September 19, 2019

Boys of Winter: Playing baseball with my heroes at SF Giants fantasy camp, Lexus magazine

Excerpt: When I see my locker, with the uniform bearing my name in an arc across the back, the feeling is electric. I dress from cap to high socks in professional gear, making sure I don’t miss a belt loop or leave a pocket out, infractions that would get me rung up in Kangaroo Court (more on this baseball tradition later).
I’m dressing across from legendary pitcher Vida Blue, who was almost unhittable in his prime. “Hey Vida, I saw you beat the Cubs in 1986 at Wrigley Field,” I tell the still-fit pitcher, recalling that he only gave up one run on that perfect summer day in Chicago. And he hit a home run – a rarity for a pitcher – in that game. “You remember that homer!” Vida, now in his late 50s, exclaims. “Down the line, baby. Down the line.”
Dozens of my fellow campers and I lace up our turf shoes and head to the batting cages behind the right-field wall for instruction from veteran Giants infielder Joel Youngblood. As bats crack against machine-pitched balls in the cage, he tells us to “hit (swing) horizontal to the ground. You want a straight ball to give fielders the least time to get there. If you hit it correct, you always hit the ball hard. If you try to hit it hard, you won’t always hit it correct.”
Darrell Evans, whose nickname is “Doody” due to his facial resemblence to “Howdy,” strides in front of the batting cages. “I don’t understand a thing he (Youngblood) just said,” jokes the burly third baseman. “You always hear, keep your eye on the ball — the guys who say that, they couldn’t hit either!”
As we circle Evans, now in his early 60s, he takes a poke at the conventional wisdom of hitting up the middle: “Who are the best fielders? The shortstop and center fielder. And where’s the deepest part of the park? Center field,” he says. “So why the hell would you want to hit it up the middle?!” His final targets are TV announcers who say a batter swung too hard. “You never hear them say that when they hit it.” Two guys driving a garbage cart out of the stadium roll by: “Those guys couldn’t hit,” Evans cracks, “and look what they’re doing!”

Once in a Lifetime: Visiting Bruegel in Vienna with my mom, Perceptive Travel, Feb. 2019

Which is how Phyllis, who recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and I found ourselves arriving at Vienna’s airport, greeted by billboard-size posters of Bruegel’s art with the caption: “Once in a Lifetime.” My mom suggested: “That could be the title of your story.” I said I didn’t know if I’d write about this, and she said, “Oh, you will.” Part insight, part command. The following day when we passed the museum in a hop-on-hop-off bus, my mom raised her fists and shook her arms in excitement. …

Our group of about 25 people trundled over to Children’s Games. Phyllis darted ahead so she could be front and center during our guide’s narration; I’d hung back a bit. Out of nowhere my mom’s arm reached out, and with superhero strength grabbed my right wrist and pulled me next to her. We would be together for this. Painted in 1560, Children’s Games is known as a wimmelbild (busy picture) because it has hundreds of small figures. “Never before in art had children been given a stage of this size,” read the program for the exhibition.

Yet what impressed me most were the painting’s luminous colors—nearby Antwerp was known for the high quality of its red pigment—and the ebullience of the kids wrestling with one another. They are walking on stilts, climbing walls, swimming in a creek, and playing all sorts of other games. One young child learning to swim uses a pair of floaties, probably made from the bladders of pigs.

A Farming Renaissance in Puerto Rico, Inspirato magazine, Winter 2019

Last September, a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, I was sent to the island on assignment to report a story about how some farmers were shifting from export crops to growing food for local people. I met some savvy, organic, badass farmers, such as Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, who are eager to grow food for people rather than profit. And I met chefs such as Juan Jose Cuevas who oversees San Juan’s top restaurants and who are working with these farmers to help them survive. It’s the type of story that involves so much of what I love to cover – I even shot all but one of the photos for the story.

Interview: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, The Sun, July 2018

A lot of people excuse their bad behavior toward fish by saying, “Oh, they don’t feel pain.” That’s absurd. Fish have all the equipment we do to feel pain. Don’t make up stories to try to spare your conscience. You either choose to inflict pain on other creatures, or you don’t. But do they feel pain? Of course they do. Do they have emotions? Do they have a social structure? Do they bond with one another? Absolutely. It’s a smallness on our part, a narrowness of spirit and mind and heart, to think we are so special. Why not be thrilled that we have so much in common with other creatures? … Humans today are empowered with knowledge that did not exist even fifty years ago and that gives us the gift of responsibility; we have an opportunity not to lose this extraordinary living planet.
Imagine if we did not know. Most people choose not to take advantage of this most precious knowledge we have, which no other generation before us could have. It’s the key to our survival. It’s an opportunity that will never come again. Why aren’t we excited about being able to take what we’ve got and turn it to our long-term advantage? We can be the saviors of humankind. I say humankind because life will go on with us or without us. It did before, and it can after. It just won’t be the same assemblage of life. We’re already altering pieces of the puzzle. We’ve lost a lot of species due to our actions. When we destroy a coral reef, we lose its residents, all the unique species that evolved there and nowhere else in the universe. Some species of lizard fish have a very limited range. Shrimp-like creatures called stomatopods have unique eyes that see a much broader spectrum of light than humans can — the broadest spectrum we’ve been able to identify in any creature. So we destroy the reef, and we lose that piece of the puzzle. We’ll never have a complete picture again.

Washington Post: Dylan Thomas’s Wales

Annie tells me that Thomas wrote hundreds of poems in this house, with his greatest output coming between the ages of 16 and 20. He worked in the morning and drank late, Annie says. Unfortunately Thomas couldn’t hold his alcohol, perhaps because he’s now believed to have been a diabetic, so he became a “performing monkey,” she says.

