Search Results for: National Geographic

National Parks: A Reading List

Getty Images

I have a small booklet of illustrated postcards from National Parks, both ones I’ve been to and others I have yet to see: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Acadia, Glacier, Olympic, and more. The cards are whimsical. Each in the set features an outline of a park, and a smattering of critters, landmarks, and flora and fauna in bright colors. There is a cartoon banana slug; a meadowlark, beak open in song; a sunny yellow coneflower, petals all the way unfurled; a bighorn sheep; a branch of a ponderosa pine; a hiking boot looming larger than a small illustrated tent; and a herd of antelope making their way toward Delicate Arch.

Whether because of the tiny size of the cards — a whole park scaled down to the size of a palm — or the natural world tuned to carefully blocked hues of teal and mustard and coral and lime green and blue, when I look at the postcards, I tend to daydream about the National Parks in a way that mirrors the illustrations themselves: my perception of the parks becomes two-dimensional, sanitized of any complication. I envision myself hiking along a dirt path, a Steller’s Jay swooping down to scavenge for seed, Ponderosa pines lining the way, the sky blue and open above the picture-perfect peaks of a mountain chain. In my daydreams, there is never anyone else around: there is just me moving through a landscape freckled with flowers, silence broken only by the chittering of birds.

Some parts of these daydreams are feasible, which I know from time spent in parks. I have followed a dirt trail for miles around a lake in Grand Teton, the woods quiet save for the stirring of small creatures. I have hiked down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in a day, the sun baking every shade of orange-red rock in sight. I have kept my body still in Yellowstone in hopes of watching a coyote limber across a field just a few moments longer. I have foraged for blueberries in Acadia, sat by the placid, shockingly-blue waters of Lake McDonald in Glacier, and hiked through parts of Denali, pink fireweed lining my way.

The time I’ve spent in National Parks has always seemed restorative, a reminder that there is wild beauty to be protected. But my perceptions can be complicated, underlying tensions teased from what I simplify. For example, as Terry Tempest Williams writes in The Hour of Land, she grew up with the myth of Yellowstone National Park being “void of people” when it was established in 1872, before learning as an adult that the lands where the park was created “was the seasonal and cyclic home of Blackfeet, Bannock, Shoshone, and Crow Nations.” She writes, “Like any good story with the muscle of privilege behind it, it seemed believable. And I never asked the question: ‘Who benefits from the telling of this particular story?’”

What stories have I told myself about the natural parks? Why do I imagine myself alone there, when I have rarely — if ever — experienced solitude on the trails? What kinds of privileges afford me the ability to travel to the parks, and who are parks truly accessible to? What types of harmful histories have I buried or blurred in the way I’ve narrativized the parks in my own mind? What environmental protections have the park lands been granted and what is at risk in a time of climate change and a president’s dangerous decisions? The essays curated here approach these questions — and more.

1. Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream (Kathryn Joyce, HuffPost)

As a child, the outdoors felt most like home to Cheyenne Szydlo, a trait she carried with her into her professional life as a wildlife biologist. But when she earned the chance to find the elusive — and possibly locally extinct — Southwestern willow flycatcher in The Grand Canyon, her experiences outdoors took a sinister turn, not because of any natural threats, but human. A man named Dave, her river guide, perpetually harassed her and threatened to sexually assault her. 

Szydlo’s story is far from uncommon, as Kathryn Joyce writes in this harrowing longform piece. From interviews with Szydlo, women firefighters, and other women park employees, as well as a bevy of researched statistics, Joyce emphasizes the dramatic scope of sexual assault and harassment that far too many women have experienced while working in national parks and other natural places.

The agencies that protect America’s natural heritage enjoy a reputation for a certain benign progressivism—but some of them have their own troubling history of hostility toward women.

In 2012 in Texas, members of the Parks and Wildlife Department complained about a “legacy” of racial and gender intolerance; only 8 percent of the state’s 500 game wardens were women. In 2014, in California, female employees of the U.S. Forest Service filed a class-action lawsuit—the fourth in 35 years—over what they described as an egregious, long-standing culture of sexual harassment, disparity in hiring and promotion, and retaliation against those who complained.

