country. To escape, she had to cross the Pyrenees mountains by foot into Spain, a difficult task for a woman who had lost her left leg in a hunting accident years before and used an artificial leg she had nicknamed "Cuthbert." As her guide led her across the frozen landscape in mid-winter, she transmitted a message to SOE headquarters in London saying she was having trouble with her leg. The reply: "If Cuthbert is giving you difficulty, have him eliminated."

After the grueling trek, Hall arrived in Spain without entry papers. Officials immediately threw her into Figueres Prison, where she remained for six weeks. She was released only after a freed inmate smuggled a letter written by Hall to the American consul in Barcelona, alerting them to her situation.

She spent the next four months in Madrid working undercover as a correspondent for the Chicago Times before asking SOE headquarters for a transfer. "I thought I could help in Spain, but I’m not doing a job," Hall wrote, as noted in Elizabeth P. McIntosh's book Sisterhood of Spies. "I am living pleasantly and wasting time. It isn’t worthwhile and after all, my neck is my own. If I am willing to get a crick in it, I think that’s my prerogative."

Image by Photo courtesy of Jeff Bass. Unveiled at a recent ceremony in Washington honoring Virginia Hall, this portrait will be added to the CIA's Fine Arts Collection. Painted by artist Jeff Bass, it shows her transmitting messages from occupied France using her suitcase radio. The painting was underwritten by a donation from attorney Robert Guggenhime. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Lorna Catling. This studio shot of Virginia Hall, circa 1941, was likely taken for her passport. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Lorna Catling. Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, founder of the OSS, gave Hall the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military award for bravery, in 1945. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. Virginia broadcast radio transmissions in July 1944 from this barn in Le Chambon sur Lignon in the Haute-Loire region. It also served as the setting for Jeff Bass's portrait. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. Virginia lived and worked in this Salvation Army building in Le Chambon sur Lignon in August 1944. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. Hall located fields and coordinated parachute drops of metal tubes, like this one that landed in Le Chambon sur Lignon in 1944, carrying weapons, ammunition and supplies. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. Taken in Le Chambon sur Lignon in 1944, this photo includes Hall and Paul Goillot (far right), a member of the OSS who would later become Hall's husband in 1950. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of International Spy Museum. King George VI presented Hall with the Order of the British Empire Medal in 1943 for her undercover work in France. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. A fellow member of OSS, Peter Harrat drew this sketch of Virginia Hall, who worked with Harrat while undercover in the Haute-Loire region of central France. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. Hall used this suitcase radio to transmit messages about German troop movements to London and to coordinate parachute drops of needed supplies for the French Resistance. (original image)

Image by Photo courtesy of Judith L. Pearson. The resistance circuit organized by Virginia Hall destroyed this railroad bridge Pont de Chamalieres on August 2, 1944. (original image)

While the SOE trained her as a wireless radio operator in London, she learned of the newly formed Office of Strategic Services (OSS), America's wartime precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. She quickly joined, and, at her request, the OSS sent her back into occupied France, an incredibly dangerous mission given her high profile. Unable to parachute in because of her artificial leg, she arrived in France by British torpedo boat.

Her assignment was as a radio operator in the Haute-Loire region of central France. To avoid detection, she disguised herself as an elderly milkmaid, dying her hair grey, shuffling her feet to hide her limp and wearing full skirts to add weight to her frame. While undercover, she coordinated parachute drops of arms and supplies for resistance groups and reported German troop movements to London. By staying on the move, camping out in barns and attics, she was able to avoid the Germans who were desperately trying to track her radio signals.

D-Day loomed. Everyone, including the Germans, knew an Allied landing was imminent, but they didn't know when or where it would take place. Hall armed and trained three battalions of French resistance fighters for sabotage missions against the retreating Germans. As part of the resistance circuit, Hall was ready to put her team into action at any moment. In her final report to headquarters, Hall stated that her team had destroyed four bridges, derailed freight trains, severed a key rail line in multiple places and downed telephone lines. They were also credited with killing some 150 Germans and capturing 500 more.

Soon after the war ended, President Harry Truman wished to present Hall with the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest U.S. military award for bravery. Hall, however, requested that Maj. Gen. William J. Donovan, founder of the OSS, give her the medal in a small ceremony in his office, attended only by her mother.

"She always avoided publicity," Hall's niece, Lorna Catling, said recently from her home in Baltimore. “She would say, 'It was just six years of my life.'"

Hall also rarely talked about her clandestine work, even to her family. "I do remember one letter [Hall] sent home during the war," Catling says. "She said that the Germans had caught some people and hung them up by a butcher's hook. It was a terrifying letter."

"I think she was concerned about capitalizing on her experiences," says Judith L. Pearson, author of Wolves at the Door, a recent biography of Hall. "People she knew died. She felt obligated to them and wanted to be respectful of their deaths."

Peter Earnest, executive director of the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC and a 35-year veteran of the CIA, says Hall was an extraordinarily brave woman. The museum houses a permanent exhibit on Hall, which includes the suitcase radio she used to send messages to London in Morse code, along with the British Empire medal and some of her identification papers. Her Distinguished Service Cross resides at the CIA Museum in McLean, Virginia.

"She was in imminent danger of being arrested virtually the whole time that she was in France," says Earnest. "She was very aware of the consequences if the Germans picked her up."

What to Do in Capri

Smithsonian Magazine

Capri can be a bewildering place for first-time visitors. In summer, throngs of day-trippers arrive by ferry at the Marina Grande and flood Capri town, getting lost in the maze of crooked lanes that were once designed to confound marauding pirates.

The most famous lookouts over the Fariglioni, the trio of giant rock spires jutting out of the Mediterranean, can feel as crowded as Shanghai train station. If at all possible, stay overnight on the island. Even better, remain several days. The extra time allows you to explore the remoter recesses of the island, revealing why Capri has bewitched writers throughout history, from the ancient Roman poet Statius to the Chilean Pablo Neruda.

After 5 p.m., when the crowds leave, even Capri town becomes blissfully quiet, and you can wander the cobbled lanes flanked by elaborate iron fences and glazed tiles, feeling as if you’re in a glamorous Italian film shoot, circa 1950. Head for the Piazzetta, or small plaza, settle into the Bar Tiberio for a glass of prosecco and watch the evening unfold. The Piazzetta is possibly Italy’s most beloved public stage, where silver-haired waiters in cream tuxedos serve suntanned celebrities on hiatus from their modeling jobs or TV series. Afterward, repair for dinner to Da Gemma, a historic restaurant once frequented by the British novelist Graham Greene, a resident for long stretches of the 1950s and ’60s (according to Shirley Hazard in Greene in Capri, he favored the corner table). The arched entrance, carved into an ancient rampart, is covered with faded photographs of Shirley MacLaine, Sophia Loren and a mysterious blonde woman from the postwar era nicknamed “Million-lira,” because, a maitre d’ once told me imperiously, “she was the first to charge a million lira a night!”

Greene’s novels, as well as rare reprint editions of the works of the many writers, artists and photographers who have made Capri their home over the centuries, can be found at the bookstore La Conchiglia Libri e Arte, at 12 via le Botteghe. Owned by Ausilia and Riccardo Esposito, it’s also the best place to find out about the latest cultural events on the island.

From the main town, take one of the white Mercedes convertible taxis ($20) up vertiginous hairpin bends to the revered Hotel Caesar Augustus in the village of Anacapri (“Upper Capri”). For the past six decades, this has been the most sought-after place to stay on the island, partly because of it is perched on the knife edge of a 1,000-foot cliff. Today, the terrace still offers one of the best views in the Mediterranean—a jaw-dropping panorama across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius, the volcano that buried Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79. A gleaming statue of Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, gestures grandly toward the vista. If you can’t stay, be sure to have an aperitivo at dusk; the sun sinking into the sparkling sea bathes the whole Neapolitan coast in a dream-like, golden glow.

As it hovers aloof above the rest of the island, Anacapri still proceeds at a 19th-century pace. Schoolchildren in white uniforms play soccer in the cobbled streets, while elderly residents tend their backyard lemon groves. On the piazza, the Church of Santa Sofia has a magnificent ceramic floor depicting the Garden of Eden, and you can peer through a grille at Graham Greene’s former home, the villa Il Rosaio, now a private residence whose entrance is framed by peach-colored roses.

The Villa San Michele, an art-filled refuge created by Swedish physician, author and amateur archaeologist Axel Munthe, is Anacapri’s most popular attraction. Few visitors realize that the villa’s current owner, the Swedish Culture Institute, hosts tours every Thursday afternoon to a unique nature preserve. Visitors climb a steep trail to the spectacular ruins of Castle Barbarossa, a 10th-century fortress on Monte Solaro that now operates as the Capri Bird Observatory. Muthe was an outspoken animal lover, and he bought the mountain above his home to protect its birdlife. Ornithologists today using a system of nets capture and study birds migrating from Africa to Europe – a simple technique that was pioneered by peasants centuries ago so that Caprese quails could end up on European dinner tables. Today, up in the windswept belfry of the castle, local naturalists in pince-nez glasses tag golden orioles, then cast them back to the wind.

Thanks to Capri’s tortuous topography, three-quarters of the island is virtual wilderness, some of it so precarious that a few hikers disappear off the cliffs every year. But those with the leisure and energy to follow solitary backcountry trails can discover a landscape that has barely evolved since the ancient Romans holidayed here.

Many paths begin in town, right under everybody’s noses. The Belvedere de Tragara is the most popular lookout over Capri’s natural phenomenon, the Faraglioni. (“Those famous Gothic cathedrals,” said the irrepressible Italian futurist poet Marinetti of the stone fingers, “with their spires and their ramparts rising fiercely out of the sea.”) In one corner of the lookout, overlooked by most visitors, there is a narrow path called the Via Pizzolungo, which was carved in pagan times. Ten minutes into the pine forest, a stairway plunges down to sea level, where a café – Da Luigi – sits at the very base of the stone pillars, like the Clashing Rocks in Jason and the Argonauts. While the water laps at your feet, the owners will show off photographs of the winter storm of 1986, when Poseidon-size waves tried to pull their little café into the sea.

In the northwest of the island, a steep path from the Villa Lysis provides the back route to the emperor Tiberius’ palace, the Villa Jovis (Villa of Jupiter). Ascending the mountainside covered in wildflowers of purple and gold, one can easily imagine this to be the same path a young islander once climbed, according to the ancient author Seutonius, to offer Tiberius a mullet. The reclusive emperor was so enraged that an intruder had penetrated his lair that he ordered his guards to rub the fish in the peasant’s face. Apparently, when the enterprising youth joked (rather wittily) that it was lucky he had not brought Tiberius a lobster, the humorless emperor had his face torn to shreds with crustaceans. At the summit lie the ruins of the notorious palace, including the sheer Salto Tiberio from which the emperor is said to have thrown unlucky senators to their deaths. The excavations give only a hint of the precinct’s former glory, but the view is unsurpassed. Say what you like about Tiberius, he had a fine eye for real estate.

For me, the ultimate Capri hike is the Sentiero dei Fortini, the Trail of the Forts, on the forgotten west coast of the island. It starts amongst garden terraces but soon leads to a series of wild headlands crowned by a string of medieval towers. On this remote, cactus-strewn shoreline, the sea is a dazzling shade of green. Lizards are poised motionlessly along the trail like nature’s gargoyles. At irregular intervals, carved stone steps lead down to the water. There are no sand beaches on the route, just dark rocks from which you can leap into the crystalline water. Gazing up at the brooding cliff faces, you can imagine history’s many visitors to Capri—the parade of ancient aristocrats, rebellious Victorians and troubled writers—swimming in the same spot. As the Roman poet Statius wrote of Capri in the second century A.D., “Peace untroubled reigns there, and life is leisurely and calm, with quiet undisturbed and sleep unbroken.”

Tony Perrottet’s forthcoming book, The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey Through the Historical Underbelly of Europe, recounts a trip from London to Capri.

Meissen tea caddy

National Museum of American History
TITLE: Meissen tea caddy

MAKER: Meissen Manufactory

PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION: ceramic, porcelain (overall material)

MEASUREMENTS: H. 4½" 11.4cm

OBJECT NAME: Tea caddy

PLACE MADE: Meissen, Saxony, Germany

DATE MADE: 1735-1740


Domestic Furnishing

Industry and Manufacturing

CREDIT LINE: Hans C. Syz Collection

ID NUMBER: 1981.0702.23



(DATA SOURCE: National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center)

MARKS: Crossed swords in blue on unglazed base.

PURCHASED FROM: The Art Exchange, New York, 1957.

This tea caddy is from the Smithsonian’s Hans Syz Collection of Meissen Porcelain. Dr. Syz (1894-1991) began his collection in the early years of World War II, when he purchased eighteenth-century Meissen table wares from the Art Exchange run by the New York dealer Adolf Beckhardt (1889-1962). Dr. Syz, a Swiss immigrant to the United States, collected Meissen porcelain while engaged in a professional career in psychiatry and the research of human behavior. He believed that cultural artifacts have an important role to play in enhancing our awareness and understanding of human creativity and its communication among peoples. His collection grew to represent this conviction.

The invention of Meissen porcelain, declared over three hundred years ago early in 1709, was a collective achievement that represents an early modern precursor to industrial chemistry and materials science. The porcelains we see in our museum collections, made in the small town of Meissen in the German States, were the result of an intense period of empirical research. Generally associated with artistic achievement of a high order, Meissen porcelain was also a technological achievement in the development of inorganic, non-metallic materials.

