An excerpt from the new book The Magical Stranger.
Rodrick was 12 when his pilot father died in a plane crash:
"A colleague once nicknamed me – half mocking – the 'magical stranger' because I get people to tell me things. But to me, the magical stranger has always been my father. He was brilliant and unknowable, holy but absent, a born leader who gave me little direction. Peter Rodrick was one of only around 4,000 men in the world qualified to land jets on a carrier after dark. And he was an apparition, gone 200 days of the year from when I was six until he died. He was such a ghost that I didn't fully accept he was gone for years.
"Evidence of the actual man was harder to come by. His pictures hung on our walls, but Mom never talked about him. Most of my father was locked away in cruise boxes and crates in our basement: a framed picture from the Brockton Enterprise of a boy with a pole on the first day of fishing season; a long black leather sleeve holding a sword, and a small metal box containing envelopes with single dollar bills sent to him on his birthday by his father, the envelopes still coming for years after he died."
PUBLISHED: May 9, 2013
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7374 words)
For nearly a decade, a fugitive allegedly terrorized cabin owners in the Utah mountains. The story of what drove him into the mountains, and the months leading up to his capture:
"Knapp launched his first experiment in criminal solitude in September 2000: He stole a Toyota pickup, pointed it west, and didn't stop driving until he hit Big Pine, California, on the eastern edge of the Sierras. Toothy granite peaks rim the town, a gateway to some of America's most popular backpacking. Knapp ditched the truck on a dirt road, stripped it of its tools – and two pairs of binoculars – and walked into the backcountry.
"A few days later, a local hiker reported a suspicious man carrying a rifle near the Owens River. A warden from a nearby fish hatchery went to investigate, but while he was gone, his truck and a hatchery building were broken into. Missing were his boots, $3 in change, and maps of the Eastern Sierras and Death Valley National Park. Local cops were put on alert."
PUBLISHED: April 3, 2013
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4529 words)
A profile of Rachel Graham, who works for the Wildlife Conservation Society to protect sharks that are disappearing from the ocean:
"Some eco groups suggest that as many as 73 million sharks are killed globally every year. Hammerheads, blue sharks, mako sharks – they're disappearing, and they ain't coming back.
"Unless activists like Graham have a say. Most of Graham's life is now spent trying to reverse the damage that has already been done. She tells me that because sharks are almost all cartilage, there are no skeletons to recover and study. Basic information about their lives still eludes scientists.
"'We don't even know how long they gestate – no idea,' explains Graham. 'We can't save them if we don't know where they go and how they live.'"
PUBLISHED: March 20, 2013
LENGTH: 16 minutes (4148 words)
"Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan is turning his life back around after a series of bad business deals and a messy divorce caused him to attempt to take his own life:
"I visited Millan at the ranch a few months after his suicide attempt. When I arrived he was lying on a bench in the shade, sweating through a purple polo shirt, with a bottle of Maalox resting on his chest. 'I'm still managing the depression, the anger, the insecurity,' he told me, 'but I am moving forward.' A pair of hyperactive huskies belonging to his close friend Jada Pinkett Smith ran through the hills pulling a sled Millan had modified for the rocky terrain. Junior, a sleek, gray three-year-old pit bull he was grooming to take Daddy's place, lay quietly under the bench, watching Millan's every move. 'I couldn't have done what I do without Daddy,' he said, 'and now I can't do it without Junior. There's always a pit bull there supporting me.'
"Millan is a short, stocky guy – 'like a burrito,' he says – but he carries himself with a straight back, chest jutted out, a natural alpha. When he arrived in the United States 22 years ago, he knew only a single English word - 'OK' - and he still talks in a loose, colloquial SoCal Spanglish, rolling through sentences with mixed-up tenses, calling his dog Blizzard a 'Jello Lab,' pronouncing buffet with a hard t and sushi as 'su-chi.' On 'Dog Whisperer,' Millan uses the language deficit to his advantage, putting clients at ease with his always polite, effortlessly funny broken-English banter as he (often painfully) dissects their troubled relationships with their dogs. In person he's just as charming – open, inquisitive, with a quick mind and a slightly rough edge that makes him even more likable. For all his alpha-male poise, Millan also possesses humility, which he says comes with the job. 'In my field, working with animals, they detest egotistical people,' he says. 'Dogs are wise. They don't buy BS. . . . When you are egotistical, you're not grounded. So it's not even an option for me to become disconnected or lose my grounding.'"
