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‘Someone Took Care to Get it Right’: The Birds of the Seven Kingdoms

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At Audubon, Nicholas Lund interviews Tim Kimmel, supervising sound editor of Game of Thrones, on the role of birds and bird calls in setting the perfect mood in scenes across the Seven Kingdoms. Bonus: a birders’ guide to Westeros and Essos.

But there’s much more action happening on the soundtrack. Many keen-eared birders have noticed North American birds singing in the background of Game of Thrones episodes. Nate Swick of the American Birding Association debuted the #BirdsofWesteros Twitter hashtag in 2016 and has since identified more than a dozen species across Westeros and Essos, from the the Brown-headed Nuthatch to the Prothonotary Warbler (see the bottom of this piece for a Field Guide).

I am an inveterate critic of the misuse of bird sounds in TV and movies, constantly prepared to bristle at a Bald Eagle with the voice of a Red-tailed Hawk or at European birds calling in a scene set in North America. Game of Thrones, while set in a fantasy world, uses bird song more accurately than most programs set in our reality. Common Nighthawks call only at night. Prairie Warblers sing in prairie-type habitat. The frozen North is largely quiet, while tropical areas like Dorne are filled with chattering songbirds. Someone clearly took care to get it right.

A: Birders are fascinated by the mysterious (to us) process by which bird sounds get into the background of TV and movies. Do sound teams have their own recordings? Are there databases offering files? If so, how detailed are you able to get, as in: general “Birds Singing” or something specific like “Birds singing in Maine in May”?

K: We have a massive library of sounds, recordings from many different sources. Some of them are very detailed in their labeling—kind of bird and where it was recorded. Others, very vague—’park birds’ or ‘forest birds.’ All of these recordings are in a searchable database so we can quickly try to find what it is that we are looking for. As we go through the locations to try to establish what kind of birds we want to use, we generally do simple searches, say “owl” for a Northern scene, and we get a wide variety of owl sounds, from many different types, plus different recordings have different style vocals for each species. We spend a lot of time listening to these recordings to pick out exactly which call works within that scene/location. A lot of it goes by feel, finding the right sound to match the mood of the scene, that fits the location. Sometimes we go through a couple of sounds before we find one that fits, and sometimes we have to comb through a lot of recordings before we find it.

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‘Buried in the Cowboy Way, with His Tail to the Wind’

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In December 2017, we knew it would soon be time to make a decision to euthanize our 8-year-old lhasa mutt. The best vet and all the medications in the world could no longer forestall a growing belly, heavy with the water his failing heart couldn’t purge from his system. We thought we’d get to choose when. Author Pam Houston thought the same thing about her 39-year-old horse, Roany.

As Houston recounts in this poignant essay at Outside, she and Roany had been together for 25 years. After a lengthy period of lameness, despite exceptional care, she knew it would soon be time for her friend, a horse known for his gentle disposition and a keen emotional intelligence. On the night before his scheduled departure, Roany made his own decision, but not without Pam by his side.

Roany was stoicism defined. As his condition worsened, he learned to pivot on his good front leg—and would, for an apple or a carrot or to sneak into the barn to get at the winter’s stash of alfalfa. He blew bubbles in his water bucket because it made me laugh, and he would sometimes even give himself a bird bath by splashing his still mighty head. I also knew that just because he could handle the discomfort didn’t mean he should. He had been so strong so recently, such a force of nature thundering back and forth across the pasture. There was no chance I was going to ask him to make another winter, but as long as he was hobbling to his golf course and chortling to me each morning, it seemed too early to end his life.

He was still standing when I got there. But the minute he saw me he went to the ground with relief. He curled up like a fawn, and I could hear that his breathing wasn’t right. Mike and I sat beside him and petted his handsome neck. Above us, stragglers from the Perseid meteor shower, which had peaked over the weekend, streaked the blackness.

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Take Two Stem Cell Injections and Don’t Call Me Until After I Cash Your $10,000 Cheque

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Getting older? Feeling the aches and pains that come naturally as we age? If someone suggests that stem cells will ease your ills, ask to see some science, and maybe a valid medical license. Stem cell purveyors are popping up all over the United States in a new, “largely unregulated” industry — and they’re charging $5,000 to $10,000 for a single injection.