Painted in onglaze enamels in imitation of the Japanese Kakiemon style this baluster-shaped tea caddy features plum, pine, and bamboo trees, below which are rocks with holes in them. There is a bird perched on a pine tree branch with a leaf in its beak while another flies towards the trees. The pattern, known as the Three Friends of Winter, can be seen on a plate (ID#1981.0702.21) but with some variation in the design. The cover on this tea caddy is missing.

In Chinese art the plum, pine, and bamboo trees represent the resilient Three Friends of Winter for their simultaneous display of blossom and green foliage in late season snow. Japanese enamel painters on porcelain imitated motifs in Chinese landscape painting, but more broadly Japan also absorbed Chinese traditions in the design of their gardens that incorporated rocks as aesthetic and symbolic features. Mountains, revered by the Chinese since antiquity, were sites of supernatural powers associated with the Immortals of mythology, and by the Tang (A.D. 618-907) and Song (907-1279) dynasties rocks found appreciation in garden settings for aesthetic as well as spiritual reasons. When the Mongol invasion brought an end to the Song dynasty Chinese immigrants to Japan brought with them ideas that took shape in the Japanese gardens of the monasteries and the cultured elite. Japan’s urban society of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries developed a romantic sensibility towards nature that was formalized in their garden design. Arita porcelain producers of the Kakiemon style favored this design for the European market.

Kakiemon is the name given to very white (nigoshida meaning milky-white) finely potted Japanese porcelain made in the Nangawara Valley near the town of Arita in the North-West of the island of Kyushu. The porcelain bears a characteristic style of enamel painting using a palette of translucent colors painted with refined assymetric designs attributed to a family of painters with the name Kakiemon. In the 1650s, when Chinese porcelain was in short supply due to civil unrest following the fall of the Ming Dynasty to the Manchu in 1644, Arita porcelain was at first exported to Europe through the Dutch East India Company’s base on Deshima (or Dejima) in the Bay of Nagasaki. The Japanese traded Arita porcelain only with Chinese, Korean, and Dutch merchants through the island of Deshima, and the Chinese resold Japanese porcelain to the Dutch in Batavia (present day Jakarta), to the English and French at the port of Canton (present day Guangzhou) and Amoy (present day Xiamen). Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, obtained Japanese porcelain through his agents operating in Amsterdam who purchased items from Dutch merchants, and from a Dutch dealer in Dresden, Elizabeth Bassetouche.

Tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar were luxury products for early eighteenth-century consumers, and the equipage for these hot beverages, made in silver and the new ceramic materials like Meissen’s red stoneware and porcelain, was affordable only to the elite of European society.

On the Kakiemon style and its European imitators see Ayers, J., Impey, O., Mallet, J.V.G., 1990, Porcelain for Palaces: the fashion for Japan in Europe 1650-1750; see also Impey, O., Jörg, J. A., Mason, C., 2009, Dragons, Tigers and Bamboo: Japanese Porcelain and its Impact in Europe, the Macdonald Collection

On the “three friends of winter” pattern see Weber, J., 2013, Meissener Porzellane mit Dekoren nach ostasiatischen Vorbildern: Stiftung Ernst Schneider in Schloss Lustheim, Band II, S. 237-245.

On the significance of rocks in Chinese gardens see Keswick, M., 1978, The Chinese Garden: History, Art, and Architecture, pp. 169-178; Kuitert, W., 2002, Themes in the History of Japanese Garden Art, p. xiv.

On tea and coffee drinking see Weinberg, B.A., Bealer, B.K., 2002, The World of Caffeine: The Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug.

Jefferson Miller II, J., Rückert, R., Syz, H., 1979, Catalogue of the Hans Syz Collection: Meissen Porcelain and Hausmalerei, pp. 148-149.

Questing for Calories in New Zealand’s High Country

Smithsonian Magazine

The author's bicycle patiently poses in a land of "beauty, heartbreak and challenge" in the Molesworth wilderness.

I wrote previously that New Zealand is a bit too clean and tame for one to have real adventures—and in the Teletubby-tidy lowlands and well-worn beaten tracks, it’s true. Here, one encounters scant risk, almost nothing dangerous and little that one hasn’t seen before (I’ll take that back if I ever see a kiwi).

But I’ve just rediscovered an old trick for maximizing the excitement of traveling: Ride a bicycle into the backcountry without enough food. I didn’t mean to do it, but sometimes miscalculations are made in the grocery store while we’re wandering the globe in search of experience. I was in St. Arnaud, Tasman, where the town’s general store robbed me of $12 for four apples, a few raisins and 20 slices of bread. The cheapest wine on the shelf more than doubled the bill, and thusly provisioned, I turned south off of Highway 63 onto the Rainbow Station-Hanmer Springs road, a private track through the wild, windswept cattle country of Molesworth Station, the largest farm in the country, and one generously shared with the public. Though as many as 10,000 cows at a time may trample the region and leave their pies by the countless thousands in meadows and on riverbanks, the land still amounts to almost untainted wilderness. One can even drink straight from the streams here, as all the locals recommend (though the Department of Conservation, which co-operates parts of the region, advises boiling it for three minutes to cover their behinds in case Giardia should ever infect a tourist).

I stopped about 20 bumpy kilometers in to fish on the upper Wairau River. On my first glance at the stream, I saw basking in the shallows a four-pound trout. The sullen beast refused to take a fly. Upriver a few kilometers, I worked a series of shallow pools studded with boulders like stepping stones across the river. In a chute of fast water, I saw in the sunlight the passing flank of a trout fully two feet long. Further upstream still, I looked off the road into a deep blue pool below and saw three lumbering browns, all more than 20 inches, swimming circles in a slow backwater. Only in New Zealand.

At the gates of the Old Rainbow homestead, owned by the lucky family that has inherited this place, a young woman hurried out the door to let me through and take my $2 road toll. (Cars must pay $25 here and motorcycles $15.) I offered an extra dollar for a pair of chicken eggs; she gave me four–eggs with yolks as golden as Jupiter. Famished by evening and frustrated by the poor fishing, I made my camp at the Coldwater Creek campsite, a patch of sweet green grass amidst some trees. At dawn I continued into the heightening wilderness, opening and closing cattle gates as I found them while, above, the stony crowned peaks grew higher. At one of the cattle gates was a placard describing the region, and its writer—perhaps some anonymous freelancer now lost in an urban hive but who clearly had a heart like John Muir’s—couldn’t have said it better: Molesworth Station farm “encompasses all the beauty, heartbreak and challenge of New Zealand’s high country frontier.” Amen. The cold wind screams over the desolate plains and through the valleys, where ribbons of trout stream wind their way seaward. Granite-gray mountain peaks glower at travelers, who gape in helpless awe at the land’s stone-cold beauty. It’s a treeless place to love or hate.

I made several casts with a beadhead nymph into a promising sapphire pool. I released a small brown before, on my next cast, my line seized up at the weight of a fat two-pounder – my dinner fish. I rode on and reached the Fowlers Camp hut as the weather deteriorated. Icy rain and gusts of 50 miles per hour chased me inside to share the cabin with a team of government botanists in the midst of a plant survey. Mandated by some fine point of the Kyoto Protocol, their project amounted to crawling about on hands and knees to quantify just how much carbon the vegetation of New Zealand is sequestering from our polluted atmosphere. One of the men told me as we sipped whiskey, “It’s nonsense, like buying carbon credits. Basically, other nations are paying us to take up carbon so they can pollute.” I ate my last slice of bread, saving a dozen raisins for breakfast, and crawled off to bed, stomach growling, still another half-day away from Jack’s Pass and, on the other side, the well-fed tourist town of Hanmer Springs.

Oh, the hardship! And to think that just three days before I was among the finely heeled, sampling complicated wines from elegant stemware and trying my tongue at such topics as body, balance, tannins and precisely just what dish one must pair with this or that beverage. That was in the vineyard country of Marlborough, origin of some of New Zealand’s most esteemed Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. At Cloudy Bay Vineyards, staff ran me through their lineup—two free tastes, plus four more for $5, including a slightly funky barrel-aged Sauvignon Blanc and a 2006 vintage bubbly that was layered, rich and memorable. Then I needed a beer, and I stepped next door to the Moa Brewing Company, home of some of the brawniest, strongest beers in the nation. I had the imperial stout, with 10.2 percent alcohol, and on the out, I noticed the sign at the gate on Jacksons Road: “Finally, something drinkable from Marlborough.”

The Moa Brewing Company offers fresh beer in the midst of Marlborough's famed vineyards.

But all that was a distant memory now as I prowled over the cold landscape. The biting chill was so harsh that I’d had to pull socks over my fingers, then pull them off again when I found a discarded half apple. With my pocket knife, I carved out the remaining clean bits. It was the best apple core I’ve ever eaten. From a high point on the road I peered through my polarized sunglasses into a pool on a small river below. A big trout surfaced as though on cue. I watched to see where it settled, then assembled my rod, scrambled down the bank and placed a fly just upstream of the fish. Whammo! A two-pounder erupted from the water, somersaulted twice and quickly surrendered itself. I gave the fish my thanks, clunked it cold with a rock and cooked it on my butane stove at the historic St. James homestead. But a trout hardly fills one up, and I rolled forward, feeling hungrier than before—yet strangely elated.

Big trout from a little stream: This beauty gave the author a much needed roadside lunch.

For there is something extremely liberating in running out of food. Concerns about rationing what’s left are out the window because one has absolutely nothing to eat. The world is simplified into a venue of potential meals, a playground for foraging up something—anything—containing calories, and by stripping it of everything indulgent and flavorful, life has, at last, assumed a clear and satisfying purpose.

With Google Maps, It's Now Possible To Travel Through Time

Smithsonian Magazine

A lot can change in seven years: buildings rise and landscapes change. Whether you’re standing near the ocean in Japan or in the middle of Times Square, your view will likely be quite different in less than a decade.

That’s the premise behind Google Maps’ newest time-lapse tool, launched today. Since it was released in 2007, Google Street View has allowed users to explore a given area from the perspective of walking along a sidewalk, but with the new tool, they’ll actually be able to see how the street and its surroundings have changed.

“Our mission in maps is to build a map that’s accurate, useful and comprehensive, and I think that being able to expose historic images that we’ve collected in the past helps us be able to meet this comprehensiveness aspect,” says Vinay Shet, the product manager of Google Street View. 

The new time-travel function draws on image data captured by a fleet of Google Street View SUVs, snowmobiles, tricycles, and even a backpack, which for seven years have trekked across the globe with video cameras and GPS units to capture busy intersections and rolling hillsides across all seven continents. By selecting "street view" and clicking on a clock icon at the top of the screen, users can explore an area’s evolution as far back as Google’s photo-documentation can reach. The project pulls together years of Google Street View imagery, some of it previously unreleased, and took several months to complete. It marks the latest in a recent string of expansions in what users can see in street view, from the ruins of Angkor Wat to the Colorado River.

A screen shot shows the reconstruction of New Orleans' 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. The window with the clock icon in the upper right-hand corner shows the same street in October of 2007. Other photos submitted by Google Maps users (single current images, not historical) run along the bottom. (Google)

Users can travel back in time wherever street view is available around the world, and the project will continue to add to its collection of image data as years pass.

“In two years time 2007 will be vintage, so we hope that as time goes by this tool becomes more and more valuable to our users,” Shet says.

On some level the tool is similar to time-lapse videos, but it's not the same. The tool serves as an interactive visual archive that to date has only been available manually by sifting through old digital images, film strips and negatives. 

Before releasing the tool, Shet and his team did some exploring of their own with what the technology could offer. Some of the most common scenes to be viewed with the tool are ever-changing urban skylines around the world, including the rise of landmark buildings like the World Cup stadium in Rio de Janiero, the World Trade Center’s Freedom Tower in New York City, and the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore. 

Google Street View images show the construction of the Freedom Tower in New York City from September 2007 to August 2013. (Google)

Users can also see changes in nature as the world shifts between seasons, a natural phenomenon that’s made time-lapse videos across the Internet forever popular. In Norway, for example, a mountain road goes from an idyllic summer scene to one blanketed with snow.

“It’s the same place but it looks dramatically different,” Shet says.

A panoramic split-screen shot shows seasonal changes in Norway. (Google)

The tool also highlights areas hit by natural disasters in the last seven years, from the fallout and reconstruction of land along coastal Japan—ravaged by both an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011—to the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand that same year.

Interestingly, in Japan, the viewer gets the impression of physically moving horizontally when clicking between past and present. At first, developers thought they had taken footage from the wrong coordinates. “In reality, the ground had shifted by around 5 meters,” Shet says. “But you see that effect when you go across time, so I think that this a really powerful imaging tool that you have there.”

Beyond imagery highlighting the beauty and destruction of nature, the Google Street view imagery shows social change. Changing advertisements in Time Square reveal shifts in technology from flip phones to smart phones, while a street view of an urban building might show the artistic evolution of its graffiti. 

Graffiti changes over the years on the facade of the 5 Pointz art center in Queens. (Google) Users can see how the faces of Times Square's billboards have changed since 2007. (Google)

Google's decision to make the images public opens them up to a wide array of possibilities. One could envision urban scientists looking at how a neighborhood has changed over the years, or criminal investigators reconstructing the appearance of an old crime scene. Whether those fields find the tool useful remains to be seen, but Shet is optimistic it will have applications beyond the initial wow-factor. 

