Found 575 Resources containing: Landscape time night
On Veterans Day 2017, the National Museum of the American Indian made an unexpected but widely acclaimed announcement: it would be soliciting submissions from the public detailing potential designs for a brand-new memorial on the National Mall.
Situated on museum grounds, the memorial would be dedicated to the spirit, bravery and sacrifice of Native American soldiers across United States history, and would serve as a place of solace and communion for Native American veterans and their loved ones.
Now, the submission period has closed, and the museum has winnowed the pool of designs down to five possibilities. Detailed concept art of the finalist submissions went on view at the museum’s New York City location this week. Each prospective memorial approaches the narrative of Native American military personnel in a distinct way, and any would make for a beautiful, thought-provoking addition to the National Mall.
The museum is inviting outside comment from the community through the end of May as it makes its decision—the winning design will be announced in the months to come.
For your consideration, here are the five finalist designs:
Wellspring of ValorJames Dinh's Wellspring of Valor (NMAI)
In developing his concept for the new memorial, James Dinh took care to balance American military iconography with Native American iconography, setting symbols and the traditions they represent in intimate conversation with one another.
At the center of Dinh’s design is situated a tranquil “healing fountain,” surrounded by a quintet of tall glass spires. Labeled respectively with the values of Valor, Honor, Pride, Devotion and Wisdom, their glistening angular forms unite when seen from above to form a five-pointed star.
That this star has a void at its heart—where the healing fountain is situated—speaks to the cost of battle. “Those who died in the line of duty are marked by the empty space at the center of the star,” Dinh says in his artist’s statement, “which is illuminated at night to memorialize the courageous lives of these men and women.”
Concentric circles—“ripples,” in Dinh’s imagination—radiate outward from the star and fountain, and are bounded on one side by a mound of earth evocative of the ancient lifestyle of America’s Mound Builder peoples. Inlaid in this mound is a firm stone wall bearing testimonial quotes from Native American servicemen and women. “Like a slice through the earth,” Dinh says, “the stone wall inscribes the individual voices of veterans that are often collectively buried within history.”
One stretch of this wall, which Dinh terms the “Wall of Stories,” is particularly striking—that featuring a seated bronze sculpture of a Native American mother and child. Visitors would be invited to sit alongside the sculpture to contemplate in a moment of peace the hardships weathered by countless Native American families as a result of war.
Warriors’ Circle of HonorHarvey Pratt's Warrior's Circle of Honor (NMAI)
Another memorial proposal featuring a prominent centerpiece is that of Harvey Pratt, which eschews the military emphasis of the star symbol at the core of Wellspring of Valor in favor of a simpler geometric form: the circle. A fixture in much Native American storytelling, the symbol of the circle—rendered in Pratt’s design in gleaming stainless steel—suggests the cycle of life and death, and the continuity of all things.
“On ceremonial occasions,” Pratt says, “a flame will be ignited at the base of the circle. Veterans, families and others are invited to ‘come to the campfire’ and tell their stories.” By situating the memorial to look out over the stillness of the nearby Chesapeake Bay wetland landscape, Pratt hopes to foster an environment of peaceful contemplation in which visitors can come together over the stories of those who have served—and share their own.
This storytelling space, which offers four arcing benches to visitors, is the inner of two concentric circles—beyond it lies a redbrick walkway, on which museumgoers can wander at their own pace and immerse themselves in the circular symbolism. Along this walk, symmetrically spaced, are four lances jutting skyward. While clearly emblematic of military courage, the lances serve another purpose: guests who wish to leave their mark on the memorial are invited to tie prayer cloths to them.
Beneath the steel circle, which Pratt calls the "Sacred Circle," is an “intricately carved stone drum,” which will convey the constant pulse of Native American spirit and sacrifice across the breadth of America’s history. It is not strictly somber in its symbolism, however—Pratt hopes visitors will seize on the silent rhythms of the memorial as an invitation to harmonize their experiences. “The drumbeat,” he says, “is a call to gather.”
We Fought for Our CountryDaniel SaSuWeh Jones and Enoch Kelly Haney's We Fought For Our Country (NMAI)
Daniel SaSuWeh Jones and Enoch Kelly Haney’s contest submission is also geared toward community experience, and the notion of making the stories of Native American heroes accessible to all. While humble in size, Jones and Haney’s memorial is situated near the museum to catch the eyes of as many guests coming and going as possible, inviting spontaneous conversation and opportunities for photographs.
We Fought for Our Country takes the form of a squat cylindrical plinth—whose rough-hewn marble echoes the coloration of the museum overlooking it—surmounted by a sculpture of two Native American figures captured mid-footstep. The taller figure, an adult woman shepherding a child along her path, represents nature, in all its constancy and grace. Her traveling companion, a little girl, is a personification of the future.
Stones from Oklahoma’s Chilocco Indian Boarding School, the alma mater of a great many 20th-century Native American soldiers, line Nature and Child’s path, suggesting the ceaseless yet often unacknowledged sacrifices of members of America’s indigenous communities.
Below this elevated pair, a group of faceless additional figures keeps watch in a circular formation—“six bronze Guardians,” the designers say, “representing spirit protectors of Nature and Child.” The uniforms on these bronzes correspond to the different branches of the U.S. military, while the headdresses they wear pay homage to the various major indigenous groups of America.
Farther down the column are plaques depicting the “US Military/Indian relationship with scenes of valor, endurance and sacrifice,” and a circle of eight-inch bronze figures holding hands in solidarity, camaraderie and communal oneness. A final, poignant element of the memorial is the Healing Hand, a bronze hand that invites visitors to reach out physically and put themselves in communion with Nature, Child and their Guardians.
The Enduring DanceStefanie Rocknak's The Enduring Dance (detail) (NMAI)
This concept, proposed by Stefanie Rocknak, shares with We Fought for Our Country a sense of dynamism and a deliberate blend of military and Native American dress. Where Haney’s piece elevates two symbolic figures, however, Rocknak’s sets an assortment of nine essentially side-by-side, so as to suggest a coming-together and a celebration of shared legacy. This joyous quality of the memorial is strengthened by Rocknak’s decision to present nearly all of the sculptures (“cast in bronze and finished with a granite-like patina”) as dancers in the midst of ritual performance.
Eight of the nine figures, whose diverse attire signals both wide-ranging heritage and commonality in the warrior tradition, are situated atop a small wall, inscribed on its face with textual narrative detailing the deep history of Native American service and selflessness. Rocknak says that this text will “encompass the obstacles, the achievements, and the continuation of the warrior tradition from generation to generation.”
Standing between the wall and the viewer is the interpretive figure of the Storyteller, a sculpture whose simple windblown robes suggest a kind of timelessness. She mediates between the dancing warriors behind her and the visitors eager to learn those warriors’ stories and perhaps to share their own. “Her visage will be wise, calming and eternal,” says Rocknak. “The visitor can almost hear her even-toned voice as it resonates throughout the ages.”
Driving home the storytelling focus of Rocknak’s memorial is the nighttime lighting of the figures, which dances on their stony faces so as to evoke a deeply personal fireside discussion. “The front of the sculptures will be illuminated with an amber light, which will flicker,” Rocknak says, “and so be suggestive of the glow of a ceremonial fire.”
Ribbon of TimeLeroy Transfield's Ribbon of Time (NMAI)
The final concept under consideration is Leroy Transfield’s Ribbon of Time, a sinuous stone wall that charts pictorially and via direct quotes the history of Native American service across the most tumultuous periods in global history. Transfield has proposed that the memorial be situated along the northern face of the museum, such that its own arcing form will mirror that of both the museum’s long river-like fountain and its undulating limestone exterior.
Transfield’s design might call to mind Maya Lin’s famed Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but the two walls are miles apart in their messaging. Where Lin’s cold black tribute, pointed like a chevron and reflective so as to implicate and confront viewers, suggests the weight of loss and the tragedy of dehumanization in war, Transfield’s tribute to Native American veterans envelops visitors in its welcoming recesses and tells them inspirational stories, celebrating the human bravery of individuals rather than mourning them en masse.
At the end of the wall, and the end of the meandering story, a towering sculpture of a proud Native American warrior keeps watch, looking out over the memorial and fountain and to the Washington Monument rising far beyond. His presence visually links the Native American experience etched in the stone of the wall with the broader American experience represented by the open National Mall.
The memorial will “blend and harmonize with the surrounding [landscape] as if it has always been a part of it,” Transfield says, “as if it has risen from the earth—a sort of ancient ruin that tells a great cultural story honoring the indigenous veterans of this land.”
Plans for the five designs are on view at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in the the exhibition "National Native American Veterans Memorial Design Competition" in New York City at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, One Bowling Green, through May 30, 2018. Comments are being accepted via email through June 12.
With seven weeks in New Zealand’s South Island now under my belt, it’s time to take a look back at what was great about this country, and was not. I’ll start with the disappointments:
1. The lack of through roads. On the map, we see the spine of the mountains running the length of the South Island, and from north to south there are clusters of lakes and river headwaters that we would love to visit – like Lake Coleridge, Lake Sumner, Clearwater Lake, Lake Heron and others. Problem is, the roads in usually have no exit – one-way deals, whereas in other places there would usually be a dirt road that climbs over a pass and down the other side. Not here. For cyclists, there is little else more frustrating than having to ride over 20 miles of gravel and shingle all the while knowing that they’ll be seeing every foot of the way a second time. I became so frustrated by having to backtrack out of mountains that I gave up on the high country altogether several weeks ago.
2. The stock trucks. These huge vehicles, usually two-trailer arrangements, careen endlessly down the highways delivering sheep and cows to the slaughterhouses – day after day after day. Why, I wonder, can’t the meat companies utilize trains – a more fuel efficient transport method that also reduces the risk that a trucker will squash a cyclist, like me? These trucks were no more terrifying than other trucks; it’s the bloody business they were up to that makes them seem more fearsome. I would see them pass on their way north, filled with moaning animals and reeking of manure. Meanwhile, a stream of stock trucks came the other way – all empty. (I don’t eat red meat, so I can complain all I want.)
3. The food. As virtually anywhere, what sprouts from the ground in this fertile nation and swims in the sea is excellent colorful stuff. But it’s what comes out of New Zealand kitchens that lacks in luster. Consider the placards placed outside many restaurants that read “FOOD.” Food, eh? If I’d been a starving man I’d have jumped through the door, but I like some passion and artistry in what I eat. Even in the larger towns and cities, the main drags were lined with dodgy diners offering fish and chips, BBQ and game pies, a local specialty often made with farmed venison, some even with possum – and one thing that disappointed me: In seven weeks of traveling every day, I encountered not one farmers market. They occur here, but there seems to be a shortage. Meanwhile, there is, at least, growing interest in good wine and beer throughout New Zealand.
4. Too much hype about adventure-adrenaline tourism. Give me a farmers market. Give me a quiet dirt road that crosses the Southern Alps at 2,000 meters. Give me a bottle of barleywine ale that I can afford. But enough with your adventure travel packages. Skydiving, jet boats on rivers, water-skiing, bungee jumping, heli-biking and heli-skiing and, I dunno – is there heli-fly fishing? The thing is, these all have nothing to do with your beautiful country and make a lot of noise and commotion.
5. Sheep. In particular, there are way too many. They overgraze and, along with a multitude of cows, trample river banks into mud and manure. They are mammals – and nonnative – and they number, what, 40 million? Sort of like possums. Sort of like pests.
6. Finally, an underlying but potent element of racism. I encountered this several times without digging for it – Caucasian Kiwis confiding in me that increasing cultural diversity (call it immigration, if you want) is becoming a problem. “It’s really dark on the North Island,” is something I heard said at least twice. And some people told me about “the Asian problem,” though I never understood what the problem quite was. My latest incident occurred just outside Christchurch, where I stopped in at an honesty box and met the two owners. “How is Auckland?” I asked as we chatted about the North Island. The man and woman – folks in their 60s – rolled their eyes. “It’s all Asians and Islanders.” Sounds interesting to me – but they carried on. “And in Christchurch it’s becoming a problem now, too. You like Asians? Plenty there.” I do, in fact – and I asked if there was, by any chance, a neighborhood or community of Asians – with Asian grocery stores, too. They both sighed and nodded, distraught at what was becoming of their island. “Yep. Blenheim Road,” the man said, and I made a note of it. The next afternoon, I rode up Blenheim Road, visited Kosko Asian Supermarket, and there found the joy I’d been without for seven weeks: durian, the crowned king of the fruit world. I ate a full pound of the flesh that night, thinking that this must be one of the greatest pleasures of a multicultural world.
Now, the positives:
1. The Molesworth Station wilderness. A banner highlight, this was a rare back country experience that required no backtracking to get out. For there are two roads leading all the way across this almost half-million-acre farm at the north end of the South Island. I took the Rainbow-Hanmer Springs route. The region is drained by several rivers, including the Wairau and the Clarence, and off the road, out of sight, are many hidden ponds teeming with big trout. Molesworth Station also demonstrates what a fine arrangement can be made between private landowners and the government’s Department of Conservation, which encourages public access into remote areas. There is a cash entry fee required – $25 for automobiles, $15 for motorcycles, and just $2 for bicycles (thanks).
2. Honesty boxes and other roadside produce sales. I wrote about exorbitant prices early in my trip – but that was before I discovered honesty boxes, where buyers pull over to the side of the road, drop a few coins in a piggy bank-style box and grab a carton of eggs or a bag of vegetables.
3. The Southeast Coast and Catlins. While the West Coast draws millions of tourists with its glaciers, Milford and Doubtful sounds and its steaming rainforests and fern groves, the opposite side of the island has its simpler wonders – and lesser crowds. Here, quiet rolling hills of grass meet clear kelpy waters and tide pools, and small roads almost void of traffic welcome cyclists to explore.
4. No fishing license needed for ocean angling or foraging. This is a nice gesture from the government. While most travelers aren’t going to spend their days here renting wetsuits of watching the tide charts with dinner plans for lobster or mussels, by allowing passersby to spontaneously visit the beach and take home a portion of edible critters (there are legal bag limits, so do your homework before hunting), the New Zealand federal government is encouraging engagement with the country’s marvelous marine environment.
5. Outstanding scenery. They filmed the Lord of the Rings films here for a reason – simply, the landscape is often jaw-dropping, whether on screen or in real life. The Southern Alps, whose peaks are buried in snow even in high summer, may be the crowning jewel, but almost everywhere else, dramatic geography and a general absence of people make a recipe for beauty and wonders. There is greenery almost everywhere, beautiful wild rivers in the mountains, the Seaward Kaikoura Range that tops out at almost 9,000 feet just miles from the ocean, the endless fjords and waterways of Marlborough Sounds, the deep bays, hills and remote shores of the Banks Peninsula, the underwater sights to be enjoyed by snorkelers and divers and much more. From Stewart Island in the far south to the Surville Cliffs in the far north, New Zealand is a country almost as geographically diverse as the United States, crammed into a thriving, gorgeous landscape only a slivering fraction of the size.
6. Finally, Luggage Solutions. This is a lifesaver shop at the Christchurch International Airport which carries a variety of bags and packing materials, including cardboard bicycle boxes. For cyclists, this is a tremendous convenience, allowing us to truly finish a journey by riding all the way to the airport. Note: Luggage Solutions charges $25 for a used, folded, crumpled box. They’ll help you assemble and secure it adequately, but the price is a bit steep.
“Faces From Afar” is an ongoing series in which Off the Road profiles adventurous travelers exploring unique places or pursuing exotic passions. Know a globetrotter we should hear about? E-mail us at email@example.com.
The desert is simple, honest and frank. It is sparse and stoic, both patient and demanding, and something about this unforgiving environment continually draws people from comfortable, well-watered places into its dangerous heart. Compelled by this old attraction, two young Americans departed in early February on one of the most ambitious walks they will probably ever take, through some of the most barren, the most beautiful and—lately—the most misunderstood land south of the Mexico-U.S. border: Baja California.
Justin DeShields, 26, and Bryan Morales, 25, departed San Diego on February 2. They crossed the border and immediately entered Tijuana, where the two travelers, who had been thinking logistically about desert survival for months, found themselves in a landscape blistered by traffic, freeways and urban shantytowns. They walked parallel to the border westward to the beach, where they officially began their walk. Their plan: to journey unassisted by motor vehicles all the way to the peninsula’s southernmost tip before June. DeShields, a documentary filmmaker who has worked with National Geographic, brought along several cameras. With an arrangement to blog for National Geographic, he and Morales—who works as an outdoor educator with urban youth—would document the ecological wonders and crises, the cultural colors and the raw beauty of the Baja peninsula, top to bottom.
Tijuana was simply an obstacle. Not known as Baja California’s proudest asset, it made for a discouraging beginning. Wearing 50-pound backpacks, it took the adventurers several hours to escape the city’s grimy, gritty influence. Concrete scribbled with graffiti, homes built of cardboard and sheets, and the din of urban traffic all faded into the distance at last, replaced by the softness of the sand and the drone of the breaking waves. But they hadn’t exactly escaped civilization. On the shore, the suburbs continued for many miles—and still ahead was the equally imposing city of Ensenada, located about 80 miles south of the border. On the beach, the pair encountered the obstacles of urban development—sometimes nearly to the waterline.
“There were so many private properties that in order to follow the coast, we had to hop fences and walls, and duck through barbed wire,” says Morales, with whom I spoke by phone last week. “There were places where we couldn’t get around rocky points and had to go back up to the highway, but there was no access.” So the two hurried through yards, alleyways and vacant lots, not always sure if they were trespassing or not, but certain of at least one thing: that they needed to move southward if they hoped to ever escape the northern peninsula’s development and reach the unspoiled desert for which Baja is famous.
For Morales and DeShields, the privatization of the public coastline became one of the most disturbing and frustrating aspects of their journey.
“The thing that worries me is that the coastline is being bought up by Americans or other foreigners, and as a result Mexicans are losing their land,” Morales says. “If they don’t have land or access to the water, how can they come to cherish it and enjoy it as we have? They certainly won’t be able to afford to buy it back.”
Though void of cacti and shrubs and open hillsides, this urban region was something of a desert, for most of the residences in places were entirely abandoned, Morales says. They passed vacant hotels and condos and the shells of empty buildings. The beach town of Rosarito—a thriving and popular destination for tourists as recently as six or seven years ago—has died. “It’s literally a ghost town now,” Morales says. He attributes the emptiness of this once-peopled land to “fear of violence, rape, robbery and even the police.” Parts of Mexico have experienced high crime rates in recent years, covered widely by the media. Morales believes such violence, civilian deaths and tourist holdups have unfairly impacted Baja, which has remained, to a large extent, off the path of criminals.
But the hospitality of Baja’s people defied every stereotype about the dangers of traveling today in Mexico. The two encountered kindness and generosity at every bend in the beach, in each town and in each remote fishing camp where they stopped to ask for water. The commercial lobster season had just ended, on February 16, and so these camps were often all but uninhabited. Usually, one man—maybe two—would come out to greet the Americans, along with his barking dogs. Many strangers invited them into their homes for food, coffee and beds.
“Down here you find an experience that, in the States, is hard to come by,” Morales says. “There is a low standard of living, and people have almost nothing. They literally make houses out of our garbage—old garage doors, trailers, billboards—and yet these people are incredibly generous. They invite us into their homes, feed us, share what they have.”
The two camped most nights on the beach, often tucked up against the cliffs in their tent to keep out of sight of passersby, and by day they walked, often on concrete and asphalt, other times along the beach, each carrying 50-pound backpacks loaded with camping equipment, cameras, a water desalinator and—for the odd hour of recreation—a surfboard. Finally, after 200 miles and three weeks of struggling through the development of northern Baja, Morales and DeShields found the solitude and silence of the desert. Here began the joys and hazards of classic wilderness exploration. Many times, the pair journeyed inland to avoid treacherous cliffs and waves. Once or twice they almost ran out of water. They showed up half starved and delirious in a fishing camp one hot day. In a land of sand, sun and solitude, they ate what they could. Peanut butter and jelly on tortillas were a staple—though strangers who greeted them in the road spiced up their diets with tortillas and bowls of beans. Often, the desert didn’t even look like one. The rains of December had had their lingering effect, turning what is known to be one of the most dry and bitter landscapes into scenery as green as Teletubby Land. Locals even told them that the desert flower blooms of the moment had not been seen in nearly a decade.
On March 19, they arrived in Guerrero Negro, a dusty desert city mostly unremarkable except as a chief destination for tourists hoping to watch gray whales, which enter the nearby Ojo de Liebre and San Ignacio lagoons to give birth. From here, the pair walks south. They will remain on foot as they pass San Ignacio Lagoon and walk inland around its shoreline. The plan is to then cut east, across the mountainous peninsula, and descend back to sea level at the date palm-studded oasis town of Mulege. Morales and DeShields intend to finish their journey on stand-up paddleboards, moving smoothly along the tranquil shoreline of the Sea of Cortez, all the way to San Jose del Cabo. Their journey can be followed via their blog “What is West?”
Chef Magnus Nilsson slaps together his bear-paw-sized hands, announcing his presence in the cabin-like space that serves as his dining room. Bunches of herbs hung to dry and edible flowers adorn the sparse walls, and meat and fish hang lazily from the ceiling as they cure. Tonight—a Tuesday in early July—the restaurant is at full capacity, seating 16 guests around a handful of sparse wooden tables.
“Here we have scallop ‘i skalet ur elden’ cooked over burning juniper branches,” Nilsson announces. Staff members deliver two pink-shelled scallops nestled on a bed of smoking moss and juniper to our table. The dish smells like Christmas at the beach. “Eat it in one bite, and drink the juice, ok?” Nilsson says.
The scallops—taken from the fire in the kitchen downstairs no more than 90 seconds earlier—open to reveal a pearly dollop of meat marinating in its own murky juices. I place the entire succulent morsel into my mouth with my fingers, and then slurp down the broth, as instructed. I’m rewarded with flavors of the Norwegian Sea: briny, salty and sweet.
This is Fäviken Magasinet, a restaurant located in the heart of northwest Sweden’s forested wilderness, Järpen. The region is roughly the same size as Denmark, but with only 130,000 residents. The restaurant’s location requires hopeful patrons to embark upon a pilgrimage of sorts. You can either take a car or train from Stockholm—a 470-mile journey—or jump on a quick flight to Östersund, a town about an hour and a half east.
Described by Bon Appétit as “the world’s most daring restaurant,” Fäviken’s extreme remoteness, unique dishes and strict regime of locally hunted, foraged, fished, farmed and preserved ingredients quickly began earning the restaurant and its young chef notoriety when he took over as head chef in 2008. Just four years later, Fäviken landed 34th place on the British magazine Restaurant’s coveted World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, on which the judges pose: “Is this the most isolated great restaurant on the planet?”
A journey north
I enjoy food, but would hesitate to call myself a true foodie. I haven’t been to Per Se (#11 on the Restaurant’s list) or Eleven Madison Park (#5), both in New York City, and I wouldn’t plan a trip to Denmark just to eat at Noma (#2). Fäviken, however, was different.
I first learned about Nilsson in a short blurb in TimeOut New York, in a review of his recently published cookbook cum autobiography, Fäviken. The “uncompromising young chef (just 28),” TimeOut wrote, “has been pushing the boundaries or hunter-gatherer cooking” in a “groundbreaking restaurant in the middle of nowhere.” Something about sipping a broth of autumn leaves in the Swedish woods deeply appealed, and I began looking into this strange place. Seeing the restaurant’s website—a panorama of the property’s 19th century converted barns, that changes with the seasons—solidified my next vacation plans.
Nilsson grew up near Fäviken’s property, in a tiny town called Mörsil. Though he fondly recalls spending time in the kitchen with his grandmother, the young Swede originally aspired to become a marine biologist. But gastronomy trumped ichthyology, and Nilsson eventually landed spots cooking under three-star Michelin chefs in Paris. But he returned to Sweden after his Paris sojourn and tried pursuing his own kitchen aspirations, his efforts fell flat. His dishes were only poor imitations of his mentors’ creations. Discouraged, he stopped cooking and decided to become a wine writer instead.
This circuitous path led him to Fäviken. In 2003, the restaurant’s new owners recruited Nilsson to organize their wine collection under a three-month contract. At the time, the restaurant relied mostly upon products imported from around Europe, and mainly served a surplus of guests arriving for an annual game fair held on the property each July. “Nope, I never though I’d come back here,” Nilsson later tells me of his rural home region. Gradually, however, he began finding himself spending more and more time in the restaurant’s small kitchen. He also took to roving the forests and fields of Fäviken’s 24,000-acre property, collecting interesting edibles he came across and experimenting with recipes in his spare time. Months melted into years, and in 2008 Nilsson began officially running the restaurant. “That’s how it happened,” he says. “I went back into the kitchen again.”
Reaching that fabled kitchen, however, is no easy task. My boyfriend Paul and I opted to fly through Östersund as we took off early in the morning from sunny Stockholm, leaving behind perfect summer-dress weather. As we slid through the layer of thick clouds obscuring Järpen, a new landscape materialized. Dense swaths of evergreen forest—broken only by the occasional cabin or farm—blanketed hills and encroached upon expansive black lakes. When we touched down at the tiny Östersund airport, a large hare sprinted out onto the runway, racing the plane for a few brief moments. It occurred to me that we were dealing with something entirely different than Stockholm’s outdoor cafes and glimmering waterside promenades. This was the North.
A traditional palate
Up here, Nilsson explains, incorporating the land into daily eating and living is second nature. October’s chill traditionally marks the end of fresh ingredients until spring’s thaw renewed life in April. Studious planning and preserving were essential for a subarctic household’s survival. Even now, some of those traditions have lingered on. If residents don’t hunt or fish, they know someone close to them who does. Picking berries for jam, gathering mushrooms for preserving, pickling homegrown vegetables and curing meat are normal household activities. While high-end restaurants in the world’s metropolises may boast about the novelty of their handful of foraged ingredients, here it is natural and unforced. “It’s just part of what people do, even if they don’t realize it,” Nilsson says.
Nilsson, too, abides by these traditions. Only a few ingredients—including salt, sugar and rapeseed oil from southwest Sweden, Denmark and France, respectively, and fish from Norway—do not originate from the immediate vicinity. The repertoire of wild plants he regularly harvests from around the property number around 50, ranging from hedgehog mushrooms to Iceland moss, from wormwood to fiddlehead ferns. He also hunts, as attested by the paper-thin slices of wild goose served during my visit. The bird is coated in an insulating layer of sea salt, then hung in the dining room to dry for several months before appearing on our plates. Likewise, he slaughters his own livestock and uses nearly every part of their bodies. Fried pigs head balls sprinkled with pickled marigold petals, for example, appear on the menu this summer. “Sometimes, when I look at the way people treat meat inefficiently . . . I think there should be some kind of an equivalent to a driver’s license for meat-eaters,” Nilsson writes in his book.
Image by Rachel Nuwer. The décor at Fäviken reflects the restaurant’s isolation: sparse, yet cozy. (original image)
Image by Rachel Nuwer. Sheep laze on Faviken’s extensive property. (original image)
Image by Rachel Nuwer. Langoustine skewered on a twig and served with a dollop of cream. (original image)
Image by Courtesy of Fäviken. Fäviken is both a restaurant and an inn – guests can eat and sleep at the 24,000-acre property, located 470 miles from Stockholm. (original image)
Image by Courtesy of Fäviken. Head chef Magnus Nilsson (forefront) and sous chef work to prepare the evening’s dishes. (original image)
Image by Courtesy of Fäviken. Chef Magnus Nilsson, only 28 years old, revels in pushing culinary boundaries at his Swedish gastronomical outpost Fäviken. (original image)
Image by Rachel Nuwer. A dessert of fermented lingonberries, thick cream, sugar, blueberry ice. (original image)
Image by Rachel Nuwer. Mackerel steamed with flowering leek, sauce made from the leek tops. (original image)
In the winter, Fäviken hunkers down and relies upon a store of pickled, cured, dried and fermented produce and meat to feed its guests. “It’s so lovely in the winter, so dark,” says Sara Haij, who works at the restaurant as a server-cum-hostess-cum-travel agent. “But the snow lights it up. And in February and March, the northern lights peak.”
During these nearly sunless months, some vegetables, including cabbage and kale, can remain in the earth or buried under snow. As long as temperatures stay below freezing (not a lot to ask in Järpen, where winter temperatures regularly dip to -22˚ F) the vegetables will keep.
For fermenting, Nilsson largely relies upon Lactobacillus bacteria, whose use in preservation spans centuries and cultures, from kimchi in Korea to beer brewing in ancient Egypt. Pickling, on the other hand, depends upon lowering the osmotic pressure in the cells of the ingredient—beets, berries, roots—with salt, then adding a solution of vinegar and sugar, which easily penetrate those emaciated cells. The flavor of pickling—specifically with white alcohol vinegar—Nilsson writes in his book, is “one of the original tastes of Scandinavia.” Nilsson, not surprisingly, also makes his own vinegars, including a “vinegar matured in the burnt-out trunk of a spruce tree.”
Many of Nilsson’s preserved products are stored in his cellar, a cubby hold dug out of the side of a hill, across from the restaurant. Here, curious diners can also take a peep at his ongoing experiments, where jars of pickling wildflowers, submerged sprigs and even bottled curios of seafoody flesh line shelves on either wall. The space seems deceptively small, but, starting in the autumn, crates of dormant roots are buried beneath its sandy floor. In spring, even in the light-deprived environment, what’s left of these roots often begin producing pale shoots that “taste like the very essence of the vegetables from which they sprout,” Nilsson writes.
A day at Fäviken
This, however, is summer, when the sky never fully darkens and the produce is at its peak. We bump down a gravel road several hours after leaving the airport (obligatory stops were made at a moose petting farm and a hippie-like restaurant commune in Nilsson’s hometown that he recommended), unsure of whether we should have turned left at that last lake, or gone straight over an old bridge. Here, cell phone GPS guidance is out of the question. A break from the trees, however, finally reveals our destination: across a glacial lake, Fäviken’s red barn stands out against the green.
