Things That I’m Obsessed With: National Geographic Edition

Disclaimer: You’re about to enter Imaginationland.

So, back in the day when Repptar and I were doing the PQLC thing, I intended on regularly sharing my obsessions in a series titled “Things That I’m Obsessed With” (creative, I know). Unfortunately, since he and I never stuck to anything and the blog died, there were only two such entries. Machu Picchu and Non-Fiction. Well, today I’m bring the series back from the dead.

At work, half the internet is blocked so during my breaks and in between calls, I used to have nothing to do and lose my mind from boredom. This actually turned out to be a wonderful thing because now I read a ton while I’m there and love my life. Unfortunately, I left On The Road at home one day and proceeded to freak out about the pending tedium of my 8 hour shift with nothing to read. So, I regrouped and went to CVS and bought the September 2011 issue of NatGeo. I honestly don’t know why I don’t just subscribe. One issue is like $6. One year of issues is $15. And $15 is one night at the bar or one month of Netflix. I can make some cuts and work it into my budget. One year of National Geographic > one night at the bar.

Anyway, I started religiously reading it every month to avoid homework at school and it became a necessary constant for survival in my life. I’m pretty sure it’s been blowing people’s minds since 1888. Yes, it is that old. Now I only read it sporadically. But it’s like crack in my brain every time. I think my synapses are malfunctioning due to overuse by the time I’m done

This issue is particularly incredible. I knew the minute I saw it on the rack that it was special. Maybe this was what people feel when they experience that whole “love at first site” shebang. It was basically a fireworks explosion of realizing that 75% of the things I’m obsessed with are in this one issue.


NatGeo, you always think my thoughts. Things That I’m Obsessed With: Flying Edition. I want to fly. I dream about it. I can close my eyes and physically feel how my legs would feel to be kicking off the ground to launch my body into the air. And in terms of personal life flaws, I always fly too close to the sun. I am Icarus. Bike accidents every week. Anyway, the flying article was so awesome that I’m going to devote a whole entry to it on Sunday.

Moving on to the next little headline there… orphan elephants. I definitely shed some tears over this article. Things That I’m Obsessed With: Elephants Edition. Also, saving stuff… especially orphans. My #1 goal as a nurse/person is going to be to save every kid on the planet from heartbreak and poverty. But, ok… back to the elephants. Elephants are basically humans.

Studies show that structures in the elephant brain are strikingly similar to those in humans. MRI scans of an elephant’s brain suggest a large hippocampus, the component in the mammalian brain linked to memory and an important part of its limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions. The elephant brain has also been shown to possess an abundance of the specialized neurons known as spindle cells, which are thought to be associated with self-awareness, empathy, and social awareness in humans. Elephants have even passed the mirror test of self-recognition, something only humans, and some great apes and dolphins, had been known to do.

I’ve loved them forever. They’re calm… unless you threaten them or their elephant friends/family or their right to live their elephant lives in happiness. Then they’re fierce and scary. Fight for love/happiness, people. You gotta. The world likes to rip it away from you.

Be as beneficent as the sun or the sea, but if your rights as a rational being are trenched on, die on the first inch of your territory.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tangent: Also, obsessed with Ralph Waldo Emerson. His essays are pretty overwhelmingly mind blowing.

Back to elephants (again). They’re family oriented and live in matriarchal societies. And they’re incredibly social. Their communication abilities are off the charts. They’re ridiculously advanced, emotionally speaking. They experience grief, live altruistically, and demonstrate compassion. I feel connected to them. The best parts of myself (the ones that are currently buried) are elephant characteristics. We have a spiritual understanding.

This part of the article made me cry from sadness in the way that perpetual urban violence cycles make me cry (City of God). It kind of seems like a similar problem… experience horrific life altering/disruptive stuff in your formative years –> exhibit unusually violent/brutal behavior.

Between 1992 and 1997, for example, young male elephants in Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa killed more than 40 rhinoceroses—an unusual level of aggression—and in some cases had attempted to mount them. The young elephants were adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot in cullings at Kruger National Park—sanctioned killings to keep elephant populations under control. At that time it was common practice for such orphaned elephant babies to be tethered to the bodies of their dead relatives until they could be rounded up for translocation to new territories. Once moved to Pilanesberg, the orphans matured without the support of any adult males. “Young males often follow older, sexually active males around,” says Joyce Poole, “appearing to study what they do. These youngsters had no such role models.”

But this part made me cry from hope.