“Obviously, people can use it in whatever way they want. People are going to look at how things have changed in an interesting way and how humanity has kind of moved forward in different ways,” Shet says. “It’s going to be exciting to see what people find.”

So, go forth and virtually explore your neighborhood’s evolution over the last seven years—who knows what you might discover.

On the Cheese Trail in the Pyrenees

Smithsonian Magazine

Follow the arrows, find the cheese. This sign led to a sheep farm in the village of Tilhouse. Photo by Alastair Bland.

For the past eight months, for a variety of environmental reasons, I have abstained from eating any cheese—but last week I went tumbling off the wagon. I couldn’t help myself any longer. For the Pyrenees, I’ve discovered, is a cheese-producing district about as moldy and musky as they get outside of Roquefort. Cows and sheep seem to outnumber people, grazing on the hillsides in vast herds and clogging the roads as villagers drive them into the high country for the summer—an annual occasion for festivities and celebrations in many villages. These are the animals that have indirectly caused the extermination of bears and wolves from most of the nation. About two dozen brown bears do still tiptoe through the woods in the Pyrenees, leery of gun-toting shepherds, but mostly they have been replaced by milk-making grazers. So you can bitterly hold your grudge and boycott all things milk-related, like I periodically do, or go tasting.

Villagers drive a flock of more than 2,000 sheep into the high country of the Pyrenees, where the animals will graze for the summer. Photo by Alastair Bland.

In Gez, on the road from Argeles-Gazost to the Spandelles pass, a small sign midway through the village tells passersby of fromage in the vicinity. Knock on the nearest door, and if that fails to draw a response, make a fuss in the road and stomp your feet, and someone will appear. Spit out some gibberish about “fromage a vendre,” and that should do it. Someone will lead you into the cool damp cellar, quiet and regal as a chapel and home to a hundred-something wheels of cheese—and never illuminated with more than a dim fluorescent bulb.

In the damp and darkness of a cellar, creamy wheels of sheep cheese age into fragrance and maturity. Photo by Alastair Bland.

Some of the wheels are fresh and white as snow, but not yet for sale. Others are covered in greenish fuzz—unintended mold that will be scraped from the rind before long. Still others are crusty, brown, veined inside with the desired Penicillium mold and smelly—and ripe for purchase. Ask for some sample tastes, then buy a hunk for the hills. (This is your last chance for fuel as you ride into the wilderness.) And in Poubeau, along highway D-76 on the east side of Col de Peyresourde, the village fromagerie sells a tomme cow cheese, made on-site from a dozen heifers. Follow the signs, knock on the door, and if no one answers, go bug the neighbors. You’ll get your cheese. And just uphill from Luz-Saint-Sauveur, en route to the spectacular Luz-Ardiden summit, the Ferme de Cascades, operated largely by WWOOF workers (world wide opportunities on organic farms) makes and sells goat cheese. Their hours are odd—just 4 to 6 p.m.—so plan accordingly. The cheese, including creamy day-old chevre and old crusty bricks, is a bit expensive for the area (20 Euros a kilo, or about $10 a pound), but it’s organic, it’s tasty and—as good goat cheese should—it really smells and tastes like a goat. Down in the foothills in the town of Tilhouse, another fine and friendly cheese-making operation is La Ferme de Baptistou. Home to 100-something sheep, the farm also buys cow and goat milk and makes several blends, all up to par with French cheese-making standards (much like European wine is regulated) and classed as Pyrenees tomme. Follow the signs reading “fromage de brebi” (sheep cheese).

Where milk comes from: At La Ferme de Baptistou, pumps draw the milk from each sheep in just minutes. The cave is just down the hallway---and for the author a sheep's milk coffee would be had at a picnic table just down the road. Photo by Alastair Bland.

For the cyclist, it’s a heartbreaking descent down a steep hill to the farm (I had just climbed about 800 feet out of the Arros River valley, all my gear doubled in weight by a night of rain), but the experience is well worthwhile. Ask to see the cave, and they’ll show you inside. Ask for a few samples, and they’ll taste you through young and old cheeses of goat, sheep and cow. I chanced to arrive just before milking time, and a friendly farm apprentice in training named Julien allowed me to watch the operation and even sent me away with a spot of milk for my coffee. It was my first sheep milk cafe au lait.

Not into cheese? Then tour the local morning farmers markets for other goodies—Thursday in Arreau, Wednesday in Bareges, Tuesday in Argeles-Gazost, Sunday in La Barthe-de-Neste, to name several. Chantecler apples, white asparagus, pre-baked beets and farm-fresh eggs are my staples of living. You might also run into Geert Stragier, who keeps court at multiple farmers markets—including Thursday morning in Arreau. He is not a farmer or an artisan of any sort—just a merchant—but he sells what few else do in this wine-oriented culture: about 50 Belgian beers. Want some locally brewed beer? Of the 400-plus craft breweries in France, three, I’m told, dwell in the Pyrenees. One, L’Aoucataise, is based in Arreau—a homebrewing-size setup in the rear of a small cheese-and-wine boutique. Five year-round staple beers in bottles, including an amber beer, a blonde beer, a honey beer and a beer with no alcohol, make up the repertoire of owner and brewer Christian Arzur, who told me that wine sales are dropping nationwide as artisan beer sales slowly climb. The shop offers beer tastings during the summer months, if you arrive with a group large enough that Arzur isn’t left with several half bottles. Step inside the shop, located across from the market plaza, to inquire.

Geert Stragier with his selection of Belgian beers at the Thursday Arreau farmers market. Photo by Alastair Bland.

If you just can’t get enough of the hills, then stay in the mountains—but forget about the trophy climbs of the Tour de France and consider some lesser known but just as grand ascents, like Col de Spandelles, Col de Couraduque, Port de Boucharo and Port du Bales. By the numbers, these ones—oh, never mind meters for a while. Just enjoy the ride. I climbed Bales from the south side. The north side is absurdly steep and a terror just to ride down—but on top was a view about as mighty as any I’ve seen in Europe. To the north and a mile below, the expanse of France lay before me. Out there, on that brown distant landscape, was the Armagnac region, the Landes forest, the lovely Perigord farther north and the posh wine-making castles of Bordeaux off to the northwest. England could not be seen, hidden beyond the curved surface of the Earth, but I almost swore I could see the tip of the Eiffel Tower.

This just in: Want a hot deal on Parmesan cheese? A correspondent of mine who lives in the north of Italy (Aunt Bobbie) reports that in the city of Ferrara, cheese houses damaged by the recent earthquake are selling off their quake-damaged wheels of immature Parmesan at about 25 percent off normal prices. Most families, Bobbie reports, are snagging 10 kilos at a time. Better get there quick.

Does Pyeongchang Have a Future As a Winter Sports Destination?

Smithsonian Magazine

Now that South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have wrapped up, what happens next?

When preparing a bid to host the Olympics, organizers typically promote economic growth, jobs, housing and infrastructure improvements. But as a landscape architect and urban designer who worked on both the Atlanta and London Olympics, I’ve been able to see how these lofty visions don’t always mesh with reality.

So is Pyeongchang in a good position to become a winter sports hub that will fuel economic growth and tourism for years to come? Or will the country’s long-term fiscal health be damaged, leaving a financial burden for future generations?

Ultimately, the legacy of the Pyeongchang Games will depend on the answers to these questions.

By looking at what’s worked – and what hasn’t – in the planning and execution of the games in previous host cities, we can see whether South Korea is poised to benefit from its considerable investment.

Creative planning can transform a city

With good planning, the Olympics can be an economic boon, while spurring some exciting changes to the urban fabric of a city.

The 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics turned a profit, generating a US$225 million surplus that has been used to support American Olympic efforts and local youth sports organizations over the decades. After the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, the athletes’ village was converted into new dormitories for a local university.

When planning the 2012 London Olympics, organizers took the long view – perhaps more than any other previous host city. They were able to transform an underdeveloped industrial part of the city into a thriving community that includes public open space, infrastructure improvements and affordable housing. Every venue was designed to be retrofitted once the games were completed. For example, the Copper Box Arena, which hosted handball and other events, is now used for an array of indoor sports.

A boxing match takes place in London’s Copper Box Arena in 2013. (AI Project/Reuters)

Paris and Los Angeles were chosen to host the Olympic Games in 2024 and 2028, in large part because both cities have hosted the games in the past and have existing venues in place. Planners for Los Angeles Games project that they’ll cost about $5 billion to stage and will generate a surplus. (By comparison, the Rio Games cost $13 billion.)

Los Angeles does plan to build an expensive new stadium for the opening ceremonies. However, this stadium will eventually become the home for the city’s two National Football League teams, the Rams and the Chargers, and the stadium has already been designated the host of the 2021 Super Bowl.

It’s all about the bottom line

For the organizers of the Los Angeles and Paris Games, the financial burden of being a host city is a primary concern.

This is probably because spiraling costs have crippled previous host cities. From 1968 to 2012, every single Olympic Games ended up costing more than originally estimated, with 1976 Montreal and 1984 Sarajevo each costing 10 times the original estimate. It took Montreal 30 years to pay off its debts after the 1976 Olympics.

And despite bold plans to repurpose Olympic buildings, past host cities have been left with vacant, decaying sports complexes that are referred to as “white elephants.”

Beijing’s iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium has rarely been used since 2008. The Olympic Aquatic Center in Athens has sat vacant since the 2004 Summer Olympics, and many blame Greece’s economic collapse on debts associated with the Olympics.

Nearly two years after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, most venues are closed or underused. The Rio Olympic stadium has been abandoned and closed to tourists due to a dispute over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management fees.

Can Pyeongchang become a winter sports hub?

South Korea hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1988, and many credit these games for sparking the country’s transformation into an economic powerhouse and a global leader in consumer electronics.

In the case of the Pyeongchang Games, one of country’s stated goals was to help the country become a top winter sports hub in Asia.

There were two main sites chosen for 2018 Winter Olympics: the mountain resort Alpensia and the coastal city of Gangneung. The Alpensia resort was prominently featured during the 2018 games, with downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, ski jumping and biathlon taking place at the site. The city of Gangneung included new stadiums for curling, ice hockey, speed skating and figure skating events.

South Korea ended up investing around $13 billion for the Pyeongchang Olympics. Although this is significantly less than Russia’s record $55 billion tab for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, it still exceeded what the country had budgeted. A major portion of that has gone to new hotels in Gangneung, housing projects, venues and transportation projects, like a high-speed rail that links Seoul to Pyeongchang’s remote venues. This rail would provide access to the ski resorts and help further South Korea’s vision for creating an Asian winter sports hub.

Yet anyone who watched the games on TV couldn’t help noticing that many events were poorly attended. There could be a number of explanations, including a Chinese travel ban that prevented Chinese fans from attending, the country’s distance from Europe and North America, a lack of local interest in alpine sports, and early morning starting times.

However, it does make you wonder if South Korea’s vision for a major Asian winter sports hub is viable. Many global economists predict that a major increase in regional tourism and economic growth is unlikely.

Nonetheless, organizers seem to have learned from the successes and failures of previous host cities, from Atlanta to Athens.

For example, South Korea built a complex of eight 15-story apartment buildings in Pyeongchang to house the Olympic athletes. All of the apartments have already been sold, with most going to domestic buyers.

And to avoid “white elephants,” organizers in South Korea are planning to demolish some of the new venues after the games, deeming that it would be too impractical to try to repurpose them. For example, the new Olympic stadium cost $109 million to build and seats 35,000 people. But there are currently only 40,000 people living in the region. So the stadium will go by way of the wrecking ball once the games conclude.

South Koreans will need to enjoy the Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium while it lasts. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)

South Korea’s vision of creating a top winter sports hub might be in doubt. But South Korea did use the Olympics to flaunt its technological prowess, showcasing cutting-edge technologies such as a 5G mobile network and self-driving buses.

So perhaps the legacy of Pyeongchang will be that it encouraged further expansion of the country’s technology sector, just as the 1988 Seoul Games helped transform South Korea into an electronics powerhouse.

As with all cities that take the gambit of hosting Olympic games, time will tell.

Cork Trees: Soft-Skinned Monarchs of the Mediterranean

Smithsonian Magazine

Cork oaks recently harvested of their bark are a common sight in the southern Iberian Peninsula. These middle-aged trees are growing in the Spanish province of Extremadura. Photo by Alastair Bland.

A person sees many countries on a European tour—and I don’t necessarily mean those divided by political boundaries and languages. I mean truffle country, sweet wine country, bear country, bike country, tax-free perfume country, cider country, salmon country and Basque country.

Further to the south, on the sweltering, blistering hot plains west and south of Madrid, the traveler finds the stately old monarchs of cork country. It’s not the grandest claim to fame for a landscape—its parched soils produce oak trees whose spongy bark will be cut up and plugged into wine bottles. But the corks of Spain and Portugal have played a key role in the making of wine for 200-plus years. The trees are beauties. They assume a huge girth over the centuries that they stand on these interior plains, and in a country where the summer sun all but sets the land on fire (I’m here now, and it’s 105 degrees in the sun, 80 in an air-conditioned hotel room), their shade is precious. Readers may know the story of Ferdinand, the great and gentle bull who lazed away the blazing Spanish days in the shade of his favorite cork tree.

The cork tree’s bark is a thick spongy hide that is stripped stripped away by workers using knives and axes once every nine years—the normal time it takes for the tree to recover. A number is often spray painted on the tree to indicate the year in which it was last harvested. The average specimen of Quercus suber produces about 100 pounds of cork in a stripping, while the very largest tree—named the Whistler Tree, 45 feet tall and a resident of Portugal’s Alentejo region—produced a ton of bark at its last harvest in 2009. It was enough for about 100,000 corks—enough to plug up the entire annual sweet wine production of Chateau d’Yquem.