As Caroline Chen reports as part of a joint investigation by ProPublica and The New Yorker, “Unscientific methods, deceptive marketing, price gouging and disregard for patients’ well-being were rampant across the amniotic stem cell therapy industry.” The investigation “found disgraced doctors who were recast as salespeople, manufacturers that cloaked themselves in pseudoscience and had few scientists on staff, and clinics that offer to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis or kidney disease without specialized training.”

These clinics are multiplying in the United States. According to a tally by Leigh Turner, an associate professor of bioethics at the University of Minnesota, there were 12 such clinics advertising to consumers in 2009; in 2017, there were more than 700. Unproven cellular therapies are a $2 billion global business, according to a recent paper co-authored by Massimo Dominici, the lead investigator at the cellular therapy lab at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, in Italy.

They were there to see a presentation by Dr. David Greene, who was introduced as a “retired orthopedic surgeon.” Atlas Medical Center, a local clinic that specializes in pain treatment, hosted the event. Greene, a short, trim man with his hair slicked up, ignored the stage and microphone and stood close to his audience. After warming up the crowd with a joke about his inept golf skills, Greene launched into his sales pitch. A tiny vial no larger than the palm of his hand, he told the group, contains roughly 10 million live stem cells, harvested from the placenta, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord or amnion, the membrane that surrounds the fetus in the womb. Injected into a joint or spine, or delivered intravenously into the bloodstream, Greene told his listeners, those cells could ease whatever ailed them.

On a screen behind him, Greene displayed a densely printed slide with a “small list” of conditions his stem cell product could treat: arthritis, tendinitis, psoriasis, lupus, hair loss, facial wrinkles, scarring, erectile dysfunction, heart failure, cardiomyopathy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, emphysema, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, ALS, neuropathy, pelvic pain, diabetes, dry eye, macular degeneration, kidney failure. And that was just a sample. “I need to add a couple more slides,” Greene said with a laugh.

Soni told Longo that three more injections were required for him to feel a significant difference, but, by early May, Longo had decided not to seek further treatment, saying that his left knee hadn’t improved any more. “I don’t think the regenerative properties were happening,” Longo said.

Earlier this year, Soni’s Web site displayed the names and faces of a team of clinicians, including a cardiologist, a cosmetologist, a neurologist, and a urologist. None of them were listed on New York State’s license look-up page, and their photos were traced back to stock photo websites.

When initially asked about these specialists, Soni said, “They are all seeing patients for me” and changed the subject. After ProPublica and The New Yorker expressed doubts about the clinicians’ existence to Soni, the names and photos vanished from the website.

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The Vital and Surprising Role of Driftwood

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You may see a piece of driftwood at the beach or on the shore and wonder about its journey from land to water, and back to land again. As Brian Payton reports at Hakai Magazine, Driftwood is not only beautiful. It’s a critical piece of the marine ecosystem that offers vital sanctuary to breeding insects and invertebrates on shore and in the sea, who in turn feed species all the way up the marine food chain.

Dead trees were sailing the seas long before our ancestors conceived of the ax or skiff, long before the continents split and went their separate ways. And yet, when a tree falls in a river or stream today, it can set out on a journey that remains little studied and poorly understood.

A tree undergoes reincarnation when it lands in flowing water. Branches, bark, and heartwood—what appears to be nothing more than floating debris—become either home to or sustenance for a range of plants and animals. In old-growth forests, up to 70 percent of the organic matter from fallen trees remains in streams long enough to nurture the organisms living there, passing through the digestive tracts of bacteria, fungi, and insects. Caddis flies and mayflies undergo their metamorphosis into adults while anchored to floating wood. When they emerge, they in turn become food for salmon fry, salamanders, bats, and birds. Larger logs control the very shape and flow of streams, creating pools and back eddies where returning salmon rest and spawn. These pools provide critical shelter for young salmon as they hatch, feed, and hide from predators before they make a break for the open sea.