Wildflowers and herds of free-range sheep blaze by on our final approach, and not even a cold, persistent sprinkling of rain can put a damper on this triumph. Through a window on the converted barn, we can see the chefs are already bustling about the kitchen, though it’s just 2:00 and dinner doesn’t begin until 7:00. Karin Hillström, another Fäviken employee, bursts out to meet us with a welcoming smile, ushering us into a pine log room (an original from 1745) filled with lambskin sofas and a wildflower-bejeweled bar. Hillström assigns each party for that evening’s dinner an arrival hour—we were 3:00—staggered to allot time for an individual welcome and a private session in the sauna. A fire warms the room, and Nilsson’s big, wolf-fur coat hangs on one wall like a trophy. Robert Andersson, the sommelier, wastes no time uncorking the first bottled aperitifs.
Nilsson soon emerges from the kitchen wearing his chef’s whites, politely greeting us before Hillström shows us to our room, which is marked not with a number but a hand-painted portrait of a black bear. Because of its remoteness, many guests chose to stay the night at the restaurant’s small guesthouse. The sauna, just across the hall, is fully stocked with champagne, regional beer and local berry juice, along with “some snacks” of homemade sausage and hairy pickled turnips, hand-delivered by one of the chefs. From the delicate bouquets of wildflowers to the slate-slab tabletops, Fäviken seems to epitomize attention to detail.
Feast at the farm
Tonight, we’re sharing hors d’oeuvres with a British couple, Rachel and Matt Weedon. Outside of Norway and Sweden, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the U.S. supply the most visitors. They met in the restaurant industry “many moons ago,” spent their honey moon eating their way through San Francisco and Napa Valley, and now travel twice a year on food holidays. “In the chef world, this guy [Nilsson] is talked about so much,” says Matt, who runs the kitchen and manages the farm at Fallowfields, a restaurant in Oxfordshire. “I heard about him, bought the book, and said OK, we’re going.”
We nibble on crispy lichens dipped in lightly soured garlic cream (the delicate growths nearly dissolve in the mouth), and pop tarts of wild trout’s roe served in a crust of dried pigs blood (oddly sweet, with juicy bursts of fish-eggy saltiness), then proceed upstairs to the spartan dining room. Tables are scattered throughout the room, seating a maximum of 16 guests and spread far enough apart so that each couple or group feels almost as if they are enjoying a private meal. Andersson pours the first wine—mead, actually—made locally and “just like the Vikings used to drink.” Rather than match wines for all 14 of the main courses, Andersson chooses five eclectic pairings that can complement a number of dishes. “I like to drink wine, not taste it,” he explains.
Menu highlights of the evening include a fleshy langoustine impaled on a twig and served with a dollop of almost-burnt cream that Nilsson instructs us to apply to each bite of the creature. A festive porridge of grains, seeds, fermented carrots and wild leaves comes with a glass teapot that is brimming with living grasses and moss rooted atop a bed of moist detritus. Andersson pours a meat broth filtered through this bushy assembly into our porridge; when he removes the teapot, a tiny, squirming earthworm is inadvertently left behind on the table. For a dish of marrow served atop diced raw cow’s heart with neon flower petals, the chefs carry a tremendous bone into the dining room, then proceed to saw it open like a couple of lumberjacks to get at the fresh, bubbling essence within. The butter served throughout the meal—simply the best I have ever tasted—comes from a little cottage nearby, where it takes three days to collect enough milk from the owner’s six cows to churn out a single batch.
The most standout dessert of the evening is an egg yolk, preserved in sugar syrup, plopped next to a pile of crumbs made from pine tree bark. We diners are instructed to mash these ingredients into a sticky, rich dough, while the chefs turn the clacking crank of an old-fashioned ice cream maker, then spoon out portions of the icy, meadowsweet-seasoned goodness alongside our fresh dough.
We round out the evening by sipping on sour cream and duck egg liquor, and sampling simple sweets—dried berries, sunflower seed nougat, pine resin cake—laid out in a jewelry-box assortment, like a child’s prized collection of marbles and shells. Only the tar pastilles, which taste like a mix between chainsaw exhaust and chimney soot, fail to deliver. The final, optional offering is a strip of chewing tobacco, fermented for 70 hours and issued with a warning that the nicotine could prove too much for guests who aren’t used to it. “This smells like my dad,” I overhear one patron say.
A master of the craft
The process of creating these exceptional dishes, Nilsson explained earlier that afternoon, is like any other profession involving craftsmanship. “You must first perfect your techniques so they don’t get in the way of your ability to create things,” he says. At this point, he says, creation comes to him intuitively—“It just happens, I just cook”—though he is always looking to innovate and improve. In his book, he elaborates: “Throughout my career so far, and I hope for the rest of my life, I have always tried to become a little bit better at what I do every time I do it.”
As such, after the meal Nilsson stops by each table, asking his patrons to comment on dishes they did or did not like. The dishes, he says, may evolve significantly on a day-to-day basis or may remain static for months or years on end. It all depends on the season, the produce and “the mood of us all, and what we do here.” For now, Fäviken is a dynamic work in progress, though this unique project in the Swedish woods is by no means indefinite.
“I’m sure it will be very definite when we run out of interesting things to do,” Nilsson says. “But there’s no end date, it’s just something you feel when it’s done.”
Fäviken accepts dinner reservations for up to six people, which can be booked online three months in advance. Dinner is served Tuesday to Saturday, and hotel reservations can be made at the time of booking. Price per person for food is SEK 1,750 (approximately $268 USD); for drinks, including aperitifs and digestifs, SEK 1,750 ($268); and SEK 2,000 ($307) for accommodation for two, including breakfast.
A witness tree begins its life like any other tree. It sprouts. It grows. And then it’s thrust into the spotlight, playing an involuntary part in a significant historic event. Often, that event is a devastating, landscape-scarring battle or other tragic moment. Once Civil War soldiers march on to their next battle, say, or a country turns its attention to healing after a terrorist attack, a witness tree remains as a biologically tenacious symbol of the past.
Witness trees have been known to hide bullets they’ve absorbed beneath new layers of wood and bark, and they heal other visible scars over time. While they may look like ordinary trees, they have incredible stories to tell.
Travelers, history lovers, some park rangers and others have embraced these exceptional trees as important, living connections to our past. In 2006, Paul Dolinsky, chief of the National Park Service’s Historic American Landscapes Survey, led the development of the Witness Tree Protection Program, a pilot project that identified an initial 24 historically and biologically significant trees in the Washington, D.C. area. Written histories and photographs of the trees are archived at the Library of Congress. “Although trees have longevity, they’re ephemeral,” says Dolinsky. “This will be a lasting record of the story a tree has to tell.”
While the pilot program has gained some traction, the number of witness trees in the U.S. remains unknown. One reason why: Some areas where witness trees may reside, like battlefields, are vast. Another reason: It can be difficult to determine a tree’s age to confirm it was alive during a significant historic event. Boring into a tree can answer that question, but it can also damage a tree so it’s not often done. In some cases, witness trees aren’t identified until they die of natural causes. In 2011, for instance, a felled oak tree with two bullets embedded in the trunk was found on Culp’s Hill in Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. Photographs or other historic records, however, can confirm some witness trees—and rule out others—with relative ease.
Confirmed witness trees are precious. They survived trauma, and then dodged disease and storms and whatever else humans and nature have hurled at them for dozens or even hundreds of years. Though some trees can live for 500 years, it’s unknown how much longer some of these may survive.
Communing with a witness tree offers a true, one-of-a-kind thrill. “It’s a live thing,” says Joe Calzarette, Natural Resources Program Manager at Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland. “There’s something about a live thing that you can connect with in a way you can’t with an inanimate object.”
To experience it yourself, visit these five trees that have witnessed some of the most traumatic and tragic events that have shaped U.S. history. When you go, respect any barriers—natural or manmade—between you and the witness tree, and take care never to get too close to trees that seem approachable. Even walking on nearby soil can have an impact on a tree’s root system and overall health.
The War of 1812 Willow Oak, Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm, MarylandWar of 1812 Willow Oak, near parking lot, Oxon Hill, Prince George's County, MD (Library of Congress)
The blood and fire of the War of 1812 Willow Oak’s namesake hostilities reached the tree during the Battle of Bladensburg on August 24, 1814. The lonely oak with its thick, gnarled trunk now stands in a grassy field in Maryland, near the parking lot of the Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm in Oxon Hill, known two centuries ago as Mount Welby, home of British sympathizers Dr. Samuel DeButts and his family. The tree and estate overlooked Washington, D.C.
On that August night, British troops defeated American troops about six miles away from Mount Welby, then attacked the capital, setting the White House and other parts of the city on fire. DeButts’ wife, Mary Welby, wrote of that evening: “Our house shook repeatedly by the firing upon forts [and] Bridges, [and was] illuminated by the fires in our Capital.” The DeButts family later found three rockets from the fighting on their property.
White Oak Tree, Manassas National Battlefield Park, VirginiaA White Oak Witness Tree near Stone Bridge at Manassas National Battlefield Park in Manassas, VA (Bryan Gorsira, NPS)
At the eastern edge of Manassas National Battlefield Park, walk across Bull Run Creek via Stone Bridge, take a right on the trail, then curve around the water. Ahead on the left rises a White Oak that survived not one but two Civil War battles.
The tree grows in a spot that both Union and Confederate armies thought was critical to victory. On the morning of July 21, 1861, the opening shots of the First Battle of Manassas pierced the sultry summer air over the nearby Stone Bridge, as the Union made its initial diversionary attack. When the battle ended, Union troops retreated across the bridge and through the water. Confederate troops also retreated through here on March 9, 1862, destroying the original Stone Bridge behind them as they evacuated their winter camps.
Troops from both sides returned to the tree’s orbit during the Second Battle of Manassas in late August 1862, with the defeated Union rear guard destroying a makeshift replacement wooden bridge. A photo from March 1862 by George N. Barnard shows a decimated landscape, the trees thin and bare. Today, the scene is more serene, with the tree—and a rebuilt Stone Bridge—sturdy and resolute.
The National Park Service estimates Manassas contains hundreds of other witness trees, many having been found with the help of a Girl Scout working on her Gold Award project.
The Burnside Sycamore, Antietam National Battlefield, MarylandBurnside Bridge Sycamore, southwest of Burnside Bridge, Historic Burnside Bridge Road, Sharpsburg, Washington County, MD (Library of Congress)
During the afternoon of September 17, 1862, General Ambrose Burnside and his Union troops battled three hours against dug-in Confederate positions to cross a bridge over Antietam Creek. An additional two hours of fighting ensued against Confederate reinforcements. There were more than 600 casualties at Burnside Bridge, contributing to the Civil War’s bloodiest day.
Amid the fighting, a young sycamore growing beside the bridge withstood the crossfire. We know this because, several days later, Alexander Gardner photographed what became known as the Burnside Bridge, with the tree near the lower left corner of the image. The iconic photo can be seen at Antietam on the wayside in front of the tree, located in the southern reaches of Antietam National Battlefield.
The Burnside Sycamore has since faced other threats, like flooding and even the bridge itself. The bridge's foundation is probably limiting the tree’s root system. But now the tree stands tall and healthy, its branches spreading high above the bridge and the gentle creek, creating a serene, shady nook. “People see the tree and they see the little wayside and they think, ‘Boy, if this tree could talk,'”says Calzarette.
Antietam contains several other known witness trees, including in the West and North Woods.
The Sickles Oak, Gettysburg National Military Park, PennsylvaniaReed's sketch of Major General Daniel E. Sickles and his men gathered under the Sickles Oak (Library of Congress)
The Swamp White Oak on the grounds of Trostle Farm witnessed some of Gettysburg’s heaviest fighting—its shade beckoned a notorious Civil War figure looking for a command post. Charles Reed sketched Major General Daniel E. Sickles and his men gathered under the Sickles Oak during the afternoon of July 2, 1863, not long before Sickles disobeyed direct orders and marched his men into disaster. During an onslaught by Confederate troops, Sickles’ men took heavy losses; Sickles lost his right leg to a cannonball.
The Sickles Oak was at least 75 years old at the time of the battle, and it’s grown into a “big, beautiful, healthy-looking tree,” says Katie Lawhon, Gettysburg National Military Park spokesperson. Several witness trees are believed to survive in Gettysburg, but the Sickles Oak is among the most accessible today. It’s close to stop 11 on the Gettysburg auto tour, near the still-standing buildings of Trostle Farm.
Oklahoma City Survivor Tree, Oklahoma City National Memorial, OklahomaThe Oklahoma City Survivor Tree (Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum)
When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, an American elm in downtown Oklahoma City absorbed the blast. Glass and metal from the explosion embedded in its bark. The hood of an exploded car landed in its crown.
Instead of removing the tree to extract evidence, survivors, family members of those killed in the blast, and others urged officials to save the almost 100-year-old elm. Planners of the Oklahoma City National Memorial created conditions to allow the tree to recover and thrive; they also made it a focal point of the memorial. A custom promontory surrounds the 40-foot-tall tree, ensuring the elm gets proper care above and below ground. The Survivor Tree, as it’s now known, like many other witness trees, serves as a touchstone of resilience.
I didn't drool on the objects, but exploring the ceramics storage room as an intern at the National Museum of American History was pretty exciting for this potter and history lover. As I looked at the works of famous 20th-century potters I admire such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, and Paul Soldner, something jumped out at me—a shelf labeled "Saturday Evening Girls" (SEG). I thought to myself, "What does that mean? Who are they? Does that belong there?" Though the SEG sounded a bit like a Las Vegas band or a cheesy late-night TV show, I ended up learning the story of a hard-working potter's timeless contribution to the world of fine art.Some of the Saturday Evening Girls work on glazing the surfaces of their ceramic pieces at Paul Revere Pottery in the early 1900s. Courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Barbara Maysles Kramer: Saturday Evening Girls papers.
I did some research on the SEG and found myself falling in love with the story. The SEG was a group of young women and girls who met every Saturday night at the North Bennet Street Industrial School library, in my hometown of Boston, beginning in the 1890s. According to Boston.com, the group was originally started and led by librarian Edith Guerrier as an extracurricular literary, dance, and drama club in order to provide social and educational opportunities for local girls. Many of the group's members were Italian and Jewish immigrants living in Boston's North End, a district that Brighton Allston Historical Society notes had the highest child mortality rate and some of the poorest living conditions in the city. Helen Osborne Storrow and Isabella Stewart Gardner, some of Boston's wealthiest philanthropists, financially supported the SEG and attended its frequent fundraising plays and dances. Storrow created a summer camp for the girls, fully funded some of their college educations, and financed their future artistic projects. According to the New England Historical Society, several members of the SEG sometimes felt resentful toward their sponsors because of their patronizing attitudes, creating an incongruous dynamic between the groups.
The focus of the SEG changed to the production and sales of pottery in 1908 under the direction of Storrow, Guerrier, and their artist friend Edith Brown. The two Ediths learned about the medium of clay and the business of pottery when they took an educational trip to Europe together, funded fully by Storrow. Upon their return, all three women worked to open a pottery studio for the SEG girls to make their own money and pay back debts for their summer camp experiences. They transformed an apartment into a pottery studio and renamed the establishment Paul Revere Pottery, as its location was in the shadow of the church where Revere hung his famous lanterns.Small globular bowl with wide open mouth. Glaze is turquoise with black striations and speckles. Made 1906–1942 by Paul Revere Pottery. 2 ¼ inches x 5 ½ inches.
Paul Revere Pottery opened in the midst of the international Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century as well as Boston's social reform movement, which aimed to improve low-income job conditions. The business provided young women an opportunity to work in a well-ventilated, clean, and safe environment, something that contrasted greatly with the low-paying and dangerous conditions of many working children and immigrants in the early 1900s. The girls trained one another in utilitarian pottery decoration, and often read aloud the works of Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare while doing so. Aside from a handful of men that assisted with firing and throwing the pottery, the business was women-owned and operated. The business eventually moved to another neighborhood, where it remained in operation until it closed in 1942.
One member of the group, a Jewish Austro-Hungarian immigrant by the name of Sara Galner, stood out from her peers with her academic achievements and artistic skills. Galner quickly became one of Paul Revere Pottery's most celebrated artists. She often signed her work with her own initials (a rare occurrence for young artisans of the time) and masterfully decorated the surfaces with stylized animals, landscapes, and references to classic short stories. She worked hard for the enterprise for over 10 years, moving her way up as decorator, salesperson, and eventually manager. Today the works of Galner and the SEG girls are some of the most cherished collectibles in the antique market, selling for up to thousands of dollars per piece and exhibiting in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
Louisiana is the ultimate playground for the outdoorsman. All manner of waterways crisscross the state amid verdant hills and rich marshlands, making the state a habitat for many rare and endangered species, as well as thousands of migratory birds and sport fish. Miles of hiking, biking and water trails offer visitors inlets into these vast wild lands through a network of 22 State Parks. From seemingly endless expanses of coastal wetlands to narrow trails through dense palmettos, these parks offer visitors diverse landscapes and activities. Spot song birds among moss-draped cypress trees or cast a line into a stocked lake and see why Louisiana earned the nickname the "Sportsman's Paradise.”
Poverty Point Reservoir State Park
Fish and birds and bears - oh my! This northern Louisiana State Park has it all. On any given weekend, boaters can be found casting their lines on Poverty Point Reservoir in hopes of hooking largemouth bass, sac-à-lait (crappie), catfish and bluegill. Stocked with fish, the 2,700-acre, man-made lake is an angler's haven. Birders also flock to Poverty Point thanks to its location along the Mississippi Flyway, a major bird migration route. A half-mile-long trail bordering Bayou Macon offers one of the best vantage points for watching local and exotic birds. Wandering the trails, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the shy Louisiana black bear, which was recently removed from federal endangered species list.
Nearby, the Poverty Point UNESCO World Heritage Site draws even more visitors. Built by American Indians more than 3,000 years ago, the 72-foot-tall mound is one of only three archaeological sites in the United States to earn a World Heritage distinction. Eight deluxe cabins and four lodges on the lake, as well as more than 50 RV campsites at the park's south end, allow visitors to appreciate the park's history and wildlife at all hours.
Chicot State Park
Situated between the Atchafalaya Basin swamps and the hills of central Louisiana, Chicot State Park lays claim to some of the Bayou State’s most breathtaking vistas. At 6,400 acres, it is Louisiana's largest State Park and home to the magnificent Louisiana State Arboretum.
Take a calming stroll through the arboretum’s groves of sycamores, maples, beeches, magnolias and hickories. Ferns cover the forest in a carpet of green, and cranefly orchids sway in the warm breeze. Six miles of trails and boardwalks complete with plant-identifying signs wind through this living museum of trees, stretching up hills and out over Chicot Lake. Every so often, a deer or fox will emerge from the cover. Bird sightings are almost guaranteed, as the preserve is another stop along the Mississippi Flyway.
With its varied terrain, Chicot State Park is a biker's and paddler's paradise. For a true Louisiana outdoor experience, take a canoe for a turn around the thick cypress trunks that dot Lake Chicot, then stop at one of the campsites along its perimeter.
North Toledo Bend State Park
Catching a “lunker” (a bass weighing over 10 pounds) in North Toledo Bend State Park is a right of passage. Spanning a third of Louisiana's western boundary, the Toledo Bend Reservoir is the South’s largest man-made lake and one of the nation’s top fishing destinations. In 2015 and again in 2016, Bassmaster magazine named Toldeo Bend the No. 1 bass fishery in the country.
Though known for its fishing, Toledo Bend offers a wealth of other activities. Hiking and biking trails wind through the park, and canoes allow visitors to enjoy the lake's calmer waters. A swimming pool and playground keep younger family members happy. Spend a night in one of the park's deluxe cabins, group camps or RV spots—if only to watch the sun set over the lake.
Fontainebleau State Park
Less than an hour from the color and revelry of downtown New Orleans lies the pristine Fontainebleau State Park. With powdered sugar still clinging to your face from the beignets you scarfed down at Café Du Monde, kayak past cypress trees on glassy Lake Pontchartrain or sink your feet into the soft sand of its man-made beach. In the afternoon, walk, bike or ride horseback along a converted rail line at the north end of the park, part of the scenic 31-mile Tammany Trace path. Along the way, you'll pass all manner of birds as well as the brick remains of an 1829 sugar mill built under the direction of Creole planter and senator Bernard de Marigny. Not ready for another night out on Bourbon Street? The park’s waterfront cabins and piers present a relaxing alternative.
Lake Claiborne State Park
In the early morning, quietly slip out the door of a two-bedroom cabin nestled among the pines and cast a line out over the famously productive waters of Lake Claiborne, home to some of the finest freshwater fishing in Louisiana. The 6,400-acre waterway, located halfway between Shreveport and Monroe, is generously stocked with largemouth and striped bass, bluegill, channel catfish, sac-à-lait, pickerel and bream. Fishermen can cast from the pier or rent flat-bottom boats or canoes and set out for solitude.
Families and friends can enjoy the sandy beach located near the lake’s inlet, or try their hands at one of the park’s two disc golf courses, ranked the top two in the state. Both courses offer different sets of tee pads geared toward different skill levels to accommodate skilled players as well as first-timers.
Palmetto Island State Park
Kayak through narrow channels and hidden lagoons under the shade of shaggy, dwarf palmettos and towering, untamed cypress trees. This is southern Louisiana at its most wonderfully wild. Palmetto Island, located about six miles south of Abbeville, is one of the Louisiana State Park system's newest additions, opening to the public for the first time in 2010. Boats can be rented by the hour or day to explore the Vermilion River, the tidal river that runs through the 1,299 acre preserve.
Near the Visitors’ Center, kids can splash about in the water playground, and hikers can get a close-up look at the island’s jungle-like ecology along the 0.7-mile-long Cypress Trail. Keep an eye out for the reddish-purple Abbeville Swamp Iris.
This story originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
The House of Eternal Return, Santa Fe's unlikely new cultural destination, is a two-story Victorian built by the art collective Meow Wolf inside a converted old bowling alley owned by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin. The décor recalls the 1970s, with faux-wood paneling and afghan-covered beds and a hamster cage in a child’s bedroom. You follow various passageways—through the fireplace, the refrigerator, a closet—and find yourself in fantastical worlds that cling to the periphery of the house like moss. There’s a forest of neon trees. A Star Trek–ian spaceship. A mobile home plunked down in the middle of a desert.
The 22,000-square-foot installation is a haunted house without the monsters, an amusement park without the rides, an acid trip without the drugs. It is embedded with clues about the mysterious fate of a family who lived there. You can choose to simply steep yourself in the abstract visual stimuli, or you can attempt to piece the narrative together. In an upstairs office, I found the Perry Mason crowd: visitors of various ages pulling books from shelves, riffling through spiral notebooks, unpinning papers from a bulletin board, and clicking through files on a computer.
“It’s, like, a lot of Illuminati stuff,” Anna, a blond 16-year-old, said with teenage earnestness. She could have been discussing Dungeons & Dragons.
“It’s about the occult or time travel,” said her friend Sabrina, an 18-year-old with a pixie cut who was flipping through a legal pad like an extra in a crime show. The House of Eternal Return looks exactly like what it is: a surreal fantasia concocted by a group of 150 artists with a $2.7 million budget. Though it’s nothing like the soothing pastels and bright landscape paintings on display at Santa Fe’s many galleries and museums, visitors have flocked to it. In the six months after it opened in March, the exhibit brought in 350,000 visitors and revenue of $4 million.
Santa Fe’s boosters like to say that more art is sold in Santa Fe than in any American city other than New York or Los Angeles—a surprising claim when you consider that the town’s population barely grazes 70,000. Collectors from all over the world travel to buy at its internationally renowned summer fairs: the Traditional Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Indian Market, and the International Folk Art Market. Santa Fe also has more than 200 galleries and a dozen museums. Much of the work is characterized by an overwhelming Southwesternness. One friend, an editor at the Santa Fe–based Outside magazine, summed it up as “burros with sunsets.”
More than a million tourists come each year in search of this Southwestern aesthetic. Santa Fe, a guidebook by longtime resident Buddy Mays that I picked up in the gift shop of the New Mexico History Museum, explains that the town’s quaint image was deliberately crafted as a means of driving tourism. Beginning around 1912, the year New Mexico was granted statehood, civic leaders sought to define Santa Fe’s architectural style, set restrictions on signage, and draw attention to Hispanic and Native American arts. The idea was to give the city a historic regional identity and the patina of an exotic travel destination.
The plan worked. Too well, some would argue. For years, Santa Fe has been trapped inside its own successful branding. Besides the art, there’s the ubiquitous turquoise jewelry and the inescapable red and green chiles. There’s the low-slung, mud-brown adobe architecture, the result of a strict zoning ordinance passed in 1957 that remains in effect today. There’s the pervasive undercurrent of New Age spiritualism.
Image by iStock / csfotoimages. The New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe (original image)
Image by iStock / arak7. International Folk Art Market held annually in July in Santa Fe, New Mexico (original image)
Image by iStock / annHuizenga. Spanish Market artist with her artwork, exiting the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis at the 64th (2015) Spanish Market en route to the Santa Fe Plaza (original image)
Image by iStock / JannHuizenga. The traditional beaded costumes and regalia of artist Vanessa P. Jennings at the 2015 (94th) Annual Santa Fe Indian Market (original image)
Since the early 1980s, when an Esquire cover story called it “the right place to live” and a real estate boom brought a wave of second-homers and celebrities (Sam Shepard, Ali MacGraw, Jane Fonda, Val Kilmer), Santa Fe—or the idea of it, anyway—has been entrenched in the popular consciousness. Countless articles have praised its clean high- altitude air, tasteful old-world aesthetic, and quiet rhythms. Magazine spreads pay homage to “Santa Fe style,” a term (codified by a popular 1986 coffee-table book of the same name) that describes the town’s characteristic mix of Pueblo and Territorial Revival architecture and an interior-décor approach that favors folk crafts, Native American artifacts, and Western accents, like bleached steer skulls.
Many locals told me that they try to avoid their town’s most popular destinations, like the Plaza, the historic downtown square, and Canyon Road, the row of galleries that was once an artists’ enclave. Once in a while, they might go to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to see the paintings that are so foundational to Santa Fe’s identity. But, my editor friend told me, “We’re due for a reset. It’s just been Georgia O’Keeffe straight through.”
One could argue that Santa Fe has already gotten its reset in the form of Javier Gonzales, 50, the city’s first openly gay mayor. He was elected in 2014 after running on the slogan “Dare to grow young,” a reference to the town’s aging population (the median age is 44, seven years higher than the national average) and youth exodus (the under-45 population has sharply declined in the past decade).
On a bright, breezy day in early May, I met Gonzales at his office in city hall. Long-limbed and handsome in cowboy boots and jeans, he told me that Santa Fe “can’t be afraid to move forward” on issues that matter to people in their 20s and 30s: affordable housing, job growth in industries other than tourism and government, green energy, and nightlife. Gonzales plans to bring more film and digital media to town, not only to increase employment opportunities but also to diversify the cultural landscape, which leans disproportionately toward crafts and visual arts. He has challenged the city’s institutions to support creative work that is more inclusive, and “not just for the patrons,” as he put it.
I thought about this mandate at the opening of “Lowriders, Hoppers, and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico,” on view until March at the New Mexico History Museum. Rather than the white, middle-aged crowd you might expect to see at an exhibition in the city’s most touristy district, the attendees were young, tattooed, and diverse. One was Julia Armijo, a seventh-generation Santa Fean who had come with her daughter, Justice Lovato, the founder and president of a local car club called Enchanted Expressions. Lowriders, Armijo told me, are works of art that are “built, not bought.”
Perhaps the best example of Santa Fe’s broadening definition of art is the ascent of Meow Wolf. The collective’s bowling-alley complex, which, in addition to the House of Eternal Return, contains studios, offices, and a youth-education center, is four miles across town from the Plaza, in the Siler Road District. The area, which was once dominated by auto-repair garages, metal shops, and old manufacturing buildings, has swiftly become a creative hub. Several small theater companies have sprung up: Teatro Paraguas, which performs in a black-box space; Wise Fool New Mexico, a nonprofit circus troupe; and Adobe Rose Theatre, which opened in January in a former door factory. The Arts and Creativity Center, a city-backed development providing live-work spaces for artists, could be completed there by next summer—a major step toward making Santa Fe, a town that depends on art, more hospitable to the people who create it.
Image by iStock / RiverNorthPhotography. One of the galleries of Canyon Road, a section of town filled with galleries, cafes, and arts and crafts stores and a major tourist attraction. (original image)
Image by iStock / egumeny. Christian Ristow's 'Becoming Human” robot statue in the Meow Wolf parking lot (original image)
Image by iStock / JannHuizenga. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum (original image)
Vince Kadlubek, Meow Wolf’s 34-year-old CEO, radiates the entrepreneurial savvy of Tim Ferriss and the monomaniacal intensity of Captain Ahab. As the collective’s chief fund raiser and spokesperson, he is superhumanly busy. At 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, he had not yet slept. Seated in a back room of Meow Wolf headquarters, Kadlubek, who grew up in Santa Fe—his parents are retired public-school teachers—expressed both pride and frustration in his hometown. “The cultural identity of Santa Fe was sooooo valuable, and powerful, and controlled, that it had very little ability to change, to be agile,” he told me. A decade ago, like so many young Santa Feans, he moved away—in his case, to Portland, Oregon—but he returned after a year. “I played this out in my head,” he recalled. “If Santa Fe keeps the same old identity, it becomes less and less attractive to a new generation. The demographic that is attracted to it grows older and older, and we just start to see the vibrancy—the actual health and sustainability—of the city that I grew up in and love start to come into question.” He pounded a fist on the table. “When I got back, I was like, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ ”
In 2008, he founded Meow Wolf with 11 other artists. In a former hair salon, the group hosted shows and punk-rock concerts while developing its signature creative style: immersive, colorful, multimedia, hyper-collaborative. Initially, Meow Wolf “had zero entry point into the art world of Santa Fe,” Kadlubek told me. But eventually the establishment took notice. In 2011, the Center for Contemporary Art commissioned the group to create the Due Return, an interactive 5,000-square-foot ship with a backstory about traveling through time and space to an alien planet. The project was a hit, and brought commissions for installations in Chicago, Miami, New York, and elsewhere.