A close-up view of the cork tree’s great gift—its spongy, pliable bark, freshly exposed by a cork harvester’s axe. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Marco di Pisa.

The Whistler Tree is the oldest known cork tree. It sprouted from its acorn 20 years before Lewis and Clark described the Rocky Mountains and produced its first cork crop in 1820. But even the youngest trees of cork-producing age (they aren’t harvested until they’re about 25 years old, and the first two harvests are often unsuitable for use as bottle stoppers) date back to the years before the advent of the screwcap—which puts a, um, twist into this story. For that little aluminum artifice of convenience for the wine drinker has become enemy number one of the cork industry, which employs tens of thousands of people full time or seasonally. And things look bleaker than even the desert plains of La Mancha for the Mediterranean’s five million acres of cork country. A report from World Wildlife Fund in 2006 predicted that by 2015—just three years away—95 percent of all wine bottles would be sealed with screwcaps, plugged with synthetic corks or packed as “bag-in-box” wines. That report remains the official prophecy of the future of corks.

This could mean the chainsaw for many of the trees, as their owners turn to more profitable uses of the land—and you can’t blame winemakers for seeking cork alternatives. Because cork taint, a condition that plagues even the greatest, most consistent wineries, makes as many as 15 bottles in 100 unpleasant, sometimes undrinkable. Cork taint is caused by “TCA” (or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole), a product of bacterial growth that occurs in the living bark of Quercus suber and which may be transferred to the wine if a cork is improperly sterilized. Screwcaps and other cork alternatives eliminate this risk. Many wine producers may never abandon the cork, which some say can positively affect the flavor of a wine and facilitate bottle maturation by allowing oxygen and other compounds to enter and exit through the porous cork. But some regional wine industries have have entirely shifted into the cork-free future. In New Zealand, when I visited the home of a friend in March, I picked up a bottle of a local Cabernet Sauvignon, harvested late in the Clinton era and plugged with a real cork. Today, virtually no wineries in New Zealand use corks, and when I showed my friend the bottle, she said, “But how are we going to open it?” Her household did not contain a corkscrew.

If the cork forests vanish, wildlife including lynx, red deer and pigs would lose their homes, and in Portugal alone more than 60,000 people might lose their jobs as the cork industry sink—like a rock. And instead of a sustainably harvested and biodegradable product, we would have synthetic replacements made of factory metal and plastic. Otherwise, most of us wouldn’t be affected, except that in fancy restaurants we wouldn’t get to feign scrutiny anymore when the waiter offers the wine cork to be smelled. And, of course, it would be a shame to lose the trees, whose shade in these parts, I assure you, is more precious than any wine.

Want to see a few cork trees and some real cork harvesting in action? In summertime, the highways through the Alentejo region of eastern Portugal and the bordering region of Extremadura in Spain are the places to be. Tourist services even offer guided bus trips deep into cork country, specifically to watch men and women stripping the trees, followed by a visit to a cork factory in Lisbon. Also to be expected are fine food and wine—probably not from screwcapped bottles, but watch closely. And a Portuguese cycle-touring company, Blue Coast Bikes, gears guests up for bike rides through the cork country, mostly to see castles and grapevines, but the cork trees are there, if for no purpose at all but to be enjoyed.

A harvester hauls away strips of bark from a Portuguese cork tree. The tree will stand for nine years before it is stripped again—if people are still harvesting cork by then. Photo by Sebastian Rich and World Wildlife Fund.

Back to Basics: Saving Water the Old-Fashioned Way

Smithsonian Magazine

The future of water security in Lima, Peru isn't happening in the city. It's happening 75 miles away and 12,000 feet up, in once-forgotten stone channels that pre-date the Incans.

The channels through the Humantanga district snake across steep slopes, collecting rainfall and water from highland streams during the rainy season, letting it seep into the mountain where it percolates naturally over months rather than running off through streams.

"When you see it, it's amazing and beautiful," says Leah Bremer, a researcher with The Natural Capital Project who spent years working with The Nature Conservancy and local organizations on a fund to improve water quantity and quality in the area. "Some are stone. Some are concrete. It's a combination of the natural and the more modern."

Called mamanteo—Spanish for suckling—the channels are an example of communities turning to the water wisdom of the ancients to solve shortages exacerbated by climate change. Historians believe the Wari culture built the channels as part of a complex water conservation system beginning about 1,500 years ago, centuries before the Incas. They fell into disrepair in recent centuries.

Peruvians are not the only people who have found that everything old is useful again; thousand-year-old water-saving techniques are being revived in communities in sub-Saharan Africa and India.

In Peru, the mamanteo have benefits both upstream and downstream. The people in Humantanga, a district whose name means "the place where falcons roost," have more water and better grazing for their livestock during the dry season. But it also has a profound effect downstream, increasing the quantity of water reaching Lima during the dry months of May through December.

That’s important because, despite building additional reservoirs and transporting waters through the Andes to the coast, Lima, the second largest desert city in the world, faces an annual water deficit.

Timm Kroeger, a Nature Conservancy economist who did a cost-benefit analysis, says the project would pay for itself. "It really is a no-brainer," he adds.

“Rehabilitation of ancient structures -- not the construction of new ones with the same technology -- is a very cost-effective measure,” adds Bert De Bièvre, a Lima-based researcher with the Consortium for the Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN). He notes, however, the both green and grey construction will be necessary to deal with Lima’s water problems.

So far, at least ten mamanteos (sometimes also called amunas) have been restored. State and national funding will contribute $23 million to green solutions. They include restoring the mamanteo system, improving local irrigation, reducing overgrazing in the highlands, and transitioning to genetically superior cows that produce more milk. More milk per cow means fewer cows stressing the highlands.

A study by Forest Trends, a nonprofit that includes environmental and industry representatives, co-authored by De Bievre found that such green interventions could address nearly 90 percent of Lima’s water flow deficit during the dry season at costs lower than or competitive with modern gray infrastructure projects like pipelines or wastewater treatment plants.

"Ancient infiltration techniques were once used to increase water storage and slowly release flow that would re-surface in downslope springs after a time lag of several months can also be part of a landscape strategy," the study notes. "Implementing these types of green interventions can result in additional social, cultural, and environmental benefits, as upstream communities are engaged to support improved management of the region’s watersheds and water resources and as natural systems can also filter out water contaminants, stabilize soils, and provide habitat for biodiversity."

Bremer says locals originally were skeptical the old ways would work, but were convinced when the grasslands stayed green during the dry season. “I think it’s really cool that it comes from traditional knowledge,” she says. “It’s amazing the techniques they had.”

A restored mamanteo in Huamantanga, Peru. (Leah Bremer/The Natural Capital Project)

Peru is just one place where communities are turning to practical, cost-efficient water saving techniques thousands of years old.

In Kenya, sand dams, which date to the Romans, are improving water security in some of the harshest areas. In colonial Kenya, people used stones to form barricades to control soil erosion, according to Joe Kiolo, the communications manager for the African Sand Dam Foundation, and noticed the area would stay green long after the rainy season.

The technology is simple. Locals construct a concrete barrier across a seasonal river flowing over bedrock. As the river flows, sand in the water is deposited behind the wall, but only a small bit of the flow is held behind. Over time, layers of sand build up, creating a reservoir that stores the water after the river level drops. The sand prevents evaporation, key as climate change increases temperatures in the area increasing surface water evaporation, and acts as a filter, making the water safe for drinking.

The dams change life for communities. In Makueni County, southeast of Nairobi, for instance, Kiolo says during the dry season a woman may arise at 5:30 a.m. and walk two hours to the nearest river, fill her 20 liter jug and return. She rests briefly before taking her livestock for watering. Later that day, about 7 p.m., she gets in line at a river much closer. But the line is long and she may wait for two hours. Once her jug is full, she returns home for dinner, only to make one more trek during the night. The next day, she says, is spent sleeping to recover. In these villages, Kiolo says, children fetch water rather than attend school.

In one village, building a sand dam shortened the trek for water from nearly four miles to a little more than half a mile, saving time and improving sanitation and hygiene. The area near the dam also develops a micro-climate (like an oasis does), regenerating trees, shrubs and perennial herbs and encouraging family gardens.

The idea is spreading. The Sand Dam Foundation has partnered with other nonprofits to adopt the practice in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania, Chad, Mali, Swaziland, and Mozambique.

"It’s innovative yet is a simple, replicable technology that traps rainwater where it falls, making water available all year round," Kiolo says.

Rainwater harvesting in Rajasthan (Ann Marten, EcoTippingPoints</A>)

Perhaps the most widespread use of rain harvesting techniques is in India, where groundwater levels are dropping rapidly. In the past few years, the state of Rajasthan, India's driest area where temperatures can reach 120 degrees, has turned to several techniques. In one, the paar, rainwater is collected in a catchment and flows into sandy soil. To access the water, residents dig wells about 15 feet deep.

In Rajasthan’s Alwar district after wells dried up, locals turned to johads, earthen dams that capture rainwater and recharge groundwater. After building more than 3,000 johads, groundwater tables rose nearly 18 feet and adjacent forest coverage increased by a third, according to one report. Five rivers that went dry after the monsoon season now run all year long. How important are the old techniques? The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in a Vision 2022 document for Rajasthan lists water harvesting as a vital focus. And a government master plan to recharge groundwater lists johads, paars and other traditional structures.

One of the driving forces behind the work in Rajastan has been Jethu Singh Bhati, who has worked with the Thar Integrated Social Development Society on indigenous ways to preserve water since the mid-1990s.

"Governments pride themselves on expensive projects," he told a reporter last year. "But our work shows that systems intrinsically linked to the region’s hydrography, topography and economy are most effective."

How Human Noise Ruins Parks for Animals and People

Smithsonian Magazine

As transportation networks expand and urban areas grow, noise from sources such as vehicle engines is spreading into remote places. Human-caused noise has consequences for wildlife, entire ecosystems and people. It reduces the ability to hear natural sounds, which can mean the difference between life and death for many animals, and degrade the calming effect that we feel when we spend time in wild places.

Protected areas in the United States, such as national parks and wildlife refuges, provide places for respite and recreation, and are essential for natural resource conservation. To understand how noise may be affecting these places, we need to measure all sounds and determine what fraction come from human activities.

In a recent study, our team used millions of hours of acoustic recordings and sophisticated models to measure human-caused noise in protected areas. We found that noise pollution doubled sound energy in many U.S. protected areas, and that noise was encroaching into the furthest reaches of remote areas.

Our approach can help protected area managers enhance recreation opportunities for visitors to enjoy natural sounds and protect sensitive species. These acoustic resources are important for our physical and emotional well-being, and are beautiful. Like outstanding scenery, pristine soundscapes where people can escape the clamor of everyday life deserve protection.


“Noise” is an unwanted or inappropriate sound. We focused on human sources of noise in natural environments, such as sounds from aircraft, highways or industrial sources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, noise pollution is noise that interferes with normal activities, such as sleeping and conversation, and disrupts or diminishes our quality of life.

Human-caused noise in protected areas interferes with visitors’ experience and alters ecological communities. For example, noise may scare away carnivores, resulting in inflated numbers of prey species such as deer. To understand noise sources in parks and inform management, the National Park Service has been monitoring sounds at hundreds of sites for the past two decades.


Noise is hard to quantify at large-landscape scales because it can’t be measured by satellite or other visual observations. Instead researchers have to collect acoustic recordings over a wide area. NPS scientists on our team used acoustic measurements taken from 492 sites around the continental United States to build a sound model that quantified the acoustic environment.

National Park Service staff set up an acoustic recording station as a car passes on Going-to- the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park, Montana. (National Park Service)

They used algorithms to determine the relationship between sound measurements and dozens of geospatial features that can affect measured average sound levels. Examples include climate data, such as precipitation and wind speed; natural features, such as topography and vegetation cover; and human features, such as air traffic and proximity to roads.

Using these relationships, we predicted how much human-caused noise is added to natural sound levels across the continental United States.

To get an idea of the potential spatial extent of noise pollution effects, we summarized the amount of protected land experiencing human-produced noise three or 10 decibels above natural. These increments represent a doubling and a 10-fold increase, respectively, in sound energy, and a 50 to 90 percent reduction in the distance at which natural sounds can be heard. Based on a literature review, we found that these thresholds are known to impact human experience in parks and have a range of repercussions for wildlife.


The good news is that in many cases, protected areas are quieter than surrounding lands. However, we found that human-caused noise doubled environmental sound in 63 percent of U.S. protected areas, and produced a tenfold or greater increase in 21 percent of protected areas.

Map of projected ambient sound levels for a typical summer day across the contiguous United States, where lighter yellow indicates louder conditions and darker blue indicates quieter conditions. (Rachel Buxton, Author provided)

Noise depends on how a protected area is managed, where a site is located and what kinds of activities take place nearby. For example, we found that protected areas managed by local government had the most noise pollution, mainly because they were in or near large urban centers. The main noise sources were roads, aircraft, land-use conversion and resource extraction activities such as oil and gas production, mining and logging.

We were encouraged to find that wilderness areas – places that are preserved in their natural state, without roads or other development – were the quietest protected areas, with near-natural sound levels. However, we also found that 12 percent of wilderness areas experienced noise that doubled sound energy. Wilderness areas are managed to minimize human influence, so most noise sources come from outside their borders.

