Science Metaphors (cont.): The Anthropocene

On Monday, at an international meeting of geologists in Cape Town, South Africa, the 35 members of the Anthropocene Working Group summarized their seven years of work. Chief among their preliminary findings is that the current human-dominated chapter in our planet’s history, informally known as the Anthropocene, is geologically real. That’s “real” as in “recorded in the earth’s rock layers.” The report is the latest […]

River time, river tongue

It was a bird of confluences. Nameless, to us. Gray as cloud belly, large as raptor, with eyes streaked over black as if with a stick of charcoal. The first time I saw it, I stood shin deep in the narrow, clear Pitman River, steps away from the line of opaque jade water marking its […]

Redux: On My Way to Burning Man

In the summer of 2014 I backpacked across the Black Rock Desert to Burning Man with a small group of friends, after which this piece was originally published. It has been only slightly altered. Since the lake bed is from late Pleistocene origin, and the loud and luminous eruption of this annual event will be […]

How to Name a Caribou

Few species are more frustrating to taxonomists than the North American caribou. Ranging from the Canadian Arctic to the Great Lakes, caribou vary enormously in size, color, antler shape, habitat, and behavior. Some aren’t much bigger than domestic dogs; others are almost big enough to rub shoulders with a moose. For more than two centuries, […]

The Mathematical Elegance of the Grand Canyon

  I leave today for a backpack with my two kids off the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Per our usual, we are going without maps, compass, gps, or a trail. This is how we do it together, traveling by line of sight, letting geography show us the way out and back. I used […]

Redux: Where the Wind Has No Name

Of all the evocative place words humans have come up with, the words for local winds may be the most varied and most charming. There’s the Albrohos of Portugal, the Gilavar and the Khazri of Azerbaijan, and the Shamal of Iraq. There’s the Cape Doctor of South Africa, the Hawk of Chicago, and the Wreckhouse winds of Newfoundland. […]

The Map Box

I keep a wooden box on my bedside table. It’s cheap – an old Yalumba Wine case that I found on a curb somewhere, with a hinged lid and a shred of price tag still attached. Usually, it’s stacked high with magazines half read, a thing seldom opened and often dusty. But in all of […]

Sensory Underload

Three years ago on about this day in early June I was stuck in a whiteout. Camped in an icebound mountain range in south-central Alaska, my buddies and I found ourselves pinned down for two days in near-zero visibility on an icefield. A heavy, snow-laden sky had come down and smothered us. As mountaineers say, it […]