Marine Iguanas Don’t Want to Cuddle With You

I was in the Galapagos Islands in July, which felt a bit like traveling to another planet. At least, that’s what I’d imagine an interplanetary hop to be like. The land features are familiar and yet not quite—lava fields still sharp and freshly black or dotted with hopeful plant life, colossal rocks turned to sculpture […]

Funny Bird

  Here comes dawn. The sky yawns and the sun flicks its lids above the horizon. But just before the lights come up on Virginia’s rolling hills, the sound of morning commences. Can we call it a song? That might be a stretch. There’s a certain musicality to it. You’re no doubt familiar with its silly refrain. […]

Damage Patterns

The other night I was in the midst of writing about the Ice Age when I strayed to the internet. Up came the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography that went this year to New York Times photographers Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, Tyler Hicks and Daniel Etter for their coverage of the European refugee crises. Fresh from writing a […]

Flying forest

Corvids are a wonderful genre of beast. I was reminded of this fact not long ago when, biking back home across southeast Portland from the waterfront, a veritable river of crows began streaming overhead. Thousands of them blurred and bobbed and circled each other in a stuttering current from east to west. This current eddied […]

Coming of Age

  A few years ago, I joined a group of families on a backcountry kayaking trip in Alaska’s Prince William sound. A kid named Will was just about to turn 13, and I was there to watch him come of age. I’d known him as a strong little wild-haired monkey, but on this trip he […]

Live from the Bering Land Bridge

My desk is a mess, skulls, books and papers strewn. The cast of a saber-tooth cat skull sits on the corner, resting on its two double-edged daggers, reminding me of the book I am writing about the first people in North America, and what they encountered. As I crab myself over the keyboard, the Smilodon skull […]

The Mark We Leave

Rounding a corner in Manhattan last week, I saw a handprint spray-painted on a wall. It was my hand. I had put it there last summer, my first and only piece of graffiti. It was nothing special, no artistic flair other than my five fingers. I had gloved my hand in plastic wrap and waved […]

“The Martian” and Ice Age Astronauts

Two nights ago I sat in a theater watching the film “The Martian.” I loved seeing a viable spacecraft making gravitational slingshots around planets while a stranded, potato-growing astronaut claimed himself the first colonist on Mars. What’s there not to love? Meanwhile, in my coat pocket I carried an object from an entirely different age […]