Finally, we found that many endangered species, particularly plants and invertebrates, experience high levels of noise pollution in their critical habitat – geographic areas that are essential for their survival. Examples include the Palos Verdes Blue butterfly, which is found only in Los Angeles County, California, and the Franciscan manzanita, a shrub that once was thought extinct, and is found only in the San Francisco Bay area.

Of course plants can’t hear, but many species with which they interact are affected by noise. For example, noise changes the distribution of birds, which are important pollinators and seed dispersers. This means that noise can reduce the recruitment of seedlings.


Noise pollution is pervasive in many protected areas, but there are ways to reduce it. We have identified noisy areas that will quickly benefit from noise mitigation efforts, especially in habitats that support endangered species.

Strategies to reduce noise include establishing quiet zones where visitors are encouraged to quietly enjoy protected area surroundings, and confining noise corridors by aligning airplane flight patterns over roads. Our work provides insights for restoring natural acoustic environments, so that visitors can still enjoy the sounds of birdsong and wind through the trees.

Catch and Release: A Wicked Game?

Smithsonian Magazine

Andrew, bundled against the blazing sun, releases a big brown trout. Photo by Alastair Bland.

We stomped through a boggy marsh on the shores of a small pond near Greymouth, in New Zealand’s West Coast region. This flat plain resembled a patchy blend of tundra, taiga and tropical savannah, backdropped by huge mountain slopes of steaming jungles and glaciers. I was barefooted, plunging through the mud puddles and manure, and Andrew stepped first over a rope fence strung across the road between two posts. I followed, and zzuuhhh-WHUMP! A severe jolt blasted through my body. I froze, felt myself lift in slow motion as the world around me went silent. The gray-green landscape turned an alien orange in a seemingly psychedelic out-of-body experience. Then I screamed and cartwheeled onto my back, landing in a mud puddle. Andrew rushed over as we both realized what had happened. I had learned the lesson that every sheep, cow and goat here learns young: Electric fences hurt. Almost incredibly, these live-wire barriers—which crisscross New Zealand—are almost never marked, and, like any good sheep here, I jump back now at the sight of any wire fence.

Meanwhile, we have finally had some consistent luck with the big brown trout. From the mud banks of the winding streams we can see them hunkering on the bottom, and so long as we keep our shadows onshore, they aren’t shy about dashing to the surface and attacking flies dropped upon them. Andrew and I spent an hour the other day with our poles doubled over, fish after fish sprinting upstream and down, thrashing at the surface and finally rolling over.

We are torn between keeping some to eat and letting them go. Catching and releasing is an honored way of life for many trout fishermen, who revere their favorite fish as something sacred. Without doubt, fishing is an effective means of bringing people to the water’s edge, their eyes open and hearts thumping, to admire the ecosystem and consider the value in preserving it. But at its worst, catch-and-release fly fishing becomes a wicked game of torment. The angler calls it a “sport” to fool a fish into inhaling a sinister steel hook. He or she whoops and hollers as the frightened fish panics, and, after a fight, lands it on the bank, takes measurements for bragging purposes, imagines there is negligible risk that the fish will die of injuries, lets it go and comes back as soon as possible to do it again. I have known noble old fishermen who smoke tobacco pipes while casting, and I would be surprised if there weren’t others who read lines from Walden on the bank between trout. I love fish, fishing and fishermen—often the most active of conservationists—but our hobby often smells of rank and prestige.

The antithesis to all this may be to visit the water, pull out a fish and go home for dinner. In other words, keeping it real. I often prefer that route—and we’ve found that brown trout fillets simmered in olive oil, or whole rainbows broiled in the oven, do just dandy with a New Zealand Pinot Noir carefully chosen from the bottom shelf at the supermarket.

A reward of trout fishing: seasoned fillets simmering in olive oil. Photo by Alastair Bland.

Our latest day of fishing was the grandest; in a series of shallow ponds miles from the highway, we saw absurdly big trout cruising the shores, and a dry fly set quietly upon their noses seemed just the item they were hungry for. We met just one other fisherman on the bank.

“In California, we’ve grown up catching 10-inch fish,” I said to the man. “Where are the little trout here?”

“These are the little ones,” he answered with a slanted smile.

We’ve come over Arthur’s Pass. The rest of the party drove while I rode my bicycle to keep my legs in working order. We’d eaten trout and quinoa for breakfast, but I was running on empty after 30 miles. I stopped at Jackson’s Tavern, locally know for its game pies, to inquire about buying fruit. “I only have two dollars,” I said sheepishly. The lady of the place slugged me lightly in the shoulder for offering money and pushed four oranges at me.

I pulled myself up the 18-percent grades near the top—and here, at 3,025 feet (don’t smirk; that’s about the highest pass they’ve got here) I encountered one of the nation’s most celebrated wild creatures: the kea. This endangered parrot is so clever and mischievous that locals can’t decide whether to love the birds or hate them. Keas will tear windshield wipers from cars, shred unguarded clothing and backpacks and raid cabins. I have also heard reports that keas will lock or unlock doors, depending on which action most inconveniences the nearest person. I even heard tell of a woman who got locked from the outside into an outhouse by the parrots. The birds are even said to be deft at unscrewing bolts, and I’m sure they have no trouble with Allen heads.

A kea at Arthur's Pass stalks a Dutch tourist. Photo by Alastair Bland.

We’re going trout fishing for perhaps the last time today, as we’re headed this afternoon for the East Coast—and we’re taking our credit cards and passports with us, in case some team of keas should break into our room with plans to make off with our identities.

Correspondence, Abbott H. Thayer to the Beaches, Dewing, Endicott, the Kings 1891-1915

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Thomas B. Brumbaugh research material on Abbott Handerson Thayer and other artists, 1876-1994 (bulk 1960s-1994); e Also located at; a Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Abbott Handerson Thayer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on August 12, 1849 to a distinguished family. He moved from Boston to Brooklyn during his childhood, where he attended the National Academy of Design. Thayer often used his wife, Kate Bloede Thayer, her sister Gertrude, and his three children Mary, Gerald and Gladys as models. He also used Clara A. May as a model. His subjects included ethereal angels, landscapes, women, children, and flowers. When Kate died, Thayer's entire outlook on art and life changed. It had been Kate's family that introduced Thayer to the sense of idealism that comes from a German family who had immigrated to the United States. He had learned about the romanticism surrounding art and literature from the Bloedes, all of which encouraged the artist to paint perfectly beautiful figures. Later in life, Thayer established a permanent household in Dublin, New Hampshire, with his new wife, Emma Beach. He loved to paint the surrounding mountains and birds. Interestingly, Charles Lang Freer was one of Thayer's patrons.

Kate Bloede (1846-1890) was Abbott Thayer's first wife, who tragically died following a long battle with depression. Abbott used Kate as a model during his painting career. The couple lived in Paris, where their first two children were born. Upon their return to New York, the Thayers had three more children. In May 1888, Kate developed "melancholia," or depression, following the death of her father, Gustav Bloede. She was admitted to Bloomingdale Hospital, where she was treated for six months. Although her family visited her often, she did not respond well. Abbott transferred Kate to McLean Asylum in the winter of 1888, and then to a sanitorium in 1890. Pulmonary complications developed and Kate died on May 3, 1891. Animosities between Abbott and the Bloede family developed soon after Kate's death.

Emma Beach was Abbott Thayer's second wife, whom he married four months to the day after Kate Bloede's death. She met the couple during the summer of 1881, when they were vacationing in Nantucket. Beach was the daughter of Moses Beach, the former owner of the New York Sun. She was an art student, and over the next few years she visited the Thayers often, developing a close relationship with the children. Emma actually helped Thayer transfer Kate to the McLean Asylum. On July 27, 1891, Abbott wrote to Emma, imploring her to move in permanently with the family for the sake of the children. Her family was quite against this proposal, but the two were married in Nantucket on September 3, 1891. This caused problems between Abbott and the Bloedes, particularly offending Gertrude Bloede and Indie Bloede King, Kate's sisters.

Violet and Ella Beach were Emma Beach's sisters.

Dr. Samuel T. King was Abbott's brother-in-law, the husband of Indie Bloede. Thayer was quite close with King, and therefore it was King to whom he wrote in an attempt to patch things over with the Bloede family, especially Gertrude Bloede. This relationship later deteriorated, with King supporting his wife as opposed to Thayer.

Gertrude Bloede was Kate's sister and was married to Dr. King. It was Gertrude who was most offended when Thayer quickly remarried after Kate's death, and it was Gertrude whom Abbott attempted to reach out to after she refused to speak to him. Gertrude lived a double life as a poet. She published several pieces under the name "Stuart Sterne" in the 19th century.

William Endicott was an American politician from Massachusetts who served as Secretary of War and was influential on the Board on Fortification. Following his retirement, he returned to Boston, was overseer of Harvard College (his Alma mater) and president of the Peabody Academy of Science and Peabody Education Fund. It appears that Thayer's letter responds to a request from Endicott that Abbott participate in a mural in Massachusetts.

Maria Oakey Dewing was the wife of Thomas Wilmer Dewing, an American painter at the turn of the century. Maria herself was an artist who painted mostly flowers, although she began by painting figures. She studied art at the Cooper Union in New York City.

Gift of Susan A. Hobbs.

This folder is an amalgamation of letters written by Abbott H. Thayer to various people, mostly relatives. The recipients include Moses Beach, Ella Beach, Violet Beach, Maria Oakey Dewing, Gertrude Bloede, and Dr. Samuel T. King.

What Makes Tucson Deserving of the Title of the United States' First Capital of Gastronomy

Smithsonian Magazine

Every day, tens of thousands of cars barrel down Interstate 10, a highway that hugs the western edge of Tucson, Arizona. Many of these drivers may not realize that they are driving past a region with one of the longest food heritages on the continent. Often considered the birthplace of Tucson itself, this swath of Sonoran Desert  nestled at the base of the Tucson Mountains is where the O'odham people settled, planting crops of maize, tepary beans and other produce amid a landscape punctuated by prickly pear cacti and sagebrush.

This vast agricultural past, along with a thriving culinary scene that rivals those found in much larger urban areas, is what helped this city of more than half a million people earn the coveted title of Unesco Capital of Gastronomy.

Over the holidays, Unesco added 47 cities in 33 countries, including Tucson, to its growing Creative Cities Network. Tucson is the first place in the United States to be honored with the Capital of Gastronomy designation. (Other cities that earned the title for 2015 include Belém, Brazil; Bergen, Norway; Phuket, Thailand; and Tucson’s sister city, Ensenada, Mexico.) Launched in 2004, the network consists of 116 cities in the creative fields of crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music. The purpose of this international network is to strengthen creative partnerships between different cities and encourage sustainable urban development worldwide.

Why Tucson? Though Unesco didn’t formally explain its reasons for including the city in its network, Jonathan Mabry, historic preservation officer for the City of Tucson, thinks he may have the answer.

“It all starts with our deep and multicultural food history,” he tells “There’s so much innovation in all parts of our food system, including sustainable agriculture and ranching, plus the development of an innovative urban agriculture scene. For example, Tucson recently amended our land use code to make it easier to do agriculture within city limits and to sell those products.”

Mabry was responsible for writing the application that helped Tucson snag the Unesco designation (his completed application is available here). Even he was surprised at the wealth of food-related accomplishments the city has achieved over the years, from the ancient O’odham mountainside settlement to the many local organizations striving to help battle hunger, like the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona and Iskashitaa Refugee Network. And then there’s the food itself: The city is packed with restaurateurs, chefs, farmers and ranchers who nurture a vibrant food scene.

One of those local food boosters is Janos Wilder, a James Beard Award winner and chef/owner of Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails. His bar and restaurant incorporates local ingredients like tepary beans, a drought-resistant legume native to the American Southwest, into dishes like a Cholla bud escabeche served alongside a green bean and tepary bean salad and drizzled with a jalapeño-orange vinaigrette. When talked to Wilder, he was in the early stages of writing out a quintessentially local menu for a conference he’ll attend this spring as the city’s representative.

“I’m thinking that I might pickle some Cholla buds or add some purslane into a dish, since it grows wild in Tucson’s dry riverbeds,” Wilder says. “I’ll probably make a syrup out of some Saguaro cactus blossoms.”

Wilder is preparing another venture: the Carriage House, a downtown events space that will open later this month and feature cooking classes. Fittingly, his first class will focus on cooking with local ingredients.   

“Using ingredients from the desert has always been important to me,” he says. “Even when I opened my first restaurant here in 1983, I ran an ad looking for local gardeners before I ran one to hire staff.”

Residents citywide heard his call. They arrived soon thereafter with armloads of squashes, chilies, herbs and other edibles they had grown in their own backyards. Even today, Wilder has a working relationship with many area farmers and gardeners. He also taps into his own thriving garden adjacent to his restaurant and the one he nurtures at the Children’s Museum Tucson a block away.

But the city’s burgeoning food scene of restaurants, food festivals and farmers’ markets isn’t the only thing that makes it a gastronomy capital. At a more organic level are organizations like Native Seeds/SEARCH, a nonprofit seed bank that conserves and distributes heirloom seeds found across the Southwest. Many of the crops that Wilder and other chefs cook with evolved from the very seeds provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH, bringing Tucson’s agricultural history full circle.

“There’s such an unexpected biodiversity in the city’s desert borderlands,” Mabry says. “There are more heritage foods grown within 100 miles of Tucson than any other city in North America.”