Around the same time, Santa Fe resident George R.R. Martin, though a sexagenarian himself, had grown concerned about his town’s lack of youthful vigor. So in 2013, he purchased a dormant 128-seat, single-screen theater, the Jean Cocteau. On a spooky, windy night, I attended a showing of Blue Velvet. It was instantly clear to me that the theater also serves as a youth hangout. There are board games and a wall of books signed by authors, like Neil Gaiman and Junot Díaz, who have given readings. In addition to popcorn with real butter, the concession counter sells corn dogs, turkey Reubens, and deep-fried Twinkies. “Is George ever here?” I asked a girl with a half-shaved head. Yes, on Wednesdays for game night, she told me. “He really loves this place.”The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture Laboratory of Anthropology Library is a research library dedicated to the study of Native cultures, anthropology and archaeology of the Southwestern United States, Mexico and Central America. (iStock / ivanastar)
When he opened the Jean Cocteau, Martin hired Kadlubek to oversee marketing. By then, Kadlubek had begun mapping out the permanent interactive-art experience that would become the House of Eternal Return. He found the abandoned bowling alley in 2014 and immediately e-mailed Martin. “Do you want to buy this building?” he asked. “We could do something cool with it.” As a fellow architect of fantastical worlds, Martin was intrigued. He purchased it for $800,000, spent $3 million more on renovations, and now rents it to Meow Wolf at a below-market rate.
“All these pieces came together,” Kadlubek said, leaning back in his chair. “This is the new identity. It’s still art. But it’s new art. And now we are the tourism darling of Santa Fe.”
As I drove back to the Plaza to meet the contemporary Native American artist Cannupa Hanska Luger at the gallery Blue Rain, it struck me that artists in Santa Fe are unusually aware of their city’s image. They seem to feel the need to decide whether to engage with or rebel against the local brand.
For Hanska Luger, 37, this dilemma is more personal because what many tourists want from Native American artists is art that looks Native American. “I try not to draw from my cultural background,” explained Hanska Luger, who was born on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. He has long dark hair and a blank “To Do” list tattooed on his arm. Instead of his heritage, he told me, he draws from his experiences of popular culture: anime, cartoons, science fiction. But the inspiration for his eerily beautiful work—sculptures created out of yarn, felt, wood, and clay— also seems to come directly from his unconscious.
We climbed into his red pickup and drove to the Railyard District. A former warehouse precinct, it is home to galleries, restaurants, shops, a farmers’ market, and the independent Violet Crown Cinema. On our way, we passed SITE Santa Fe, the nonprofit contemporary-art center whose arrival in the Railyard District 21 years ago was the catalyst for the neighborhood’s transformation. Last summer, SITE Santa Fe broke ground for an ambitious yearlong expansion by New York City–based SHoP Architects that will add 15,000 square feet of space and a pleated metallic façade.
We met Hanska Luger’s friend and fellow artist Frank Buffalo Hyde, 42, at his studio. Buffalo Hyde told me that his cheeky acrylic paintings “deal with the commodification of popular culture and Native culture.” In one, a buffalo is sandwiched inside a burger bun—“a statement,” he said, “on how they’ve gone from the brink of extinction to being farmed as a healthy alternative meat.” Other paintings depict a Hopi woman dressed as a cheerleader and Gwen Stefani in an Indian headdress. Like Hanska Luger, Buffalo Hyde has felt the weight of the town’s aesthetic expectations. “For a long time,” Buffalo Hyde said, “the market dictated what Native art was, and if it wasn’t salable and marketable, it was just pushed aside.”
I asked what was salable and marketable. “Sunsets, coyotes, warriors on horses,” he said. “Anything non-threatening and decorative.”
If Santa Fe has a culinary equivalent to the warrior on a horse or the burro with a sunset, it is the chile. Red, green, or Christmas-style—that means both mixed together—chiles are in or on almost everything. I’d been in Santa Fe 24 hours when I realized that every meal I’d eaten, including breakfast, had contained them. At Café Pasqual’s, the huevos rancheros arrived, soup-like, in a bowl atop black beans, covered in tomatillo and green-chile sauces. At Sazón, I’d had zuppa d’amour, a corn-poblano soup with amaretto cream, and a mezcal dusted with red-chile powder instead of salt. At Shake Foundation, I’d ordered the green-chile cheeseburger. I’d even taken an impromptu cooking class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. The topic? Green-chile sauce. “I’ve always loved it,” said my lunch companion at Pasqual’s, an amiable woman who rides horses and works in PR. “But not everybody does.” She was quiet for a moment, then added, “You can get other things.
Image by iStock / JannHuizenga. Raul Malo, lead singer of the Mavericks, pausing for a water break during a free outdoor community concert on the Santa Fe Plaza. To his right is saxophonist Max Abrams. (original image)
Image by iStock / RiverNorthPhotography. The Santa Fe Railyard (original image)
Image by iStock / ablokhin. El Molero Fajitas food stand in downtown Santa Few (original image)
Edgar Beas, the new chef of the Anasazi Restaurant at my charming downtown hotel, the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, uses Southwestern ingredients whenever possible. But when it comes to the chile, his touch is light. One dinner began with focaccia made with onion ash, which renders the bread black, and butter sprinkled with the same oddly appealing ingredient. Next was a beet salad topped with scallops, oysters with (you knew it was coming) red-chile sauce, and tiny gnocchi accompanied by kumquats and crème fraîche. The main course was buttery seared halibut with potato polenta and squid ink, plus another dish of tamarind duck breast with local morels and green strawberries on a bed of barley. For dessert: a hazelnut gâteau accented with whiskey cream, prickly pear, a bay leaf, and ginger “snow.” The food was itself a form of contemporary Southwestern art.
Paper Dosa, one of Santa Fe’s most popular new restaurants, doesn’t perform any twist on Southwestern cuisine. Instead, it does South Indian food with an emphasis on fresh, seasonal, often surprising ingredients, like persimmons and sunchokes. Its specialty is the eponymous thin rice and- lentil crêpe that’s nearly as big as a boat sail. Married co-owners Nellie Tischler, a native Santa Fean, and Paulraj Karuppasamy, who was born and raised in India, met while working at Dosa, a restaurant in San Francisco, where they lived for a decade. Like Meow Wolf, Paper Dosa earned a following before finding a permanent home. The couple began with a series of well-attended pop-ups, then moved into an airy space south of the Railyard District in early 2015. Tischler showed me an iPhone photo of a line of customers snaking around the front of the restaurant. “That was yesterday,” she said.
When you taste the food, you understand why people wait. Many dishes are Karuppasamy’s family recipes, passed down by his grandmother. Tischler, a former drummer for Wise Fool who has bangs and a nose ring, sat with me as I enjoyed a plate of bright-red beet croquettes, a rich, nutty potato masala, and a complex asparagus soup with coconut milk and Thai chiles. “This food is what you would find in someone’s home in India,” she explained. We watched Karup pasamy, dressed in chef’s whites, cooking in Paper Dosa’s big open kitchen. “There are a lot of people in this town with a fresh energy, who left and came back.” Tischler said. “We got schooled in bigger cities and we’re doing what we learned, but in more interesting and inspiring ways.”
After dinner one evening, I drove back across town to the Meow Wolf compound for one of their semi-regular parties. I was thrilled to have something to do. Santa Fe shuts down early, and I do not. When I’d ask residents about nightlife, they would seem slightly confused. You mean like a club? And then they’d recommend Skylight, the only one in town.
That there is so little to do at night has been an ongoing concern in Santa Fe. In 2010, a coalition of artists, promoters, and venues formed the After Hours Alliance to “identify creative ways to stimulate local nightlife,” as their mission statement puts it. In addition to bringing Uber to town, Mayor Gonzales has set up his own Nighttime Economy Task Force. These groups might seem silly, but the issue they’re attempting to confront is real: How do you keep young people from leaving town if nothing’s open late?
In the parking lot, I passed a “Kebab Caravan” food truck and a group of twentysomethings in thrift-store clothing. Inside, I wandered through the House of Eternal Return’s maze of psychedelic rooms until I reached an inner sanctum, where a DJ was performing on a dais. Electronic music pounded. Partygoers danced and twirled through a fog of dry ice. Someone whizzed past on roller skates. The room reeked of marijuana. It felt like anything was possible here, with Santa Fe’s graying elders asleep at home, and the next generation daring to be young.
The Details: What to Do in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Bishop’s Lodge A 1920s ranch turned resort and spa set on 317 acres in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The iconic establishment is currently undergoing a renovation and expansion and will reopen in spring 2018.
Drury Plaza Located in downtown Santa Fe, this spacious 182-room hotel opened in 2014 and has a pedestrian promenade that allows visitors to walk from Cathedral Park to the galleries on Canyon Road. Doubles from $170.
Four Seasons Rancho Encantado A secluded resort with 65 casita-style guest rooms, each with its own fireplace and terrace. The restaurant, Terra, serves excellent contemporary American cuisine. Doubles from $330.
Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi Just steps from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza, this 58-room hotel incorporates local handcrafted textiles and paintings into its design. Take in the traditional wood-beamed ceilings and three wood-burning fireplaces while sipping a margarita made with tequila from the property’s extensive collection. Doubles from $315.
Sunrise Springs Spa Resort Guests visiting this wellness resort can connect with nature via the property’s natural springs and 70 acres of gardens, walking trails, and undeveloped desert. Doubles from $280.
Restaurants & Cafés
Café Pasqual’s Locals and tourists line up out the door for the legendary Mexican and New Mexican cuisine. Entrées $26–$39.
Kakawa Chocolate House This charming chocolate shop, tucked in a small adobe house on the edge of downtown, serves all kinds of confections, but is best known for its chocolate elixirs.
Paper Dosa After earning a following with a series of pop-ups, chef Paulraj Karuppasamy and his wife, Nellie Tischler, opened this brick-and-mortar spot, where they serve South Indian cuisine and their eponymous specialty, a thin crêpe made from a fermented rice-and-lentil batter. Entrées $10–$18.
Sazón Chef Fernando Olea focuses his small menu on daily specials made with locally sourced produce and meat accompanied by a medley of moles. Entrées $27–$45.
Shake Foundation This tiny, walk-up burger joint is dedicated to the preservation of the green-chile cheeseburger, and that’s precisely what people come for. But the fried-oyster and spicy fried-chicken sandwiches are also worth a try. Burgers $4–$8.
Blue Rain This 23-year-old gallery shows fine contem-porary Native American and regional art in a variety of media: painting, ceramics, bronze, glass, wood, and jewelry.
Georgia O’Keeffe Museum With more than 3,000 pieces dating from 1901 to 1984, it’s the largest permanent collection of O’Keeffe’s work in the world. It was the first museum in the United States dedicated to a female artist.
The House of Eternal Return This colorful, 22,000-square-foot, immersive multimedia art installation, created by the collective Meow Wolf, is the stuff of childhood imaginations. It is housed in an erstwhile bowling alley owned by Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin.
Jean Cocteau Cinema Before acquiring the bowling alley, Martin bought and restored this 128-seat, single-screen theater. It shows old, independent, and cult-classic movies, and hosts a weekly game night, which Martin is rumored to attend.
New Mexico History Museum This enormous exhibition space, next to the 400-year-old Palace of the Governors, has collections covering various aspects of New Mexican history.
SITE Santa Fe Founded in 1995, this contemporary art space has become known for its international biennial exhibition. The current iteration, “Much Wider Than a Line,” on display until January 2017, is the second installment in SITE’s series that focuses on art from the Americas.
Violet Crown Cinema The year-old, 11-screen theater in the Railyard District shows new releases, classics, independent, foreign, and art-house films. It also has a full bar and a café that serves farm-to-table food that can be enjoyed while watching your favorite flick.
Other articles from Travel + Leisure:
On April 27, 1945, days before Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker, an enterprising writer convinced a young Army sergeant to commandeer a jeep and drive into the heart of the embattled city, without an adequate map or any real plan for what might come next.
Virginia Irwin, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, would be one of the first Americans to witness Russian fighters clashing with the remnants of Nazi forces. Irwin’s nerve-wracking journey netted her the scoop of her bold wartime career, but she has since been largely overlooked among pioneering female combat correspondents. No American correspondent had been inside the city in years – foreign reporters had been kicked out in 1941. Irwin provided an unparalleled firsthand account to readers across the nation.
As they wound their way through lines of haggard Russian troops headed for Berlin, a surreal scene awaited Irwin and her traveling companions, journalist Andrew Tully of the Boston Traveler and the driver, Sergeant Johnny Wilson. They saw exhausted soldiers singing and celebrating as they advanced into the final battle. Despite the chaos – bodies littered the sidewalks amid ongoing fighting – the mood encompassed both merciless vengeance and jubilant relief. “The Russians were happy – with an almost indescribably wild joy,” she recalled. “They were in Berlin. In this German capital lies their true revenge for Leningrad and Stalingrad, for Sevastopol and Moscow.”
The arrival of Russian forces in Berlin signaled the proverbial nail in the coffin for Hitler’s regime as Allied forces progressed irreversibly toward the German capital. The specter of the Russians’ arrival inspired fear in residents who had hunkered down to ride out the final, futile months. When Irwin arrived, the city was still under a barrage of artillery and the site of street-by-street combat. She and her companions had no protection whatsoever for their opportunistic push into Berlin, risking safety in their quest for the first reporting out of the Hitler’s Berlin.
That night, navigating into the city without proper maps and no fixed destination, they stumbled across a Russian command post where they were welcomed by a surprised but raucously hospitable group of Russian officers. Irwin’s descriptions were of a dreamlike blend of death and dancing – they were fêted by their hosts as fighting raged blocks away, shaking the ground and filling the air with the smell of “cordite and the dead.” She danced until she was “puffing from the exertion.” Toasts were raised to Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman.
She felt a degree of disdain for the German civilians she encountered, but was so taken by her Soviet hosts – who “fight like mad and play with a sort of barbaric abandon” – that in the emotion and gravity of the moment she declared a desire to “join the Russian Army and try to help take Berlin.”Post-Dispatch reporter Virginia Irwin and Army Sgt. Johnny Wilson in Berlin April 27-28, 1945, while the Russians were advancing upon the last German defenders in the bomb-wrecked city. She got there four days before Adolf Hitler killed himself. (St Louis Post-Dispatch / Polaris)
Irwin typed this account by candlelight as it happened, but it wasn’t until more than a week later, after V-E Day was declared, that readers across the country would be captivated by this glimpse into the last chapter in the long and bloody fight for Europe. There had been a steady stream of stories about hometown soldiers fighting in Europe, but Irwin’s series showed readers war from another perspective. For the Russians she encountered, this was not a distant war – it was one in which they had lost loved ones at home. The sense of vengeance deeply felt, and the corresponding fear among Germans remaining in Berlin, was palpable. “You get a real sense of a city on the brink with everything falling apart from the way she writes about it - you get a sense of what she felt,” says Jenny Cousins, who spearheaded an archival project at the American Air Museum in Britain that included Irwin. “It’s a very visceral account, and obviously that’s the first. People haven’t been in Berlin in years other than POWs. There’s no one else who’s got this experience. She was there before Hitler’s death.”
The Associated Press wire service realized the magnitude of her scoop, and soon picked up her story, with newspapers from around the country running the series in full. An editor from The Seattle Times sent the Post-Dispatch a congratulatory note, calling her “journalistic glory undimmed by the shabby treatment accorded by the Army censors.” Even in its belated form, it impressed everyday readers and journalism professionals alike.
Irwin was born in 1908 in Quincy, Illinois, where her father worked as a salesman. The oldest of three children, she was close to her family but as a young adult would experience two tragedies in close succession. Her father, Clare Irwin, succumbed to lung issues resulting from fighting in World War I and her teenage younger brother Grant drowned in the Mississippi River in 1928. Irwin was a standout student, earning acceptance into nearby Lindenwood College before entering the workforce. A brief marriage ended in divorce. When she embarked on her overseas reporting career in her mid-30s, she was older than many women who worked in Europe.
Opportunities for women in journalism were largely limited to select formulae of lifestyle-oriented stories. After joining the Post-Dispatch as a file clerk in 1932 at the age of 24, Irwin was promoted to food editor, for no known reason other than her gender (she never liked to cook and found the promotion insulting). Days after Pearl Harbor thrust America into a global war, a feature on holiday shopping dubbed “Battle of the Bundles” ran under her byline.
But she was itching to get to the action– even though the Post-Dispatch had no interest in sending her. Overall, fewer than 130 American women held credentials, but most were removed from combat zones and none filed for the Post-Dispatch. “It was really frowned upon that they go to the front lines,” says Marilyn Greenwald, professor of journalism at Ohio University. “There were a lot of hurdles just getting there,” to say nothing of the challenges thereafter. Irwin’s wanderlust did not convince her employer – so she found another avenue to get to Europe.
“She had to join the Red Cross to get there,” says her niece Mosey Hoffmeister. “They wouldn’t send a woman over, [but] she was determined.” Irwin had taken a formal leave of absence from the Post-Dispatch for her new job, but soon began filing with her editors anyway. She called watching the wounded arriving from the beaches of Normandy “my first taste of the horrors of war.”
Irwin finally became a credentialed correspondent for the Post-Dispatch and soon linked up with units from the Third Army. She sent back vivid, first -person narratives of her experiences, emphasized the human element – from the mundane challenges of cold feet in winter and the no-frills food options to the danger constantly threatening to take the lives of relatable Joes from the St. Louis area.Virginia Irwin with American airmen in England. Soldiers called her "mom," and one of the conversation-starters she employed was to encourage the boys to "go home for five minutes" and talk about what their families and friends were doing back in the states. (St Louis Post-Dispatch / Polaris)
Irwin shared in that danger – during one tour of an observation post, she had to take cover behind a chimney while “under Jerry fire.” (Germans were often referred to derogatorily as “Jerrys” and “krauts” in newspaper coverage.) Despite the terror she felt at the time, Irwin was quick to point out that she could now claim, “with the best of the men correspondents, that I’ve been to the front lines.” The repeated exposure to such dangers seemed only to embolden her in the months before Berlin.
But her intrepid journey into the German capital did not endear her to her U.S. Army minders. At the time, the War Department oversaw correspondents in the theater. Like other correspondents, Irwin was required to wear a uniform. There was also a more practical matter – lacking the technology to send their writing back across the Atlantic, they relied on Army resources to send back their dispatches. For days, Irwin’s Army censors refused to transmit her writing back to the States. They also pulled her credentials, rendering her unable to continue reporting. After outspoken but fruitless protests she departed for home, furious and exasperated. In a sidebar story that ran May 10, next to her third installment, Irwin called the whole episode “the greatest exhibition of bungling I ever saw in my life.”
Irwin returned home an instant local celebrity, receiving a slew of honors and recounting her experience in Berlin in luncheons and interviews. Letters from readers expressed pride in her accomplishment (and in the case of one admiring local man, more than once). Her editor, Joseph Pulitzer II, was so happy with her work that he gave her a year’s salary – the bonus announcement tacked up on the newsroom’s bulletin board for all to see.
Despite the accolades, the Post-Dispatch newsroom was still staffed entirely by men. Members of the small club of female combat correspondents could not necessarily expect to parlay these proud moments into sustained gains in journalism. “It was a long time before women really were respected the way men were, and in their numbers the way men were covering news,” says Greenwald. Women like Irwin had advanced the ball, but the playing field would be slow to change.
Within a year Irwin made a decision that was perhaps pragmatic considering the prevailing post-war landscape: she moved to New York to write feature stories from the Post-Dispatch’s bureau, a position of relative autonomy which she enjoyed for the next 14 years. There she had the freedom to write features on the arts, politics, and personal profiles. “I think when she came back, if she had stayed in St. Louis, she would probably have not stayed in [journalism], because she would have felt too stifled,”says Hoffmeister. “She was lucky that she got the experience.”
When she moved back to St. Louis from New York in 1960, Irwin would be assigned to write “Martha Carr,” an advice column spanning topics from neighborhood spats to marital problems, which she loathed. She soon retired, but her sense of independence was undimmed in her later years. She settled on a rural Missouri farm near family, a quieter life punctuated by adventurous trips down the Amazon River and in far-flung locales. She didn’t write or publish about her travels after retirement. She considered writing a memoir, From D-Day to Bidet, but other than some notes left in her sister’s possession did not do so.
The excitement and camaraderie she experienced in Europe would leave a lasting mark. Writing from France in December of 1944, Irwin had predicted that in retirement her prevailing “memories will be of war…huddled over an old pot-bellied stove and fanning the breeze with the lads who are doing the fighting.”
The concept is alluringly simple: Leave your home, your television, your laptop, your job, put on a backpack and walk from Mexico to Canada.
That, in a sentence, describes the experience of walking the Pacific Crest Trail. Usually called the PCT, this epic foot trail meanders 2,650 miles through three states, from Campo, California, to E.C. Manning Provincial Park, in British Columbia. Many thousands of people walk some portion of the trail each year, whether in California, Oregon or Washington, while several hundred attempt to go the full distance. Hikers intending to do so must be fit, brave, ambitious and—at least for a while—unemployed. They must also undertake some serious planning as they begin what will likely be the greatest outdoors adventure of their lives. The PCT is one of America’s three great long-distance north-south hiking trails, along with the Continental Divide and the Appalachian trails. The PCT passes among the world’s largest trees, some of the most fantastic rock formations and one of the driest deserts. It crosses one of North America’s largest rivers, and traverses a wide range of climates and landscapes, from low-lying to deserts to craggy high country to well-watered, mossy forests.
Most people who hike the PCT walk south to north, and for them, the adventure is about to start. Most will depart before May. This allows them to begin when the desert temperatures are still mild and progress northward rather in sync with the warming weather. The April-May start time also works out especially nicely by putting northbounders at the south end of the Sierra Nevada just as the high country snowpack really begins to melt, and if they stay on schedule they should pass through the Pacific Northwest before the first autumn snows.
Jack Haskel, a staff member with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, told Off the Road that several thru-hikers are already a few hundred miles into their walk.
“It’s been a low-snow year, which makes it a decent year to get an early start,” he said.
Hikers must handle some paperwork before they begin—but, happily, bureaucratic obstacles are quite minimal. The PCT Association will grant a PCT Long Distance Permit to anyone planning to walk at least 500 miles of the trail. This document is free, takes two to three weeks to process and paves the way for a hiker to walk every inch of the PCT.
Logistically speaking, now comes the fun stuff—bears, food supplies, dangerous terrain and running out of water. Haskel says there are, in particular, two waterless distances of about 30 miles in the Southern California desert where hikers must tote gallons at a time.
Once hikers reach the Sierra Nevada, a simple water filtering pump can be used at any of hundreds of lakes and streams along the way—but rations now become the biggest priority. North of Kennedy Meadows, hikers cross not a single road for about 200 miles and, unless they trek off-trail to a town, may need to carry with them some 60,000 calories of food a person. Such deliciously laden hikers are gold mines of goodies for black bears, which don’t pose much of a physical threat to people but may easily rob hikers of their supplies if they leave them unguarded—even for just a few moments, whether day or night. Bears, Haskel warns, can be especially problematic near the Rae Lakes in Kings Canyon National Park and in Yosemite National Park’s Lyell Canyon. In places, a plastic bear canister is required—and hikers would be wise to carry one of these bear-proof food containers throughout their journey.
About 1,000 people apply for thru-permits each year. Between 500 and 800 individuals attempt the journey. Fewer than half of them finish each year. The average thru-hiker will take about five months to walk the entire trail, averaging 20-plus miles a day after factoring in rest days. Haskel says many hikers begin at a pace of 16 or 17 miles per day but, by the time they reach Oregon, “are basically doing a marathon every day.” He says the PCT is “an amazing workout” and that thru-hikers can expect to arrive at the finish line “skinny” and, perhaps, fitter than they’ve ever been. Thru-hikers, by virtue of their lifestyle, become voracious eaters, burning 5,000 calories or more per day and, when they’re able, regaining this energy through glorious, face-stuffing feasts. Fortunately, hikers will encounter towns with quality stores and restaurants every few days for most of the PCT’s length. The PCT Association’s website offers guidelines and strategy suggestions for resupplying along the trail.
One need not be starving—just bored of couscous and curry—to stop and eat one of the most famous meals along the entire PCT, the Pancake Challenge at Seiad Valley Store and Cafe, on the Klamath River in Northern California. The Challenge consists of putting down five one-pound pancakes—a feat that perhaps only a thru-hiker (or a black bear) could ever manage. Walking Man Brewing Company, in Stevenson, Washington, is a popular watering hole for PCT hikers. Haskel also recommends Paradise Valley Cafe, near the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California, popular among hikers for its burgers.
A small fraction of PCT hikers—perhaps just several dozen people—hike the trail north to south, starting at the Canadian border and walking to Mexico. Such southbounders often opt for this route plan due to their calendar schedule; if they cannot break away from school or work until June, they simply can’t begin the journey in the desert, where June temperatures can be crushing. They will also have a poor chance of reaching the Canadian border before winter if they depart from Campo in late June. But hiking in this direction introduces some unique challenges. Most southbounders start after June 15—but even then, much of the trail will still be covered with snow. Southbound hikers can expect not to see the trail itself for snowy sections as long as one mile or more. Thus, getting lost is likely, and many southbounders carry GPS devices for this reason. By July and August, the high country snows will have mostly melted—but October will be just around the corner, and the highest passes of the entire journey lie very much toward the end of the trail, in the Sierra Nevada. Forester Pass—at 13,153 feet—is the giant of them all. It stands 780 miles from the finish line, and southbounders generally aim to cross this beautiful but potentially perilous obstacle before October.
From here, much of the remaining country is desert, which by autumn is mild, dry and beautiful. Many southbounders slow to an easy pace here, Haskel says, as the race against winter is over. Fifteen to 20 miles a day—child’s play for hikers who have come all the way from Canada—brings them in a month or two to the Mexican border at Campo, where a taco—plus a dozen more and a few beers—may never taste so good.
The trail runs 2,650 miles.
The trail leads through 26 national forests, seven national parks, five state parks and three national monuments.
The trail’s midpoint is at Chester, California, near Mount Lassen.
The highest point along the way is Forester Pass in the Sierra Nevada, at 13,153 feet.
Fewer than 200 hikers finish the PCT each year.
About 5 percent of thru hikers walk north to south, considered the more challenging direction.
The first person to thru-hike the entire trail was Richard Watson, in 1972.
The fastest time was set in 2011 by Scott Williamson, who hiked north to south in 64 days 11 hours, averaging 41 miles per day.
A few speed hikers have finished so-called “yo yo” hikes, reaching the end, then turning around and walking the entire PCT again in the opposite direction.
Cyclists may attempt a bike-friendly, 2,500-mile parallel route called the Pacific Crest Bicycle Trail.
This summer, all eyes will be on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in anticipation of the 2016 Summer Olympics. “Rio” may recall images Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city, soccer games on beaches and colorful Carnival floats. While the city doesn’t have a spotless reputation—pollution and crime still haunt it—Rio offers plenty of delights for the intrepid traveler. Below are eleven fun facts about the place nicknamed Cidade Maravilhosa, or Marvelous City.
1. Rio is named for a river that doesn’t exist
According to tradition, the spot now called Rio de Janeiro was first visited in January 1502 by Portuguese explorers, who believed the bay they encountered (now called Guanabara Bay) was the mouth of a river. They named the area named Rio de Janeiro, “River of January.” This etymology is widely accepted, although some scholars argue that in 16th-century Portuguese, a rio might have been a looser term for any deep indentation along a coast—meaning those explorers weren’t quite as confused as they might seem.
2. It was once part of a colony called Antarctic France
The Portuguese were the first European explorers on the scene, but the French were the first settlers. In 1555, a French aristocrat named Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon, sponsored by Henry IV, founded a fort on an island in Guanabara Bay (the island still bears his name). It was the beginning of a colony named France Antarctique, meant to provide both a strategic base for France in the Americas and a refuge for persecuted French Protestants.
The colony was short-lived, however: After a fight with a second group of settlers over whether the wine consecrated in the Eucharist should contain water, Villegagnon was expelled to the mainland and eventually went back to France. The colony briefly continued without him, but sectarian strife spelled trouble from within, while the Portuguese became a threat from without. In 1567, the Portuguese destroyed the colony, cementing their hold on the country.
3. The French once held it for ransom
Prospectors discovered gold in Brazil in the 1690s, and diamonds a few decades later. As the closest port to the mines, Rio boomed—and the French noticed. Already embroiled in a war with the Portuguese, they sent privateers to attack in 1710. That group failed, but others came back better-armed the following year. This time they were successful, bombarding Rio until the Portuguese governor fled, taking most of the population with him. The governor, Francisco de Castro Morais, eventually negotiated Rio back for 612,000 gold cruzados and 100 chests of sugar, but the Portuguese sentenced him to exile in Portuguese India for being such a coward.
4. It served as the capital of the Portuguese Empire for almost seven years
Rio was capital of Brazil from 1763 until 1960, when that role was transferred to Brasilia. But from 1808 to 1822, Rio also served as the center for the exiled royal court of Portugal, then fleeing Napoleon’s invasion. Prince Regent Dom João VI arrived with the rest of the royal family in 1808—the first time a European monarch set foot in the Americas—and began transforming the city, establishing a medical school, national museum, national library and botanical gardens. In December 1815, Dom João made Rio the official capital of the Portuguese empire, a role it served until Brazil declared independence from Portugal in September 1822.