2. We’re Here. You Just Don’t See Us. (Latria Graham, May 1, 2018, Outside)

Number seven on a list of “22 Things Black Folks Don’t Do,” an article Latria Graham finds on BlackAmericaWeb.com, is “Go to national parks.” Graham, who encounters, both online and in life, an array of stereotypes about black people not liking the outdoors, explores the premise of those stereotypes by mapping the locations of national parks and discussing the ways in which historic practices of segregation still influence people’s perceptions today. 

By blending gorgeous ruminations of growing up on her own family’s land, reminiscing on the ways in which Zora Neale Hurston’s work helped her discover her own voice, recounting her trips to national parks and incorporating hard-hitting research, Graham’s essay asks readers to evaluate their own internal biases and work to make real change. 

The parks were designed to be clean and white, and if we let the data tell the story, that’s how they’ve stayed. In 2009, the National Park Service did a comprehensive survey of the American public, consisting of phone interviews with more than 4,000 participants. According to their data, African Americans comprised just 7 percent of visitors.

3. Dear Mr. Abbey (Amy Irvine, Autumn 2018, Orion)

In this direct address to Edward Abbey, Amy Irvine writes about how life within public lands has changed since Abbey’s death, and also ways that his work might be reconceived if thought about through a more contemporary lens. Irvine, as she reckons with who has the freedom to travel to natural lands — “a privilege that belongs to the able-bodied, upper classes” — tells Abbey about the destruction of natural lands that has occurred as a result of Trump’s decisions, and discusses the ways in which her experiences of natural parks and solitude differ than Abbey’s because she is a woman.

Can you imagine, in my own book about Utah, if I had called it “Amy’s country”? I could have justified it; my family has been there for seven generations and counting. Yet even with such credentials the clan of my surname doesn’t get to call it ours because it’s all stolen property: whatever the forefathers didn’t snatch from the region’s Native Americans on one occasion, they took from Mexico on another.

4. The Government Won’t Let Me Watch Them Kill Bison, so I’m Suing (Christopher Ketcham, May 20, 2015, Vice)

The history of bison in North America is a long and sordid one, which includes settler colonial violence that, at one point, led to there being only 23 bison left in existence. Though the population of bison has increased since then, there are still tensions surrounding their existence, as Christopher Ketcham reports in this piece. Most notably, Yellowstone National Park “culls” (through slaughter) bison from natural lands. The damning part? For over a decade, park officials haven’t allowed the public to watch, spurring the ACLU to file a letter of intent to sue. 

I once saw a video of bison being trapped in preparation for their sorting and slaughter. It had been filmed in 2004, in Yellowstone, the last year the Park Service permitted viewing of their bison operations. In the video, the bison are angry, bucking and kicking. The wranglers cry, ‘Hyah, hooee, yah yah, uhsh uhsh,’ smiling as they whip and beat the animals from catwalks. The camera angle shifts to the colliding bodies of the creatures, which cram in the bottleneck of the chutes.

5. From Yosemite to Bears Ears, Erasing Native Americans from U.S. National Parks (Hunter Oatman-Stanford, January 26, 2018, Collectors Weekly)

Though the National Park Service prevented wholesale industrialization, they still packaged the wilderness for consumption, creating a scenic, pre-historical fantasy surrounded by roads and tourist accommodations, all designed to mask the violence inherent to these parks’ creation. More than a century later, the United States has done little to acknowledge the government-led genocide of native populations, as well as the continued hardships they face because of the many bad-faith treaties enacted by the U.S. government.

Accompanied by photographs, maps, historic promotional materials, and other artifacts, Hunter Oatman-Stanford lays bare a multitude of violences and injustices perpetrated against native populations in the creation of National Parks, as well as chronicles the ways in which the harm of this history still affects people today.

6. Are We Losing the Grand Canyon? (Kevin Fedarko, September 2016, National Geographic)

During an end-to-end hike of the Grand Canyon, Kevin Fedarko notes how much of the landscape has been impacted by human development and ruminates on Edward Abbey’s prediction that the wilderness he was writing about “is already gone or going under fast. This is not a travel guide but an elegy. A memorial.

How much of the Grand Canyon should be developed? And in what ways? What tensions exist because of the Grand Canyon’s capacity to generate revenue? And who has been harmed in the process of development? Fedarko explores answers to these questions, and more, in this longform piece.

But according to U.S. Geological Survey data, 15 springs and five wells inside the Grand Canyon area have levels of uranium that are considered unsafe to drink, due in part to incidents in older mines, where erosion and problems with containment have allowed uranium to leach into the groundwater.