Another organization, Mission Garden Project, seeks to bring focus back to the city’s extensive agrarian lineage. The project is the brainchild of the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace, a non-profit organization that re-created the original walled gardens built by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary from Europe who settled in the area in the 17th century. The site is located on the same fertile ground where the O’odham people grew their crops more than 4,000 years ago. They named it Cuk Şon or “black base.” Mission Garden Project interprets different distinctive periods of Tucson’s agricultural history, from the O’odham through the Spanish, Mexican, Chinese and Territorial Anglo-American periods, re-creating them in the form of public gardens, vineyards, and orchards.

Gary Nabhan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Regional Food Studies at the University of Arizona and founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH, has been a key partner to the organization. He helped plant the seed, so to speak, that got Tucson considered for the Unesco designation.

“There's a real pride here in Tucson,” he tells,  “not only of the city’s rich agricultural heritage, but of the many recipes linked to it. It’s that intangible cultural heritage that ties Tucson’s present food scene to its past.” With the help of Unesco and the city’s ongoing appetite for celebrating its culinary roots, the future is bound to be just as delicious.

Ernst Herzfeld Papers, Series 2: Sketchbooks; Subseries 2.07: Persepolis: Sketchbook 19

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
- Title is provided by Xavier Courouble, FSg Archives cataloger, based on Herzfeld's original sketchbook title and Joseph Upton's Catalogue of the Herzfeld Archive.

"The field activities of the Persepolis Expedition were initiated by Professor Ernst Herzfeld in Spring 1931, after the French archaeological monopoly had been replaced by the new Antiquity Law, which opened Iran to archaeological field work by other nations. The expedition ended in fall 1939, after the outbreak of World War II. [...] At the end of 1934, Herzfeld was removed from his position as expedition director. He left Persepolis for the last time toward the end of November 1934 and went to London." [Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre, "Herzfeld in Persepolis", Ernst Herzfeld and the Development of Near Eastern Studies, 1900-1950. Edited by Ann Gunter and Stefan R. Hauser. Leiden: Brill, 2005. P.137 and P.161]

"Herzfeld returned to Persepolis in 1931 as field director. The project was conducted under the auspices of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, with additional financial assistance from other American individuals and institutions." [Elspeth R. M. Dusinberre, "Herzfeld in Persepolis", Ernst Herzfeld and the Development of Near Eastern Studies, 1900-1950. Edited by Ann Gunter and Stefan R. Hauser. Leiden: Brill, 2005. P.146]

Finding aid, based on Joseph M. Upton's Catalogue of the Herzfeld Archive, 1974, is available in the Archives Department and on Internet

- SK-19 is the nineteenth of a series of thirty-five sketchbooks (Skizzenbücher), in which Ernst Herzfeld recorded his observations on topography, landscape, inscriptions and reliefs, archaeological remains, architecture, artifacts and decorative motifs related to Istakhr (Iran), and Persepolis (Iran).

- Original handwritten title on cover reads: "Ernst Herzfeld; Skizzenbuch XIX: Persepolis."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 1 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [topographical] measurements for mountains on edge of plain: Kūh-i Nasare-Khanä, Kūh-i Sachl, Kūh-i Gerd."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 2 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], plan of summit of Kūh-I Sachl and of cistern."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 3 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], sketch elevations of Kūh-i Sachl and Kūh-i Nasare-Khanä; measurements for map of plain; [funerary inscriptions associated with] astodans (astudans) on Kūh-i Sachl."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 4 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], measurements for map of plain."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 5 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], course of Polvar [(Pulvar)] River across plain."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 6 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [perspective drawing of unidentified graves]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 7 reads, "between Naqsh-i Rajab [(Iran)] and Naqsh-i Rustam [(Iran)], [unidentified graves]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 8 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: plan of building [north-west corner with basis for a fire altar], [see FSA A.6 05.0873]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 9 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: [plan of building northern half], [see FSA A.6 05.0873]; remains of Greek [votive] inscription."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 10 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: alabastron, bronze ring [with animal design], altar and column base."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 11 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Harem [of Xerxes]: [partial plan of west wing], [see FSA A.6 05.0866]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 12 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Harem [of Xerxes]: [partial plan on west side of main wing], [see FSA A.6 05.0865; FSA A.6 05.0866; FSA A.6 05.1238]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 13 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Harem [of Xerxes]: [partial plan of west wing] (continued), [see FSA A.6 05.0866]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 14 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [floor pavement] over graves (related to p.7)."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 15 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: plan of building [south-east corner], [see FSA A.6 05.0874] with location and drawing of finds."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 16 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Tripylon [Council Hall]: plan of [southern portico] and small staircase, [see FSA A.6 05.0842]; [see FSA A.6 04.GN.2347]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 17 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], plan of building north of Tripylon [Council Hall], [see FSA A.6 05.0842]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 18 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: stone plaque with lion and affronted sphinxes (location on p.15); east of TaĊara [Tachara (Palace of Darius)]: remains of jar."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 19 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Tripylon (Council Hall)]: plan, [see FSA A.6 05.0889]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 20 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: [plan of building southern half], [see FSA A.6 05.0874] with measurements."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 21 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: [plan of building southern half], [see FSA A.6 05.0874] with measurements."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 22 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Unfinished Gate: plan, [see FSA A.6 04.GN.2295; FSA A.6 04.GN.2296]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 23 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Fratadara Temple]: measurements."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 24 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)], four stone fragments."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 25 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)], excavation sounding No. 2 [(probably excavation sounding No. 3 according to FSA A.6 05.0833)]: measured plan with location of stone fragments, [see FSA A.6 05.0833]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 26 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)], excavation sounding No. 5: plan and elevation."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 27 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)], excavation sounding No. 2 [(probably excavation sounding No. 3 according to FSA A.6 05.0833)]: measured plan, [see FSA A.6 05.0833]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 28 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)]: left) excavation sounding No. 2 [(probably excavation sounding No. 3 according to FSA A.6 05.0833)]: plan and elevation, [see FSA A.6 05.0833]; right) excavation sounding No. 1: plan, [see FSA A.6 05.0834]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 29 reads, "Istakhr [(Iran)]: left) excavation sounding No. 3: city wall, [see FSA A.6 05.0835]; right) excavation sounding No. 2 [(probably excavation sounding No. 3 according to FSA A.6 05.0833)]: plan."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 30 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], Harem [of Xerxes], [main wing]: plan of [principal courtyard and northern portico], [see FSA A.6 05.0865; FSA A.6 05.0866; FSA A.6 05.0868; FSA A.6 05.1238]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 31 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Tripylon (Council Hall)]: plan of northern stairway, [see FSA A.6 05.0842]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 35 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], [Tachara Palace (Palace of Darius)]: plan of small stairway, west of the main building], [see FSA A.6 05.0846]."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 44 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], location of "goldnes Schmuckstab"."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 45 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], prehistoric village, kiln."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 46 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], prehistoric village, kiln."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 47 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], location of "Bronzebeschlag"."

- In Finding Aid, caption for pg. 48 reads, "Persepolis [(Iran)], measurements for map of Hajji Nasrullah water channel (qanāt) from Istakhr."

Fear of Humans Is Forcing Daytime Animals Into Night Mode

Smithsonian Magazine

Thanks to human activity, some daytime animals are switching over to the night shift.

Justin Brashares noticed it first in 2013, when he was studying olive baboons in Ghana: during times that humans were around, the primates stayed up long past their normal bedtimes. It seemed the creatures had learned that by staying up late, they could avoid being chased down, harassed or even killed. Not only that, but they could get revenge by orchestrating heists on their day-walking evolutionary cousins.

“They become nocturnal not just to avoid people, but to raid crops and prey on livestock,” says Brashares, a professor of ecology and conservation at the University of California at Berkeley.

Brashares studies the wide-ranging impacts humans have on wildlife and ecosystems. Some of his colleagues had noticed similar patterns: grizzly bears in Canada were becoming more active at night in response to hikers, while leopards and tigers in Nepal were doing the same in response to increased human foraging and firewood collection in their habitat during the day. Recently, camera traps in Africa have also revealed antelopes appearing more often at night near human settlements and hunters, he says.

To get a fuller picture of the ways humans changed the habits of nearby wildlife, he decided to conduct a larger review of the effects of human disturbance on the sleeping and activity patterns of animals.

In a recent study published in the journal Science, Brashares and his coauthors reviewed 76 studies covering 62 different mammal species. Kaitlyn Gaynor, a PhD student at Berkeley and the lead author of the research, says that the researchers rounded up data from published tables and charts recording animal activity for full 24-hour periods using methods like camera traps, live monitoring or radio collars, both in areas of high and low human disturbance.

They found that, on average, the species analyzed had been slowly switching over to a more nocturnal schedule in response to human disturbance. Specifically, they were 1.36 times more active during the night, compared to their counterparts who lived in areas with low to no human disturbance.

Image by Laurent Geslin. Wild boars looking for food near the trash in Barcelona, Spain. (original image)

Image by Laurent Geslin. European beaver in the French city Orléans at night. (original image)

Image by Laurent Geslin. A badger in a cemetery in South London, UK. (original image)

Some of the starkest contrasts included sun bears in the Sumatran jungle in Indonesia, which went from being 19 percent active during the night in areas with few signs of humans to 90 percent in high disturbance areas (perhaps we should now call them moon bears). There were leopards in Gabon, which went from 43 percent nocturnality without bushmeat hunting to 93 percent when it was prevalent. And then there were wild boars in Poland, which went from 48 percent nocturnality in natural forests to 90 percent in metropolitan areas.

“We found a strong response by all species," Gaynor says. "Even apex predators that typically don’t have to fear anything were showing a strong avoidance of people."

These changes can cascade through an ecosystem. Since animals which have evolved to hunt in the daytime may see diminishing returns when the lights are out, shifting their schedules can result in reduced fitness, reproduction levels and even survival rates. What that showed researchers was that “our presence can have an effect on wildlife—even if it is not immediately quantifiable,” says Gaynor.

Ana Benítez-López, a post-doctoral researcher at Radboud University in the Netherlands who published commentary on the recent study in the same issue of Science, says that the research adds what we knew about animals avoiding human disturbance completely.

Her own research has found that, on weekends in Spain, birds like little bustards and pin-tailed sandgrouse change their behavior in response to more people flocking to the countryside. While humans are hiking, hunting, mushroom-picking or dirt-biking, the birds get busier, forming larger, more defensive flocks and spending being vigilant. For the birds, this means less time on mating displays, building nests, feeding chicks or foraging for food.

“That, in the end, has consequences for survival or for reproduction rates,” Benítez-López says.

Gaynor’s study helps fill in another part of the picture of how humans disturb wildlife and ecosystems. The researchers only studied medium- and large-sized mammals, but she says she wouldn’t be surprised if the smaller prey species might see human disturbance as a safe haven since it keeps other predators away. “We call this a ‘human shield,’” she says.

Gaynor and her coauthors were surprised how commonly mammals switched over to nocturnal lifestyles, regardless of habitat type or intensity of human disturbance. According to their findings, there was almost no variation in intensity between the nocturnality effect caused by things like hunting, agriculture, intense urban development or hiking in the forest.

Justin Suraci, an ecologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz, has studied the effects of fear of humans on cougars and wasn’t involved in the latest research. He says this study reveals that there is a mismatch between what humans perceive to be a risk to wildlife, and what animals themselves perceive to be a risk. “We often consider recreation and especially non-motorized recreation like hunting and mountain biking as totally benign activities, but this shows that is not the case,” he says.

The finding has huge implications for conservation practices, says Suraci. He agrees with the authors of the paper when they say that we should be thinking not only of where humans are allowed access to protected wildlife areas—but also when. For example, if an endangered species tends to forage in a national park in the early morning hours and the evening—a common time for creatures like bears or deer—it might help to open the park only during midday.

On the plus side, Gaynor says the study does suggest that many animals are finding ways to adapt to human presence and ultimately, coexist. “You may also see natural selection happening, where animals are developing traits that allow them to be more successful around people,” she says.

But not all species are capable of switching their habits so easily, stress both Gaynor and Benítez-López. Reptiles, for instance, are particularly dependent on sunlight for energy. And a number of other species may not be able to cope with a night owl’s lifestyle. “We will probably have a few winners and lots of losers,” Benitez says. What's clear is that, as humans continue to expand their impact, we are bound to reshape ecosystems in unexpected ways.

A World of Vanishing Lakes

Smithsonian Magazine

A large body of water like a lake would seem to be a permanent fixture of the landscape, but that’s not always the case.

Some lakes naturally come and go from year to year, as the flow of water into and out of them changes throughout the months. For others, though, once they are gone, they are gone forever. Climate change is a worry for some places, such as subarctic lakes that are dependent on snowmelt.

The reasons behind lake disappearances are varied. Here are nine lakes that no longer exist or are in danger of disappearing:

Lake Urmia, Iran

This saltwater lake, located in the northwest corner of Iran, was once that nation's largest, but it has quickly retreated from its shores. Climate change, wasteful irrigation practices (freshwater is diverted before it reaches the lake) and groundwater depletion account for a large portion of the water loss.

In addition, dams have cut off much of the supply of new water to the lake. “There are just too many people nowadays, and everybody needs to use the water and the electricity the dams generate,” one official, Hamid Ranaghadr, told the New York Times last week.

Only about five percent of the water in the lake remains compared to its volume about 20 years ago, according to figures from local environmental officials.