The city's history as the capital of Brazil is preserved in the nation’s flag, which is decorated with an image of the night sky as it appeared over Rio on November 15, 1889, the day Brazil declared itself a federal republic.
5. Its residents might be named for a house, or maybe a fish
Rio’s locals are called carioca (a name also sometimes applied as an adjective to the city itself). The term's etymology is disputed: some say it comes from kari ola, or "white man's house" in the indigenous Tupi language, perhaps a reference to a stone house built by an early Portuguese trader that looked different from native dwellings. But kari may also come from a fish known as the acari, whose reflective scales, some say, might suggest European armor."Christ the Redeemer" overlooking Rio de Janeiro (© Danny Lehman/Corbis)
6. Its giant statue of Jesus is struck by lightning several times a year
Brazil's location near the equator makes it active area for lightning, which means Rio’s beloved 98-foot statue of Jesus perched atop Corcovado mountain might not be the best idea, safety-wise. The Brazilian Institute of Space Research says the statue, which was completed in 1931, gets two to four direct hits from lightning every year. A system of lightning rods within the statue is meant to ground the electricity, but it isn’t always effective. Last January, lightning broke off a piece of the statue's right thumb and damaged the head. The city seems willing to pay for multiple restorations, even though the pale gray-green soapstone that covers the statue is becoming hard to find.
7. For five days a year, the city is run by a mythical jester named King Momo
Rio explodes with energy and color during the five days before Ash Wednesday, when millions take to the streets for the world’s biggest Carnival. The party starts on the Friday, when the mayor hands over the keys to the city to a man crowned as King Momo, a mythical jester who acts as the head of the festivities. Rio's Carnival features hundreds of booze-soaked bandas (riotous street parties, often with specific themes) and elaborate balls. The party reaches its height at the Sambódromo, when the best samba schools in the country compete for top prize. (Think a samba-only, Brazilian version of Eurovision, with even more feathers.) The results are announced on Ash Wednesday, when Carnival is officially over, and King Momo goes home.The Sambadrome at Carnival, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2013 (© Antonino Bartuccio/Grand Tour/Grand Tour/Corbis)
8. It hosted the world's biggest soccer game
On July 16, 1950, 173,850 paid spectators packed into the Maracanã stadium, then the world's biggest, for the final game of the 1950 World Cup. An estimated ten percent of Rio’s population watched as Uruguay snatched victory from the Brazilians, an event the local media dubbed the Maracanazo (a term still used when a visiting team triumphs). The game holds the world record for the highest attendance at any soccer match, ever. The stadium has since become a national symbol, what The New York Times calls a “cathedral of soccer,” and is set to host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics. The Maracanã also hosts events beyond soccer: Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones and Madonna have all played concerts there.
9. The city put QR codes in its mosaic sidewalks
Portuguese pavement is a type of decorative stone mosaic, usually black-and-white, found on sidewalks and other pedestrian areas throughout Portugal and former colonies. One of the most famous examples is the bold, abstract waves that run the length of the Copacabana beach sidewalk, designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. In 2013, the city began installing dozens of QR codes into the mosaics at Copacabana and elsewhere to provide tourist information for visitors. Perhaps not surprisingly, they got the idea from Portugal.Portuguese Pavement, Rio de Janeiro (© Lisa Wiltse/Corbis)
10. Street art is legal there
In 2014, Rio de Janeiro legalized street art on many types of city property, turning the already colorful city into an outdoor art gallery. Street artists are allowed to decorate columns, walls and construction siding, so long as they’re not historically designated. The city has even created a quasi-government agency, Eixo Rio, to regulate the city’s urban artists, and celebrates an official Graffiti Day on March 27—the date Brazilian graffiti pioneer Vallauri Alex died in 1987.Carmen Miranda at a Photographers Ball, early 20th century (© Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)
11. It has a Carmen Miranda Museum
Sometimes known to American audiences as "The Lady in the Tutti-Frutti Hat," Carmen Miranda conquered the silver screen as a singer, dancer and actress in both Brazil and America in the mid-20th century. The Carmen Miranda museum, near Rio’s Flamengo Beach, pays tribute with hundreds of items on display, including her trademark platform heels and towering turbans of plastic or sequined fruit. (Contrary to popular opinion, Miranda never danced with actual fruit, which would probably have fallen off her head.)
Rising early at around 5 a.m., I get moving and go outside to walk off the sleep. Before me lies a different and beautiful world. It is crisp, the air tingles on the skin and the sun, which is not rising because it did not set, is low on the horizon, emanating a rose-tinted light that falls gently on a white landscape. Across McMurdo Sound the mountains rise mute and serene. Mount Erebus looms behind me with its white cloak of snow and ice disguising the seething magmatic heat that lies within. In this seemingly quiet and motionless setting, it is hard to believe that the earth and its covering of ice are on the move.
Slowly and almost imperceptibly, the sea ice moves in different directions depending on how close to shore it lies and which current is dominant. At this time of year, sea ice can be thin and often breaks into thousands of pieces that move along together like cattle on a drive. The great ice sheets lying on the continent are thicker and move at their own pace on a course dictated by topography and gravity. While this movement is imperceptible to us, it can be detected in the form of impressive pressure ridges that snake across the ice of the Sound where the plates have come together in a contest of wills. The forces between the ice sheets are enormous and result in buckling at the edges that form pressure ridges with ice piled tens of feet high. These ridges create openings in the ice that Stellars seals use to surface in order to sun themselves and rest from a day’s fishing. Dozens of these creatures can be seen in groups on the ice as I survey the scene. Humans are newcomers to this part of the world, and of the species who live here we are the least adapted and the least attuned to the ways of it.
After a hearty breakfast, I check e-mail to make sure yesterday’s journal, finished late last night, made it to the Castle. The answer—mostly. Seems I tried to send too many pictures at once and they did not get through. Panic! I have 15 minutes to rectify this before we leave to board the plane. I go to work on a computer that seems agonizingly slow. “Come on, come on, read the dadgum file!” (I actually said something a little more earthy.) Finally, the system absorbs the last picture and I rush to put on the final layer of the cold gear for the trip to the South Pole.
We are driven back to the Pegasus Airport and board a Hercules C130 that is even more spartan than the C17 we flew in on. The Hercules, the workhorse for the Air Force around the world, is a marvelous airplane that can land and take off on short runways in difficult conditions. Ours is outfitted with skis so it can slalom along on the ice to take off. I visit with the pilots in the cockpit after we are off the ground and they are reassuring by virtue of their confidence and professionalism. These are the men and women of the New York National Guard who have been at this job for many years. They understand how to navigate in a part of the world where latitude and longitude are almost meaningless because they all converge at the Pole. So they invent their own grid to help guide them, assisted by GPS technology.
Flying at 25,000 feet we can see the massive ice sheets and glaciers below us as well as the upper reaches of mountains that are high enough to rise out of the thousands of feet of ice that are found here. We are following largely a north-by-northwest route from McMurdo to the Pole, roughly paralleling the route that Robert Scott used on his ill-fated run to the Pole. Scott, the hardnosed British soldier, had his team pull their own sleds without the help of dogs, foot by agonizing foot over crevasses and pressure ridges on the glaciers. I am amazed as I look down on the Beardmore Glacier—the largest in the world—and its infinite crevasse field. When one considers that Scott was also determined to take along scientific collections, including rocks, it is impressive that he got as far as he did. Unfortunately for Scott, however, the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen reached the Pole before him using skills he had learned from native people in the Arctic.
One is struck by the fact that the world’s largest glaciers exist in a land where there is so little precipitation. The glaciers have been created over eons, growing little by little each year because that “little by little” never melts. Finally, they grow so massive that gravity eases the weight of the ice downhill through valleys that the glaciers carve wider by bulldozing rock and scraping and gouging it from the mountains. The detritus of the rock grinding is seen at the edges of the glaciers as dark bands.
Image by Smithsonian Institution. An aerial shot of a glacier en route to the South Pole. (original image)
Image by Smithsonian Institution. Kristina Johnson and Wayne Clough hoist the Smithsonian flag atop Observation Point—a site memorializing explorers who have died at the South Pole. (original image)
Image by Smithsonian Institution. G. Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian, at the geographic location of the South Pole. (original image)
Our Hercules lands us at the South Pole Station around 11:30 a.m. At the Pole the horizon is flat and the sun simply orbits in a circle around a line drawn straight up from the Pole. Fortunately for us, the weather is good. Although it is 25 below, it is not unpleasant because of the lack of wind. We walk to the headquarters facility and in doing so have to walk up three flights of stairs. Remember the warning we were given about the altitude? Although I took the altitude sickness pills we were issued in Christchurch, climbing the stairs I can feel the muscles pull deeply and the air seems too thin.
The facilities at the station are relatively new and built to serve the science and the people who conduct it. About 250 people are here in the summer, which ends three weeks from now in Antarctica. Only a skeleton crew will remain through the long, dark winter to maintain the scientific equipment and facilities infrastructure. In the main conference room of the large headquarters building we are given an overview of the science at the station and its support systems. A few questions elicit some interesting answers. For example, the buildings at the Pole rest on a huge ice sheet that is moving at an estimated speed of 30 feet per year. Each year the buildings travel along for the ride and shift to new locations. The water we are drinking tastes wonderful and we learn that it is melted water from ice far below the ground that was formed perhaps 2,500 years ago.
Our plan is to take a tour of most of the many impressive facilities at the Pole. But as we step outside it is all too apparent the weather has turned with a hard wind blowing and ice crystals falling from low clouds. Finally it seems cold enough to make you feel like you are really at the South Pole. I am told that with the wind chill, it feels like 35 degrees below zero—now that’s more like it! It also is exciting to see what is termed a “sun dog”—a beam of light that partially or fully rings the faint sun obscured by the clouds. Our sun dog is a complete halo around the sun and adds an element of beauty to an otherwise gray sky. The turning weather speeds up our tour since it seems the winds and blowing ice dictate that the last plane, which was to have flown up from McMurdo, is unlikely to make it and we will return on one that has recently arrived.
Our first stop is a telescope that records evidence of the Big Bang and may provide clues as to the cause of it. The team working on this new device is from the University of Chicago under the direction of Dr. John Carlson, who explains why the telescope is located at the Pole—conditions are the driest on Earth and the telescope can look straight up at the sky with no curvature of the Earth involved. Smithsonian scientists are involved with a number of other astronomical devices in the area and I ran into one of our colleagues from the Harvard/Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Harvard Professor John Kovac. We turn to a project called “Ice Cube,” whose principal investigator is Dr. Francis Halzen of the University of Wisconsin. Holes are being drilled a mile and a half into the ice sheet to house instruments that will detect the signature of neutrinos that stray from space into our atmosphere and onto the Earth’s surface, particularly in the Antarctic where they strike ice and give off a ghostly glow. These tiny messengers from millions of miles away carry information about the formation of the universe. There are to be 80 vertical strings of some 4,800 detection modules, with most of these already complete. We watch as the last instruments of the season are lowered into the deep hole in the ice and are given the opportunity to autograph a detector’s protective shield. Dr. Halzen informs us these detectors may be in the ice for hundreds of years!
It is impressive not only to see the science of the South Pole but also to meet the people who work here and are rightfully proud of their contributions. Nothing is easy at the Pole, and everything has to be flown in. Equipment and buildings must be assembled and operated in incredibly cold conditions. It is about as difficult as it gets.
Our last stop of the day is at the South Pole itself, which is located near the headquarters building. Flags fly and there are plaques dedicated to Amundsen and Scott and their teams. We take some pictures but it has gotten even colder so no time is lost before we board the return flight to McMurdo and are on our way to base camp. Receding behind us is one of the most unique places in the world and I am glad to have lived to visit it.
Upon our return at about 6:30 p.m. we have some free time. The temperature is milder at McMurdo and the bright sun energizes me to climb to the top of Observation Point looking out over McMurdo Sound and the station. Members of Scott’s expedition team who remained at base camp would look for his return from the Pole from this point and it is capped by a wooden cross to commemorate Scott and the others who never returned. Kristina Johnson and I climb to the top for the panoramic view that is stunning at this time of day. To commemorate our climb, I have brought along a Smithsonian flag which we fly briefly at the summit. A fitting end for a wonderful day.
Anacostia Community Museum to Close for Renovations, but Will Tour Its Current Show With Pop Ups Across the City
Rosemary Ndubuizu sat on stage at a symposium last fall so crowded with scholars, activists and non-profit leaders that some at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D.C. had to sit in overflow rooms so they could view the program via video. Then, she did something peculiar.
“I want us to all close our eyes for a second, and all, go ahead and take that deep breath,” said Ndubuizu, an African-American studies professor at Georgetown University, who also works with the activist group Organizing Neighborhood Equity DC (ONE DC).
“We are imagining that we have won the right to the city. We have won the right to D.C. This city is a commons for all of us, particularly the working class, to be able to control and govern what happens to the land in D.C.,” she told the room, as people nodded their heads in unison.
“Once we’ve won this and we’ve re-instituted actual Democracy, participatory Democracy, one of the things that we would immediately vote on, and I’m certain we would pass, would be making sure we rebuild all public housing and make sure housing is not for profit, but for human need,” Ndubuizu continued.
At a time when more than half of the world’s population lives in cities, at-risk populations like returning war veterans, single mothers, low-income residents, immigrants and persons of color increasingly face losing what many Americans believe to be an inalienable right—access to land, affordable housing, and sustainable, locally governed communities.
The museum’s October symposium called “A Right to the City: The Past and Future of Urban Equity,” amplified the questions raised in its ongoing and highly popular exhibition “A Right to the City.” The museum, which is closing March 15 for renovations to its building and outdoor facilities, is partnering with the D.C. Public Library to create pop-up versions of the deep look at gentrification and its effect on various city neighborhoods at branches in Shaw, Mt. Pleasant, Southwest, Anacostia and Woodbridge. There will be complementary programming specific to each community along with additional public programs in collaboration with other Smithsonian museums as well as Martha's Table and the Textile Museum at George Washington University. “With this renovation, the Smithsonian is investing not only in the infrastructure of the Anacostia Community Museum, but also in its external accessibility and overall appeal,” says the museum's interim director Lisa Sasaki, in a report.During the renovation, the satellite versions of the museum's popular exhibition “A Right to the City” exploring gentrification in the Washington, D.C. neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Anacostia, Brookland, Chinatown, Shaw and Southwest neighborhoods, will tour the city. (A 1978 protest in Adams Morgan, photo by Nancy Shia)
At the symposium, presenters Ndubuizu, community organizer Diane Wong, from New York University, Amanda Huron from the University of the District of Columbia, and the symposium’s keynote speaker, Scott Kurashige, from the University of Washington Bothell, examined how urban populations across the nation are currently pivoting to use historic methods of resistance to mobilize in order to bolster local activism.
“We . . . assembled thought leaders, at this symposium, not only to get a better understanding of how the American city has been shaped by more than a half century of uneven development,” says senior museum curator Samir Meghelli, “but also how communities are mobilizing to work toward a more equitable future.”
Ndubuizu recalled the 1970s in Washington D.C., and how low-income black women engaged in early waves of tenant activism and organizing with rent strikes and a citywide tenant’s union, based in Barry Farm, to push back and gain political power. “They were successful because they were thinking in political terms about building a power block,” Ndubuizu says, adding that black women understood that tenants can play a powerful role as a voting bloc. But once the cash-strapped city of Washington, D.C. went into receivership in 1995, she says the government recruited many private developers to build at will. Today’s activists are fighting to maintain the limited gains they acquired over the past 40 years, she says.
Diane Wong focuses her research on anti-displacement work in Chinatown neighborhoods in New York, San Francisco and Boston. Wong says her research shows that the rate of working class people, immigrants and people of color being displaced is on a level not seen since the 1960s, and that the percentage of Asian immigrants living in Chinatown has dropped rapidly over the past decade. Since then, she notes, all of the issues people were fighting against persist. “In Chinatown, a lot of predatory landlords have intentionally bought out tenement buildings with a large percentage of Chinese tenants, and . . . taken advantage of the fact that a lot of them are undocumented, limited English-speaking or poor, to really push them out of their homes,” Wong says. “They’ve used a lot of different tactics . . . from refusing to provide hot water, gas and basic repairs to using dangerous and hazardous construction practices.”
There’s strong pushback against the narrative that people are being pushed out without a fight, Wong points out, because residents in Washington D.C. and in other cities are mobilizing heavily at the grassroots level to confront dispossession. In New York’s Chinatown, Wong works closely with the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), which has a tenants’ organizing arm. It helps develop the leadership among low-income tenants so they can fight displacement.
The elders who have been through this work before, she said, have laid the groundwork and can use that knowledge and the same tactics that activists hope to see in the future. The W.O.W. project, located inside the oldest continually-run family business in New York’s Chinatown, has organized a series of inter-generational panel discussions around displacement as well as open mic nights and an artist-in-residency program to engage the community in conversations about changes in the neighborhood.
At the same time, there is work to be done at the national level. “The same communities are fighting for the same issues, whether it is to help access to affordable housing, to fight against police brutality and for accountability, and migrant rights,” Wong explains, recognizing that it is a continuation.
Many of the panelists brought up the legendary work of Grace Lee Boggs, a long-time activist who taught people around the nation about what she called visionary organizing: the idea that another world is not only possible, but that ordinary people are already building that vision. Boggs, along with her husband James, were integral parts of the labor and Black Power movements both nationally and in Detroit. Boggs co-authored the book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, with the symposium’s keynote speaker, Scott Kurashige.
“Detroit to me is an incredible place and it changed my life to live there for 14 years because of my work with Grace Lee Boggs,” Kurashige explains. “It epitomized the Black Power movement of the 60s. The crises facing urban areas . . . begins in Detroit because the Detroit rebellion was really in many ways the biggest symbols of these contradictions that were crashing together in the mid to late 1960s. Today, Detroit in many ways still embodies the best and worst possibilities of where this country is moving.”
Kurashige says that Boggs talked often about how Detroit and other cities have faced crises because of white flight, de-industrialization, extreme disparities in wealth and power coupled with the school dropout, drugs and prison issues. “But they always at the same time recognize that people have the power within themselves and within their communities to create solutions,” Kurashige says. “The only real solutions would have to come from the bottom up.”
He points to creative ways Detroit’s working class, African-American communities worked together, including urban gardens that helped neighbors to take care of each other, and that created models for activism. Kurashige points out that urban farms eliminate blight, but often pave the way for developers to come in and promote massive urban renewal projects that drown out the voices of the people most affected by them.
The Detroit Black Community Food Security Network runs the D-Town Farm, and traces its legacy back to the Black Power movement. Kurashige says food is central not only to understanding our relationship to the planet, but it is also a big question of sovereignty and whether people have the power to provide for themselves. Since the 1960s, he argues, there’s been increased stratification, because some have increased access and others are suffering dispossession and exclusion.
“It’s reached the point that in many neighborhoods . . . and in places like Detroit, where even people’s basic human needs . . . a right to public education, to water, a right to decent housing, a right to the basic services that a city provides, these people are struggling,” Kurashige says, pointing to glaring examples like the water crises in Flint, Michigan. “We are seeing people, even or especially in wealthy cities like Seattle, being completely priced out of not just the wealthy neighborhoods, but pretty much the whole city.”
Amanda Huron reminded the crowd that the level of gentrification going on right now in the nation’s capital is similar to the 1970s. “We have lots of good organizing today and victories, but we don’t see the political will at the same level as we did in the 1970s.”
Many activists made the point that one of the lessons of the symposium, and of the exhibition, is that people need to stop thinking of power as a top down process, where the voices of the communities are drowned out by money and political influence. What works, they argue, is smaller scale plans rooted in local interests, that sometimes involves teaming with broader community groups or national organizations to get things done on a human scale. “Change comes,” says Wong, “from grass roots building across generations and developing the leadership capabilities of those across the hall, or down the block.”
The Anacostia Community Museum will close March 15 through mid-October 2019 for renovations to its building and its surrounding landscape. Improvements will be made to its parking lot and entrance and upgrades will be conducted on its lighting and HVAC system. A new outdoor plaza for group assembly and a community garden are to be built. The museum's programs and activities can be found here.
It’s a warm summer afternoon in the Tanzanian village of Lupiro, and Mikkel Brydegaard is crouching in a brick hut, trying to fix a broken laser. Next to him, on a tall tripod, three telescopes point through a window at a tree in the distance. A laptop rests on an upturned box, waiting to receive a signal.
With a working laser, this system is known as lidar – like radar, Brydegaard tells me, but using a laser instead of radio waves. The setup is supposed to gather precise data about the movement of malaria mosquitoes. But as the sun starts to set outside, Brydegaard is getting nervous. He and his colleagues have spent a week in Tanzania, and their device still hasn’t started collecting data. They’re almost out of time.
Tomorrow, a solar eclipse will blot out the sun over Tanzania – an event that occurs only once every few decades here, and that Brydegaard and his team from Lund University in Sweden have travelled thousands of miles to see. Their immediate aim is to see if the eclipse affects the behaviour of disease-carrying insects. Their larger mission, however, is to demonstrate that lasers can revolutionise how insects are studied.
Lidar involves shooting a laser beam between two points – in this case, between the hut and the tree. When insects fly through the beam, they’ll scatter and reflect light back to the telescopes, generating data from which the scientists hope to identify different species. At a time when pests destroy enough food to sustain entire countries – and when insect-borne diseases kill hundreds of thousands of people every year – this arrangement of beams and lenses could, just maybe, improve millions of lives.
But without a working laser, the trip to Tanzania will count for nothing.
Already, the team have come close to giving up. A few days ago, their two high-powered lasers failed to work. “My first thought was, OK – pack everything, we head back,” Brydegaard tells me. “There’s nowhere in Tanzania we can find a spare part.” He thought bitterly about the tens of thousands of dollars they had spent on equipment and travel. But then he walked into town with Samuel Jansson, his graduate student, and over bottles of beer they scrolled through the contacts on their phones. Perhaps, they started to think, it was possible to salvage the trip after all.
Lasers may be a cutting-edge tool for identifying insects, but at the heart of the lidar method is an elegant and centuries-old principle of entomology. Almost every species of flying insect, from moth to midge to mosquito, has a unique wingbeat frequency. A female Culex stigmatosoma mosquito, for instance, might beat its wings at a frequency of 350 hertz, while a male Culex tarsalis might at 550 hertz. Because of these differences, an insect’s wingbeat is like a fingerprint. And in recent years, the study of wingbeat has undergone a renaissance, especially in the field of human health.
Long before lasers or computers, wingbeat was thought of in auditory – even musical – terms. A careful listener could match the buzz of a fly to a key on the piano. That is exactly what Robert Hooke, a natural philosopher, did in the 17th century: “He is able to tell how many strokes a fly makes with her wings (those flies that hum in their flying) by the note that it answers to in musique during their flying,” wrote Samuel Pepys, a British civil servant and friend of Hooke’s.
But the fact that Hooke relied on his ears must have made his findings difficult to communicate. Knowledge was traditionally shared through scientific papers, letters and specimen drawings, and so entomologists tended to rely on vision rather than hearing. “The field has had a very, very narrow focus for a long time,” says Laura Harrington, an entomologist and epidemiologist based at Cornell University, New York State.
In the 20th century, however, researchers began to break the mould. The main wingbeat detection method was visual: the chronophotographic method, which involved taking photographs in rapid succession. This had its limitations, and a few keen-eared researchers felt there was an advantage to Robert Hooke’s auditory approach – especially Olavi Sotavalta, an entomologist from Finland who had the rare gift of absolute pitch. Just as a composer with absolute pitch might transcribe a musical passage by ear, Sotavalta could identify the precise tone of a mosquito’s wings without the aid of a piano.(© Matthew the Horse)
“The acoustic method makes it possible to observe insects in free flight,” Sotavalta wrote in a 1952 paper in Nature. In other words, because he had absolute pitch, Sotavalta was able to make wingbeat observations not only with cameras in the laboratory, but also in nature, with his ears. Scientists are informed and constrained by the senses they choose to use.
Sotavalta’s peculiar approach to research suggests that certain scientific insights emerge when separate disciplines collide: he used his canny ear not only to identify species during his research, but also for music. “He had a beautiful singing voice,” says Petter Portin, an emeritus professor of genetics who was once a student of Sotavalta’s. Portin remembers him as a tall, slender man who always wore a blue laboratory coat.
Sotavalta’s papers in the National Library of Finland are a curious combination of letters, monographs on insect behaviour, and stacks of sheet music. Some of his compositions are named after birds and insects.
One of the strangest of Sotavalta’s papers, published in the Annals of the Finnish Zoological Society, documents in astonishing detail the songs of two particular nightingales. Sotavalta heard them during successive summers while staying at his summer house in Lempäälä. The paper itself seems dry, until it becomes clear that he’s trying to apply music theory to birdsong.
“The song of the two Sprosser nightingales (Luscinia luscinia L.) occurring in two successive years was recorded acoustically and presented with conventional stave notation,” he wrote.
Following on from this are nearly 30 pages of notes, graphs and analysis of the rhythm and tonality of the birds. After highlighting the similarity between the two songs, he declares: “Because of the short distance between the places where they were singing, it was concluded that they were perhaps father and son.” It is as though his work is a search for some kind of pattern, some musical idea, shared by members of the same species.
However, his paper in Nature was rather more consequential. There, Sotavalta describes the uses of his “acoustic method” of identifying insects using his absolute pitch, and theorises about the subtleties of insect wingbeat: how much energy it consumes, and how it varies according to air pressure and body size. Even so, only decades later did scientists such as Brydegaard reaffirm the relevance of wingbeat in the study of insects – for example, malaria-carrying mosquitoes.
In Tanzania, Brydegaard, Jansson and engineer Flemming Rasmussen do not have absolute pitch – and, even if they did, it wouldn’t help much. There are millions of insects in and around the village, and they drone on in a symphony that never ends.
What these scientists have, in place of a keen ear, is a high-tech gadget and two broken lasers. And their phones.
When the lasers failed, it took a few false starts to find a solution. A researcher in Côte d’Ivoire had a working laser, but he was away in the USA. Brydegaard considered sending for a replacement by mail, but knew that – thanks to customs and the day-long drive from the airport in Dar es Salaam – it probably wouldn’t arrive in time for the eclipse.
Finally, they sent a text message to Frederik Taarnhøj, CEO of FaunaPhotonics, their commercial partner, and asked if he would consider sending a scientist from Sweden with some spare lasers. Taarnhøj said yes.
So the trio made a few frantic calls and ultimately convinced another graduate student, Elin Malmqvist, to board a plane the very next day. When she did, she was carrying three small metal boxes in her suitcase.
The saga was not over yet, however. Even after the huge expense of the last-minute flight, the first replacement failed: Brydegaard, in his hurry, confused the anode with the cathode, which short-circuited the laser diode. The second laser yielded a beam, but, inexplicably, it was so faint as to be unusable.
It’s the last laser that Brydegaard now unpacks, hoping that at least this one will work as expected. By the time he screws it onto the tripod, it is almost sunset, and his agitation is palpable. Within the hour, it will be too dark to calibrate even a working laser. Everything rides on this piece of equipment.
Laura Harrington’s laboratory at Cornell looks a little like a restaurant kitchen. What resembles the door to a walk-in freezer actually leads to an incubation room. It’s humid and lit by fluorescent lights. The shelves are covered in carefully labelled boxes. Harrington shows me mosquito eggs inside the kinds of disposable containers you’d carry soup in. Over the top of the containers, to prevent mosquitoes from escaping, there’s some kind of net – bridal veil, she tells me. The method is not quite foolproof. A few mosquitoes have escaped, and they buzz around our ears and ankles while we chat.
When we talk about Sotavalta’s approach, Harrington says that he was “definitely ahead of his time”. Even in recent years, researchers who thought to listen to mosquitoes didn’t realise how many insects are capable of listening, too. “For a long time, scientists thought that female mosquitoes were deaf – that they didn’t pay attention to sound at all,” Harrington says.
But in 2009, Harrington put that long-standing assumption to the test. In an unusual and intricate experiment, she and her colleagues tethered a female Aedes aegypti mosquito to a hair, installed a microphone nearby, and placed both inside an upside-down fish tank. Then they released male mosquitoes inside the tank and recorded the results.
The team’s findings astonished Harrington, and led to a breakthrough in the study of sound and entomology. Aedes aegypti conducted a sort of mid-air mating dance that had everything to do with sound. Not only did female mosquitoes respond to the sounds of males, they also seemed to communicate with sounds of their own. “We discovered that males and females actually sing to each other,” Harrington says. “They harmonise just prior to mating.”
This ‘mating song’ isn’t produced by vocal cords. It is produced by flapping wings. During normal flight, male and female mosquitoes have slightly different wingbeats. But Harrington found that during the mating process, males aligned their wingbeat frequency with that of females.
“We think the female is testing the male,” Harrington explains. “How quickly he can converge harmonically.” If so, mosquito songs may function like auditory peacock features. They seem to help females identify the fittest mates.(© Matthew the Horse)
With these results in mind, and with a recent grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Harrington’s lab has begun development of a novel mosquito trap for field research. Similar projects have been undertaken by teams at James Cook University in Australia and Columbia University in New York City, among others.
For a researcher, there are drawbacks to the mosquito traps that currently exist. Chemical traps have to be refilled, while electric traps tend to kill mosquitoes; Harrington wants her new trap to harness the power of sound to capture living specimens for monitoring and study. It would combine established methods for attracting mosquitoes, like chemicals and blood, with recorded mosquito sounds to mimic the mating song. Importantly, it could be used to capture mosquitoes of either sex.
Historically, scientists have focused on catching female mosquitoes, which twice each day go hunting for mammals to bite – and which may carry the malaria parasite (males do not). But scientists have recently started to consider male mosquitoes an important part of malaria control too. For instance, one current proposal for curbing the disease involves releasing genetically modified males that produce infertile offspring, to reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes in a given area.