“Obnoxious behavior became his calling card. In London he was a performer. That’s not creative, and it’s tiring. He had to keep coming back and recharging here – not just this house, this town,” she says. “He’d say when he was on the train to London (that) he wasn’t going to England, he was leaving Wales. He was leaving his heart, he was leaving his safety.”

Like a protective mother, Annie denies that Thomas was an alcoholic. There’s “such a lot of work of such high quality that alcoholism is not considered.” I refrain from listing all the great writers who overindulged in alcohol. Annie refills my glass with Cotes du Rhone and I ask about Thomas’ most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” written as Dylan’s father, a frustrated poet, lay dying.

“Listen to it from a child’s point of view,” Annie says. “His father wouldn’t give Dylan the words he needed like ‘well done’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’ The work between father and son wasn’t finished.”

Portland: A food tour, Virtuoso, April 2018

Located downtown in the city’s historic Carriage & Baggage Building, once a garage for horse-drawn carriages, Pine Street Market brings together nine of Portland’s top food and beverage purveyors. All affordable, options range from steamed pork buns and other Korean specialties at Kim Jong Smokehouse to chicken al carbon at Pollo Bravo. For classic American fare, try Bless Your Heart Burgers and hot dogs from OP Wurst. Top it off with a soft-serve cone from Wiz Bang Bar, which features ice cream from local favorite Salt & Straw.

SingleThread restaurant shines in Healdsburg, Spring 2018

Every acclaimed restaurant aspires to achieve a moment that wows diners. At SingleThread, the Sonoma County restaurant that earned two Michelin stars last fall, less than a year after it opened, that moment happens before you take your first bite. On your table when you arrive is an edible work of art, an assemblage of more than a dozen delicacies—in shells, on little wooden planks, and on handmade ceramic plates—garlanded with greens and flowers from SingleThread’s farm, just five miles away. The tablescape is so beautiful that, like a waterfall or Japanese garden, it can take your breath away.

“These are beets, roasted in the hearth with shaved purple cauliflower from our farm,” says our server, explaining that every item is emblematic of the late autumn season (when I ate there). “This is a salad of lotus root with silken tofu made by one of our sous chefs; he’s been working on the recipe for about a year. There’s also some mustard greens from our farm. This is Golden-eye snapper wrapped around braised kombu and sea palm. We have some sesame-dressed young broccoli from the farm with a broccoli blossom. Moving on to the boards: Fort Bragg sea urchin, which is just beginning that season here in Northern California, served raw with some ahi tuna and a little bit of tamari dressing.” And that was just part of the first course.

Oceans on the Edge, Saturday Evening Post, Jan-Feb, 2018

Once thought to be so vast as to be immune from human degradation, the oceans supply us with vast amounts of seafood, regulate global temperatures, absorb a tremendous amount of carbon, and serve as venues for recreation such as sailing, kayaking and diving. But now we know oceans are not too big to fail: the health and stability of the sea is threatened by an array of powerful forces: rapacious overfishing, plastics pollution, acidification that’s killing coral reefs, and rising temperatures that are melting polar ice. These dramatic shifts in the oceans have largely happened since the middle of the 20th century, a blip in geologic time.

“Here’s the thing: the ocean comprises the great majority of our life-support system,” said renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, 82, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. “It shapes climate and weather and holds the planet steady with respect to temperature. It’s where most of life on Earth exists; it’s where most of the oxygen is generated; it’s where a great amount of the carbon is captured. It’s one big system and until recent decades the oceans have been largely unaffected by us.” Earle, former chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the subject of the film Mission Blue, said: “Now we have evidence, clear evidence of the cause-and-effect relationship of what we are doing. … Now we know, maybe just in time to save us from ourselves. This is good news.”

Tuscany tastes better, a food tour with Frances Mayes, Inspirato, Summer 2017

In Tuscany, food isn’t just something to eat – it’s something to do with family and friends: harvesting wild mushrooms, picking olives, canning tomatoes, sharing big bowls of pasta, and gathering for dinners where everyone helps cook and conversations flow deep into the night. “There is an intense passion for local food, and it’s particularly focused on what you can find yourself,” Mayes told me last fall. (2016) “And that’s what I see that is so different from living” in the United States.

“In Tuscany right this minute (early October) everybody is out looking for the mazza di tamburo, the mushroom of the moment. That means drumstick – it’s shaped like a drumstick with a long stem and a big flathead. You find them on your own land and saute them with garlic,” Mayes said. Italians “don’t even want them on pasta – they just want them on little crostini because they so want to taste this wild mushroom. And in the spring it’s strange things like the green almonds. Everybody loves those crunchy green almonds before they really turn into a nut. To me that’s very much an acquired taste, but local people really like them.”

Nat Geo: Top 10 Secrets of the Maya

The Maya haven’t disappeared: Just as the fall of Rome hasn’t meant the end of Romans, the decline of great Mayan metropolises, such as Guatemala’s Tikal which reached its apex in the 9th century, doesn’t mean the indigenous people have vanished. According to the CIA World Factbook, 40 percent of Guatemala’s 14 million people are Mayan, and southern Mexico and the Yucatan are home to many more predominantly Mayan regions. Not only are Mayans enduring almost five centuries after the Spanish conquest, but their cultural traditions, agrarian lifestyle, and celebratory festivals continue on. There are more than 20 distinct Mayan peoples within Guatemala, each with their own culture, style of dress, and language, and millions more Mayans live beyond the borders.