7. Clothing Companies Are Funding Our National Parks Because Our Government Won’t (Jen A. Miller, August 27, 2018, The Outline)

Jen A. Miller, who has a goal of visiting all 417 sites in the U.S. overseen by the National Park Service, began receiving Instagram ads for “Parks Project,” a company that seeks to fund NPS-related charities through their sales of shirts and other goods. Upon researching further, Miller discovers that “Parks Project” is not the only company attempting to help with NPS funding through the sale of merchandise, a noble goal, though one that still falls far from providing the kind of money NPS actually needs to thrive.

And while on paper it looks like the National Park Service budget has gone up from $3.276 billion for fiscal year 2009 to $3.460 billion for fiscal year 2018, when adjusted for inflation, it’s really an 8 percent drop. The New York Times has referred to this paradox of rising crowds and shrinking funds as a “crisis” — I was in Zion National Park in Utah right around the time their reporter was, and I don’t think the pictures do justice to the massive crowds I had to work through.

***

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, Guernica, Tin House, and elsewhere. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @jacquelinealnes.

Get to Know the National Book Award Finalists for Nonfiction

The National Book Awards, presented by the National Book Foundation, “celebrate the best of American literature, to expand its audience, and to enhance the cultural value of great writing in America.” There are four categories: fiction, nonfiction, “young people’s literature,” and poetry. Several of this year’s nominees have been featured on Longreads before (see: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Johnson, Noelle Stevenson), and this reading list features the five nonfiction nominees. The winner will be announced on November 18, 2015.

1. The Radical: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

“The Hard Truths of Ta-Nehisi Coates.” (Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine, July 2015)

“Letter to My Son,” in The Atlantic, adapted from Between the World and Me

You must struggle to truly remember this past. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance—no matter how improved—as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children.

Read more…

The 2014 National Magazine Award Winners: A Reading List

Longreads Pick

A collection of stories from Thursday night’s awards, including The New Yorker, Time and National Geographic.

Author: Editors
Source: Longreads
Published: May 1, 2014

The 2014 National Magazine Award Winners: A Reading List

The American Society of Magazine Editors handed out its 2014 National Magazine Awards Thursday night, with Fast CompanyNew York magazine, Inc., Poetry magazine and Modern Farmer all taking home trophies. Boston Magazine’s stirring cover image (above) following the Boston Marathon bombings was named ASME’s Cover of the Year.

Below is a reading list featuring some of the stories honored Thursday night. Read more…

How We Discovered Pluto

Photo: NASA HQ

At National Geographic, Nadia Drake has been writing about NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reaching Pluto this week, and she’s also written about our history with the former planet, which was discovered by 24-year-old Clyde Tombaugh on February 18, 1930:

Tombaugh spent about a year searching for the missing world, using an instrument called a blink comparator. The noisy machine let viewers flip back and forth between long exposures of the sky, often containing hundreds of thousands of stars, taken several days apart. Anything that traveled a significant distance during that time—a planet or an asteroid, for example—would appear to move as the images flipped.

On that late afternoon—it was February 18—Tombaugh was manning the comparator and squinting at thousands of stars, evaluating each one by eye. Suddenly, in photos taken six days apart in January, he spied a small speck of light that didn’t stay put. In one image, it was to the left of two bright stars. In the next, it had jumped a few millimeters to the right of those stars. Tombaugh flipped back and forth between the images and watched the spot leaping in and out of its original position. He grabbed a ruler and measured the precise difference in the spot’s position. Then he found another photo of the sky, taken earlier in January, and searched for the same spot. Finally, he used a hand-magnifier to confirm the potential planet’s presence in one more set of photos, taken by a different camera. After 45 minutes, Tombaugh was convinced.

Read the story

The Evolution of Our Diet and What Modern Menus are Doing to Us

The latest clue as to why our modern diet may be making us sick comes from Harvard primatologist Richard Wrangham, who argues that the biggest revolution in the human diet came not when we started to eat meat but when we learned to cook. Our human ancestors who began cooking sometime between 1.8 million and 400,000 years ago probably had more children who thrived, Wrangham says. Pounding and heating food “predigests” it, so our guts spend less energy breaking it down, absorb more than if the food were raw, and thus extract more fuel for our brains. “Cooking produces soft, energy-rich foods,” says Wrangham. Today we can’t survive on raw, unprocessed food alone, he says. We have evolved to depend upon cooked food.