Harrington’s hope is that an acoustic trap – using the mating song that attracts males – would help make new strategies such as this possible. “What we’re trying to do is really think outside the box, and identify new and novel ways to control these mosquitoes,” she says.
With the last laser finally in place, Brydegaard flips a switch. Suddenly, on the laptop screen next to the tripod, a small white dot appears. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief: the laser works.
The team – made up of Brydegaard, Jansson, Malmqvist and Rasmussen – spend the last 15 minutes of daylight bringing the beam into focus. Other than a few local children, who shout “mzungu” – Swahili for light-skinned foreigner – no one seems especially bothered by the Europeans tinkering with telescopes.
Sunset throws a beautiful, soft light across the marshy landscape around Lupiro, but it also marks the start of malaria transmission. As darkness starts to fall on the hut where the lidar system is set up, villagers walk in from the fields; pillars of smoke rise from cooking fires. Locals here rely on rice for their livelihood: the staple is served with two meals a day, and along the dusty main road, rice chaff piles up like leaves in autumn. But rice fields require standing water, and standing water fosters malaria mosquitoes. Insects have already begun to buzz around our legs.
Now that evening has settled around us, the lidar system has finally begun to record a torrent of data. The team sit around the hut in the dark; a gasoline generator hums outside, powering the laser and computer. On the laptop screen, a jagged red line shows peaks and valleys. Each one, Brydegaard tells me, represents an echo from the beam. Around dusk, dozens or hundreds of insects may cross the beam each minute. We are watching the period that entomologists refer to as “rush hour” – the wave of activity that begins when female mosquitoes swarm into the village and start their search for food.
Nicodemus Govella, a medical entomologist at Tanzania’s prestigious Ifakara Health Institute – a local partner of FaunaPhotonics – has seen the evening mosquito rush hundreds, even thousands of times. He knows how it feels to shiver and vomit as the malaria parasite takes hold; he has experienced the symptoms time and again. “During my childhood, I can’t count how many times,” he tells me.
If Tanzanian epidemiologists are waging a war on malaria, the Ifakara Health Institute works like a ministry of intelligence – it tracks the density, distribution and timing of bites by malaria mosquitoes. Traditionally, Govella says, the “gold standard” of mosquito surveillance was a method called human-landing catch. It’s low-tech but reliable: a volunteer is given medication to prevent malaria transmission and then sits outside with legs bare, letting mosquitoes land and bite.
The problem is that protection against malaria is no longer enough. Too many other diseases, from dengue fever to Zika, are also spread by mosquitoes. As a result, human-landing catch is now widely considered unethical. “It gives you information, but it is very risky,” Govella says. “Other countries have already banned it.” As health officials retire old strategies for malaria surveillance and control, the work on experimental techniques takes on new urgency – which is where the lasers will come in.
In parts of Tanzania, thanks in part to bednets and pesticides, malaria has “gone down tremendously,” Govella tells me. But eradication of the disease has proved elusive. Some mosquitoes have developed resistance to pesticides. Likewise, bednets helped bring night-time transmission under control – but mosquitoes have adapted their behaviour, starting to bite at dusk and dawn, when people aren’t protected.
In 2008, Govella’s daughter contracted malaria. Thinking back, Govella’s manner changes; his precise medical language gives way to a quiet passion. “I don’t even want to remember,” he says. “When I get to that memory, it really brings a lot of pain to me.”
In its early stages, malaria may look like a common cold – which is why it’s so important that scientists have the tools to track the spread of the parasite and the mosquitoes that carry it: to avoid misdiagnosis. In his daughter’s case, the lack of information proved tragic. “Because it was not detected soon, it proceeded up to the level of convulsions,” Govella says. His daughter ultimately died from complications of malaria. Almost every day since then, he has thought about eradication.
“I hate this disease,” Govella says.
The persistence of malaria has frustrated generations of scientists. More than a century after the discovery of the parasite, it still afflicts hundreds of millions of people each year, of whom half a million die. Harrington has her own memories of the havoc wreaked by the disease: in 1998, she travelled to Thailand for a series of experiments and contracted malaria herself. “I was the only foreigner for miles and miles around,” she says. As the fever set in, Harrington started to understand the real burden of the disease she studied.
“I could imagine myself as a Thai villager with those illnesses,” she tells me. She was far from the nearest hospital and felt alone. “I felt like, if I died, maybe people wouldn’t find out.” Eventually, someone found her and put her in the back of a pickup truck. She remembers sinking into delirium, staring up at a fan that spun endlessly on the ceiling. “I saw a nurse with a syringe full of purple liquid,” she recalls. It reminded her of when she worked, years before, in a veterinary clinic that used purple injections to euthanise sick animals. “I thought that was the end.”
Finally, the fever broke, and Harrington knew that she was going to survive. “I felt incredibly grateful for my life,” she says. The experience made her even more committed to her research. “I felt that I had the ability to try and dedicate my career to something that could eventually help other people.”
Malaria provides a vivid example of how insects threaten human health – but there are many other ways that they can cause harm. Insects also spread other microbial diseases. Then there’s the effect they have on agriculture. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, insect pests destroy one-fifth of global crop yields. In other words, if the world’s farmers had better ways to control species like locusts and beetles, they could feed millions more people.
Pesticides reduce the damage that insects cause, but when used indiscriminately, they can also harm people or kill the insects that we rely on. We remain deeply dependent on pollinators like bees, moths and butterflies, but a 2016 report showed that 40 per cent of invertebrate pollinator species are under threat of extinction. It’s because of this love–hate relationship with insects that we urgently need better ways of tracking different species – better ways to differentiate between the bugs that help us and the bugs that hurt us.(© Matthew the Horse)
On the day of the eclipse, at just before noon, in the blue skies above Lupiro the black disc of the moon passes in front of the sun. A group of children have gathered round; they hold in their hands small plates of welding glass that the Scandinavian scientists brought with them. By peering through the green-tinted glass, the children can see the narrowing crescent of the sun.
The village around us has gone dim; our shadows have grown less distinct. Judging by the light, it feels as if a sudden storm has set in, or someone has turned a dimmer that has made the sun go faint. The scientists from Sweden, along with their partners at the Ifakara Health Institute and FaunaPhotonics, want to know if in the dim light of an eclipse insects become more active, just as they do at dusk.
On the screen, we watch the red peaks, which have picked up again – not as many as we saw at sunset and sunrise, but more than usual. There’s a simple reason this data matters: if the mosquitoes are more active during an eclipse, that suggests that they use light as a cue, knowing when to swarm each morning and evening by the dimness of the rising and setting sun.
As the data pours in, the scientists talk me through what we’re looking at. Lidar was originally developed to study much larger-scale phenomena, like changes in atmospheric chemistry. This system has been simplified to a bare minimum.
Each of the three telescopes on the tripod has a separate function. The first directs the outgoing laser at a tree about half a kilometre away. Nailed to the tree trunk is a black board, where the beam terminates. (To clear a path for the laser, Jansson, the PhD student, had to cut a path through the underbrush with a machete.)
When insects fly through the laser beam, reflections bounce back at the device from their beating wings, and they’re picked up by the second telescope. The third telescope allows the team to aim and calibrate the system; the whole apparatus is connected to a laptop computer that aggregates the data. The red peaks dancing across the screen represent insects crossing the laser beam.
To record the reflections, which Brydegaard calls the “atmospheric echo”, the lidar system captures 4,000 snapshots per second. Later, the team will use an algorithm to comb through the snapshots for wingbeat frequency – the fingerprint of each species.
This device, in other words, achieves with optics what Olavi Sotavalta achieved with his ears, and what Harrington has achieved with the help of a microphone.
But there are some details in the lidar data that the human ear could never discern. For example, an insect’s wingbeat frequency is accompanied by higher-pitched harmonics. (Harmonics are what lend richness to the sound of a violin; they’re responsible for the resonant ring produced by a muted guitar string.) The lidar system can capture harmonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear. In addition, laser beams are polarised, and when they reflect off different surfaces, their polarisation changes. The amount of change can tell Brydegaard and his colleagues whether an insect’s wing is glossy or matte, which is also useful when trying to distinguish different species.
As the dark disc of the sun starts to brighten again, the scientists snap pictures and try, without much success, to explain how the lasers work to local children. Now that the data is flowing, the tension that accompanied the set-up of the lidar system has simply melted away.
It finally seems clear that the high price tag of the experiment won’t be in vain. The team spent about $12,000 on the lidar system, not including the equally hefty costs of transport and labour. “That sounds like a lot, standing in an African village,” Brydegaard admits. On the other hand, older forms of lidar, used to study the atmosphere, can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The burden of malaria, meanwhile, would be calculated in the billions of dollars – if it could be calculated at all.
Within a couple of hours, the bright round circle of the sun is again burning brightly. A couple of hours after that, it has started to set.
We re-apply bug spray to ward off the mosquitoes that, once again, will come flying in from the marshy fields around Lupiro. Then we walk into town for dinner, which, as usual, includes rice.
Three months after the experiment, I called FaunaPhotonics to learn how their analysis was progressing. After so many lasers had failed, I wanted to know whether the final one had given them the results they needed.
The data was messy, they said. “Around cooking time, there’s lots of smoke and dust in the air,” said Jord Prangsma, an engineer responsible for analysing the data that the team brought back. He added that the data did seem to show distinct wingbeats. But it’s one thing to spot those beats on a graph. “To tell a computer, ‘Please find me the correct frequency,’ is another thing,” he said. Unlike Sotavalta, who had studied individuals, the team in Tanzania had gathered data from many thousands of insects. They were trying to analyse all of those beating wings at once.
But the obstacles were not insurmountable. “We see a higher activity just around noon,” said Samuel Jansson, speaking about the data from the eclipse. This suggests that mosquitoes were, indeed, using light as a cue to begin searching for food during rush hour. Prangsma added that an algorithm he had developed was starting to separate out the crucial data. “From a scientific point of view, this is a very rich dataset,” he said.
Over the months that followed, FaunaPhotonics continued to make progress. “Despite initial laser problems,” Brydegaard wrote in a recent email, “the systems performed to the satisfaction of all our expectations.”
Each day that the system was in operation, he said, they had recorded a staggering 100,000 insect observations. “Indications are that we can discriminate several species and gender classes of insects,” Brydegaard went on.
Along with his Lund University colleagues, Brydegaard will publish the results; FaunaPhotonics, as his commercial partner, will offer their lidar device, along with their analytic expertise, to companies and research organisations looking to track insects in the field. “If we have a customer that’s interested in a certain species, then we’ll tailor the algorithm a bit to target the species,” Prangsma explained. “Each dataset is unique, and has to be tackled in its own way.” Recently, FaunaPhotonics began a three-year collaboration with Bayer to continue developing its technology.
The study of wingbeat has come an incredibly long way since Olavi Sotavalta used his absolute pitch to identify insects – and yet in some ways, the Scandinavian scientists’ work differs very little from the Finnish entomologist’s. Just like Sotavalta, they are bringing separate disciplines together – in this case physics and biology, lidar and entomology – to uncover patterns in nature. But they have plenty of work left to do. FaunaPhotonics and its partners will start, in a forthcoming paper, by trying to connect the dots between light, lasers and mosquitoes. Then they’ll try to demonstrate that the study of wingbeat frequency could help humans control diseases other than malaria, as well as insects that destroy crops.
“This is a journey that is not a few months,” said Rasmussen, the engineer. “This is a journey that will go for years ahead.”
"Anything, everything, is possible." —Thomas Edison, 1908
The year 1908 began at midnight when a 700-pound "electric ball" fell from the flagpole atop the New York Times building—the first-ever ball-drop in Times Square. It ended 366 days later (1908 was a leap year) with a nearly two-and-a-half-hour flight by Wilbur Wright, the longest ever made in an airplane. In the days between, the U.S. Navy's Great White Fleet sailed around the world, Adm. Robert Peary began his conquest of the North Pole, Dr. Frederick Cook reached the North Pole (or claimed to), six automobiles set out on a 20,000-mile race from New York City to Paris, and the Model T went into production at Henry Ford's plant in Detroit, Michigan.
The events and innovations that occurred within that 12-month frame a century ago marked, in many ways, America's entry into the modern world. In some cases, they quite literally put modern America in motion. Whether practically significant or, like the automobile race around the world, essentially frivolous—a "splendid folly," one contestant called it—all reflected, and expanded, Americans' sense of what was possible. Buoyed by achievements, the country was more confident in its genius and resourcefulness—not to mention its military might—and more comfortable playing a dominant role in global affairs.
Nineteen hundred eight was an election year, and the parallels between it and 2008 are interesting. Americans of 1908 were coming off two terms of a Republican president who had abruptly set their country on a new course. He was a wealthy Ivy League-educated Easterner who had gone west as a young man and made himself into a cowboy. Like George Walker Bush, Theodore Roosevelt had entered the White House without winning the popular vote (an assassination put TR into office), then conducted himself with unapologetic force. And it was clear then, as it is now, that the country was heading into a new world defined by as yet unwritten rules, and that the man about to exit office bore not a little responsibility for this.
Americans of 1908 knew they lived in unusual times. And lest they forget, the newspapers reminded them almost daily. According to the press, everything that happened that year was bigger, better, faster and stranger than anything that had happened before. In part, this was typical newspaper hyperbole; in part, it was simply true.
An essay in the New York World on New Year's Day of 1908 articulated the wonderment shared by many. The article, titled "1808-1908-2008," noted how far the country had progressed over the previous century. In 1808, five years after the Louisiana Purchase and two years after Lewis and Clark returned from their transcontinental journey, the population had been a mere seven million souls. The federal government had been underfunded and ineffectual. Technology—transportation, communication, medicine, agriculture, manufacturing—had been barely more advanced than during the Middle Ages of Europe. Now, in 1908, with the U.S. population at almost 90 million, the federal revenue was 40 times greater than it had been a century earlier, and America was on a par with Britain and Germany as a global power. U.S. citizens enjoyed the highest per capita income in the world and were blessed with railroads and automobiles, telegraph and telephone, electricity and gas. Men shaved their whiskers with disposable razor blades and women tidied their homes with remarkable new devices called vacuum cleaners. Couples danced to the Victrola in their living rooms and snuggled in dark theaters to watch the flickering images of the Vitagraph. Invisible words volleyed across the oceans between the giant antennas of Marconi's wireless telegraph, while American engineers cut a 50-mile canal through the Isthmus of Panama.
From the glories of the present the World turned to the question of the future: "What will the year 2008 bring us? What marvels of development await the youth of tomorrow?" The U.S. population of 2008, the newspaper predicted, would be 472 million (it's 300 million). "We may have gyroscopic trains as broad as houses swinging at 200 miles an hour up steep grades and around dizzying curves. We may have aeroplanes winging the once inconquerable air. The tides that ebb and flow to waste may take the place of our spent coal and flash their strength by wire to every point of need. Who can say?"
Not a day passed without new discoveries achieved or promised. That same New Year's Day, Dr. Simon Flexner of the Rockefeller Institute declared in a medical paper that human organ transplants would soon be common. Meanwhile, the very air seemed charged with the possibilities of the infant wireless technology. "When the expectations of wireless experts are realized everyone will have his own pocket telephone and may be called wherever he happens to be," Hampton's Magazine daringly predicted in 1908. "The citizen of the wireless age will walk abroad with a receiving apparatus compactly arranged in his hat and tuned to that one of myriad vibrations by which he has chosen to be called....When that invention is perfected, we shall have a new series of daily miracles."
A few weeks before the year began, on the bright windless morning of December 16, 1907, thousands of spectators went to Hampton Roads, Virginia, to hail the departure of the Great White Fleet on its 43,000-mile voyage around the world. Roosevelt steamed in from the Chesapeake Bay aboard the presidential yacht, the Mayflower, to give a few last-minute instructions to fleet commanders and to add his considerable heft to the pomp and circumstance. As sailors in dress uniform stood at the rails and brass bands played on the vessels, the president watched. "Did you ever see such a fleet and such a day?" he shouted to his guests aboard the Mayflower. "Isn't it magnificent? Oughtn't we all to feel proud?" It was, he concluded, "perfectly bully."
For sheer majesty, the armada was impressive. "The greatest fleet of war vessels ever assembled under one flag," the New York Times reported. The 16 battleships were worth $100 million and comprised nearly 250,000 tons of armament. The Mayflower led the ships to the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and as the ships' bands played "The Girl I Left Behind Me," Roosevelt gave a last wave of his top hat.
Loaded to the gunwales and painted bright white, the ships steamed away, stretching out into a three-mile column. Not everyone understood exactly why Roosevelt sent those battleships around the world. Even now, it's difficult to give a simple answer. At the time, some Americans worried that the voyage was extravagant, rash and likely to provoke a war, most likely with Japan. Indeed, Roosevelt harbored real concerns that Japan, newly emboldened by a recent naval victory over Russia and angered by the mistreatment of Japanese immigrants in America, might pose a threat to the Philippines and other U.S. interests. "I had been doing my best to be polite to the Japanese and had finally become uncomfortably conscious of a very, very slight undertone of veiled truculence," he would write a few years later of his decision to send out the fleet. "[I]t was time for a showdown."
But Roosevelt also filled those 16 ships with friendly greetings and U.S. dollars. Among his instructions to commanders were firm words on preserving decorum among the ships' 13,000 sailors. Throughout 1908, as the battleships steamed port to port, from Rio de Janeiro to Sydney, they were greeted with adulation and American flags. When the fleet finally reached Japan in October of 1908, tens of thousands of schoolchildren greeted it by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." Tensions between the two countries evaporated, and the voyage, once belittled by many as a dangerous stunt, was now applauded as a stunning success. Seldom has a president combined so deftly a message of power with offerings of peace.
To Americans, who were treated to endless stories about the 14-month voyage in newspapers and magazines, the Great White Fleet was a show of strength. The U.S. Navy was now on a par with Germany's navy and second only to Great Britain's. And America, with its capacity to produce more steel than Britain and Germany combined, could build ships faster than any country on earth.
The sky was full of miracles. In New York City, stupendous new buildings pointed upward to where the future seemed to beckon. The Singer Building, headquarters of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, was completed in the spring of 1908. At 612 feet, the "Singerhorn" (as wits soon began to call it, after the Matterhorn) was the highest inhabited building in the world. A few months later, the steel frame of the Metropolitan Life Building leapt over the Singer to 700 feet.
Illustrators imagined a future city of golden towers connected by slender suspension bridges and great masonry arches. Moses King, in a 1908 illustration, imagined dirigibles and other flying craft floating over vaulting towers and bridges in New York City, bound for destinations such as the Panama Canal and the North Pole. A caption referred to "possibilities of aerial and interterrestrial construction, when the wonders of 1908...will be far outdone."
No aerial wonder topped the Wright brothers' feats that year. Absent from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, since their first brief flights there in 1903—and not having flown a lick since 1905—they returned to nearby Kill Devil Hills in April to dig out their old shed and dust off their piloting skills. The Wrights' ability to fly had advanced beyond their first thrilling seconds in the air—but their competitors had also advanced, and the Wrights felt the pressure. A coterie of bright and ambitious young men had joined Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, to form the Aerial Experiment Association (AEA). On March 12, 1908, in Hammondsport, New York, Casey Baldwin, an AEA member, had flown above an icy lake for a distance of almost 320 feet. Four months later, on the Fourth of July, Glenn Hammond Curtiss flew an AEA craft nearly a mile over Hammondsport.
For the previous three years, as the Wrights had dallied with possible buyers of their aircraft, critics and competitors increasingly construed their reticence to fly as evidence of failure or, worse, of fraud. Now, in the spring of 1908, they had two offers of purchase—from the U.S. Army and a private French syndicate. Both offers depended on public demonstrations of the aircraft. After a few weeks of practice in Kitty Hawk, Wilbur sailed to France to demonstrate the Wright Flyer. Orville undertook his own flight trial at Fort Myer, near Washington, D.C. The time had come to put up or shut up.
It was 6:30 on the evening of August 8 when Wilbur climbed into the seat of his Wright Flyer at a horse track near Le Mans. He wore his usual gray suit, starched white collar and green cap, turned backward so it would not blow off in flight. The evening was calm, and so, outwardly, was he. This would be the first public demonstration of a Wright plane. Much, possibly everything, was riding on it. The last time he had flown—a private practice flight at Kitty Hawk in May—he had crashed and destroyed the plane. If he did so now, the French trials would be over before they had begun, and the name Veelbur Reet, as they pronounced it in Le Mans, would be the punch-line of a French joke.
Spectators watched from the grandstand as the twin propellers behind Wilbur started to spin. All at once, the plane shot forward on its track. Four seconds later, it was airborne, rising quickly to 30 feet, higher than most of the French aviators had flown but low enough to give the audience a view of Wilbur as he made a slight adjustment to the control levers. The plane instantly responded, one wing dipping, the other lifting, and banked to the left in a tight, smooth half circle. Coming out of the turn, the plane made a straight run down the length of the track, about 875 yards, then banked and turned into another half circle. Wilbur Wright looped the field once more, then brought the plane down almost exactly where he had taken off less than two minutes earlier.
The flight had been brief, but those 100 or so seconds were arguably the most important Wilbur had spent in the air since 1903. Spectators ran across the field to shake his hand, including the same French aviators who had only recently dismissed him as a charlatan. LŽon Delagrange was beside himself. "Magnificent! Magnificent!" he cried out. "We're beaten! We don't exist!" Overnight, Wilbur was transformed from le bluffeur, as the French press had tagged him, to the "Bird Man," the most celebrated American in France since Benjamin Franklin. "You never saw anything like the complete reversal of position that took place," he wrote to Orville. "The French have simply become wild."
Yet a few weeks later, Delagrange momentarily overshadowed Wilbur's achievement by flying for 31 minutes and thereby setting a new record in the air. Now, it was Orville's turn. On September 9, he took off from Fort Myer, Virginia. He'd already made a few brief desultory hops, but now he flew for family honor and national pride. The plane shot up and began soaring around the parade ground. After 11 minutes, it was clear Orville intended to beat Delagrange's record. The spectators watched him circle the field, taking about a minute per circuit, the engine of the plane crescendoing, fading, then crescendoing again. He had flown about 30 circuits when somebody called out, "By Jings, he's broken Delagrange's record!" According to the New York Herald reporter C. H. Claudy, everybody grabbed one another's hands, each man aware, according to Claudy, that he "had actually been present while aerial history was being reeled hot from the spinning wheel which made that awkward, delicate, sturdy and perfect wonder above their heads go round and round the field."
Orville had no idea he'd broken Delagrange's record. He was lost in flying. He canted into sharp corners and dipped low, skimming over the parade ground, then suddenly rose to 150 feet, higher than anything visible but the needle of the Washington Monument and the dome of the U.S. Capitol rising to the east, backlit by morning sun. "I wanted several times today to fly right across the fields and over the river to Washington," Orville later confessed, "but my better judgment held me back." After 58 circuits of the parade ground, he landed. He had flown 57 minutes and 31 seconds, nearly double Delagrange's record.
The Wrights held the attention of the world, and over the next week or so, as Wilbur flew above adoring crowds in France, Orville set ever longer endurance records at Fort Myer. On September 10, he flew more than 65 minutes; on the 11th, more than 70; on the 12th, almost 75. That same day he set a new endurance record with a passenger— 9 minutes—and an altitude record, 250 feet.
Then, tragedy: on September 17, while flying over Fort Myer with an Army lieutenant named Thomas Selfridge, Orville crashed. He was badly injured. Selfridge was killed.
It appeared as if the crash might end the Wrights' career and set American aeronautics back years. Wilbur ceased flying in France, as Orville lay recuperating in the hospital, attended by his sister. But on September 21, Wilbur lifted off from Le Mans and began circling the artillery ground at Camp d'Auvours above his largest crowd ever, 10,000 spectators.When Wilbur surpassed Orville's flight of nearly 75 minutes, "a yell went up which defies description," according to the Herald. Still, he flew. The drone of the motor came and went, and the sky grew darker and the air cooler. At last, the plane descended and settled on the ground. Wilbur had flown for 91 minutes and 31 seconds, covering 61 miles—a new record. He had banished any conjecture that the Wrights were finished. "I thought of Orville all the time," he told reporters.
Wilbur saved his greatest triumph for the last day of the year. On December 31, 1908, he flew 2 hours and 20 minutes over Le Mans, winning the Coupe de Michelin and affirming the Wrights' place in history. "In tracing the development of aeronautics, the historian of the future will point to the year 1908 as that in which the problem of mechanical flight was first mastered," Scientific American stated, "and it must always be a matter of patriotic pride to know that it was two typical American inventors who gave to the world its first practical flying machine."
In October, during the climax of one of the most thrilling seasons in baseball history (the Chicago Cubs would snatch the National League pennant from the New York Giants, then defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series—which they haven't won since.), Henry Ford introduced his oddly shaped new automobile, the Model T. At 45, Henry Ford had been in the automobile business a dozen years, since building his first horseless carriage in a brick shed behind his Detroit home in 1896. Still, everything he had done was a warm-up to what he hoped to accomplish—"a motor car for the great multitude," he said.
Since most automobiles of the day cost between $2,000 and $4,000, only the well-off could afford them, and the machines were still largely for sport. An advertisement of the time, printed in Harper's Weekly, shows an automobile soaring over a hill as a gleeful mŽnage frolics inside. One passenger reaches into a basket. "There is no more exhilarating sport or recreation than automobiling," the ad says. "The pleasure of a spin over country roads or through city parks is greatly enhanced if the basket is well stocked with Dewar's Scotch 'White Label.' "
The fact that automobiles brought out the worst excesses of the rich, confirming what many Americans already believed about them—they were callous, selfish and ridiculous—added to the resentment of those who could not afford the machines. "Nothing has spread socialistic feeling in this country more than the use of the automobile, a picture of the arrogance of wealth," Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson had said in 1906. Yet by the time he became president of the United States six years later, even socialists would be driving Model T's.
The automobile that rolled out of Ford's Piquette Avenue plant that fall did not look like a machine of destiny. It was boxy and top-heavy. The automobile writer Floyd Clymer would later call it "unquestionably ugly, funereally drab." The hard-sprung, church-pew seats made no concession to elegance or comfort. Rather, every aspect of the car was considered with an eye to lightness, economy, strength and simplicity. The simpler a piece of machinery, Ford understood, the lower the cost, and the easier it would be to maintain. Equipped with a manual and a few basic tools, a Model T owner could carry out most repairs himself. The new car's transmission would be smoother and longer lasting than any that had ever been designed. The small magnetized generator that provided a steady flash of voltage to ignite the automobile's fuel would be more dependable. The Model T was designed to ride high off the ground to give it plenty of clearance over America's infamously bumpy roadways, while the car's suspension system allowed it to handle the roads without tossing out occupants. Ford had also foreseen a day when the ditch at the side of the road would be less of a concern to motorists than oncoming traffic: he had moved the steering wheel to the left side, to improve the driver's perspective of approaching vehicles.
Ford Motor Company launched a national advertising campaign, with ads appearing in the Saturday Evening Post, Harper's Weekly and other magazines. For an "unheard of" price of $850, the ads promised "a 4-cylinder, 20 h.p., five passenger family car—powerful, speedy and enduring." An extra $100 would buy such amenities as a windshield, speedometer and headlights.
Ford manufactured just 309 Model T's in 1908. But his new automobile was destined to be one of the most successful ever made. In 1913, Ford would institute the assembly line at his Highland Park, Michigan, plant. In its first year, the company more than doubled its output of Model T's, to 189,000, or about half the automobiles manufactured in America that year. By 1916, Ford would be making almost 600,000 cars a year and could lower the price of the Model T to $360, which produced more demand, to which Ford responded with more supply.
Henry Ford was superb at anticipating the future, but not even he could have predicted the popularity of the Model T and the effects it would have for years to come on how Americans lived and worked, on the landscape surrounding them and the air they breathed—on nearly every aspect of American life. The United States would become, in large part thanks to the Model T, an automobile nation.
It would be wrong to leave the impression that life was a frolic for most Americans. Vast numbers lived in poverty or near poverty. The working class, including some two million children who joined adults in steel mills and coal mines, labored long hours at occupations that were grueling and often dangerous. Tens of thousands of Americans died on the job in 1908.
In the fall of that year, the term "melting pot" entered the American lexicon, coined by playwright Israel Zangwill to denote the nation's capacity to absorb and assimilate different ethnicities and cultures. To our ears, the words may sound warm and delicious, like a pot of stew, but to Zangwill the melting pot was a caldron, "roaring and bubbling," as he wrote, "stirring and seething." And so it was. Violence erupted frequently. Anarchists ignited bombs. Gangs of loosely organized extortionists known as the Black Hand dynamited tenements in New York's Little Italy. Armies of disgruntled tobacco farmers, called Night Riders, galloped through Kentucky and Tennessee, spreading terror. Violence against African-Americans persisted, with dozens of lynchings in 1908. That August, whites in Springfield, Illinois—ironically, the hometown and resting place of Abraham Lincoln—tried to drive black citizens from the city, burning black businesses and homes and lynching two black men. (Like many events of 1908, even Springfield had a far-ranging impact: the riot led to the founding of the NAACP the next year.)
On the other side of the world, there was a breakthrough of sorts: on December 26, 1908, in Sydney, Australia, a 30-year-old African-American boxer from Galveston, Texas, named Jack Johnson stepped into the ring to fight Tommy Burns, the heavyweight champion of the world. Like every titleholder before him, Burns had refused to compete against a black man. But Johnson pursued Burns, badgering him until even whites began to suspect the Canadian was hiding beneath his white skin. Burns finally agreed to a match, but only with a deal that guaranteed him $30,000 of a $35,000 purse.