As wood passes through the floodplain, it collides with and remakes the shore. Some becomes anchored there, trapping silt and seeds. As new vegetation takes root, deer mice, voles, shrews, and chipmunks move in for the harvest. Weasels, minks, and hawks make meals of them and fertilize the soil. Wood that drifts into estuaries becomes perches for hungry bald eagles and herons; rafts for weary cormorants, pelicans, and seals; and nurseries for herring eggs.

It is estimated that, in the habitat associated with a single large piece of oceangoing driftwood, the combined weight of the associated tuna alone can add up to as much as 100 tonnes—or the equivalent of well over half a million cans of tuna.

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The Mysterious Disappearance of Sam Sayers

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After summiting Washington state’s Vesper Peak on a day hike in August 2018, Sam Sayers disappeared. At Seattle Met, Allison Williams reports on the conspiracy and true-crime enthusiasts, the social media frenzy, and the desperate search for a woman who hasn’t been seen since.

THE TRAIL REGISTER may be the last tangible piece of Sam on Vesper Peak, the last one you can physically touch, but there was one more sign of her. That sunny August Wednesday, a hiker stopped a few hundred feet below the top, right above the meadow where Kevin would one day erect his camp.

The hiker turns his camera in a blurry panorama, catching blue sky over boulder fields, the sharp peaks that circle Lake Elan. A big open space where it looks like you can see everything. As the camera trains on Vesper Peak, a figure ascends the scramble route, passing other climbers at a determined pace.

Sam has a hiking pole in each hand, head down as she earns the last of the 4,200-foot climb. This is the stance of someone who doesn’t give up. The camera moves on, and Sam continues ever upward.

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A Mountain and a Range of Memories

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As Alison Osius climbs Colorado’s Mount Sopris and reflects on how weather, climate change, and fire has shaped the mountain, she remembers friends lost during their own mountain adventures. Read the essay at 5280.

The challenges Sopris posed made hiking it again even more attractive; it was something I wanted to stay strong enough to do each year. I had gained familiarity and connection with the mountain that had been the backdrop to my adult life. I had seen this peak every day, watched it in all its moods and beauty. Now I was an ever-closer observer, witnessing its transitions the same way it had stood over mine.

Now, experiencing the mountain up close, all day, brings sustained thoughts of Lathrop and of Hayden. The thoughts are sad but a solace, because I want to remember them.

All year, Sopris presides over my life, its distant faceted face staring down, immovable—on the walks that I take on dirt roads and trails around town and on my drives to office and market. But one day each year, I am the one looking down, and out, from a mountain that serves as a monument, bestowing a view of a range and a range of memories.

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When Your Doctor is Also an Opioid Addict

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Lou Ortenzio was a beloved family physician in West Virginia until he popped his first Vicodin to ease a headache after a long day at the office seeing patients, starting a slide into addiction where Ortenzio took 20-30 pills a day. After building a habit that exhausted the free samples supplied by pharmaceutical reps, he started to write prescriptions in his kids’ names. As Sam Quinones reports at The Atlantic, Ortenzio lost his house, his wife, and his kids to his addiction but now, after getting clean, he’s trying to help others conquer their drug problems so that they too, can start over.

By 2006…physicians were writing 130 opioid prescriptions for every 100 West Virginians…Nothing ended an appointment quicker than pulling out a prescription pad.

As a physician in a small community with limited resources, Ortenzio did a bit of everything: He made rounds in a hospital intensive-care unit and made house calls; he provided obstetric and hospice care. Ortenzio loved his work. But it never seemed to end. He started missing dinners with his wife and children. The long hours and high stress taxed his own health. He had trouble sleeping, and gained weight. It took many years, but what began with that one Vicodin eventually grew into a crippling addiction that cost Ortenzio everything he held dear: his family, his practice, his reputation.

“It went from a dozen [salesmen] a week to a dozen a day,” Ortenzio remembered. “If you wrote a lot of scrips, you were high on their call list. You would be marketed to several times a day by the same company with different reps.”