To test his ideas, Wrangham and his students fed raw and cooked food to rats and mice. When I visited Wrangham’s lab at Harvard, his then graduate student, Rachel Carmody, opened the door of a small refrigerator to show me plastic bags filled with meat and sweet potatoes, some raw and some cooked. Mice raised on cooked foods gained 15 to 40 percent more weight than mice raised only on raw food.

If Wrangham is right, cooking not only gave early humans the energy they needed to build bigger brains but also helped them get more calories from food so that they could gain weight. In the modern context the flip side of his hypothesis is that we may be victims of our own success. We have gotten so good at processing foods that for the first time in human evolution, many humans are getting more calories than they burn in a day. “Rough breads have given way to Twinkies, apples to apple juice,” he writes. “We need to become more aware of the calorie-raising consequences of a highly processed diet.”

— Ann Gibbons in National Geographic on how our diets have evolved and whether returning to a “Stone Age diet” would help prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Read the story

Photo: Dollen

Mountains, Transcending

Illustration by Jason Raish

Ailsa Ross | Longreads | August 2019 | 22 minutes (6,062 words)

It’s the winter of 1923 and a five-foot tall woman is shooting at brigands in Tibet. She’s surviving a blizzard by eating boot leather. She’s accepting a maggot-dancing stew from a drug-addled butcher and having a face-off with a snow leopard.

This woman is Parisian opera singer-turned-anarchist Buddhist lama Alexandra David-Néel, and she’s kicking through Tibet’s wild hills and steppes as she strides on foot across the Himalayas from Kanchow to Lhasa.

Alexandra’s starlit memoir recounting her adventure is no Thoreauvian nature journal. This is a tale that demands to be read in a cool bed while the night paws at the windows — or in my case, by the fire while my dad watches Come Dine With Me repeats on a black January afternoon.

I started reading My Journey to Lhasa because I love adventure stories. And while I’ve never pushed myself to extremes, still I felt a kinship with Alexandra. “Ever since I was five years old,” she wrote, “I craved to go beyond the garden gate, to follow the road that passed it by, and to set out for the Unknown.” She didn’t dream of towns or parades, but a solitary spot where she could “sit alone, with no one near.” As a child, her nannies often found her crouched behind bushes or hidden up trees in Paris gardens.

Quiet spaces — I’d needed those since I was a teenager.

I was most in search of a quiet space while teaching in Seoul in 2012. I was twenty-four and tired — of living in that crunching city of 26 million, of being in a job I was no good at, of lying awake in the self-hating 2 a.m. dark with a burnt throat from smoking cigarettes on the kindergarten rooftop. I wanted to feel clean again, like a child who’d spent the day by the sea. Read more…

Lions, Tigers, and a Rabbit Named Bugs: A Reading List on Animal-Human Interactions

Getty Images

I don’t remember how I first met her — did I catch a glimpse of her shimmying through a gap in the fence? — but I know that it was love at first sight, at least on my end. Part of my joy, I think, came from the fact that I never expected to see a rabbit within 10 feet of my kitchen window. At the time, I lived in a house on the corner of a small-town neighborhood street, and my backyard was relatively plain. No brush or trees shaded any part of the yard from the Oklahoma sun, trucks regularly revved past, and a number of kites and hawks threaded patterns in the sky above. Why would a rabbit visit a balding patch of fenced-in lawn rather than take cover in the murmuring field of tall grass nearby?

After that first sighting, years ago now, I searched for her within the movement of shadows at sunrise and sunset. Sure enough, she returned. I began learning her patterns: clover by the kitchen window until the sky painted itself into the color of morning, clover near the back corner of the lawn just before sunset, and occasionally, a nap near the fence post to escape the late afternoon heat. One morning while she was out, I eased the back door open and stepped in slow-motion, out onto the patio. Her ears perked up and swiveled, marking the source of the sound. She drew her feet close and twitched her nose. I took a seat on the concrete and, before long, she returned to eating.