Lake Waiau, Hawaii

Lake Waiau was never a very big lake. Hawaii’s only alpine lake measured just 6,900 square meters at its maximum and 3 meters in depth. But it was considered sacred to native Hawaiians. According to myth, the lake was bottomless and a portal to the spirit world.

But in early 2010, the lake started to shrink, and by September 2013, the lake was little more than a pond, covering a mere 115 square meters and reaching a depth of less than 30 centimeters. Such a decline is “unprecedented in modern times,” the U.S. Geological Survey reported last year. The cause of the lake’s decline is currently unknown, but drought is among the suspects.

Dead Sea; Israel, the West Bank and Jordan

The Dead Sea is really a lake fed by the Jordan River. There’s no outlet to the ocean, though, so the lake is salty10 times saltier than the north Atlantic and inhospitable to most life other than microbes and human bathers.

The Dead Sea has persisted for thousands of years because the amount of water going into the lake has been more or less equal to the amount that evaporates from it. But as the region’s population has grown, that equation has come unbalanced. Water that once would have flown into the Dead Sea has instead been diverted to supply people’s homes and water-intensive businesses, such as chemical and potash companies. With less than a tenth of the water entering the lake now compared with several decades ago, the Dead Sea’s water level is dropping by about a meter a year.

Scott Lake, Florida

This central Florida lake drained away in just two weeks in June 2006 when a sinkhole opened up. Scientists estimate that 32 tons of wildlife were sucked into the Earth; some fish were left behind to rot on the exposed lake bottom.

Nearby residents considered efforts to plug the hole, but time took care of the problem for them. With the sinkhole now naturally plugged back up with clay and silt, it's starting to fill with water and gradually the lake is returning. But Florida’s geology makes the state prone to sinkholes, so the lake’s permanence is not guaranteed.

(original image)

Aral Sea, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

The Aral Sea was the world’s fourth largest salt lake until it began shrinking in the last quarter of the 20th century. Since that time, ninety percent of the river flow from the Tian Shan Mountains into the lake has been diverted to irrigate rice and cotton fields planted in desert lands. As a result, the lake’s water level quickly began to drop. Fishing in the lake has ceased, and shipping has declined. And the exposed lake bottom has become a source of salt that is carried by winds across a radius of 300 kilometers and pollutes agricultural lands.

Lake Peigneur, Louisiana

Disaster struck this lake on November 20, 1980, when a Texaco oil rig accidentally punctured the roof of a salt mine. The lake—along with the drilling platform, 11 barges and many trees—were quickly sucked below through what was described as a giant whirlpool. “It was like watching a science fiction movie,” Virlie Langlinais told Mother Jones last year. Surprisingly, no one was injured or killed in the incident. Drained of its freshwater, the lake was refilled with salt water from nearby Vermilion Bay, temporarily creating the state’s largest waterfall.

Lake Cachet 2, Chile

This lake, high in the Andes, disappeared overnight on March 31, 2012. But that wasn’t all that unusual for the lake, at least not lately—it’s disappeared and refilled multiple times since 2008. The lake is a glacial lake, dammed in by the Colonia glacier. Climate change has been thinning the glacier, which has allowed a tunnel eight kilometers beneath to repeatedly open and close, draining the lake and letting it refill many times over. Prior to 2008, the lake was relatively stable.

Cachuma Lake, California

This southern California lake, located near Santa Barbara, is a popular recreation spot and a critical source of drinking water for 200,000 people. But the lake is now at just 39.7 percent of capacity. California is in the midst of a devastating drought that’s not expected to end anytime soon, and Cachuma Lake’s future remains in question.

Lake Chad; Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria

Once the world’s sixth largest lake, Lake Chad has lost 90 percent of its area since it began shrinking in the 1960s. Persistent drought, water withdrawals for irrigation and other human uses, and climate variability have worked in concert to drain the lake. "The changes in the lake have contributed to local lack of water, crop failures, livestock deaths, collapsed fisheries, soil salinity, and increasing poverty throughout the region," according to a 2008 report from the United Nations Environment Programme.

As Mongolia Melts, Looters Close In On Priceless Artifacts

Smithsonian Magazine

The history and archaeology of Mongolia, most famously the sites associated with the largest land empire in the history of the world under Ghengis Khan, are of global importance. But they’re facing unprecedented threats as climate change and looting impact ancient sites and collections.

Climate change and looting may seem to be unrelated issues. But deteriorating climate and environmental conditions result in decreased grazing potential and loss of profits for the region’s many nomadic herders. Paired with a general economic decline, herders and other Mongolians are having to supplement their incomes, turning to alternative ways of making money. For some, it’s searching for ancient treasures to sell on the illegal antiquities market.

The vast Mongolian landscape, whether it be plains, deserts or mountains, is dotted with man-made stone mounds marking the burials of ancient peoples. The practice started sometime in the neolithic period (roughly 6,000-8,000 years ago) with simple stone mounds the size of a kitchen table. These usually contain a human body and a few animal bones.

Over time, the burials became larger (some over 1300 feet long) and more complex, incorporating thousands of horse sacrifices, tools, chariots, tapestries, family complexes, and eventually treasure (such as gold, jewelry and gems).

For Mongolians, these remains are the lasting reminders of their ancient past and a physical tie to their priceless cultural heritage.

Mongolia has reasonably good laws regarding the protection of cultural heritage. But poor understanding of the laws, and the nearly impossible task of enforcing them in such a large space with relatively few people and meager budgets keep those laws from being effective. And laws can’t protect Mongolia’s cultural heritage from climate change.

Looting losses

The looting of archaeological sites in Mongolia has been happening for a very long time. Regional archaeologists have shared anecdotes of finding skeletons with break-in tools made from deer antlers in shafts of 2,000 year old royal tombs in central Mongolia. These unlucky would-be thieves risked the unstable sands collapsing in the shafts above them for a chance at riches, not long after the royal leaders had been buried there.

But many recent pits dug directly into burial sites around Mongolia, some that are more than 3,000 years old, suggest modern day looting is on the rise. For the untrained looter, any rock feature has the potential to contain valuable goods and so grave after grave is torn apart. Many of these will contain no more than human and animal bones.

Discovering mummies offers the opportunity to increase interest and tourism in Mongolia. (The Center of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia)

Archaeologists’ interest in these burials lie in the information they contain for research, but this is worthless on the black antiquities market. But to steer looters away from these burials would be to teach them which ones to target for treasure and so this strategy is avoided.

Archaeologists working in northern Mongolia in 2017 found hundreds of looted sites, including an 800 year old cemetery consisting of at least 40 burials. Each and every one of them had been completely destroyed by looters looking for treasure. Human remains and miscellaneous artefacts such as bows, arrows, quivers, and clothing were left scattered on the surface.

Having survived over 800 years underground, these priceless bows, arrows, cloth fragments and bones likely have less than a year on the surface before they’re gone forever. This is not to mention the loss of whatever goods (gold, silver, gems) the looters decided was valuable enough to keep.

The mummy race

Archaeological teams are currently working against climate change, looters, and each other for the chance to unearth rare mummies in the region that are known to pique public interest within Mongolia and abroad. A 2017 exhibit at the National Museum of Mongolia featured two mummies and their impressive burial goods—one of which had been rescued from the hands of looters by archaeologists and local police. Though they appeared not to have been particularly high ranking individuals, their belongings displayed incredible variety, artistry and detail.

Burial sites may contain treasures, or just old bones. And looters won’t know until they’ve destroyed them. (Julia Kate Clark)

The result of natural processes rather than intentional mummification as in ancient Egypt, some of these mummies are preserved by very dry environments protected in caves and rock shelters. Others are ice mummies, interred in burials that were constructed in such a way that water seeped in and froze—creating a unique preservation environment.

Both preservation environments produce artifacts that rarely survive such long periods of time. This includes human tissues like skin and hair, clothing and tapestries, wooden artifacts, and the remains of plants and animals associated with the burial.

As looters zero in on these sites, and climate change melts ice and changes the environmental conditions in other yet unknown ways, archaeologists are racing to locate, and preserve these finds. But with little infrastructure, small budgets and almost no specialised training in how to handle such remains, there’s some concern about the long term preservation of even those remains archaeologists are able to rescue.

Efforts to provide training opportunities, international collaborations with mummy experts, and improved infrastructure and facilities are underway, but these collections are so fragile there is little time to spare.

What Mongolia can teach us

The situation in Mongolia could help us to understand and find new solutions to dealing with changes in climate and the economic drivers behind looting. Humans around the world in many different times have faced and had to adapt to climate change, economic strife and technological innovations.

There’s truth represented by a material record of the “things” left by ancient peoples and in Mongolia, the study of this record has led to an understanding of the impact of early food production and horse domestication, the emergence of new social and political structures and the dominance of a nomadic empire.

Energy Saving Lessons From Around the World

Smithsonian Magazine

An architect by training, Susan Piedmont-Palladino is the curator of Green Community, a new exhibit at Washington, D.C.'s National Building Museum that showcases what communities around the world are doing to build a sustainable future. From public transportation to repurposing old buildings to taking advantage of natural resources, the localities selected by Piedmont-Palladino and her advisory team exemplify the forefront of the green movement. She discussed the exhibit with Smithsonian's Brian Wolly.

How did you select these communities?
That was probably the biggest issue, because we are covering a topic that so many cities, towns, homes are doing something about, and many are doing a lot. But we wanted to try and find some communities from geographic areas that had been underrepresented. The tendency is to look to the coasts and to Western Europe and maybe Asia and so we deliberately looked south to see what was going on in Latin America, looked into the interior of the country to see some stories that hadn't been told.

We were looking for good stories and clear stories that we could communicate with the public and we were also looking for such a wide range that anyone who came to the exhibit could find something that they recognized as a place that they might live. We think we covered everything from Masdar City [in the United Arab Emirates], which is the glamour project, the most forward-looking and most aspirational—it's also the least-proven because they've only just broken ground—all the way down to Stella, Missouri or Starkville, Mississippi, which are the tiniest grassroots efforts.

How is the exhibit itself an example of green building?
We realized to do this [exhibit], we needed to walk the walk that we were talking. We had all new LED lighting, which we got some funding for in a grant through the Home Depot foundation, which has really helped us to green our building. Most of the cases are made from eco-glass, which is recycled glass that then can be recycled once again. We used steel, because that has such a high recycled content, along with recycled carpet and cork.

One of the other decisions that we made, which always strikes museum professionals as rather curious, is we opened up the entire exhibition to natural light. We don't have any original works on paper, anything that needs protection from light. We wanted to remind visitors that they are in the city while they are in this other world of the exhibition space. The ambient light is natural daylight, and so the cases can be lit on very low levels.

What are some of the communities doing to harvest natural resources like wind, solar or hydropower?
Copenhagen has its wind farm that is so beautiful; from space you can see it via Google Earth. There's a damless hydropower [project] that's being tested in the East River, a way for New York to use the tidal power of the river without actually putting in any dams.

The community in Hawaii, Hali'imaile, Hawaii is looking at the orientation of their development for solar and wind purposes, and then looking at the design of each building in that community. In that sense, harvesting natural resources trickles down through the master plan all the way into the buildings.

Image by ⓒ Verdant Power, Inc.. The next generation of water power comes from turbines that look like submerged jet engines. Called "damless" hydropower, these turbines rotate slowly with the current, harnessing clean energy without extensive adverse impacts. (original image)

Image by ⓒ Sarah Leen / National Geographic Collection. Photovoltaic panels are ideally suited to remote locations, as in this island community in Denmark, where the infrastructure required to connect to a centralized power grid is prohibitively expensive or too destructive to the natural landscape. (original image)

Image by ⓒ Foster + Partners / Courtesy of Masdar. Planned for completion in 2018, the plan of Masdar City draws upon the region's traditions of water courses, gardens, covered markets and narrow streets developed to adapt to the harsh desert envrionment. (original image)

Image by ⓒ Susan Piedmont-Palladino. Mendoza, Argentina's shady tree-lined streets are made possible by the canals that bring water down from the nearby Andes Mountains. (original image)

Image by Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Maps Division. Green communities are not new. James Oglethorpe's 1733 plan of Savannah has been admired by generations of urban designers for its integration of small green squares into the tartan grid of streets. (original image)

What are some of the quickest ways that towns and cities can become more energy-efficient?
There's a wonderful quote by Auguste Rodin, the artist, "What takes time, time respects." Unfortunately, the best efforts are really long-term efforts: they have to do with changing land-use policies, investing in mass transit and public transportation, disincentives for all sorts of other behaviors.

But on the quick list? Looking at empty lots and unclaimed land, thinking about ways to encourage people to use community gardens and local agriculture. Those are things that are seasonal and get people thinking about their environment. There are also recycling programs; cities can upgrade their street lights—there are new designs for LED street lighting—and all sorts of ways that infrastructure in the cities can be adapted.

What can people do on their own to get engaged in their hometown's city plans?
I think that embedded in the show, the message is, "get active." That can be going to your city council meetings, joining one of the civic boards that oversees decisions. Sometimes people are mobilized to prevent things from happening. That's often what gets people active in the first place, preventing a building they don't want, preventing a building from being torn down. And that sense of empowerment and action hopefully keeps people engaged. In the end, active participation is the only way to make change. That sounds like politics, and I guess it is politics, but I guess that's where design and planning find themselves enmeshed in how public policy gets formulated and changed.

There's an education barrier too, to how these decisions are made.
Right, as in, "this is the world that's given." There is a sense of some nameless "they," a third person plural that made it all happen and that is keeping it going as it is. One of the messages that we wanted to get across with this exhibit is that you have to change that third person plural to a first person plural. There's no "they," it's a "we." The community is nothing other than the people that make it up. Green doesn't happen without the community.