Another precocious orphan named Irima was just over three years old and still milk dependent when he insinuated himself into a wild group near Voi, the other stockade where orphans are introduced to the wild. After five days the Voi keepers heard a series of frantic, high-pitched elephant trumpets coming from the direction of an electrified fence. “Irima must have told the group that he still needed his milk and orphan family and wanted to go back, so Edo [a former orphan] escorted him home,” Voi’s head keeper, Joseph Sauni, recalls. “The keepers opened the gate, and Edo escorted Irima all the way back to the stockades. Edo drank some water from the well, ate some food, and took off again. Mission accomplished.”

Even fully “repatriated” orphans like Edo will return to the stockades to visit their human family. In December 2008 Emily, a matriarch that had been brought to the Nairobi nursery in 1993, showed up at the Voi stockades one afternoon with her group and a surprise guest. “She’d given birth the day before, about a mile away,” says Sauni. “She led the baby here to show us her newborn. We named her Eve.”

ELEPHANTS = PEOPLE. And people and elephants apparently form family relationships with each other. Read the whole article. It’s amazing. I’m serious. And I kind of want to become the Jane Goodall of elephants. Is it too late? Wait, I think my brain just echoed something…

It is never too late to be what you might have been.
– George Eliot

Elephant in a raincoat:

The biggest (well, only) threat to elephants are people. Environmental destruction and human conflict are the reason that elephants are being orphaned and injured and killed. Elephant populations are rapidly destabilizing. Do your part. Don’t be an asshole. In a global society and as citizens of the earth, we’re all responsible.

Anyway, next article (keep in mind, these things are JUST the front cover highlights alone)… all about the Terra Nova Expedition. This is just the caption in the index : “A century ago Scott lost and Amundsen won–partly because he knew when to turn back.” Profound. Also, how can you not flip immediately to the article after reading that? Things That I’m Obsessed With: Sled Dogs, Sheer Adventure, and Going Into The Wild Edition.

I really was completely hung up on the 1925 serum run to Nome for awhile. It triggered my Alaska obsession. Read this book. Dogs, adventure, wilderness, and saving kids are maybe my top 4 favorite things in life. The serum run to Nome HAD IT ALL. A little bit heartbreaking in some parts, but still a gripping tale.

Back to the point (why am I so damn tangenty today?), the NatGeo article is an EPIC story of peril, uncertainty, competition, adventure (obviously) and decision making. Read it here. This is how it opens:

September 12—Tuesday. Not much visibility. Nasty breeze from S. -52°C. The dogs clearly affected by the cold. The men, stiff in their frozen clothes, more or less satisfied after a night in the frost … prospect of milder weather doubtful.

And on to the last front cover blurb… Adirondacks: Forever Wild. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Things That I’m Obsessed With: Limitless Nature Edition. It’s more or less about how the Adirondacks were being destroyed by mining, logging, etc. but environmental protection measures saved them and how the utter wild nature of it all has allowed them to bounce back at an insanely fast pace in a madly vigorous way. In a more nuanced sense, it’s also about the delicate balance between use of natural resources/areas and protection of them. Save the environment! It’s really all we have. It’s the foundation of our lives. It’s the most inherent and simple and spiritual part of ourselves. Anyway, the photos in this article are incredible. Case in point:

It’s a gravity as strong as Manhattan’s but the opposite kind–the beckoning of few roads and few people, the pull of a wild region large enough to have an “interior.” Here, the outside world seems to vanish behind enfolding mountains, quarantined away by river, still water, and wetland. Crest one of the High Peaks, and all you see is Adirondacks.

National Geographic has some of the greatest photography of all time. I can’t emphasize that enough. Honestly, if you don’t know how big of a deal it is, you’ve been living under a rock your whole life. Some of the most iconic/groundbreaking images have been published in this magazine. I think I legitimately stop breathing for a quick second at least once in the middle of every issue from one of the photos. Photography is my #1 love when it comes to art forms. Things That I’m Obsessed With: Photography Edition. It’s an amazing mix of interpretation/expression/emotion and real life. The concept of evoking feelings and reactions from something that’s kind of just documentation in a sense is incredible to me. I LOVE LIFE. Real life. The ups and downs and ins and outs. And I love the world. It’s a beautiful/heartbreaking/hopeful/tragic/happy place. You could use all those words to describe existence as well. National Geographic photography covers it all. It seriously takes you away from your current state/location to the point where you can almost imagine that you were in that place or felt that thing that that person was feeling or lived the experience that’s in the photo.

Also in this issue: Murray Fredericks’ Salt Flats series.

Lake Eyre might be the bleakest, most featureless place on Earth—a flat, arid salt sink in Australia with only the horizon to define its 3,700 square miles. Yet I went there 16 times in eight years. Why? To create a series of photographs out of infinite space.