As the summer months wore on, I sat with her often, and I also began buying carrots that I would throw in her direction. Timid at first, she crept closer and closer to me until I could feed her from an arms-length away. She would let me sit in the yard nearby while she rolled around in a sandy spot, her way of bathing, and when I returned from my morning runs, she would often sniff the air, stretch her body like a cat who’s just risen from a nap, and then hop in my direction. I named her Bugs.

After she disappeared that first fall, I didn’t fully expect to ever see her again, but Bugs returned for two summers. Sitting with her day after day, morning and night, encouraged me to engage with parts of the natural world I otherwise would have ignored. Over the course of our time together, I watched a pair of kites build a nest in a tree overhead, hoping that I’d never catch the sight of their shadow if they decided to swoop down one day. I studied the nuances in what I thought had been a plain lawn: purple flowers speckling the space in spring, dandelions during the height of summer, a flurry of minute insects hovering and crawling in the heat. I watched the sun melt down over powerlines and neighboring roofs, starlings and skeins of geese alternating overhead.

Over the years, my relationship with Bugs prompted me to think more critically about how I treated the natural world. I fed Bugs carrots daily and began videoing our encounters for Instagram, so that even strangers became invested. The second summer I knew her, she had a baby, and the two of them frequented my yard. There, Bugs taught her offspring to crouch low when the form of a hawk passed overhead, roll in the sand pit, and wriggle lightning-like through the slats in the fence. Though my intentions were borne from love and respect — and a desire to be close to another creature — was I harming Bugs by giving her food? Would she think other humans were safe or did she only know my scent? By inserting myself into her routine, was I disrupting an ecological web I had no right to be part of?

There are bigger questions that arise from those encounters, too. How have animals adapted to survive in a world increasingly overrun with humans? What kinds of relationships exist between humans and animals, and what well-intentioned actions from humans bring harm? The following essays address the oft-complicated connections between animals and humans, explore fascinating forms of adaptations that have sprung from living in increasingly inhospitable environments, and wonder about the future of us all.

1. Are Cities Making Animals Smarter? (Paul Bisceglio, August 16, 2018, The Atlantic)

Night after night, goldfish and koi began disappearing from an office pond protected by concrete walls. Worried, the landlord installed security cameras, only to find that the intruder was a surprising one: a fishing cat, better known for living in swamps than in the center of a bustling city.

In this fascinating read, Paul Bisceglio chronicles the work of Anya Ratnayaka, a conservationist who started tracking several fishing cats in the heart of Colombo, and wonders about how — and which — animals will successfully adapt to life as cities continue to infringe on natural habitats.

Mizuchi’s GPS-collar data had placed him not only in local ponds and canals, but also in the parking lot of a neon-lit movie theater and in the middle of a multilane traffic circle. His territory, which stretched about two square miles, was mostly covered with asphalt and packed with cars.

2. Horseshoe Crabs Have Survived All of History – and Remind Us How We Could Too (Lenora Todaro, July 3, 2019, Catapult)

Lenora Todaro meditates on intersections between human life and the natural world in New York City in her monthly Sidewalk Naturalist column. In this riveting installment, Todaro writes about horseshoe crabs, who somehow continue their “450 million-year-old lineage” despite “ice ages and asteroids,” low survival rates, and currently, in New York City, harrowing encroachments by humans on already too-small hospitable environments.

So here is New York city water, not at its best: a swirling mass of plastic bottles, glass shards of airplane size liquor bottles, coffee cups, candy wrappers, plastic straws, abandoned IHOP sugar packets. To find horseshoe crabs, we had to peel aside the sewage to see if any creatures were stirring beneath, oblivious and perhaps impervious to the garbage.

3. The ‘Othering’ of Animals and Cultural Underdogs: Debut author Pajtim Statovci on Kosovo, migration and cats (Pajtim Statovci interviewed by Carolina Leavitt, April 27, 2017, Electric Lit)

Pajtim Statovci, author of the novel My Cat Yugoslavia, speaks with Caroline Leavitt about the othering of people and animals; ways animals are used as symbols in literature and life; and his attempts to undermine conventional means of representation in his work.

We place animals in different contexts, such as literary works, where they are anthropomorphized and interpreted through the human world, for example as symbols of human characteristics, even though we don’t have access to animal consciousness, and we certainly don’t know what it’s like to be an animal.