Sometimes discussions of green building gets bogged down in stereotypes of hippies versus industry, as if this were just a recent debate. But many of the aspects of green communities are as old as civilization itself.
Hopefully the range of communities we've exhibited has managed to elide some of those distinctions. We've also included some historic examples: we talk about the urban design of Savannah way back in the 18th century, and then we show a photograph of the contemporary city and you can find the same squares and the same virtues. Same thing talking about Mendoza, Argentina, which found a beautiful way to manage its water supply and in the process made the city habitable in an otherwise extremely hot, dry environment.

With the economic recession, there may be a lot of resistance to investing in some of the initiatives showcased in the exhibit. What argument would you make to a state or city budget meeting about the need for green building?
Now is the time to go ahead and say, "look, we only have so much money, we can either make the hard choices that are going to see us through generations of doing things right. Or we're going to continue to do things wrong." And it's very hard to fix problems on the urban planning and infrastructure scale. If you do it wrong, you inherit that problem forever. Sprawl is one of those, all these decisions are with us for a long time. Ultimately, the green decisions are the decisions that are most frugal. They may seem expensive or inconvenient, but in the end it will actually save us the most in terms of capital resources and human capital.

I did an interview with [architect] Paolo Soleri for the Building Museum's magazine; he got a lifetime achievement award at the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt Design Museum that year [in 2005]. I asked him when did he start thinking about these things, living differently, and his whole theory about Italy and we're known for being cheap."

I just thought that was a delightfully refreshing idea, it didn't really come from any lofty ideology; it came with a sense of frugality.

Correspondence, Abbott H. Thayer to Clara A. May 1890-1899

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
Thomas B. Brumbaugh research material on Abbott Handerson Thayer and other artists, 1876-1994 (bulk 1960s-1994); e Also located at; a Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Abbott Handerson Thayer was born in Boston, Massachusetts on August 12, 1849 to a distinguished family. He moved from Boston to Brooklyn during his childhood, where he attended the National Academy of Design. Thayer often used his wife, Kate Bloede Thayer, her sister Gertrude, and his three children Mary, Gerald and Gladys as models. He also used Clara A. May as a model. His subjects included ethereal angels, landscapes, women, children, and flowers. When Kate died, Thayer's entire outlook on art and life changed. It had been Kate's family that introduced Thayer to the sense of idealism that comes from a German family who had immigrated to the United States. He had learned about the romanticism surrounding art and literature from the Bloedes, all of which encouraged the artist to paint perfectly beautiful figures. Later in life, Thayer established a permanent household in Dublin, New Hampshire, with his new wife, Emma Beach. He loved to paint the surrounding mountains and birds. Interestingly, Charles Lang Freer was one of Thayer's patrons.

Clara May was one of Thayer's models. May met Thayer at the summer colony of Dublin in New Hampshire, where the two families were neighbors. Their friendship lasted around ten years, but this friendship withered following May's marriage to Reverend Paine. Following her marriage, May no longer worked as a model for Thayer.

Gerald Thayer was one of Abbott Thayer's sons, who wrote an unfinished thank you letter to May which was sent along with Abbott's letter.

Gift of Susan A. Hobbs.

This folder is an amalgamation of letters written by Abbott H. Thayer to his model and friend, Clara A. May. Also included is a thank-you letter from Thayer's son, Gerald, to May.

Rice Can Help Save Salmon If Farms Are Allowed to Flood

Smithsonian Magazine

Jacob Katz stands atop a long, narrow wall of rock and gravel, gazing east over an expanse of off-season rice fields a few miles west of Sacramento. The sky is winter gray and the levee clay is damp and sticky after a brief morning shower.

“When some people look out here, they see a field of mud,” says Katz, a fishery biologist with the conservation group California Trout. “I see the potential for a biological solar panel that can power our entire river system.”

Katz is leading an ecological experiment that places thousands of two-inch Chinook salmon in inundated rice fields for a few weeks, before releasing the fish into the Sacramento River to continue their seaward migration. Katz is interested in how access to floodplains may improve the young salmon’s odds of surviving to adulthood and, eventually, returning to the Sacramento to spawn, a lifecycle that is increasingly hard for salmon to complete due to alterations to the river. Dubbed the Nigiri Project—a reference to the sushi presentation featuring a slab of fish slung over a wedge of rice—the annual experiment has been scaled up over the years, from 10,000 small salmon at its start in 2012 to 50,000 this winter.

Each year, the baby salmon have grown at phenomenally fast rates thanks to an abundance of natural food in the flooded fields. Moreover, their odds of reaching the ocean, it seems, are increased. In the 2013 experiment, 66 of the rice paddy salmon were fitted with surgically implanted acoustic tags. These fish were seven times more likely to be detected by a curtain of hydrophones strung beneath the Golden Gate Bridge than tagged salmon left to navigate the perilous main stem of the river, according to Katz.

Katz and several project collaborators—including University of California, Davis scientists, the California Department of Water Resources and a conservation group called Cal Marsh and Farm—next hope to scale up their experiment to a full-fledged undertaking involving thousands of acres of farmland and perhaps ten million juvenile salmon. The goal is to restore the Sacramento River system’s annual flooding cycle, which native fish species evolved to depend upon.

Before dams and levees tamed the Sacramento early last century, a million or more salmon spawned in the river’s mountain headwaters each year. Other fish species and bird life teemed there as well. Katz says the knee-deep water that spilled out of the main river channel each winter and flooded the Central Valley had much to do with the region’s productivity. This shallow water moved slowly downstream, and even in the bleak days of winter, sunlight sparked a photosynthetic explosion of life. Small salmon, born in gravel beds a hundred miles upriver, thrived in this ephemeral habitat. As the floodwaters receded, the fish spilled back into the river in prime condition to swim to the ocean. The phytoplankton and invertebrate life born on the floodplains were likewise drained into the river, providing food for other fish species downstream.

“But that entire process has been almost surgically removed from the river system,” Katz says. “The river is now straight-jacketed between two rock walls.” Today, fish—both big and small—are confined to the deep, turbulent and rather unproductive waters of the river’s main stem. In this hostile environment, Chinook salmon smolts face great odds of being eaten by predators or killed by water pumps. Meanwhile, the adjacent floodplains remain dry much of the year and are used in spring and summer for farming and pasture.

The idea behind the Nigiri Project is that intensive agriculture and a thriving natural ecosystem can coexist on the same acreage if river water is simply allowed to spread across the land at key times of the year, just like it used to. “The economy and the environment don’t have to be at odds,” Katz says.

Image by Veronica Corbet. A juvenile salmon being measured for the Nigiri Project. (original image)

Image by Alastair Bland. Fat young salmon get measured for the Nigiri Project. (original image)

Image by Alastair Bland. John Brennan, owner of Robbins Rice Company, stands ready near the flooded field being used for the Nigiri Project. (original image)

Image by Jacob Katz (back left) and John Brennan of the Nigiri Project discuss the day's work. (original image)

Image by Alastair Bland. A project member holds a survey map of the Upper Yolo Bypass. (original image)

What Katz and his team want to see is a notch cut into the top of a levee about 20 miles northwest of the state capital. This would allow water, even in low-rain winters, to spill into an old floodplain on the west side of the river known as the Yolo Bypass. For a century this uninhabited 100-square-mile depression has only received water during brief rainy periods and summer irrigation for crops. If the levee is modified, millions of newly born salmon migrating downriver would spread over these fields with the floodwater, feasting for several weeks and eventually reconnecting with the main river many miles downstream in the brackish delta.

That farming and wild fisheries can thrive side-by-side is well known to other aquatic biologists. Zeb Hogan, a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, has studied Southeast Asia’s Mekong River system for almost 20 years. Every year, the floodplains adjacent to the Mekong are inundated during the rainy months. Then the same process Katz describes kicks in: Sunlight triggers a bloom of phytoplankton and invertebrate life, which, on the Mekong, creates the foundation of the world’s most productive inland fishery. When the floodplains drain again, the fields are intensively farmed.

“Just because people are growing rice along a river doesn’t mean it can’t be a healthy river,” Hogan says. Environmentalists are now fighting an incoming wave of several proposed dams on the lower Mekong, which they fear could squander much of the river’s productivity.

The benefits of allowing river water to move naturally across a landscape reach beyond fish and wildlife. Floodplain soils are fertilized, which supports farming. Water that slowly migrates over a flat expanse of land may percolate downward, recharging depleted aquifers, while nutrients that might otherwise go on to create oxygen-free dead zones along the coast have the chance to precipitate out. Flooding fields with moving river water also offers a cleaner means of washing away unmarketable agricultural waste, like trimmings and stalks, which may otherwise be burned in open piles, causing air pollution.

Controlled inundation of floodplains can even serve as a counterintuitive way to protect against floods. Scientists studying the Danube River, for example, believe the deadly torrents of 2006 could have been restrained had upstream floodplains been accessible to the rising waters. Rene Henery, a biologist with the conservation group Trout Unlimited, says relying on levees to contain rain-swollen waterways will produce failures and disasters. On the other hand, letting some of that water disperse across uninhabited farmland reduces pressure on critical levees that are protecting urban areas. With every drop of the world’s freshwater and every parcel of its arable land becoming more precious all the time, Henery says it’s increasingly vital that these resources be efficiently used and applied toward overlapping goals.

“We’ve been managing our waterways as though ecology, flood control and agriculture are at odds with each other,” Henery says. “We’ve overlaid a management plan on the interwoven values of a floodplain, and we’ve created the illusion these values are separate.”

On the Sacramento River, Katz hopes that next winter at least a million smolts will be growing fat and healthy on the inundated Yolo floodplain—and he says there’s no time to lose in moving forward. “The urgency is real in the capacity to lose these species on our watch in the next decade or two,” Katz warns. “We have to do this soon. Our backs are against the wall.” 

Richard Estes' Incredibly Realistic Paintings Require a Double Take

Smithsonian Magazine

Times Square is a good place to go unnoticed. A decade ago, Richard Estes stood there, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Sesame Street characters and tour bus promoters, and snapped a series of photos. With so many people doing the same thing, it’s unlikely anyone gave much thought to the septuagenarian shutterbug. But for half a century, the art world has lauded Estes for his photorealist paintings, which he creates from photographs. The work that resulted from his Times Square pictures that day and 45 other paintings are now on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

The exhibition, “Richard Estes’ Realism,” debuted last week and is open through February 2015. Curators say it’s the world’s most comprehensive Estes exhibition ever, and his largest American showcase in nearly four decades. The show was previously at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine, where Patterson Sims, an independent curator and a friend of Estes, suggested they do a retrospective. “He’s just really interested in painting, and just finding extremely complex and interestingly challenging images to paint,” Sims says.

Estes, now 82, lives and works primarily in New York City and has been spending time in coastal Maine since the 1960s. It’s there that he produces nature paintings, which tend to receive less attention than his iconic New York City works. Both of those locales—street and stream—are in the exhibition, as well as scenes from Paris, London, Venice and elsewhere.

Estes is reticent about the underlying symbolism in his work. “You’re never going to get Richard to admit layers of meaning,” Sims says. “It just isn’t the way he’s built. However, he is a very sophisticated person, so all of those issues come into play.” For example, an Estes trademark is visually bisecting his compositions—a bridge on one side and a river on the other, for example. Sims says that technique presents a “duality” that could stem from the artist’s experience as a gay man. “Interior-exterior is an important thing for him, because I think his interior is quite different from his exterior,” Sims says.

As it has been for artists of so many generations, New York City is Estes’ muse. While he depicts its icons, like the Brooklyn Bridge, he also captures the city as only a New Yorker could, giving life to the city’s anonymous inhabitants—the drug store cashiers working around Valentine’s Day, a young man on a bus near the famous Flatiron Building, which is only subtly reflected in a passing car. “Part of the power of these pictures is that there’s kind of like a million stories embedded in them,” Sims says. “If you go to any of these locales, these are the stage sets on which our lives have been led.”

“It’s such a mess,” Estes says of his city, spoken like a true local. “Everything is chaos.”

His paintings take on new significance as the city changes. “They are totally historical documents,” Mark Bessire, director of the Portland Museum, says about the works. Paintings in the exhibition show Paul’s Bridal Accessories on West 38th Street (since demolished) and telephone booths with rotary phones. Even scenes from a decade ago contain remnants of the past, such as the Fleet Bank and Virgin Megastore in Times Square, which have both since closed. An enormous painting of the Brooklyn Bridge, from 1991, takes on a different tone when viewers spot the World Trade Center in the distance, ethereal, like the memory it has become.

As the city changes, so do photographic techniques, and Estes has adapted. He says that he doesn’t like taking pictures with his cell phone (“I’ve tried it and they’re not really good enough”), but he does use digital film ("Everybody does. You can't even get the other stuff."). He uses iPhoto and Photoshop to prepare photos before recreating them in paint. His paintings aren't always entirely true to life; some contain elements from several different photos. For View from Hiroshima (1990), he didn’t like the landscape as it existed, so he moved some mountains into view.

Photorealism became popular in the 1960s. “He was the hot ticket,” Bessire says about Estes at the time. Then, Bessire says, “the art world kind of turned their back.” But that didn’t stop Estes. “He kept at it, and now,” Bessire says, “they’re coming back to him.”

“Richard Estes’ Realism” is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum through February 8, 2015.


Richard Estes' Realism (Portland Museum of Art)

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