After a year and a half of talking, reporting, marching, conference-calling, driving, hiking, biking, horse-riding, writing, editing, agonizing, factchecking, more editing, more agonizing, more factchecking, two features I wrote ran in this month’s National Geographic magazine. … Read more
At the same time scientists first identified Colony Collapse Disorder–the mysterious syndrome in which honeybees disappeared from previously healthy hives–another, less-heralded bee mystery was also unfolding.
In 2006, a UC Davis entomologist named Robbin Thorp spotted a lone, yellow-topped Franklin’s bumblebee in a meadow in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains. When he had first begun surveying sites in 1998, this type of bee was relatively plentiful. But it soon became more difficult to find and then impossible: The bee that Mr. Thorp encountered in 2006 was the last Franklin’s bumblebee anyone has seen. … Read more
Endangered beetles are boring. Except this one. Whose story (published this month in Scientific American) includes: a .38, a .45/.410 combo, a bowie knife, a Viking range, slate tile, feral hogs, rotting Walmart fryer chickens, frack rigs, frack tanks, meth buckets, the smell of death, (extinct) passenger pigeons, angry Oklahoma politicians, and “consultants with coolers full of dead things to attract imperiled things that no one knows is there and no one is likely to miss.” … Read more
Last summer I spent two humid sunsets in a cornfield in Illinois, learning about the corn rootworm–which is not actually a worm, but rather a beetle. It is the most consequential pest in American agriculture. Known as the “billion dollar bug,” its costs to corn growers is estimated at somewhere just shy of 2 billion dollars, including research into GM crops that have kept the pest under control for a decade, but now are starting to fail. … Read more
I write in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine about Sister Blandina Segale, the intrepid nun who founded hospitals and schools in 19th century New Mexico, and is now being considered by the Vatican for sainthood (and who saved my great-great-grandfather from Billy the Kid). I spent some time with the man who is championing her cause, and the detective involved in Sister Blandina’s very belated background check.
There was a massive learning curve (RNAi anyone?), a lemon-soda-fried motherboard (second brand-new computer in two weeks), a back-up fail (lost reporting notes, yay), a kill fee, a resurrection, too many rewrites to count and some very odd photos involving honey and a pane of glass–but a year and a half later, this story about bees, mites, Monsanto, the culture wars, and one dogged apiarist finally sees the light of day in Wired Magazine.
Last week on Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor read one of my mother’s poems from her new book, a poem about birth, and death, and owls, and ancestors (and ghosts). She showed it to me as I was writing American Ghost, and the scene made its way into the book as well.
It’s about the night my daughter was born — and it’s illustrative, I think, to compare how we saw the same moment, both from the perspectives of poetry and prose, and from our own and time and place in life. … Read more
I am re-reading my mother’s new book of poems, Memos from the Broken World, now that it’s out in the world – it is so thoughtful and poignant and illuminating. This is a poem I particularly (selfishly) love — being the daughter mentioned in the poem, and being mother to a daughter of my own now, watching her, too, “move on to her life.” And because of the ghosts, of course.
Because of the Ghosts
because we are three on the steps,
side by side, not together
because my mother pretends to read, eyes
on her book, knees drawn together over skinny
because my daughter’s eyes look left–she is wild
to be elsewhere–and mine rest on a space
between, as if I were riding a difficult horse,
my torso half-twisting,
because we had no chance
to compose our faces,
turn to the camera and lie,
and the ghost of another exposure
frames us in three pale windows of light
so we’re seen through shadows
we’ll someday become,
because of the ghosts,
because it shows us as we really were–already
moving on–my mother to her death,
my daughter to her life,
me, twisting between them.
A few weeks ago, I flew down to Santa Fe for a party at La Posada. The hosts had rented out the house, and for the final night of the event, the planners moved all of the furniture out of the bedrooms upstairs and the downstairs parlors and bar, and moved dining tables into the rooms so the guests could eat there.
Including in Julia’s room.
Two members of the work crew were assigned to Julia’s suite, taking apart the four-poster bed and moving the bed, couch, divan, desk, and dresser into one of the other guest rooms. … Read more
I just received an email from a reader named Jennifer, who wrote me after a long, sleepless night. She had just started American Ghost, and it brought back to her “the horrible nightmare and experiences I had when my husband and I stayed in Julia’s room 5 years ago.” The experience, she said, foretold a death in her family, and “still haunts me to this day.”
She asked if I wanted to know more.
Of course I did. And this is the story she told. It is disturbing and also very sad: … Read more