Johnson destroyed Burns before 25,000 spectators. Blood was pouring from Burns when police stopped the fight in the 14th round. The referee declared Johnson the victor. "Though he beat me, and beat me badly, I still believe I am his master," said Burns after the fight, already calling for a rematch.
Johnson laughed. "Now that the shoe is on the other foot, I just want to hear that white man come around whining for another chance." Eventually, Burns decided he did not want another chance after all.
Johnson would remain the heavyweight champion for seven years, fending off a series of "Great White Hopes." He would be sent to jail in 1920 after federal prosecutors, misapplying a statute meant to discourage prostitution, charged him with illegally transporting a woman across state lines for immoral purposes after he'd sent a train ticket to one of his white girlfriends. That was later, though. Now was Christmas, and Jack Johnson's victory was a gift for African-Americans to savor in the closing moments of 1908.
For all the problems, perhaps the most impressive trait Americans shared in 1908 was hope. They fiercely believed, not always with good reason, that the future would be better than the present. This faith was represented in the aspirations of the hardworking immigrants, in the dreams of architects and inventors and in the assurances of the rich. "Any man who is a bear on the future of this country," J. P. Morgan famously declared in December of 1908, "will go broke."
It's striking, in fact, how much more hopeful Americans were then than we are today. We live in a nation that is safer, healthier, richer, easier and more egalitarian than it was in 1908, but a recent Pew Research Center poll found that barely one-third of us feel optimistic about the future.
Of course, we are wiser now to the downsides of the technologies that were only just emerging in 1908. We cannot look at an airplane without knowing the death and destruction, from World War I to 9/11, that airplanes have wrought. Automobiles may have once promised exhilarating freedoms, but they also deliver thousands of deaths every year and horrendous traffic jams, and they addict us to foreign oil (1908 was the year, coincidentally, that oil was discovered in Iran) and pollute the atmosphere with, among other things, carbon dioxide, which will alter the earth in ways few of us dare imagine. The American military pride that sailed with the Great White Fleet on its voyage around the world in 1908 and was met with adoration at every port, is now tempered by the knowledge that much of the world despises us. We are left with the disquieting thought that the next 100 years may bear a price for the conveniences and conquests of the last 100.
Three stories beneath the telescope dome at the Hale Solar Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a rusty spiral staircase marks the top of a nearly 80-foot-deep pit, concealed by a wooden trapdoor in the basement floor. At the bottom lies a grating meant to split light into a rainbow to allow scientists to study the makeup of the sun. The building’s current owners dare not descend, deterred by the lack of oxygen and impenetrable darkness below.
When architects Liz Moule and Stefanos Polyzoides bought the observatory in 2006, they knew they were purchasing a piece of history. The original owner, astronomer George Ellery Hale, established the world’s most powerful telescopes in the first half of the 20th century, including at Mount Wilson Observatory, high above Pasadena. Moule, who runs a local architecture firm with Polyzoides, regards Hale as “a model citizen” for his influence on Pasadena’s cultural landscape and civic architecture. The Hale Solar Laboratory, with its Egyptian-style relief of the sun beaming down over the front door, grand library on the first floor, telescope dome on the roof and ominous pit in the basement, was Hale’s private refuge just a few blocks south of the university he helped found, the California Institute of Technology.The trapdoor to the grating instrument at the Hale Solar Laboratory. (Elizabeth Landau)
Moule and Polyzoides had no idea the building, constructed in 1924, came with hidden astronomical treasures. The whole basement was a cluttered mess of furniture, papers and boxes of junk when they purchased the historic facility (along with the more modern stucco home in front of it). “We thought we were left with stuff we were just going to get rid of,” Moule says.
In the observatory basement, Moule and volunteers from Mount Wilson—Don Nicholson and Larry Webster—discovered hundreds of glass photographic plates from the 1880s to 1930s stacked in boxes in a large wooden cabinet. The collection includes images of sunspots and solar prominences—tendrils of plasma that snake out from the sun—and solar spectra, or series of lines that represent components of light, revealing the sun’s chemical composition. Larger plates depict the cratered moon, edged with ripples from basement water damage. Some of the plates are from Hale’s telescopes, while others were clearly gifts from far-flung astronomers.An image of the moon on a glass plate from the collection of George Ellery Hale, found in the Hale Solar Laboratory. It was taken at Lick Observatory and dated July 19, 1891. The white markings are from water damage. (Image courtesy Carnegie Institution for Science / Dan Kohne)
All told, there were more than 1,100 plates and other artifacts from Hale’s private collection hidden in the Solar Laboratory’s basement, says Dan Kohne, who volunteered with the nearby Carnegie Observatories’ Pasadena office to inventory the find. Polyzoides and Moule donated the historic plates to the Carnegie archives.
These photographic plates represent the painstaking way astronomers used to work, hand-positioning a telescope on an object for long enough to capture it on a glass plate coated with emulsion, then developing the plate like film in a darkroom. The first daguerreotype photograph of a star other than the sun was taken in 1850 by William Cranch Bond, the first director of Harvard College Observatory, who made a 90-second exposure of Vega. For the next 150 years or so, scientists catalogued the universe on these glass plates, about as thick as a window pane.
While technological advances in photography, telescope guidance and computing have largely made plate-based skywatching obsolete, studying glass plates was how astronomers reached historic revelations, such as the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way and the fact that the very fabric of the universe is expanding in all directions.
Historic plates aren’t just relics. They represent a record of the sky at particular moments in the past that can never be revisited—not even with the most powerful space observatories. Today, humanity’s most advanced telescopes can reveal distant objects that periodically brighten, dim and pop in and out of view. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia space telescope, for example, is compiling the most complete star maps yet. Some of the objects going through changes right now could have also varied in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries, and they may have been captured on glass telescope plates.
As astronomers seek to tell more complete stories of how celestial objects evolve over time, these dusty old plates may prove all the more relevant.
“We’re not time travelers, are we?” says Michael Castelaz, associate professor of physics at Brevard College in North Carolina. “So how do you ever go back in time to investigate the night sky except with the data we have already?”Annie J. Cannon was the curator of photographs at the Harvard College Observatory, charged with the care of some 300,000 photographic plates of stars made by Harvard astronomers. (Bettmann / Getty Images)
By some estimates there are more than 2 million glass plates made by professional astronomers in the U.S. alone. Worldwide there are likely more than 10 million, says Rene Hudec of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Ondrejov, including many that may still be hiding in unexpected places. While there is an online database of over 2.5 million plates from more than 570 archives, there is no truly comprehensive list. Having visited more than 70 plate archives himself, Hudec reports some repositories are well kept and cataloged, but others are a “sad experience” with little funding and no one to manage them.
Harvard, thought to house the biggest collection in the world, has some 550,000 plates, including images once analyzed by such luminaries as Henrietta Swann Leavitt and Annie Jump Cannon. As Dava Sobel chronicles in The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars, women “computers” like Leavitt and Cannon not only classified and catalogued thousands of stars from the telescope plates but also made breakthrough discoveries that inform our view of the cosmos today. Edward Pickering, director of the observatory who hired these women, wrote in 1890: “For many purposes the photographs take the place of the stars themselves, and discoveries are verified and errors corrected by daylight with a magnifying glass instead of at night with a telescope.”
Hale’s collection from the Solar Laboratory basement joined more than 200,000 plates housed by Carnegie Observatories, including the 1923 “VAR!” plate, which convinced Edwin Hubble that Andromeda is a separate galaxy from the Milky Way. The Yerkes 40-inch telescope, the Mount Wilson 60-inch, the Mount Wilson 100-inch and the Palomar 200-inch, all Hale’s projects, have each taken turns enjoying the title of “world’s largest telescope.” Their results are stored in drawers behind a short black vault door in the basement of Carnegie Observatories’ main office building in Pasadena.On the night of October 5-6, 1923, Carnegie astronomer Edwin Hubble took a plate of the Andromeda galaxy (Messier 31) with the Hooker 100-inch telescope of Mount Wilson Observatory. The "N" on the plate that was crossed out and replaced with "VAR!" indicates that Hubble originally thought an object was a nova, but then realized that it was in fact a Cepheid variable star. Hubble was able to use the variable star to calculate the distance to Andromeda, revealing without a doubt that it was in fact a separate galaxy from our own. (Courtesy Carnegie Observatories, Carnegie Institution for Science)
Farther afield, North Carolina’s Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) has about 350,000 items including plates, as well as film and other data. These telescope plates largely come from the United States and Canada, from universities and other institutions that didn’t have room for their collections, as well as those uncovered by accident in “14 lawn-and-leaf bags” in someone’s garage, says Castelaz, who was formerly the science director of PARI. “I could live in that plate vault. It’s so exciting.”
In 2015, Holger Peterson stumbled upon boxes containing about 300 plates when he went to the basement to make tea at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. Some of the artifacts were clearly identifiable: a 1950 exposure from the Palomar Samuel Oschin Telescope showing a large number of galaxies, and a copy-plate from the 1919 solar eclipse expedition to Sobral, Brazil, that helped confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity. (Einstein predicted that the sun’s gravity should bend the fabric of space around it, so the positions of background stars would shift from our perspective when the moon blocks the sun during a total solar eclipse. Measurements on glass plates were used to confirm this.) But for many plates in this collection, now located at Copenhagen University, the details of the exposures have been lost, Peterson says in an e-mail.
Also in Europe, the Archives of Photographic Plates for Astronomical USE (APPLAUSE) currently comprises about 85,000 plates from five institutes in Germany and Estonia. Highlights include plates from Ejnar Hertzsprung, who helped show the relationship between stellar temperature and intrinsic brightness, and Karl Schwarzschild, who was instrumental in developing mathematical descriptions of black holes.A glass photographic plate of the Andromeda galaxy, taken at the Karl Schwarzschild Observatory in 1965. (Jay Bennett)
In Argentina, the plate archive at Cordoba Observatory houses some of the first photographs of stars in the Southern Hemisphere with about 20,000 photographs and spectra on plates dating from 1893 to 1983. The plate situations in Asia and Africa have not been as thoroughly researched. Hudec has visited various locations in China with plates and estimates some 40,000 have been both collected and digitized. Bosscha Observatory in Indonesia additionally has about 20,000 plates, he says. About 19,000 plates taken at the UK Schmidt telescope in Australia are stored in Edinburgh, Scotland, says David Malin, a photographic scientist at the Anglo-Australian Observatory. The Anglo-Australian Telescope in Siding Spring retains under 3,000 plates that were taken there, while other plates likely remain with observers who never handed them over to the observatory collections.
As of the early 1990s, professional astronomers abandoned the practice of capturing celestial images on glass in favor of using digital methods that are both quicker and allow for more sophisticated computational analysis. The invention of charged coupling devices (CCD), which also enable smart phone cameras, has revolutionized astronomical observations. Techniques as simple as “zooming in” digitally and heightening contrast on a computer are powerful tools for studying distant, faint objects.
But historical records of the sky have multiple layers of value. As a matter of cultural preservation, telescope plates encapsulate the process by which knowledge was once acquired and represent the state of science when they were used. For roughly 150 years but no longer, astronomy data was recorded on glass.
“Knowing about the precursors is in many ways something which even informs how we do astronomy now, so we shouldn’t forget,” says Harry Ecke of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam in Germany, one of the leaders of the APPLAUSE collaboration.A bromide photographic print of workers during the construction of the Hooker 100-inch reflecting telescope at Mount Wilson, California. The observatory was founded in 1904 by the astronomer George Ellery Hale, and the 100-inch telescope was installed at the observatory in 1917. The Hooker telescope was the largest telescope in the world when it was built and remained so until 1948. (Science & Society Picture Library / Getty Images)
Astronomers can even use historical records to make discoveries today. While many cosmic processes take billions of years to evolve, “transient” objects in the sky, such as exploding stars called supernovae, change markedly over periods of weeks to years. Variable stars brighten and dim periodically, and plates can be used to determine if that period is constant or not. In 2016, one astronomer even used the Carnegie archive to point out evidence for exoplanets in a 1917 stellar spectrum, a plate made some 75 years before anyone would discover planets beyond our solar system.
“Our sky is moving very slowly for our human feelings of time,” Enke says. “Modern astronomy and the modern instruments with CCDs and so on, this is barely 40 years old. If you can add another hundred years to that, that’s great.”
The study of black holes is one reason Jonathan Grindlay at Harvard got interested in digitizing old plates. He is the principal investigator of a massive plate-digitizing effort called DASCH, the Digital Access to a Sky Century @ Harvard.Astronomer Walter Sydney Adams at the entrance to the Hale Solar Laboratory in 1946. (Photo by Edison Hoge / Courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California)
When a sun-like star and a “stellar mass” black hole—typically seven times the mass of the sun—orbit a common center of gravity, the star provides a steady stream of matter ripped away by the black hole. But instead of falling directly into the black hole, the material piles up in an accretion disk around the black hole first. After about 30 to 60 years, the disk becomes unstable and the black hole devours some of the accumulated material, resulting in a very bright outburst in optical and X-ray light. DASCH provides the first full-sky record of more than a century of these rare outbursts, allowing scientist to measure how long they are visible and how many flashes occur across the sky.
Many more telescope plates exist in the world than there are digital versions of them, and financial support for digitization and detailed cataloging is limited. A group of Czech astronomers led by Hudec visited Carnegie, PARI, Yerkes, Lick, Mount Palomar and nine other major U.S. locations from 2008 to 2012 to scope out the historical plate offerings. They found that some archives had not properly stored or had even damaged plates. They tested out a transportable scanning device and recommend that institutions scan and catalog their treasures. So far, Hudec’s group has created about 50,000 plate scans across the world.A collection of glass plates from 1909 to 1922 capture the moon in different phases. (Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen)
DASCH has been able to digitize about 350,000 of Harvard’s plates, which are all searchable online, and plans to get to the total of 450,000 photographs by October 2020. The last 100,000 plates are stellar spectra which, while also interesting, are not being scanned because only the direct images can show visual changes in brightness over time. The whole process of cleaning and scanning is “like a choreographed ballet,” Grindlay says. In Europe, APPLAUSE is also digitizing its plates, taking inspiration from DASCH in some of its methods but using commercial scanners instead of custom-made devices.
The digitization enterprise stirred up controversy when some historians balked at the idea that original markings on the plates would be cleaned off in the scanning process, Grindlay says. From one perspective, if an astronomer of the past drew a circle around an object of interest, cleaning the plate could reveal more stars hiding behind the curve. But the markings are also a record of the scientific process. A 2016 study prompted by DASCH found that many astronomers and historians alike value the annotations on plates and their covers but also believe that photographing or scanning those markings before cleaning them off is sufficient for preservation, unless the plate is particularly important in the history of astronomy. DASCH follows this protocol, photographing all original markings, including on the plate’s “jacket” cover, before cleaning. The original annotations are saved on the most valuable plates, such as those made by Henrietta Swan Leavitt, “in deference to historians,” Grindlay says.
Even passionate archivists like Grindlay agree that once a plate is properly scanned and cataloged, there’s nothing more one can learn from the physical object that can’t be obtained from a high-resolution digital copy and a photograph of the annotations. Nonetheless, Grindlay says, “the original plates are the ultimate record and must be fully preserved, as they have been at the Harvard College Observatory.”The telescope dome is installed on the Hale Solar Laboratory in this photo dated November 18, 1924. (Image courtesy of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution for Science Collection at the Huntington Library, San Marino, California)
For Kohne, the plates are akin to works of art. Much of the archives at Pasadena’s Carnegie Observatories office, including the loot from the architect couple’s basement, represent Hale’s “studios,” the way a painting done in Raphael’s workshop by a different artist would be credited to the studio of the famous painter. In addition to being scientists, 20th telescope operators were skilled craftspeople.
“They’re capturing the light rays that have been traveling for thousands and millions of light-years, and getting it on the negative exposed exactly right,” Kohne says. “In the history of photography, it should be in there somehow.”
Hale’s iconic Solar Laboratory telescope in Pasadena will not remain dormant. A Mount Wilson volunteer crew is working to aluminize the mirrors so the telescope can clearly project the sun onto a viewing area in the basement. They plan to have local students learn to use the telescope for solar observing, too. Eventually, Moule hopes the team can install a mirror at the bottom of the pit to get the diffraction grating working again, allowing a new generation to examine the sun’s composition as Hale did.
On a perfectly sunny Southern California day in March, Mount Wilson volunteer Ken Evans opened the dome to work on its restoration. Evans, Kohne and Moule excitedly talked of viewing sunsets through the telescope and perhaps having a summer solstice party, if the mirrors are ready in time. When Evans, a retired engineer, rotated the dome’s slit to face Mount Wilson, the group lamented that a tree blocked the view of Hale’s other temples of astronomy in the distance.The library at the Hale Solar Laboratory. (Liz Moule / Stefanos Polyzoides)
Moule and Polyzoides have donated Hale’s journals, also discovered in the basement, to Caltech. Hale’s typewriter and desk remain on the first floor in the sunny, elegant library, a booklover’s dream, with an Egyptian-style bas-relief of a figure holding a bow on a chariot. The ancient Egyptians likely interested Hale because they worshipped the sun, Moule says. There’s even a crate in the basement addressed to him with another bas-relief inside—the next Hale mystery Moule plans to tackle. She describes her role at Hale’s Solar Laboratory as “lighthouse keeper.”
“Sadly solar astronomy has moved on past the technology of that building, so it’s not something of regular use, in the way that a lot of lighthouses are not used for what they were originally intended for either,” Moule says. “But it’s an important monument, and I’m a caretaker.”
This particular lighthouse guards a telescope that once used an instrument plunged almost 80 feet in the darkness to split sunlight from 93 million miles away. And thanks to Mount Wilson volunteers, the sun may soon stream through the cosmic lighthouse once again.Liz Moule and Dan Kohne in the telescope dome at the Hale Solar Laboratory on March 27, 2019. (Elizabeth Landau)
An early form of lie detection existed in India 2,000 years ago. Back then, a potential liar was told to place a grain of rice in his mouth, and chew. If he could spit out the rice, he was telling the truth. If he could not, that meant fear of being caught had parched his throat, and his deceit was confirmed.
Since that time, scientists have searched for a truth tool more reliable than Uncle Ben's—one that can separate fibs from facts with the push of a button. Such a device could slash trial length, aid job screeners and protect borders. The person to fashion this magical instrument—as precise as DNA, and far more applicable—would shift the entire landscape of forensic discovery. It could create a gap in the dictionary between "periwinkle" and "perk," where "perjury" once stood, and a crater in the TV Guide, where "CSI" and all its spin-offs once reigned supreme.
But each advance in the field of lie detection has met with a hitch. Polygraph machines have drawn considerable scientific scrutiny and remain inadmissible in courtrooms. Functional imaging has pinpointed which areas of the brain become active when people lie, but the results are based on group averages and become less accurate when a single person is tested. Even people with incredibly accurate facial analysis skills, so-called lie detection "wizards," were called into question last month in the journal Law and Human Behavior.
What follows is an overview of the long and continued struggle to find the perfect lie detector.
In the early 20th century, Harvard psychologist William Mouton Marston created his "systolic blood pressure test," more commonly known as the polygraph machine. Marston's hodgepodge of gizmos included a rubber tube and a sphygmomanometer—that childhood favorite the pediatrician wraps around a bicep and inflates with each squeeze of an egg-shaped ball. Polygraph 101 is clear enough: a person has typical levels of heart-rate, respiration and blood pressure when answering a basic question like "Is it true you live at 520 Elm Street?" If these levels remain the same during questions such as "Did you kill Jane Doe?" then the person is telling the truth. If not, he or she is lying.
Despite its reputation as the default lie detector, the polygraph has never received much credibility. In 1922, a federal judge ruled that Marston's device could not be used in a murder case; it did not hold "general acceptance" among the scientific community, wrote Justice Josiah Alexander Van Orsdel of the United States Court of Appeals. This decision, known as the "Frye standard," has essentially kept the polygraph out of courtrooms ever since.
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences orchestrated a massive review of the polygraph. The Academy concluded that the tool was not consistent enough to be used as a screening device when hiring national security employees. The physiological responses measured by the machine can be the result of many factors other than lying, including mere nervousness.
"There are many people who will speak in favor of the polygraph," says William Iacono, who is a professor of psychology and law at the University of Minnesota. "The argument is, if the government uses it 100,000 times a year, how can it be so wrong? The reason they believe it is because of the nature of the feedback they get. Occasionally, people fail the test and they're asked to confess, and they do. But if a guilty person passes, he doesn't turn around on his way out and say: ‘Hey, I really did it.' They never learn of their errors, so they don't think there are any errors."
In the end, Marston's reputation made out better than that of his machine; he went on to earn fame as the creator of Wonder Woman.
The Guilty Knowledge Test
In the late 1950s, modern deception research took a new turn, when psychologist David Lykken of the University of Minnesota adapted polygraph interrogation with his guilty knowledge test.
A typical polygraph question asks a suspect whether he or she committed a crime. The guilty knowledge test focuses its questions on knowledge that only a perpetrator would have. Say, for example, you stole a purse from a woman wearing a bright green dress. A polygraph examiner might ask: "Did you steal the dress?" A good liar could control his response and pass the exam. Lykken would ask two questions: "Did you see a green dress?" and "Did you see a blue dress?" Regardless of your answer, the mere mention of the incriminating detail would cause a noticeable blip in your physiological reactions.
In 1959, Lykken published the first study showing the effects of this method. He had some 50 subjects enact one or two mock crimes, while others enacted none. Then he asked everyone to take a guilty knowledge test. Based on physiological responses, Lykken correctly categorized about 90 percent of the subjects, he reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
One of the subjects, it so happens, was a Hungarian refugee who had twice fooled the KGB about his anti-Soviet involvement. After a 30-minute interrogation, Lykken had identified which of the two mock crimes this subject had committed.
Image by Reuters / Arnd Wiegmann. A researcher tests a polygraph machine. (original image)
Image by iStockphoto. A lie detector based on functional imaging, often called fMRI, allows scientists to monitor lying in real time. (original image)
One day in 1983, the phone rang in J. Peter Rosenfeld's psychology lab at Northwestern University. It was a CIA agent. He wanted to know if Rosenfeld would run the agency's new lie detection program.
Rosenfeld froze. How did the CIA know he had planned to start researching deception? After all, he had only told a trusted colleague, and his mother. But it soon became clear that the agent had been calling several researchers in the hopes of luring one to direct the new program. Rosenfeld declined but recommended a promising graduate student, and for the next several months, broad-shouldered men in suits popped out from behind trees on Evanston's north campus.
Finally, the agency decided to hire the student. She flew to Washington, D.C. and took a polygraph test as standard job-screening procedure. But as her husband and children prepared for a new life, she failed the test on a question about her sexuality and lost the job, Rosenfeld says. "It was a simple case of the polygraph making a mistake, but the CIA has to be more safe than sorry," he says. "At that point, I said we might as well try to have one [a lie detector] that's based on science."
Rosenfeld settled on a method that combined Lykken's guilty knowledge test with brainwave research performed by Columbia University researcher Samuel Sutton. In the 1960s, Sutton had discovered that human brains show a burst of activity 300 milliseconds after a person sees a distinct image. Rosenfeld's premise was simple: If a woman wearing a green dress is robbed, then the perpetrator's mind will store an image of the dress, and his brain will respond a certain way when later confronted with this image.
The basic science behind the idea is not much more difficult. Brain cells emit electronic signals in a rhythmic, up-and-down pattern. These signals can be recorded from a person's scalp, and the resulting sequence of peaks and dips is called a brainwave. One of these waves, the P300, swoops enormously when it recognizes an image. The "P" aspect stands for positive, and the "300" refers to the number of milliseconds the wave occurs after recognition.
In 1987, Rosenfeld tried his P300 test on ten subjects. Each subject "stole" one item from a box of nine desirables. By actually touching the item, subjects formed a bond with the object that would result in a P300 response, Rosenfeld predicted. The subjects then watched names of the items flash across a monitor. When non-stolen items appeared, the brainwaves showed up normal. But when the stolen item flashed on the screen, the subject's brainwave formed a distinct P300 response.
The main advantage of this method over the traditional polygraph is striking: deception is implied without the suspect saying a single word. In fact, the P300 cannot even be considered a lie detector. "You're looking at recognition, not lying," Rosenfeld says. "However, I think the inference is justified if you take the proper measures."
In the 1990s, a scientist named Lawrence Farwell combined the guilty knowledge test and the P300 technique to create a commercial lie detector called Brain Fingerprinting. In 2000, Brain Fingerprinting almost gained admission to the courtroom during an appeal of a murder case in Iowa. (A district court judge rejected the appeal but ruled that the technique could have been admissible. A State Supreme Court judge eventually upheld the appeal, but did not take Brain Fingerprinting results into account.)
But a drawback of lie detectors based on the P300 method is that investigators must work very hard to find unusual items that only the criminal would have seen. Take the case of the bright green dress. If that dress is truly unique to the crime, the suspect will produce a powerful P300 response. But if the criminal's wife happens to wear a lot of green dresses, the P300 wave could be blunted down to regular size.
Functional imaging, often called fMRI, allows scientists to monitor brain activity in real time. Subjects are wheeled on a padded platform into a noisy magnetic resonance imaging machine that scans their brains every two seconds in search of increased neural activity. A small mirror allows them to see and react to prompts shown on a screen outside the machine. Meanwhile, from another room, investigators collect brain activity for statistical analysis.
The first fMRI study of lie detection to receive widespread attention was published in 2002 by Daniel Langleben of the University of Pennsylvania. Langleben handed his subjects a playing card—the five of clubs—before sliding them into the MRI machine. He encouraged them to deny having the card, offering a $20 reward for those who successfully deceived the machine, which was more than enough incentive for his undergraduate subjects.
During the test, subjects saw various playing cards on a screen and pushed a button indicating whether or not they had the card being shown. Most of the time, when subjects denied having the card on the screen, they were telling the truth. Only when the five of clubs appeared was the response a lie.
Langleben compared truthful brain activity with deceptive activity and found that a person's mind is generally more active when lying. This result suggests that truthfulness might be our default cognitive status, and that deception requires additional mental effort.
But a lie detector based on functional imaging would suffer from a few potentially fatal flaws. Critics of the method often point out that functional imaging results are averaged from a group, not based on individual subjects. Such a limitation causes obvious problems in the world of criminal law.
In the fall of 2005, Langleben found encouraging evidence that functional imaging can detect deception on an individual basis. Using a modified version of his previous test, Langleben reported being able to correctly classify individual lies or truths 78 percent of the time. His results are the first evidence that functional imaging can detect deception for an individual person regarding an individual question. Still, 78 percent accuracy, while promising, is far from fool-proof.
While driving on a dark night in northern California, Maureen O'Sullivan listened to J.J. Newberry, a former agent in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, discuss how he had been betrayed by a friend. Newberry seemed very upset by the incident, and very involved in the telling of it, O'Sullivan recalls. Then, suddenly, Newberry asked O'Sullivan to pull over. In the middle of his engrossing story he had spotted a man slumped over behind the wheel of a parked car across the street.
Such preternatural awareness has helped make Newberry a lie detection "wizard," says O'Sullivan, who coined the term with her colleague Paul Ekman at the University of San Francisco. The distinction is a select one: in 30 years of testing, the researchers have found fewer than 50 wizards. These people score in the upper ranks on a battery of deception tests developed by Ekman and O'Sullivan.
"These people are super hunters," O'Sullivan says. "What they see is unbelievable."
Ekman and O'Sullivan began testing for people who could identify deception with great accuracy in the late 1980s. They eventually settled on series of three tests. The first involves spotting people lying about their feelings. For this test, potential wizards watch a videotape of ten women, half of whom are lying about their current emotions, half of whom are telling the truth.
The second test shows ten men describing an opinion they have, and the third shows ten men discussing whether they had stolen money. Again, in both cases, half the people are lying and half are telling the truth.
For a person to become a wizard, he or she must first correctly identify nine people in the emotional test, then go on to identify at least eight people in one of the two other tests. As of 2003, having studied more than 10,000 people, the researchers had found just 29 wizards. That number has grown to about 50, O'Sullivan said recently.
Many wizards spent time in the Secret Service, says O'Sullivan. The practice of scanning large crowds for odd behaviors has honed their acuity. Whereas regular people make a quick decision when watching the test videotapes, wizards hold their final analysis until the end, tracking intonation changes, word choice and eye gaze. Therapists also score high on the tests.
Social psychologist Charles F. Bond Jr. of Texas Christian University is unconvinced. Bond believes the wizards are mere statistical outliers—the eventual result of testing thousands of people on the same task.
"They presented the fact that a small number of people did well out of a huge number of people who took the test, as evidence that those people had a special skill, "says Bond, whose argument was published online recently in Law and Human Behavior. "If a lot of people play the lottery, someone wins."
Before government and legal agencies begin consulting these wizards, Bond would like to see outside sources conduct additional tests on them—a measure of validity that O'Sullivan says is now in the works.
But even with additional tests, perfection will have to wait until the next generation lie detector. To date, says O'Sullivan, nobody has scored perfectly on all three tests.
For me, it is the most beautiful view in the world. I am sitting on my rooftop balcony, looking through a tunnel of sea, mountains and sky that connects this former Venetian town to her ancient metropolis, the Serenissima. It is late afternoon. The northwest wind known as the maestral is whipping down the channel that separates us from the Croatian mainland. Windsurfers, kite surfers and sailboats dart back and forth across the milewide expanse of water. Below me are the ocher rooftops of Korčula (pronounced KOR-chu-la), perched on a rocky promontory surrounded by the translucent sea.
In a couple of hours, the sun will go down over the mountains, creating a seascape of musty pinks, blues and greens. In my mind’s eye, I follow the age-old trade route along the Dalmatian coast to Venice at the head of the Adriatic, nearly 400 miles away. It is easy to imagine Venetian galleys and sailing ships on patrol beneath the ramparts of Korčula, ready to do battle against rival city-states like Ragusa and Genoa, the Ottoman Empire and the Barbary pirates of North Africa.