Most drug companies in America adopted the new sales approach. Among them was Purdue Pharma, which came out with a timed-release opioid painkiller, OxyContin, in 1996. Purdue paid legendary bonuses—up to $100,000 a quarter, eight times what other companies were paying. To improve their sales numbers, drug reps offered doctors mugs, fishing hats, luggage tags, all-expenses-paid junkets at desirable resorts. They brought lunch for doctors’ staff, knowing that with the staff on their side, the doctors were easier to influence. Once they had the doctor’s ear, reps relied on specious and misinterpreted data to sell their product. Purdue salespeople promoted the claim that their pill was effectively nonaddictive because it gradually released an opioid, oxycodone, into the body and thus did not create the extreme highs and lows that led to addiction.

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Do Not Mess with the Devils Hole Pupfish

File -- In this Saturday, April 30, 2016, file photo, a still image taken from security video released by the National Park Service, shows three men inside the perimeter fence at the edge of Devils Hole, in Death Valley National Park, Nev. The National Park Service says the men climbed a fence guarding Devils Hole, a detached portion of the park located in southwestern Nevada, on April 30. The Park Service says they fired a shotgun at least 10 times and one man swam in Devils Hole, a hot-water pool that is the only natural home of the tiny Devils Hole pupfish. The man left his boxer shorts in the water. (National Park Service via AP, File)

In Death Valley National Park lies Devils Hole: an aquifer-fed pool home to one of the rarest fish species in the world — the Devils Hole pupfish. The pupfish has been the center of controversy between conservationists dedicated to protecting the inch-long species and Nevadans who believe it isn’t worth sacrificing their right to pump water on their land.

As Paige Blankenbuehler reports at High Country News, Trent Sargent learned about how well the pupfish is protected the hard way. After a booze-fueled break-in and skinny-dipping session at Devils Hole in which Sargent killed a pupfish, the law tracked him down and he was sentenced to a year and a day in jail.

SIXTY THOUSAND YEARS AGO, a narrow fissure opened up in the Amargosa Valley, releasing water pooled deep in the earth and creating Devils Hole, the opening to an underwater cavern. Scientists disagree over just how it happened — whether by way of underground tunnels, ancient floods or receding waters — but several desert fish were separated from the larger population and trapped in Devils Hole. There, a tiny sub-population — the Devils Hole pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) — evolved in extreme isolation for tens of thousands of years, eventually, according to scientific consensus, becoming an entirely new species.

Today, visitors to Devils Hole get a rare window into one of the Mojave Desert’s vast aquifers. Steep limestone walls surround a tiny opening into turquoise water. Divers have descended over 400 feet into the cave without reaching the bottom. The water is so deep that earthquakes on the other side of the world cause it to slosh, shocking the fish into spawning.

The Devils Hole pupfish are truly unique. The males are a bright blue, the females a subdued teal, and they’re only about an inch long. They are more docile and produce fewer offspring than their cousins, which are found in pockets ranging from the Southwest toward the Gulf of Mexico. The Devils Hole pupfish lacks the pelvic fin that enables its kin to be vigorous swimmers. But it is able to thrive in temperatures far warmer than similar species can tolerate. Trapped by geology in a consistent 93-degree womb, Devils Hole pupfish have nowhere to go. In fact, they have the smallest geographic range of any known vertebrate species on earth.

The pupfish were among the first species to be protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1967 — along with the American alligator, the California condor and the blunt-nosed leopard lizard — and that protection was carried over to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. At the time, around 220 survived in Devils Hole, but since the 1990s, the species has been in significant decline, sinking to just 35 fish in 2013. Today, there are modest signs that the population is growing; the last population count was 136.

Normally, the nocturnal visitors would have been caught by a motion sensor that triggered a loud alarm. But a barn owl roosting in the area had caused too many false alarms, and rather than spook the bird, officials had disabled the device. So once the men broke in, they felt no real urgency to leave. Little did they know that multiple cameras captured their every move.

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‘There Are Things You See With Your Body’

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In this harrowing excerpt from his memoir, Once More We Saw Stars, Jayson Greene recounts his shock, disbelief, and grief following a freak accident involving his two-year-old daughter, Greta. Read the excerpt at Vulture.

We follow into a corner room, maybe 12 by 12, with a table in the middle and doctors and nurses crowding around it. In the center of it is Greta, stripped down to her diaper and pitifully tiny, her eyes closed and her mouth open. I watch as team members lift her arms and legs like she’s a sock puppet. I remember seeing the upper roof of her mouth, the pearly islands of her teeth. I have no memory of the injury on her head; my mind either refuses to note it or has erased it.