4. How rats became an inescapable part of city living (Emma Marris, April 2019, National Geographic)

With urban rat populations on the rise, Emma Marris visits several cities around the globe, meets with rat experts, and studies the history of the rodents to give a better understanding of their immense capacity for adaptability, as well as the ways they mirror the way we as humans live.

Some of the things we hate most about rats—their dirtiness, their fecundity, their undeniable grit and knack for survival—are qualities that could describe us as well. Their filth is really our own: In most places rats are thriving on our trash and our carelessly tossed leftovers.

5. The Man Who Made Animal Friends (Ian S. Port, September 21, 2015, Rolling Stone)

At The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) in South Carolina, visitors can pay to take pictures with lion, tiger, and liger cubs, and visit apes, elephants, and other animals during tours through the park. Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the founder and director of T.I.G.E.R.S., views his establishment as a community where animals and people live in harmony. Others, like zoo experts, view his park as being harmful to animals.

All of T.I.G.E.R.S. staff members must complete an intensive apprenticeship. No formal education is required, but recruits must be single and childless. They cannot expect any time off for any reason. They must be within 20 pounds of their “perfect athletic weight or working to get there,” able to do push-ups, pull-ups, and run a 12-minute mile.

6. Animal magnetism (David P Barash, May 13, 2014, aeon)

Why are humans fascinated by animals? How do our interactions with animals change depending on the context in which we observe them? What do we see of ourselves in other species? David P Barash, in considering animals in zoos, in veterinarian offices, as pets, in the wild, and across time, hypothesizes a variety of reasons why we remain enthralled by other creatures.

We are living, breathing, perspiring, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, eating, defecating, urinating, copulating, child-rearing, and ultimately dying animals ourselves. It is plausible that deep in the human psyche there resides the simple yet profound recognition of a relationship between Us and Them.

7. Can Elephants Be Persons? (Sarah Kasbeer, Summer 2019, Dissent Magazine)

Does only harm come from anthropomorphizing animals, or can respect for other living beings stem from the inclination? Are zoos an ethical place for creatures to reside, or is it better we let them free, even while we destroy their natural homes? What makes a person a person instead of an animal, and where do we draw the boundary between the two?

Sarah Kasbeer considers these questions and more in this nuanced and vital essay, one that centers around the predicament of Happy, an elephant living alone at the Bronx Zoo.

It has long been said that to anthropomorphize—ascribe human characteristics to animals—while intuitive and enjoyable, is unscientific and misguided. But given the recent research into animal consciousness, what was once considered a cardinal sin of ethology has since returned to favor, so long as it’s implemented responsibly.

***

Jacqueline Alnes is working on a memoir about running and neurological illness. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, GuernicaTin House, and elsewhere. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @jacquelinealnes.

The Shames of Men

Getty, Illustration by Homestead

Don Kulick | Longreads | June 2019 | 14 minutes (3,788 words)

A few months ago, in April 2019, an eyebrow-raising headline appeared in the British newspaper the Guardian: “Botched penis enlargements: Papua New Guinea doctors warn of nationwide problem.”

The article reported that over the past two years the General Hospital in the country’s capital city, Port Moresby, has treated more than five hundred men who injected baby oil and other foreign substances into their penises to make them bigger. The medical professionals who sounded the alarm about this practice warned that it seems to be widespread and is a growing threat to men’s health throughout the country.

I read this story and sighed. I knew that those doctors were glimpsing only the tip of a ghastly iceberg.

*

Only a few weeks before the Guardian article appeared, I had returned to Gapun, a remote village in an all-but-forgotten corner of Papua New Guinea where I have been doing anthropological research for the past thirty years. The village is much further off the beaten path than any doctor working at Port Moresby General Hospital is likely to have traveled. Getting there from the nearest town can take two days, but this time I made it in a record fourteen hours.

Leaving from the nearest town with my traveling companions — three health workers from a local NGO — I rode in the back of a truck with no shock absorbers on an unpaved road cratered with potholes. For nine hours. At the end of the road we climbed into a flimsy outboard motor-powered canoe, bobbing on ocean waves up the coast before entering an immense mangrove lagoon and, after three hours, arriving at the end of a shallow, narrow creek. From there, we shouldered our bags and trekked for an hour, through viscous mud and clouds of mosquitoes, across slim slippery waterlogged poles that villagers call “bridges.”

Finally we arrived in the small windless slit in the rainforest that is Gapun; a village with a usual population of about two hundred people. Read more…