I have been coming to Korčula—or Curzola, as it was known in Venetian times—for more than four decades, ever since I was a child. It is a place that still has the power to take my breath away, particularly in the quiet of the early morning and evening, when the polished white stones of the Old Town seem to float above the water. With its cathedral and miniature piazzetta, dreamy courtyards and romantic balconies, and elaborately carved Gothic windows and family crests, Korčula is “a perfect specimen of a Venetian town,” in the phrase of a 19th-century English historian, Edward Augustus Freeman.
More than three centuries have passed since the “Most Serene” Republic ruled this stretch of Dalmatian coastline, but her influence is evident everywhere, from the winged lion that greets visitors at the ceremonial entrance to the town to the hearty fish soup known as brodet to the “gondola” references in Korčulan folk songs.
The extraordinarily rich Korčulan dialect is sprinkled not only with Italian words like pomodoro (tomato) and aiuto (help) but also specifically Venetian words like gratar (to fish) and tecia (cooking pan) that have nothing in common with either Croatian or Italian.
Image by Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis. Shadows cast on stone stairs in the medieval Old Town area. The streets are steep and narrow. Often there is barely room for two people to pass each other without touching. (original image)
Image by Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis. A sidewalk café near St. Mark’s Cathedral in the heart of the island buzzes with activity. (original image)
Image by Josef Polleross, Anzenberger/Redux. In a dance called the Moreška, rival Christian and Moor armies fight over the honor of a fair Korčulan lady. (original image)
Image by Doug Pearson, JAI/Corbis. A young man sports a traditional sword fighting costume. (original image)
The legacy of more than 400 years of Venetian rule can also be felt in the habits and mind-set of the Korčulans. “Every Korčulan imagines himself to be descended from a noble Venetian family,” says my friend Ivo Tedeschi. “We feel that we are at the center of our own little universe.” Families with Italian names like Arneri and Boschi and Depolo have been prominent in Korčula since Venetian times. As befits a place that was sometimes called the “arsenal of Venice,” Korčula still boasts its own shipyard, albeit one that has fallen on hard times with the economic crisis in Croatia.
Contributing to the sense of crumbling grandeur is the location of Korčula at the crossroads of geography and history. This was where West met East—the intersection of Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Islamic civilizations. For the most part, these worlds have lived in harmony with one another, but occasionally they have clashed, with disastrous consequences, as happened in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. My house overlooks the narrowest point of the Pelješac canal, which straddled the dividing line between the western and eastern parts of the Roman Empire—Rome and Byzantium—and marked the seaborne approaches to the Serenissima.
Korčula changed hands several times during the Napoleonic Wars, from the French to the British and finally to the Austrians. Since the early 19th century, it has belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Communist Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia. Each shift in power was accompanied by the destruction of the symbols of the previous regime and the wholesale renaming of streets, leaving people confused about their own address.
My friend Gaella Gottwald points out a frieze of a defaced winged lion, sitting forlornly next to the town hall. “The lion was the symbol of Venetian power,” she explains. “When the Communists took over after World War II, they destroyed anything that reminded the people of Italian rule.” A few winged lions survived high up on the city walls, but most were removed and replaced by the red Partisan star and portraits of Marshal Tito. Similarly, after the fall of communism in 1991, most of the Partisan stars were replaced with the checkerboard emblem of independent Croatia. The Josip Broz Tito Harbor was renamed the Franjo Tudjman Harbor, after Croatia’s new nationalist leader.
Most of what I know about the winds of Korčula I have learned from Rosario Vilović, a retired sea captain who lives up our street. Each wind has its own name and distinct personality. “The maestral blows in the afternoon in summer,” he says, pointing to the northwest, toward Venice. “It is a warm, dry, very refreshing wind.” His brow thickens as he gestures to the northeast, over the forbidding limestone mountains of the Pelješac Peninsula. “The bora is our strongest and most destructive wind. When a bora threatens, we run inside and close all our shutters and windows.” He turns toward the south. “The jugo is humid and wet and brings a lot of rain.” And so he continues, around all the points of the compass.
Winds are to Korčula as canals are to Venice, shaping her geography, character and destiny. When the city fathers laid out the town at least 800 years ago, they created a medieval air-conditioning system based on wind circulation. On the western side of the town the streets are all straight, open to the maestral. On our side of town, facing the Pelješac, the streets are crooked, to keep the bora out.
In Korčula, horses and carriages “are as impossible as at Venice itself, though not for the same reason,” wrote Freeman in his 1881 book, Sketches From the Subject and Neighbour Lands of Venice, which remains one of the best guidebooks to the Dalmatian coast. “Curzola does not float upon the waters, it soars above them.” Viewed from above, the island resembles the crumpled skeleton of a fish, straight on one side but crooked on the other. A narrow spine down the middle serves as the main street, centered on the cathedral and its miniature square, climbing over the top of the humpbacked peninsula. The streets are steep and narrow: There is barely room for two pedestrians to pass each other without touching.
One result of Korčula’s unique wind circulation system is the orientation of the town toward the maestral and therefore toward Venice. The western side of the town is open and inviting, with a seafront promenade, harbor and hotel. The eastern side is fortified, against both the bora and the Moor. It is a layout that reflects the geopolitical orientation of Korčula toward the West, away from the Slavic world, Islam and the Orient.
The battle between East and West is echoed in a traditional sword dance known as the Moreška, which used to be performed throughout the Mediterranean but seems to have survived only in Korčula. The dance is a morality tale pitting the army of the Red King (Christians) against the army of the Black King (Moors), over the honor of a fair Korčulan lady. Sparks fly (literally) from the clashing swords, but needless to say, the fix is in, and the favored team emerges triumphant every time.
Given Korčula’s strategic location, it is hardly surprising that the island has been the prey of numerous foreign navies. The Genoese won a great sea battle over the Venetians within sight of my house in 1298, leading to the capture of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. An Ottoman fleet led by the feared corsair Uluz Ali passed by here in 1571. According to Korčula legend, the Venetians fled, leaving the island to be defended by the locals, mainly women who lined the city walls clad in military attire. The show was sufficiently impressive to dissuade the Turks from attacking Korčula; they sailed away to pillage the neighboring island of Hvar instead. (An alternative story is that the Turkish fleet was dispersed by a storm.) In recognition of its devotion to Christendom, Korčula earned the title “Fidelissima” (Most Faithful One) from the pope.
The winds and the sea have also endowed Korčula with a long line of distinguished seafarers. The most prominent of them, according to the Korčulans, is Marco Polo himself, whose celebrated travel book gave Europeans their first insight into the customs and history of China. In truth, Korčula’s claim to be Marco Polo’s birthplace is tenuous, but no more so than the claims of others, such as Šibenik (farther up the Dalmatian coast) and Venice itself. It rests mainly on oral tradition and the fact that a “De Polo” family has been living in Korčula for centuries. The Marco Polo connection has proved a boon to the local tourist industry, spawning a “Marco Polo house,” half a dozen “Marco Polo shops” and “museums,” “Marco Polo ice cream,” and several competing Marco Polo impersonators.
Collecting absurd Marco Polo claims has become a pastime of Korčula’s foreign residents. My personal favorites: “Marco Polo brought these noodles back from China” (on the menu of a local restaurant) and “Marco Polo found great food and love in this house” (sign outside another restaurant). A few years ago a friend of ours packaged a bulbous piece of plaster in a cardboard box and labeled it “Marco Polo’s Nose—an Original Souvenir from Korčula.” It was an instant hit with locals and tourists.
A different state of being
One of the qualities that Korčula shares with Venice is a sense of living on the edge of disaster. Venetians face floods, storms and the demands of modern tourism as threats to their noble city. In the case of Korčula, it is the onslaught of vacationers in the summer months that fuels concern over the town’s fragile infrastructure. Megayachts with names like Will Power and Eclipse and Sovereign maneuver for docking space in the harbor. A 15th-century tower that was once part of Korčula’s defenses against the Turks becomes a cocktail bar selling overpriced mojitos to raucous Italians and Australians.
The most obvious evidence of the imbalance between tourism and infrastructure is the unpleasant odor of raw sewage that wafts over parts of the town on hot summer days, particularly when the breeze is blowing in the wrong direction. The Venetian-built sewage canals, known as kaniželas (from the Venetian canisela), have become clogged with the detritus of unauthorized construction and the waste of the Marco Polo-themed restaurants. Short of ripping out the medieval guts of the town and tunneling deep under the cobbled alleyways, there is no obvious solution.
Yet Korčulans are the first to admit that they lack the moneymaking dynamism of their neighbors in Hvar, who have turned their island into the showcase of the Croatian tourist industry. In Korčula, tourists tend to be viewed as a necessary evil. The Hvar city fathers considered silencing the church bells after foreign visitors complained about the noise; in Korčula, the bells are as much a part of the landscape as the sea and the air, and continue to peal at all times of the day and night.
For those of us who consider ourselves adopted Korčulans, the summer crowds and occasional unpleasant smells are a small price to pay for the privilege of living in a magical, almost timeless place. The Croatian tourist slogan “the Mediterranean as it once was” seems an exaggeration on other parts of the Dalmatian coast but encapsulates the laid-back pace of life in Korčula. It is a world of lazy afternoon siestas, invigorating swims in the crystal clear Adriatic, scents of wild mint and rosemary and lavender, sounds of crickets singing in the pine trees, tastes of succulent tomatoes and fresh grilled fish, all washed down with glasses of Pošip (pronounced POSH-ip], the dry white wine that is native to the island.
There is a Dalmatian expression—fjaka, deriving from the Italian word fiacca—that sums up this blissful existence. The closest translation would be “indolence” or “relaxation,” but it has much subtler connotations. “Fjaka is a philosophy, a way of life,” explains my neighbor Jasna Peručić, a Croatian American who works as a hard-charging New York real estate agent when she is not relaxing in Korčula. “It means more than simply doing nothing. It is a state of well-being in which you are perfectly content.”
To fully achieve this state, however, requires a reorientation of the mind: The locals also use fjaka as a one-word explanation for the impossibility of finding an electrician or a plumber—or getting very much done at all—particularly when the humid south wind is blowing in the dog days of summer.
Like other foreigners who fall in love with Korčula, I have come to understand that true relaxation—fjaka—comes from adapting yourself to the rhythms and habits of your adopted town. Every summer I arrive in Korčula with ambitious plans to explore more of the Dalmatian coast, go for long hikes or bike rides, improve the house, or work on an unfinished book. Almost invariably, these plans fall through. Instead I am perfectly content with the daily routine of shopping for fish and pomodori, cooking, eating, talking and sleeping.
The flip side of fjaka is occasional bursts of almost manic energy. A decade or so ago, my neighbors invented a new festival known as “Half New Year,” which is celebrated on June 30. For one hilarious evening, villagers from all over the island compete with one another to devise the most outrageous form of costume, parading around the town in rival teams of prancing minstrels, dancing Hitlers and little green men from Mars. Marching bands lead the revelers, young and old, on a tour of the ancient battlements. And then, as suddenly as it has awakened, the town falls back asleep.
When I sail away from Korčula at the end of the summer, watching the white stones of the old town recede into the watery distance, I feel a stab of melancholy. As in Venice, the feeling of loss is enhanced by the sense that all this beauty could simply disappear. It is as if I am seeing an old friend for the last time. But then I remember that Korčula—like Venice—has survived wars and earthquakes, fires and plagues, Fascism and Communism, Ottoman navies and armies of modern-day tourists.
My guess is that the Fidelissima, like the Serenissima, will still be casting her spell for many centuries to come.
The Seven Natural Wonders of Texas
Texas is famous for vast cattle ranches and oil booms, but our natural wonders are what awe and inspire travelers.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Located 13 miles north of San Antonio, Natural Bridge Caverns is one of the world’s premiere show caves and Texas’s largest natural attractions. Visitors can view more than 10,000 different formations in its underground chambers. More than 250,000 tourists a year visit this Texas treasure that was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior for sites that have an important role in preserving cultural history.
Located just outside the Texas Hill Country town of Fredericksburg, visitors are invited to backpack, camp, hike, rock climb, picnic, bird watch and star gaze in this Texas state park, which is the second-largest granite dome in the United States. The formation rises 425 feet above ground (1,825 feet above sea level) and covers 640 acres.
Big Bend National Park
Hailed as one of America’s largest national parks, Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres along the Rio Grande River in West Texas. The park ranges in elevation from less than 2,000 feet along the Rio Grande River to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains and encompasses massive canyons, rock formations and vast desert expanses.
Padre Island National Seashore
Visitors are sure to soak up plenty of sun on the Padre Island National Seashore, which is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world.
The Meteor Crater
Visitors can travel back in time in Odessa, where they can see the 550-foot meteor crater, the second largest in the nation, which was the result of a barrage of meteors crashing to the earth 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Nature enthusiasts will want to visit this national preserve where the southwestern desert meets the eastern hardwood swamps and coastal prairies meet the northern piney woods. The preserve is home to diverse plant communities including orchids, cactus, cypress and pine, as well as many species of birds, insect-eating plants and a wide variety of wildlife.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Famed as the second-largest canyon in the United States, the colorful slopes of the Palo Duro Canyon span approximately 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep.
Outdoor Adventure: Not Just For Cowboys
Whether you are looking to camp, hike, bike, golf, swim, fish, hunt, horseback ride, bird watch or experience just about any other outdoor activity you can think of, Texas is the place to be.
With more than 267,000 square miles to explore, cyclists find many diverse and thrilling rides in Texas, whether it is through the mountains of West Texas or on the trails of the Piney Woods.
Texas also has a number of excellent spots to pitch a tent and spend the night under the stars. State parks, national parks, sandy beaches and nature preserves offer campers a vast variety of areas from which to choose.
One of the most majestic sites for camping and hiking is Palo Duro Canyon State Park in North Texas. If adventure is on the agenda, visitors have their choice at Big Bend National Park in far West Texas that encompasses more than 800,000 acres of mountains and desert along the Rio Grande River, where visitors enjoy hiking, camping, wildlife and more.
The fish are sure to be biting in the more than 90 freshwater lakes and saltwater bays of Texas. From tournament fishing for black bass to fly fishing for rainbow trout, Texas offers fishermen more than any other single state. Deep sea fishing excursions from South Padre Island, Corpus Christi and Galveston offer fishermen a chance to bring home a prize sailfish or shark as a souvenir from their day in the Gulf of Mexico.
For visitors who want to get their feet wet, Texas offers numerous swimming, rafting and scuba diving adventures. Located just 110 miles off the coast of Freeport, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is a scuba diver’s paradise and a world premier diving destination.
With more than 600 species of birds to see and catalogue, Texas is arguably the birding capital of America. Famed birding areas in Texas include the Gulf Coast, Texas Hill Country and the Piney Woods of East Texas. Texas is also home to the World Birding Center, a network of nine birding sites dotted along 120 miles of river road from South Padre Island west to Roma along the Rio Grande River of South Texas.
Happy Trails: Discovering Texas Wildlife
Wild treasures in Texas go far beyond cattle, cactus and coyotes. In addition to a world-class bird-watching experience, adventurers who hike, bike, kayak or even camel trek their way through Texas will find opportunities to chase rare butterflies, spot an endangered ocelot, boat with dolphins or watch sea turtles make their nests.
The Rio Grande Valley is a canvas of color and a haven for nature and bird enthusiasts. The World Birding Center in Mission serves as a global model for conservation and ecotourism and is home to rare Altamira orioles and plain chachalacas. Just down the road, the International Butterfly Park serves as an 85-acre refuge attracting native flora and fauna as well as more than 290 species of butterflies. Weslaco’s Valley Nature Center is not only home to hundreds of bird and butterfly species but also 23 varieties of dragonflies and damselflies. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, the "jewel" of the U.S. National Wildlife refuge system, in Alamo, rounds off some of the Valley’s wildlife attractions. This refuge boasts 12 miles of walking trails and a seven-mile tour road that is open to both drivers and bicyclists.
Texas’s Gulf Coast draws whooping cranes and waterfowl galore, particularly in Rockport at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts the world’s last natural wild population of whoopers along with nearly 400 other bird species. Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island allows visitors to see endangered sea turtles and learn how its staff rescues and rehabilitates the turtles before releasing them back into the wild. Just across the island, the Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center offers guests the opportunity to feed creatures including starfish, octopus and sea horses. The center also offers dolphin-watching boat tours.
In the Texas Hill Country, the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo are on display each spring along with other rare songbirds; and fall brings sandhill cranes to the Panhandle Plains region.
Outdoor enthusiasts are sure to fall in love with the rugged beauty of the Big Bend Region. Anchored by Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, visitors can take in dramatic vistas while enjoying hiking, camping, river running, horse riding, camel trekking, mountain biking and jeep touring. The park also has more than 450 bird species—more than any other national park. Float or raft down the Rio Grande River or for an out-of-the-ordinary touring excursion, contact the Texas Camel Corps for a Camel trek through the desert.
Tee Off in Texas
With a mild climate, a storied past and more than 900 golf courses strewn across rugged desert mountains, rolling green hills, piney woods and seaside links, Texas is blazing a trail in the world of golf. As lush public, private and resort courses spread across the Lone Star State, Texas is fast becoming a destination hotspot and golf-lover’s getaway.
Some of the top names in golf course design have left their mark on the Texas golf landscape, including Tom Fazio, Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones. Golf Schools in Irving and Austin boast such famous namesakes as Byron Nelson and Harvey Penick.
If visitors do pack their clubs while visiting Texas, they won't be alone. We count more than 70 of the top PGA players as Texas residents. And many of the courses are stops on the tour itself, including the Shell Houston Open in Houston, the EDS Byron Nelson Championship in Irving, the Crown Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Fort Worth, the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, the FexEx Kinkos Classic in Austin and the Tour Championship in Houston.
In addition to first-rate golfing, Texas’s golf resorts and destination cities boast an assortment of leisure activities, including world-class spa facilities, shopping and fine dining.
From the Gulf Coast to the Big Bend, visitors can play an unforgettable round of golf in Texas.
Just for Kids
Texas’s wide open spaces are matched in size only by the imaginations of its young travelers. Children of all ages can explore their biggest dreams here—or just get lost in the thrill of a theme park or the warm sun shining down on the Gulf of Mexico.
"Lil’ pardners" looking for a taste of the Old West can hop into the saddle at any of the more than 100 Texas dude ranches with cattle, cowpokes and authentic chuck wagon dinners. Bandera, "The Cowboy Capital of the World," is just northwest of San Antonio and offers such experiences. Families vacationing in urban areas can add a dose of cowboy flavor to their trips with an evening at the rodeo or a two-step lesson at an authentic dance hall.
Young travelers have much to experience at Texas’s world-class museums, zoos and aquariums. The Lone Star State houses everything from natural history and children’s museums to a tribute to Dr. Pepper. Kids can discover the past at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, blast off to new worlds entirely at NASA/Johnson Space Center in Houston or spy the night skies at the McDonald Observatory in West Texas. While in West Texas, another can’t-miss night wonder is the famous Marfa lights.
More new worlds are waiting underwater in the Lone Star State. The 600 miles of Texas beaches on the Gulf of Mexico are among the most calming and beautiful in the nation. Ideal family activities include parasailing, boating, dolphin watching, bird watching, building sandcastles, deep sea fishing and just relaxing on the pristine beaches.
Texas also has hundreds of old-fashioned freshwater swimming holes scattered throughout the state, from Barton Springs Pool in Austin to San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea State Park. The state is also home to numerous lakes perfect for swimming, boating, jet skiing and fishing.
Another outdoor activity for the whole family has a simple recipe—a tent, a cooler and the beautiful Texas scenery. Texas has plenty of parks, RV sites and cabins to set the stage for an evening under the stars. Beginning and experienced campers alike can enjoy hiking, backpacking and rock climbing from Palo Duro Canyon, in the Texas Panhandle, to the Piney Woods of East Texas.
Those wanting to get their adrenaline pumping need look no further than Texas’s theme parks, each with monster roller coasters, stunt shows, musical productions and fun rides for all ages. In addition, Texas is home to some of the nation’s best water parks. Families can also spend lazy days floating along Texas’s many lazy rivers, including the Comal, San Marcos, Frio and Guadalupe.
This year’s titles range across cultures, into the past and toward the future. Their creators have relied on humor to touch our hearts; documentary accounts to bring history alive; biography to convey the true meaning of courage; poetic language to demonstrate the power of the written word—and the artist’s brush or camera to create ravishing illustrations.
The age categories listed below are, of necessity, arbitrary. Adjust any choices to the interests and reading level of the individual child. For example, a book that may prove too demanding for a youngster to read on her or his own may constitute a perfect read-aloud.
For the Youngest Readers
It’s a Secret! by John Burningham
Britain’s acclaimed author-illustrator casts a new and irresistible spell as he answers the age-old question: “Where do cats go at night?” All children deserve an entire shelf full of Burningham’s brilliant creations. Enthralling for all ages.
Mommy, Where Are You? by Leonid Gore
An enchantingly original variation on the lift-the-flap book melds simple yet vivid text and a reassuring denouement.
The Snow Day by Komako Sakai
The Japanese illustrator’s evocation of the hushed and swirling moment when the flakes begin to fall is atmospheric and compressed as a verse by Basho.
Thunder-Boomer! by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Carol Thompson
On a hot day on the farm, clouds are gathering. A spirited tale, rooted in a sense of togetherness, that fairly begs for many a re-reading. A marvelous addition for every family bookshelf.
Red Ted and the Lost Thieves by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Joel Stewart
A bear, a crocodile and a cat set out across town to find their way back to the place where journeys under a lucky star will lead: home.
Budgie & Boo by David McPhail
The distinguished author has created a paean to friendship and its constancy, morning, noon and night.
Piglet and Granny by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Stephen Michael King
What’s a piglet to do when long-awaited Granny hasn’t yet swung open the squeaky garden gate? A picture-perfect portrayal of a bond between generations.
Built by Angels: The Story of the Old-New Synagogue by Mark Podwal
A lyrical evocation of Prague’s synagogue—“older than any other”—recounts its rich and varied history.
Mule Train Mail by Craig Brown
The Wild West meets the modern world in this surprising nod to a living tradition: mule-train mail delivery from the rim of the Grand Canyon to the town of Supai far below.
The Missing Chick by Valeri Gorbachev
There’s always one in every crowd: an errant youngster has the entire town turned inside out and searching high and low.
Dinosaur Woods by George McClements
Witty and warm-hearted, with snappy dialogue aplenty, a tale of forest creatures who band together to save their home. Kids will likely request this again and again.
Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales retold and illustrated by Lucy Cousins
Imbuing classics from “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” to “The Musicians of Bremen” with fresh energy, Cousins creates an indispensable compendium for the youngest readers.
Lost and Found: Three Dog Stories by Jim LaMarche
Faithful companions who help us find our way in the world—and into a trio of happy endings.
What Lincoln Said by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by James E. Ransome
The president’s eloquent words form the basis of a window on the life and times of the farm boy from Illinois who would enter the White House on the eve of the Civil War.
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
Relayed in adroitly compressed text and accompanied by magnificent illustration, Floca conveys the story of one great leap for mankind to a new generation of readers.
Night Lights by Susan Gal
Counting the ways that darkness is illumined, the illustrator-author also ushers in the stuff of dreams. A perfect bedtime book.
An Eye for Color: The Story of Josef Albers by Natasha Wing, illustrated by Julia Breckenreid
A picture biography of the influential abstract painter illuminates an artistic vision that constituted one of the wellsprings of 20th-century art.
Hands of the Rainforest written and photographed by Rachel Crandell
The Embera of Panama continue to rely on traditional skills and artisanry to maintain their culture. Crandell documents the ways in which day-to-day existence depends on a deep and ancient knowledge of the tropical forest.
For Middle Readers
Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery
A dog marooned by the Iraq war sets out on an incredible journey across the sands to find the Marines who had shown him the only kindness he had ever known. For anyone who wants to believe that compassion, loyalty and courage transcend all barriers, this book will restore your faith.
Camping with the President by Ginger Wadsworth, illustrated by Karen Dugan
In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt sent the Secret Service packing and dismissed the press when he joined naturalist John Muir for four days of roughing it in Yosemite. The president returned home determined to create the national park system.
Tumtum & Nutmeg by Emily Bearn, illustrations by Nick Price From inside a broom cupboard, two intrepid mice take on the world and protect their human charges. Old-fashioned stories in the best sense of the word.
Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
With his signature whimsy and wordplay, the author takes a jaunty excursion into a long, long lost world.
Lin Yi’s Lantern by Brenda Williams, illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe
As the Moon Festival approaches in China, one small boy makes a brave choice and finds that his generosity is repaid in away he least expected.
African Tales retold by Gcina Mhlophe, illustrated by Rachel Griffin
From Namibia to Ethiopia and beyond, magic and healing, kindness and resourcefulness abound: the collected stories merit many a re-reading.
Scat by Carl Hiaasen
The author brings his comic timing and passion for Florida’s wilderness to the suspenseful tale of two kids who decide to investigate after an undeniably unpopular biology teacher disappears after a field trip to a swamp.
Cezanne and the Apple Boy by Laurence Anholt
In his artful introduction to Impressionist painting and his affecting portrayal of a father and son, Anholt pays homage to the power of individual vision. For aspiring young artists everywhere.
Peaceful Heroes by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sen Addy
From Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King to lesser-known figures—including Ginetta Sagan, a founder of Amnesty International—individuals have risked their lives to forge a better world. The profiles in courage inspire action and light the way into the future.
Classic Animal Stories chosen by Sally Grindley
From Aesop’s Fables to Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, this splendid anthology limns all the wonders of the wild creatures’ world.
Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul, illustrated by Frank Morrison
The NBA superstar offers an empowering remembrance of his childhood, when he was told: “You’re too small to play basketball.” He was, however, far too busy working toward his dream to listen to the naysayers. For every child who has faced seemingly insuperable obstacles.
My Name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock
When an eight-year-old boy arrives with his mother and sister in the United States from a refugee camp in Sudan, life seems dauntingly unmoored—until he devises an ingenious solution for connecting with his classmates and making his way toward friendship.
Lucky Breaks by Susan Patron
As she is about to turn 11, a girl called Lucky hopes that life will become more interesting in the small town that she calls home—Hard Pan. But diversion isn’t always as simple as it seems, in this appealing sequel to the Newbery-winning novel The Higher Power of Lucky.
The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix
A little-known story of resistance pays homage to those who risked all to create a secret sanctuary in wartime Paris.
Wild Times at the Bed & Biscuit by Joan Carris, illustrated by Noah Z. Jones
The next installment in the quiet exploits of the best fictional vet around. Grampa Bender rescues wild creatures from a cranky muskrat to a wounded Canada goose, nursing them back to health at his animal boardinghouse. A clever chapter book for elementary-school ages or an admirable read-aloud for pre-school children.
January’s Sparrow by Patricia Polacco
Polacco’s extraordinary evocation of a little-known chapter in American history, the tale of a daring rescue on the Underground Railroad, speaks to heroism at its most profound.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by John Lawrence
The celebrated British illustrator has created an heirloom edition of one of the greatest adventure sagas ever told.
Image by Eerdmans, William B.. My name is Sangoel by Karen Lynn Williams and Khadra Mohammed, illustrated by Catherine Stock. (original image)
Image by Holiday House, Inc.. The Grand Mosque of Paris: A Story of How Muslims Rescued Jews During the Holocaust by Karen Gray Ruelle and Deborah Durland DeSaix. (original image)
Image by Candlewick Press. Yummy: Eight Favorite Fairy Tales retold and illustrated by Lucy Cousins. (original image)
Image by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Thunder-Boomer! by Shutta Crum, illustrated by Carol Thompson. (original image)
Image by Penguin Group (USA). January's Sparrow by Patricia Polacco. (original image)
Image by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle by Major Brian Dennis, Kirby Larson and Mary Nethery. (original image)
Image by Lee & Low Books, Inc.. Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming written and photographed by Jan Reynolds. (original image)
Image by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Dinosaur, text by Stephanie Stansbie; illustrated by Robert Nicholls and James Robins. (original image)
Image by Candlewick Press. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by John Lawrence. (original image)
Image by Candlewick Press. It's a Secret! by John Burningham. (original image)
Raspberries! by Jay O’Callahan, illustrated by Will Moses
Kindness has its own reward, as Simon learns after his bakery is forced to close down. A large-hearted stand-out, accompanied by a CD of the story, recorded by the author.
The Dragons of Ordinary Farm by Tad Williams and Deborah Beale, pictures by Greg Swearingen
Two siblings believe that a summer spent on their elderly uncle’s farm is going to be dull as all get-out—until they spot the dragon in the barn. A yarn invested with a great deal of charm from two master storytellers.
Nasreen’s Secret School: a True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
At this moment, teachers in that war-torn land are placing their lives in the balance to give girls a future. Winter’s account affirms the transformative power of education and the healing strength of a grandmother’s love.
Dinosaur, text by Stephanie Stansbie; illustrated by Robert Nicholls and James Robins
For dino-obsessed children on your list, an interactive excursion to the giants of prehistory.
Breakfast in the Rainforest written and photographed by Richard Sobol
The world-class photographer trekked into wilds of Uganda to document the lives of a band of critically endangered mountain gorillas and the rangers committed to protecting them.
Miss Little’s Gift by Douglas Wood, illustrated by Jim Burke
In a second-grade classroom in 1950s Iowa—decades before a condition we now know as ADHD was recognized—a perceptive teacher saw that one child needed individual tutoring before he could learn to read. The author’s recollection of his own childhood experience is a tribute to teachers everywhere.
The Anne Frank Case by Susan Goldman Rubin, illustrated by Bill Farnsworth
In 1958, Simon Wiesenthal, the renowned Nazi hunter, learned that Neo-Nazis were perpetrating the idea that the Anne Frank story was a hoax. Thus began his five-year search for the Gestapo officer who arrested the Frank family, testifying to Wiesenthal’s determination to honor a young girl’s memory.
