Elemental India: Air, Animals, Land & People

Elemental India: Air, Animals, Land & People

As I travelled around India, I kept hearing about aggressive dogs. Someone told me about two girls, who were attacked by dogs at night while they were sleeping.

What I Don't Know: Being Questioned in El Salvador

What I Don’t Know: Being Questioned in El Salvador

The man who asked the question lifted his eyes from the papers in front of him.  It occurred to me that he was trying to look pleasant, maybe even friendly, but I couldn’t ignore the set jaw and a distended vein that resembled a lightening bolt. My skirt felt damp on my thighs, and I wondered if it would stick to me when I stood up – if I ever got out of that chair.

Voice and Hammer: Harry Belafonte's Unfinished Fight

Voice and Hammer: Harry Belafonte’s Unfinished Fight

Belafonte was first. First black man to win a Tony; one of the first to star in an all-black Hollywood hit (Carmen Jones, 1954); first to turn down starring roles (To Sir, With Love ; Lilies of the Field ; Porgy and Bess ; Shaft) because, he said, he’d play no part that put a black man on his knees or made of him a cartoon. We’re here in this screening room to watch a forgotten hour of television for which he won the first Emmy awarded to a black man for production, for being in charge.

Carbon in the Tank

Carbon in the Tank

On a bookshelf above my desk, I have a rock that’s about the size of a fist. It’s ridged and bumpy, and covered in oil. I’ve been carrying it with me for about a decade, after collecting it from a remote beach in Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain.

My Mother's Blue Chevy Convertible

My Mother’s Blue Chevy Convertible

Someone should write an erudite essay on the moral, physical, and esthetic effect of the Model T Ford on the American nation,” wrote John Steinbeck in Cannery Row. “Two generations of Americans knew more about the Ford coil than the clitoris, about the planetary system of gears than the solar system of stars.”

Norma Rae is Spinning in Her Grave

Norma Rae is Spinning in Her Grave

In a small town in rural North Carolina in those days a mill job was about the best a blue collar worker could do. Crystal Lee’s grandfather had worked in the mill, as had both of her parents. It seemed to be the natural order of things that she would follow her parents and grandparents into the mill.

The Death of Anas al-Atrash

The Death of Anas al-Atrash

ON THE EVENING of Thursday, November 8 [2013], Anas and Ismail al-Atrash closed up their family’s shoe store in the central West Bank city of Jericho. Before leaving for their home in Hebron, about an hour’s drive south, the brothers called their mother. “She asked me to buy tomatoes and lemons and oranges and cucumbers and potatoes,” recalled Ismail, squeezed between his parents in the sitting room of their three-story house in the Hebron neighborhood of Abu Sneineh. Ismail’s hair was neatly gelled, but his cheeks were unshaven, his eyelids heavy. An uncle sat sprawled across an adjacent sofa, fingering a length of wooden prayer beads.

Goldenrod and Asters: My Life With Plants

Goldenrod and Asters: My Life With Plants

I like to imagine that they were the first flowers I saw, over my mother’s shoulder, as the pink blanket slipped away from my face and their colors flooded my consciousness. I’ve heard that early experience can attune the brain to certain stimuli, so that they are processed with greater speed and certainty, so that they can be used again and again, so that we remember. Love at first sight. Through cloudy newborn eyes their radiance formed the first botanical synapses in my wide- awake brain, which until then had encountered only the blurry gentleness of pink faces. I’m guessing all eyes were on me, a little round baby all swaddled in bunting, but mine were on goldenrod and asters. I was born to these flowers and they came back for my birthday every year, weaving me into our mutual celebration.

Dealing with a Mystery Disease

Dealing with a Mystery Disease

I ignored the blur in my right eye. About two weeks later, I figured I had time, so I made an appointment with Dr. Lowe, my ophthalmologist, for December 1.

The Missouri River Dinosaur

The Missouri River Dinosaur

The pallid sturgeon is, perhaps, the least sexy fish in existence. Prehistoric, armored, and occupying the muddy recesses of slow flowing rivers, it is one of nature’s leftovers from the dinosaur era. Large at maturity, the pallid sturgeon grows between 30 and 60 inches, and can weigh upwards of 85 pounds. Consistency is the modus operandi of the this fish, which has remained relatively unchanged over the last 70 million years. The pallid sturgeon is muted, having a gray coloration—like hair later in life. The sturgeon, which can live to be 100 years old, grows white. The tail is heterocercal, resembling a shark’s tail, and its body is wrapped in thick cartilage plates. In my youth, while fishing the muddy Missouri River, if we hauled a sturgeon to the surface, we cut the line immediately to release it back to the bottom world, where it would resume sucking and slurping minnows. I often named these armored tanks General Patton or General Sherman.