There are things you see with your body, not with your eyes. Stepping away, I feel something evaporate, a quantum of my soul, perhaps, burning up on contact. I am lighter, somehow immediately less me, as if some massive drill has bored into my bones, extracting marrow. I glance at Stacy, gray and motionless in a hallway chair, and see the same life force exiting her frame. Susan is on a stretcher down another hallway, out of our sight. We wait.

He lowers his bony frame into the chair next to us and clasps his hands between his knees. “I wish I had better news for you. We removed as much of her skull as we could to allow the brain to swell, but the bleed was rather severe.”

I feel him choosing his words as carefully and severely as possible: Our false hope is a blockage, and his job is to cut it out at the root and leave nothing behind to grow.

“So you’re saying that her recovering would be sort of … a miracle situation?” Stacy asks.

“I want you to be aware,” she adds more gently as we sob, “that there is a lot of swelling. You should know that before going in to see her.” She sits and listens silently to the sound of our hearts splitting open in that room. Then she stands up: “Let me know when you are ready to go in.”

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Where the Men are Scarier than the Minefield on the Mountain

Photo by Louis Meunier (CC BY 3.0)

Afghan women have few rights — they’re expected to live life according to the wishes of their fathers and the husbands they’re made to marry as teens. Considered “worthless” by some, women are required to spend their lives cooking and cleaning and raising children. Because they’re denied an education and even the right to exercise to improve their physical fitness, some feel resigned to domestic dronery. At Outside, Theresa Breuer reports on Ascend, a mountaineering program that empowers Afghan women to take control of their lives by teaching them how to climb a mountain. While the mountain itself offers life-threatening risks from altitude sickness and a path through an actual minefield, the girls and their families face even greater risks at home from members of the community who want to keep women in the kitchen and who use terror and violence to impose their will.

To run Ascend, which typically has 11 employees, seven board members, and multiple volunteers, Marina travels to Afghanistan four times a year. She visits girls’ schools to promote the program and invites students to apply. There are usually about 20 members, ranging in age from 15 to 23. The economic background of the young women’s families is varied, but most are poor. Team members must participate six days a week, after school and on weekends, for at least nine months. They interview with Marina, Ascend program leaders, and prominent women in the community to demonstrate their commitment. Once accepted, the girls need to get their families’ permission.

“Afghanistan is a predominantly Muslim, very culturally conservative country with strict rules about what women can and can’t do,” Marina says. “It would threaten the girls’ lives if their fathers didn’t approve. Each woman who’s part of Ascend takes a risk. So does her family. There’s a lot of extremism in Afghanistan. Honor killings still happen. Male relatives feel obligated to protect the family honor, and a girl who does something perceived to dishonor the family can be punished by any of them.”

While the women’s fathers have given permission for them to participate, not all have done so enthusiastically. One let his daughter join because “he had nothing better for her to do.” He made sure to tell Marina what he thought of her efforts: “You’re wasting your time. Everybody knows that girls are worthless.”

Many Afghan girls internalize these sentiments. When asked to describe herself, Neki responded, “When I was born, no one was happy, because I was a girl.” Shogufa, who has a close relationship with her father, remembers an old story that her grandmother told her: “ ‘When a girl crosses underneath a rainbow, she will turn into a boy.’ Whenever a rainbow appeared, I chased it.”

The four Ascend members climbing Noshaq—Hanifa, Shogufa, Freshta Ibrahimi, and Neki Hai­dari—were chosen for their physical strength and the skills they demonstrated on training climbs, in addition to their emotional endurance and commitment to the program. Just a few years ago, none of them could have imagined coming to Noshaq’s rugged terrain.

Like Freshta, Hanifa knew nothing about mountaineering before Shogufa convinced her to give it a try. Once Hanifa was in the mountains, she says, “I felt like I got free from a cage. I decided that from now on, I want to be a powerful woman who, when I see someone whose hand has fallen, I will take their hand and help them. No longer should women feel weak.”

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