Stories from the Billabong retold by James Vance Marshall, illustrated by Frances Firebrace
From Australia, how the great Mother Snake created the world and the Kangaroo got his pouch: Aboriginal legends, memorably recast.
First Come the Zebra by Lynne Barasch
Against the backdrop of the annual migration of wildlife to Kenya, and recent violence in that country, a Maasai boy and a Kikuyu child bridge the differences that cast a shadow over both their lives.
Clover Twig and the Magical Cottage by Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Johanna Wright
Open the creaky gate to a disheveled homestead, where a slightly obstreperous witch is badly in need of rescue from a resourceful girl who arrives to put things right. Umansky’s delightful novel, shot through with magic potions and featuring a heroic cat, is this year’s most transporting creation for middle readers.
Muktar and the Camels by Janet Graber, illustrated by Scott Mack
In a Kenyan orphanage on the border with Somalia, a boy encounters a traveling librarian who delivers books by camel train—and suddenly, a life of possibility emerges.
Three outstanding titles mark Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday:
Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A. J. Wood and Clint Twist
A sumptuously illustrated introduction to the scientific imagination, based on Darwin’s diaries and later works.
One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Matthew Trueman
Transfixed by the mysteries of the natural world, Darwin set off aboard the Beagle in 1831. This account offers a page-turning survey of the voyage that instigated an intellectual revolution.
What Mr. Darwin Saw by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom
Whimsical and accessible, the writer-illustrator team presents complex ideas with their characteristic verve.
Mission to the Moon by Alan Dyer
Information-packed text and more than 200 photographs from NASA archives relay the race into space with immediacy and depth.
Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie by Robbin Gourley
This picture-biography surveys the contributions of Edna Lewis, the pioneering chef, who celebrated regional American cooking well before it was fashionable. Includes recipes.
Stars Above Us by Geoffrey Norman, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
The night sky shines brightly for a father and his young daughter—even when distances created by his deployment separate them. A touching narrative for any child who has awaited a parent’s return.
Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West by Lita Judge
In 1871, a young artist joined an expedition of scientists setting out to explore the West. The monumental canvasses based on his travels would become iconic images that are now part of our nation’s heritage.
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage by Alan Schroeder, illustrated by JaeMe Bereal
With only her dreams and her genius to guide her, a young girl set out from Florida in the 1890s for New York City. There, she would become a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
In the Belly of an Ox: The Unexpected Photographic Adventures of Richard and Cherry Kearton by Rebecca Bond
In the 19th century, two venturesome brothers in the grip of a magnificent obsession—documenting British birds and their nests—carved out a pioneering niche in wildlife photography.
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming written and photographed by Jan Reynolds
On the Edenic island of Bali, farmers have grown rice in harmony with their land for 1,000 years—practices that show promise for rice cultivation worldwide. Reynolds sends us on a compelling odyssey to one of the world’s great intact cultures.
Wildlife Gardening by Martyn Cox
How to do everything from attracting bees to creating an owl’s nest from an old boot: creating a refuge in your own backyard amounts to the ultimate in hands-on family fun.
Testing the Ice: A True Story About Jackie Robinson by Sharon Robinson, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
A daughter pays tribute to her father’s undaunted courage—on and off the playing field—in this quietly moving vignette from her childhood.
Whaling Season: A Year in the life of an Arctic Whale Scientist, written and photographed by Peter Lourie; Extreme Scientists: Exploring Nature’s Mysteries from Perilous Places, written and photographed by Donna M. Jackson
Both these titles, the latest in a series exploring the work of field scientists, vividly convey the thrill of research conducted everywhere from the edge of the ice to the top of great redwoods.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
David. Joseph. Franklin. Ezell—college students who changed history when they took seats at the whites-only lunch counter in North Carolina on February 1, 1960. Poetic story telling and energetic illustrations illuminate a transformative moment in America.
Erika-San by Allen Say
When a young Japanese-American woman goes in search of her grandparents’ traditions, she locates her future on a Japanese island where the old ways continue to hold sway.
For Older Readers
(Ages 10 and up)
Genius of Common Sense written and illustrated by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch
An American heroine of the first order, Jane Jacobs perceived cities as places where we thrive on interconnectedness. Her vision, eloquently explicated here, revolutionized our urban landscapes. For all ages.
Crows & Cards by Joseph Helgerson
Hilarious, touching and grounded in the American tall-tale tradition, Helgerson’s account of Zebulon Crabtree, who falls in with a riverboat gambler in 1849 St. Louis, has all the makings of a classic. Perfect as a read-aloud for somewhat younger children also.
Earth Heroes: Champions of the Wilderness by Bruce and Carol L. Malnor, illustrated by Anisa Claire Hovemann; Earth Heroes: Champions of the Ocean by Fran Hodgkins, illustrated by Cris Arbo
Profiles of dedicated scientists and environmentalists shed new light on science conducted in the field.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
This novel, richly layered and satisfyingly complex, is at once a legal thriller and a love story—but most of all, a tale of an autistic protagonist finding his way forward when demanding choices must be made.
The Secret of the Yellow Death by Suzanne Jurmain
A portrayal of the researchers who put their lives on the line to solve a medical mystery constitutes a true-life tale that will inspire the next generation of medical investigators.
Lifting the Sky by Mackie d’Arge
On a tumbledown ranch in Wyoming, a teenage girl who befriends wild creatures and possesses her own kind of clairvoyance finds that a real home is at last within her grasp.
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone
In 1958, an unspoken rule was in place: astronauts must be male and must be white. The pioneers who challenged the system were pathfinders for young women who today fly jets and take off for missions in space.
Journey of Dreams by Marge Pellegrino
As a girl and her family set out on a harrowing escape from war-torn Guatemala, they rely on family and a tradition of storytelling to sustain them on their flight to freedom. Pellegrino’s powerful novel is set against the backdrop of events as they unfolded in 1980s Central America.
City Boy by Jan Michael
In Malawi, an orphaned boy, sent to the country to live with his relatives, believes that only the past has any meaning—until he begins to glimpse his future.
Heroes of the Environment by Harriet Rohmer, illustrated by Julie McLaughlin
In Mexico, a superstar wrestler campaigns to preserve habitats for sea turtles and whales. A teenage girl discovers a method for removing a toxic chemical from the Ohio River. What they hold in common is a passionate belief that one person can make a difference.
The Yggssey by Daniel Pinkwater
Wacked out, shot through with sorcery and utterly original as always, Pinkwater’s account of a girl who happens to notice that L.A.’s once-thriving ghosts seem to be vanishing amounts to a first-class page turner.
If I Had a Hammer written and photographed by David Rubel
An absorbing chronicle of Habitat for Humanity, which for a quarter century has created shelter from the ground up, everywhere from West Virginia to a Brazilian village, where children no longer sleep beneath a table when the rains begin.
Hannah’s Winter by Kieran Meehan
Witty and unpredictable, fantastical and touching, Meehan’s novel is set in present-day Japan. An ancient message uncovered in a Japanese family’s stationery shop sends two teenage sleuths on a quest for truth.
Juicy Writing: Inspiration and Techniques for Young Writers by Brigid Lowry
The author of many outstanding young adult novels, including Follow the Blue, shares her secrets and explores the rewards of creativity.
Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger
Samar is a typical teenager—obsessed by school, friends and boys—until an uncle arrives from India, wanting to connect her family to its rich and contradictory Sikh heritage.
Marching for Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge
A documentary account of events in Selma, Alabama in the spring of 1965—when even children marched in support of the campaign for voting rights— is amplified by unforgettable contemporary photographs.
Pharaoh’s Boat by David Weitzman
Splendid drawings and compelling narrative meld past and present, revealing the secrets of shipwrights working in the shadow of the Pyramids and recognizing the contribution of the archaeologist who excavated the 4,600-year-old vessel they crafted.
The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trento Lee Stewart
Four friends who have already sorted out some evildoers find that they must unravel clues in an ominous new plot against their families. Suspense of a high order.
The Man Who Flies with Birds by Carole Garbuny Vogel and Yossi Leshem
Internationally renowned ornithologist Leshem has revolutionized our understanding of migration patterns and also has worked tirelessly for peace in the Middle East—reaching one bird lover at a time.
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
It’s quite a high-wire act to create a distinctive novel set in the Christmas season. But the singularly talented Richard Peck has done just that—and managed to bring back the beloved figure of eccentric, no-holds-barred Grandma Dowdel, as he returns to small-town Illinois, this time in 1958.
One of the vital epicenters of European culture, Prague has survived the wars of the last two centuries almost entirely intact. Today, the most atmospheric part of the city’s historic Old Town is the Malá Strana, or “Little Quarter” on the west bank of the river Vlatava: its quiet back alleys, which wind up past mansions and churches to Prague Castle, still have the haunted, Brothers Grimm appearance they had in the late 18th century. Here, it’s easy for visitors to still picture the likes of Giacamo Casanova, albeit in his twilight years, navigating Prague’s cobbled paths in his breeches and powdered wig, on one of his visits from nearby Castle Duchcov. At first, the somber medieval style of the Czech capital might seem an odd retirement choice for the ebullient Venetian who fled his beloved home city in 1783 after he offended powerful figures there. But look a little closer and Casanova’s spirit is everywhere. “Prague is a Gothic city that was baroquized by Italian artists,” explains Milos Curik, a Czech cultural guide. “This was where the Italian Renaissance first reached northern Europe.”
Today, Malá Strana’s ancient buildings still conceal flamboyant interiors. Peer through shuttered windows and one is likely to see designer bars that would not be out of place in Barcelona or New York. On my recent visit, I woke up inside a 14th century monastery adorned with Eastern art: urban conservationists have overseen its renovation by Mandarin Oriental, using an exotic blend of Czech and Asian influences. Even the hotel spa was built on the foundations of a medieval chapel, which can still be admired through the glass floor. And Casanova himself would have been gratified to learn that the staff offer a booklet on “The Ten Best Places to Kiss in Prague” – the Charles Bridge at dawn is particularly auspicious – and a Venetian-style Carnival is now a highlight of Prague’s winter season, complete with masked balls, street theater and parades.
But of all the arts, music has always been central to the city’s reputation. One of the most beguiling stories about Casanova’s sojourn in Bohemia – now part of the Czech Republic – is that he met Mozart in Prague in 1787, and that he worked on the libretto of Don Giovanni, the great opera about a compulsive Lothario not at all unlike Casanova himself. Today, tracing the little-known saga provides a marvelous key to the city.
To follow the Casanova trail, my first stop was the Italian Cultural Institute, which was founded as a Jesuit-run hospital in the early 1600s, complete with a serene cloister and a frescoed church. Thanks to its extensive library, the edifice soon developed into a gathering point for expatriate Italians, who began to live along the same street, Vlašská Ulice. “It’s 99.9 percent certain that Casanova came to this building the moment he arrived in Prague,” said the director, Dr. Paolo Sabatini. “It was the heart of the Italian community in the city. Bohemia was a great refuge for Italians. There were Italian artists, writers, technicians, engineers, many of them escaping charges of the [Roman] Inquisition.”
According to biographer Ian Kelly, author of Casanova: Actor Love Priest Spy, Casanova first met an old friend from Venice Lorenzo da Ponte, a fellow libertine who was now Mozart’s librettist, having written both The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro. Italian opera was little short of a craze in Prague at the time, and Casanova had long been enraptured by the art form. (One of his most memorable episodes in his memoir, The Story of My Life, is his youthful affair with a female opera singer who was masquerading as a castrato). Casanova and da Ponte regularly attended concerts at the rural retreat of local arts patrons Josefina and Fratišek Dušek. Called the Betranka, this villa on the outskirts of Prague was where they mingled with other artistic celebrities – including, it is believed, the 31-year-old Mozart.
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. Of all the arts, music has always been central to the Prague's reputation (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. Casanova's spirit is everywhere in the Czech capital city of Prague. (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. Mozart first came to Prague with his wife Constance in January, 1787, for a performance of The Marriage of Figaro. (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. Prague's quiet back alleys, which wind up past mansions and churches to Prague Castle, still have the haunted, Brothers Grimm appearance they had in the late 18th century. (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. Casanova himself would have been gratified to learn that the staff offer a booklet on “The Ten Best Places to Kiss in Prague” – the Charles Bridge at dawn is particularly auspicious (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. In the later years of his life, Casanova wrote his memoirs in Castle Duchcov, near Prague. (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. One of the most beguiling stories about Casanova’s sojourn in Bohemia – now part of the Czech Republic – is that he met Mozart in Prague in 1787, and that he worked on the libretto of Don Giovanni, the great opera about a compulsive Lothario not at all unlike Casanova himself. (original image)
Image by Francesco Lastrucci. The Estates Theater in Prague is where Mozart premiered Don Giovanni in 1787. (original image)
Mozart first came to Prague with his wife Constance in January, 1787, for a performance of The Marriage of Figaro. He was delighted to discover that his opera was given a euphoric reception in the city, whereas in Vienna he had fallen out of fashion. “Here they talk about nothing but Figaro,” Mozart recorded in his diary. “Nothing is played, sung or whistled but Figaro. Nothing, nothing but Figaro. Certainly a great honor for me!” As a result, he decided to premiere his new work, Don Giovanni, in the city. He returned to Prague in October with da Ponte’s unfinished libretto in hand, and moved into the Bertramka, at the invitation of the Dušeks, to furiously complete it.
Today, the Bertramka is open to the public as a small Mozart Museum, so I took a tram to the suburbs of Prague. The estate is now surrounded by roaring highways, although once inside the gates, it remains an enclave of serenity, with gardens that still host summer concerts. The exhibits are sparse – in 2009, most of the furnishings and instruments were moved to the Czech Music Museum in Malá Strana, including two pianos played by Mozart himself – but the villa itself still exudes an elegant, artistic ambiance. The sole employee sells a series of engravings of famous visitors, who included a virtual Who’s Who of the 18th century cultural elite: Along with Mozart, da Ponte and Casanova, the Dušeks hosted the young Beethoven and German poet Goethe.
The claim that Casanova worked on Don Giovanni was made back in 1876 by Alfred Meissner in his book Rococo Bilder, based on notes made by his grandfather, who was a professor and historian in Prague and was the confidant of musicians at the opera’s 1787 premiere at the Estates Theater. According to the musicians, Casanova visited the theater during rehearsals in October, when Mozart was doling out the last pieces of the music in disjointed fragments. The cast members became so frustrated that they locked Mozart in a room and told him he would not be freed until he finished the opera. Casanova apparently persuaded the staff to release the composer, who completed the overture that night, while Casanova fine-tuned the libretto in several key scenes.
There is strong circumstantial evidence to support Meissner’s report: We know that da Ponte was not in Prague in October, when the last-minute changes were made to the libretto, but Casanova was. However, the account took a more substantial form in the early 1900s, when researchers discovered notes amongst Casanova’s papers from Castle Duchcov that appeared to show him working on a key scene in Don Giovanni.
While the manuscript of Casanova’s memoir now resides in Paris, his personal papers have ended up in the Czech state archive, a hulking edifice in a bleak, Communist-era landscape far from Prague’s charming Old Town. My taxi-driver got lost several times before we located it. Once inside, a security guard directed me to a shabby antechamber, where I had to call the archivists on an antique black telephone. An unshaven clerk in a hooded jacket first helped me fill out the endless application forms in Czech, before finally I was taken to a windowless, neon-lit research room to meet the head archivist, Marie Tarantová.
Despite the Cold War protocol, everyone was very helpful. Tarantová explained that when the Communists nationalized Czech aristocratic property in 1948, the state inherited a vast cache of Casanova’s writings that had been kept by the Waldstein family, who once owned Castle Duchcov. “We have Casanova’s letters, poems, philosophical works, geometry works, plans for a tobacco factory, even treatises on the manufacture of soap,” she said, of the wildly prolific author. “There are 19 cases. It’s impossible to know everything that’s in there. I’ve never counted the number of pages!”
Soon Tarantová laid before me the two pages of notes covered in Casanova’s elegant, distinctive script; in them, he has reworked the lines of Act II, scene X, of Don Giovanni, where the Don and his servant Leporello have been discovered in a ruse that involved swapping clothes and identities. “Nobody knows if he was really involved in writing the libretto or was just toying with it for his own amusement,” said Tarantova. According to biographer Ian Kelly, “the close interest and precise knowledge of the newly performed text argues in favor of (Casanova) having been involved in its creation.” With da Ponte away, it is quite feasible that Mozart would have called on the 62-year-old Italian writer, whose reputation as a seducer was known throughout the courts of Europe, to help with the text. Casanova was also in the audience when the opera premiered on October 29. “Although there is no definitive proof that he worked on the libretto,” sums up the American Casanovist Tom Vitelli, “I think Meissner’s account is likely true, at least to some extent.”
On my final evening, I attended a performance at the majestic Estates Theater, where Don Giovanni still plays in repertory. The gilded edifice is one of the last intact 18th century opera houses in Europe, and was used as a set for Amadeus and the Beethoven biopic Immortal Beloved. A small bronze plaque in the orchestra pit marks the spot where Mozart stood to conduct that night in 1787. (Its interior has changed in only one respect: the red-and-gold color scheme was changed to blue-and-gold after the Velvet Revolution of 1989 – red was associated with the hated Communist regime.)
At this historic performance – which was a huge success, prompting a standing ovation – Casanova sat in a box seat in the wings. When later asked by a friend whether he had seen the opera, Casanova allegedly laughed, “Seen it? I practically lived it!” The very next year, he began to write his own romantic memoirs in Castle Duchcov.
A contributing writer to the magazine, Tony Perrottet is the author of Napoleon’s Privates and The Sinner’s Grand Tour: A Journey through the Underbelly of Europe; www.sinnersgrandtour.com
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Laurie Lambert is a runner, always has been, it seems. So when she was snowed in at her remote cabin in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains nine years ago, she strapped on a tiny pair of children’s snowshoes and went out for a long run.
“It was awesome,” she remembers. “I was like, wow, I think I could make a sport out of this. Little did I know it was already a sport.”
As Lambert soon found out, snowshoe racing has become an increasingly popular sport in the United States and abroad, where last January more than 5,000 people competed in the 37th running of La Ciaspolada Snowshoe Race in the Italian Dolomites, a ten-kilometer event won by a former Olympic marathoner from New Zealand. In the United States, this season began with a race in Truckee, California, in December, and ends in March with the National Snowshoe Championships in Cable, Wisconsin.
Mark Elmore, the sports director for the United States Snowshoe Association, was a die-hard endurance runner who started racing on snowshoes in 1989. “It added variety to the winter season,” he says. “And I really liked the people. There was a different mentality than road racing where you’re just trying to beat the other competitors. In snowshoeing, you’re racing against the course and the snow conditions. You’re competing against yourself a little more.”
Most of the enthusiasts are like Lambert – runners, cyclists or triathletes looking for a new challenge and another way to get outside and raise their heart rates. “It’s so much fun,” she says. “It’s fantastic exercise. I’ve run marathons and done all kinds of crazy things and it’s the best workout I’ve ever done.”
The rise of snowshoe racing parallels the rise in popularity of snowshoeing. According to the Outdoor Industry Foundation, 3.4 million Americans traipsed through the winter wonderland on snowshoes in 2009, a 17.4 percent increase over 2008.
Divining when the snowshoe was invented is difficult because the ancient materials used to make them were perishable, but the consensus is they developed in Central Asia about 4000 B.C. Elmore says snowshoes may have facilitated crossing the Bering land bridge. They appear to have developed independently in both North America and Europe, with European snowshoes longer and narrower).
The traditional webbed snowshoe used in racing was created by American Indians. Explorer Samuel de Champlain wrote in his memoirs of them using “a kind of snowshoe that are two to three times larger than those in France, that they tie to their feet, and thus go on the snow, without sinking into it, otherwise they would not be able to hunt or go from one location to the other.”
In the 1830s, painter George Catlin depicted Indian use of snowshoes in paintings such as Snowshoe Dance at the First Snowfall and Buffalo Chase in Winter, Indians on Snowshoes. Tribes each developed their own shoe, differing in shape and size. The bear paw, an oval design, was short and wide and favored in forested areas. The Ojibwa shoe resembled a canoe, and its double toe helped the tribes of Manitoba cross diverse country. The Michigan, a snowhsoe credited to the Huron tribe, featured a long tail and was shaped like a tennis racket, allowing hunters to carry heavy loads of elk and buffalo.
The forerunners of snowshoe-racing associations were the snowshoe recreation clubs that began in Canada and the northeastern United States in the late 18th century. Outings in places including Montreal and northern New England towns were major events. To make the shoes easier to maneuver, the clubs shortened the long teardrop trapper and tracker’s snowshoe to about 40 inches.
Image by Dino Panato / Getty Images. The La Ciaspolada Snowshoe Race in the Italian Dolomites is a ten-kilometer event. (original image)
Image by Dino Panato / Getty Images. Snowshoe racing has become an increasingly popular sport. Last January more than 5,000 people competed in the 37th running of La Ciaspolada Snowshoe Race. (original image)
Image by The Granger Collection, NYC. The forerunners of snowshoe-racing associations were the snowshoe recreation clubs that began in Canada and the northeastern United States in the late 18th century. Outings in places including Montreal and northern New England towns were major town events. (original image)
Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.. In the 1830s, painter George Catlin depicted Indian use of snowshoes in paintings such as Snowshoe Dance at the First Snowfall. (original image)
Image by Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.. Buffalo Chase in Winter, Indians on Snowshoes, by George Catlin. (original image)
Image by From the collection of the Hudson Museum, The University of Maine. Photograph by Stephen Bicknell. Ojibwe Woman, 19th century. The Ojibwa shoe resembled a canoe, and its double toe helped the tribes of Manitoba cross diverse country. (original image)
Beginning in the 1970s, designers of racing snowshoes trimmed them and lightened them even more, using the type of aluminum alloy used in spacecraft. The newest models now weigh as little as 16 ounces a shoe. “The modern racing snowshoe is a marvel that allows you to cover ground on soft snow so much easier,” Elmore says. “If you can walk or jog, you can run on snowshoes. There aren’t any specific skills you have to learn.”
In Europe, where snowshoe racing has been growing for decades, the Snowshoe Cup features six races in five countries from January to March. Organized racing in Europe began earlier than in the United States with the first running of La Ciaspolada in 1972.
In the United States, races are held in most regions of the country, including the Snow or No Snow Race in Flagstaff, Arizona. The courses vary as widely as the snow conditions. Elmore says there’s usually powder out West, where some events require organizers break the trail. In the East, snow conditions tend to be icier and thus the courses tend to follow packed trails, which are faster and require less effort than breaking a trail in powder. Distances are often ten kilometers, but there are also half marathons and even marathons, where the winners post times in the neighborhood of four and a half hours. While records exist for various races, the differences in course conditions make them hard to compare. Big prizes used to be awarded to race winners, but those have faded with the recent economic crises.
Chary Griffin, 62, who lives in Cazenovia, southeast of Syracuse, New York, trains six miles every other day on a packed trail. She stows a box of racing snowshoes in her car to lend to friends so they can come along. Anyone, she says, can run in snowshoes. “It’s my winter sport,” she says. “I’m serious about getting other people hooked into this.”
Scott Gall, 36, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, moved to Wyoming after running distances at Wabash College and fell into snowshoe racing. He found it wasn’t as easy as strapping on snowshoes and taking a jog. “The first ten minutes are killer no matter what you’ve been doing,” he says. “You just have to adjust to it. It’s a lot of work to have things strapped to your feet. But once you’re ten minutes into it, your heart rate settles down.”
Lambert, Griffin and Gall clearly enjoy the competition against others and themselves. (Gall finished second in last year’s national championship.) But they seem to enjoy, just as much, if not more, the bracing air, the diverse landscape, and the joy of being outdoors when most others are huddled inside. As Gall notes, it’s warmer in winter snowshoeing in the woods than running on the roads.
“Going tromping through the woods on a full moon night is awesome,” he says. “It’s not just the competition. It’s getting outside in the fresh air and doing something fun. Somewhere along the way, they told adults you can’t enjoy it when the snow flies.”
Lambert regularly trains above 9,500 feet in New Mexico, below the tree line. But she recalls the stunning beauty of a world cup race she participated in in Austria. “That was way above the trees on the Dachstein Glacier. It felt like we were visitors on some other planet,” she says. “Otherworldly.”
The violence witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white nationalist rally thrust the debate about Confederate monuments onto the nation's front pages. Should statues honoring the leaders of the Confederacy, like that of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, remain standing? Or should they be pulled down, as the city had planned to do – the very action that inspired the vicious rally.
While this discussion is not new, the murder of Heather Heyer has accelerated the removal of these monuments in much the same way that the murders of nine Charlestonians by Dylann Roof in 2015 instigated the lowering of Confederate battle flags across the country. Since this weekend’s events, the city of Baltimore removed four Confederate monuments in the middle of the night and the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, has announced that his city will soon follow. They will join a number of smaller town and cities - most notably New Orleans - that have already taken similar steps.
The most controversial of these monuments already removed or under fire honor Confederate leaders such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and Jefferson Davis. Historians have correctly pointed out that these monuments distort the history of the Confederacy by ignoring the cause for which they were willing to give their lives, namely the creation of a slave-holding republic based on white supremacy.
The disfranchisement of black Americans through legal means and the threat of lynching, throughout the Jim Crow-era, allowed white southerners to frame their struggle as a “Lost Cause” - a defiant and righteous stand against an illegal invasion by a corrupt federal government that sought to wipe out their peaceful civilization.
But if we only focus on monuments that honor Confederate leaders, we miss the many monuments and memorials that intentionally distort history by presenting a false narrative of the “loyal slave.” Well into the 20th century, “Lost Causers” relied on this idea to clearly justify maintaining and extending the ideology of white supremacy. In 1895, local cotton mill owner Samuel E. White and the Jefferson Davis Memorial Association dedicated a memorial in Fort Mill, South Carolina, to honor the "faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America."
In 1931, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) and the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) erected a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, a free black man who was accidentally killed by John Brown's men during the October 1859 failed slave rebellion at Harpers Ferry. Shepherd worked as a porter in the town's railroad station, but in the words of the SCV and UDC represented "the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people..."
These monuments promulgate the idea that the Confederate cause united both races against invading Yankee hordes. In doing so, they reinforce a myth that ignored the many ways that enslaved people undermined the Confederate war effort, most notably by running off to the Union army and fighting against their former oppressors.
On June 4, 1914, the UDC dedicated what is perhaps the most egregious loyal slave monument, as it sits on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, not far from the former home of Robert E. Lee. A 32-feet-tall monument stood in a new section of Arlington, ringed by the graves of 267 Confederate soldiers, who had been reinterred from nearby locations. The dedication followed years of resistance to the idea of honoring Confederate dead on the same ground containing Union troops, black and white soldiers who had given their lives to save the United States.
Atop sits a statue of a human representation of the South, but beneath that, like tiers of cake, lies a ring of 14 shields emblazoned with the 13 seals of the Confederate states plus Maryland, then a series of life-sized friezes of the people of the Confederacy. Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate veteran and sculptor from Richmond, designed the monument and said he hoped to "show without any description how intensely and how seriously the men and women of every station in life had responded to the call to arms."
All together, they represent the pillars of Lost Cause ideology: Confederate military service, white southern family life and crucially, the faithful slave. One of the reliefs depicts, in the words of former Confederate Colonel Hilary Herbert, who chaired the executive committee of the Arlington Confederate Monument Association, "an officer, kissing his child in the arms of an old negro 'mammy.'"
To the left of this scene, Ezekiel placed a black man in Confederate uniform marching alongside white soldiers and officers. The meaning of this was clear for those who attended the dedication ceremony at Arlington. Herbert described Ezekiel's scene in the official history of the monument this way:
Then the sons and daughters of the South are seen coming from every direction. The manner in which they crowd enthusiastically upon each other is one of the most impressive features of this colossal work. There they come, representing every branch of the service, and in proper garb; soldiers, sailors, sappers and miners, all typified. On the right is a faithful negro body-servant following his young master, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page’s realistic “Marse Chan” over again.
Ezekiel's monument fit neatly into the racial and segregated landscape of its immediate surroundings at the time. Just a few years earlier, Virginia re-wrote its constitution to disenfranchise a large segment of its African-American citizens. Shortly after his inauguration in Washington, President Woodrow Wilson, who spoke at the dedication, ordered the segregation of all government offices.
This monument to the Confederate dead and its depiction of enslaved people as loyal, content with their subservient place, and disinterested in their own freedom, was a historical explanation that justified and helped maintain this new racial order that was now well in place throughout the former Confederacy.
Today, these monuments continue to distort the history of the Civil War and the Confederacy. Numerous SCV sites refers to the Ezekiel monument as evidence that black Confederates served in combat. In the hands of one unidentified author, Ezekiel's body servant is now a "Black Confederate soldier...marching in rank with white Confederate soldiers," and the monument itself is identified as "one of the first monument[s], if not the first, honoring a black American soldier." .
In recent years the SCV and UDC have advanced this myth not only to stem the tide of calls to lower Confederate flags and monuments, but to suggest, as their forebears did, that the cause of the Confederacy had nothing at all to do with the defense of slavery. Since black men fought willingly for the Confederacy, the argument runs, the preservation of slavery and white supremacy could not have been its goal. The Confederate flag and the many monuments that dot the southern landscape—properly understood—ought to unite black and white Americans.
The sons and daughters of the Confederacy understood that the key to re-imposing and justifying white supremacy following Reconstruction involved controlling history. Arguments against removing Confederate monuments often raise the dangers of erasing history.
What is often missed, however, is that the depiction of African-Americans as loyal and submissive itself constituted an erasure of history in favor of a fictional narrative that ultimately justified segregation and disfranchisement. The push to remove these monuments is recognition of the damage they have done and continue to do in communities across this country.