Infinite space FOR REAL. If you’re not totally floored by those, then you’re not human. Those are photos of the real world but they’re so abstract and unreal that you hardly believe it. And seriously, that guy was dedicated. Things That I’m Obsessed With: Other People’s Obsessions Edition. I appreciate when other people understand that sometimes a thing just gets inside of you and never lets you go. I love when people are passionate about things. It fascinates me and makes me want to understand what they feel and why they love whatever it is that they love. Share your obsessions with me. I want to know everything about life. I want to love everything and do everything and never die.

I realize now that this blog entry is way too long and probably sounds ridiculously manic. I told you that you were about to enter Imaginationland. It gets out of hand.

One more article, then I’m done. Machisma. I love the title alone. A feminine twist on machismo because now women have the power. It’s a fascinating investigation into the recent state and societal changes that have led to a huge and rapid decrease in the fertility rate in Brazil and how it’s both a result of the transformation and also reinforces the transformation. Things That I’m Obsessed With: South America, Change, Strength, Feminism, Liberation and Brazilian Soap Operas Edition.

“The fertility rate dropped because women decided they didn’t want more children,” he said. “Brazilian women are tremendously strong. It was just a matter of them deciding, and then having the means to achieve it.”

If nothing else, read the six points in the middle. It’s probably a nice summarization.

Demography might be my new interest. Mary was right. It’s kind of fascinating. FYI, I’m so proud of my sister for being an awesome/smart/ambitious grad student. Demography is her thing. She’s a nerdy sociologist and loves it. My sentiment towards it was always kind of “Demography? Psh, who cares?” I totally get it now. It’s like the study of populations in the strictest statistical sense but the pursuit of finding unexpected patterns/trends in the data and offering an explanation has to be such a fulfilling line of work. Someone (or some people) realized that soap operas are so nationally critical that they were an influential part of Brazil’s most recent history which will probably become the basis for its future.

Ninety percent of female characters in the average novela have just one child or none, which may have influenced Brazilian women to desire smaller families. The scripts didn’t intentionally encourage low fertility. Early novela writers sought to subtly undermine the dictatorship that ran Brazil until 1985, using story lines that critiqued traditional values and empowered women.

That’s outrageous. I told you Brazilian soap operas were awesome. That’s some deep stuff. They were SUBVERSIVE. So badass.

And I love figures and data and math. It’s like the first and most basic layer of absolutely everything. Concrete/cold materials and evidence on which abstract/emotional concepts are built upon. Kind of like how the chemical/physical science of neurons somehow creates what we know as consciousness which is hardly a scientific/tangible thing at all.

Really, the most important thing I got out of this was a weird  sense of optimism. The article mentions several reasons and societal/cultural pressures as to why these changes and empowerment should not have happened but somehow it was so powerful that it couldn’t be stopped. The women were so invincible that it ust happened. And not necessarily even through overtly fighting for rights or choices or lifestyles, but rather just through living and making decisions and sharing experiences and observations with one another. It was the type of change that just happens. Not without struggle. That’s not what I’m trying to say. But it just happens like some kind of fated force of nature or something.

For demographers working to understand the causes and implications of this startling trend, what’s happened in Brazil since the 1960s provides one of the most compelling case studies on the planet. Brazil spans a vast landmass, with enormous regional differences in geography, race, and culture, yet its population data are by tradition particularly thorough and reliable. Pieces of the Brazilian experience have been mirrored in scores of other countries, including those in which most of the population is Roman Catholic—but no other nation in the world seems to have managed it quite like this.

I’m obviously losing my mind. This is what National Geographic does to me. I can’t quit it though. As the old blues standard goes,

I can’t quit you baby
But I  gotta put you down for a little while

Time to put the National Geographic down for a LONG while.

Also, Led Zeppelin. Probably #3 on the list of music I could listen to all day every day and never hate my life for one single second of it.

Finally, because it wouldn’t be my life without some pivotal folky/acoustic/southern tunes… Song of the day: Trouble Comes Calling by Danny Schmidt. There’s nothing on YouTube. Y’all have to Grooveshark it. Little Grey Sheep is a pretty decent album all around.

Now, I call her Trouble and she calls me Weakness
I call her Trouble and she calls me Weakness
A sweet symbiosis of cause and convenience
Oh, and Trouble keeps calling on me
Oh, now Trouble she keeps calling on me
Oh, now Trouble please keep calling on me

Honorable mentions, 9/23/11:
We All Lose One Another by Jason Collett
The Ballad of Scarlet Town by Johnny and the Moon

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