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 […]

It’s Pretty, but It’s Bad News

It’s August, and that means the porcelainberries are out. The first time I noticed this plant, somewhere on the walk between home and work, I had no idea what I was seeing. Grapes? The leaves looked like grapes, but the fruits looked like so much more. Some kind of fabulous Easter confection. Chocolate covered in […]

Guest Post: Swimming in the Charles

The hot, thick summer air in Cambridge, Massachusetts, can make you feel like you’re sitting in a sauna, wrapped in a soaking-wet wool blanket. As a recent, temporary transplant, staying in a house without air conditioning, I needed a place to cool off. I’ve gotten to know all my favorite places by immersing myself in their water—the lakes […]

A Brush with the Bear

In the part of your mind that is still animal, still wild, you remember fight or flight; the possibility of paws holding you down, and the hinge of jaws upon you. The thought no longer goes through our minds the way it must have long ago. Sometimes, though, the memory returns. I was considering such a scenario years […]

Redux: Go Occupy Those Forlorn Chairs

This post first ran on July 16, 2015, but it’s good advice for any summer day. It’s summer, and I’ve been thinking of what poet Billy Collins called those, “forlorn chairs/though at one time it must have seemed/a good place to stop and do nothing for a while.” Even situated, as they usually are, to […]

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 […]

Counting Pistachios, Taxis and Great White Sharks

In this month’s issue of National Geographic, I lay out a simple question. How many great white sharks are there on Earth? It seems simple enough – we’ve found some 3,500 planets outside our solar system and 400,000 species of beetles on Earth. This is the modern world of crowdsourcing and big data. We can […]

Milkweed In Summer

Back in April, somebody at the community garden got ambitious. Weeds usually grow pretty profusely around the edges of the garden. But on one Thursday in April, when I walked by on my way to work, the weeds in the corner I pass every day had been completely turned over, in preparation for vegetables. I […]