PUBLISHED: Feb. 18, 2013
LENGTH: 23 minutes (5817 words)
A man travels to the Dhamma Giri meditation center in western India to learn the meditation style known as Vipassana—the same meditation used by the Buddha to reach enlightenment 25 centuries ago. Enlightenment doesn't come easy:
"There are no further instructions. And I can't ask anyone what I'm supposed to do. So I sit, striving to keep my mind free of distractions. I detect the tide of my respiration flowing over my upper lip – cooler entering my nose, warmer exiting. Still favoring my right nostril.
"A line from The Big Lebowski jumps to mind. You want a toe? I can get you a toe. Then a song refrain. A dozen of them, as if I've pressed scan on my car radio. This is Ground Control to Major Tom. Snippets of sitcom dialogue, a phrase from a Richard Brautigan poem, famous opening lines – A screaming comes across the sky – old phone numbers. I try to decide whether I prefer chunky peanut butter over creamy. Chunky, I conclude. Commercial jingles, yearbook quotes, I got the horse right here the name is Paul Revere, math equations, crossword-puzzle clues, Hotel-Motel Holiday Inn, anything, everything, a deluge of internal prattle.
"This doesn't bother me. Before coming, we had been instructed to discard any mantras we might have used in the past – not a problem, as I've always been mantra-free – but I actually have brought with me something of one. Really more of a slogan. It is this: 'waterfall, river, lake.' I find myself repeating it, frequently, as I try to meditate. 'Waterfall, river, lake. Waterfall, river, lake.'"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 21, 2012
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5403 words)
A trip to an oil boomtown transformed by thousands of young men arriving to find work:
"I'd heard Williston was a magical place. A small town where the recession didn't exist, where you could make six figures driving a truck, and where oil bubbles straight up from the Earth's Bakken layer like water from an elementary school fountain. Or at least that's what I saw on the news.
"Men came to Williston, worked hard, and saved their homes from foreclosure back in Texas, Florida, or Oklahoma. The women stayed home with the kids – there just wasn't enough housing for the little ones. So mostly just manly men doing manly things. It all sounded so masculine.
"And it was all because of the North Dakota crude coming out of the frozen ground at a rate of a half-million barrels a day. In 2010, for the first time in 13 years, the United States imported less than half its oil from foreign countries, and that's largely because of extraction in the Williston Basin, an area that stretches from west North Dakota to eastern Montana and up north to Saskatchewan. Little ol' Williston – preboom population 12,000 – had become the rump capital of an oil country."
PUBLISHED: July 1, 2012
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6669 words)
A tour of one of the most dangerous stretches of the U.S.-Mexico border—where drug smuggling and human trafficking mean Arizona ranch owners finding bodies in their backyards:
"In late 2010, after the ninth corpse or body part had been discovered on his ranch in a span of 12 months, David Lowell sat down and drafted a document that he later took to calling, with a grain of dark pride, 'my map of atrocities.' Lowell lives in southern Arizona, 11 miles north of Mexico, in a hinterland canyon in the middle of the busiest drug- and human-smuggling corridor in the United States. Lowell’s map, 'Sites of Recent Border Violence Within the Atascosa Ranch,' renders the ranch boundary as a thick black line. Inside the line glow 17 red dots, each stamped with a number. Among the descriptions in the corresponding key: 'Rape tree with women’s underwear' (2); 'Fresh human head without body' (3); 'Skull' (3A); 'Body found 500 yards west of Lowell home' (6); 'Body found 100 yards south of Lowell home' (7); and 'Patrolman Terry killed by Mexican bandits' (12)."
PUBLISHED: April 13, 2012
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6784 words)
If the West is ground zero for the unholy experiment being conducted on weather shifts, then Yellowstone is first up on the blasting range. The oldest and most magical of our national parks, its 2 million acres stretch to three states, boast a spectacular chain of rivers, lakes, and creeks, and sit, a vast chunk of them, on a supervolcano that spawns half the world’s geysers and hot springs. There is grandeur on all sides of you, but graveyards, too: mile after mile of zombified forests, dead from the roots but still standing.
PUBLISHED: April 18, 2011
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5002 words)