Last Tree Standing

Biographic

When a mature giant sequoia does die, mortality is usually a function of its marvelous size. Root rot can deprive a tree of a solid anchor and fire can undermine its base, but rarely will either actually kill a 30-story monarch. Gravity is the ultimate culprit, for a giant sequoia with an uncertain foundation faces a violent and certain end. The persistent tug of gravity can pull an unbalanced tree to the forest floor with such a thunderous crash that the reverberation can be heard miles away. The sequoia’s fate is an Icarian allegory, met not by flying too close to the sun, but by stretching too far from its roots.

Photo: Anthony Ambrose

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Love Me Some Plus-Size

Outside

Pale, blond, freckled, and undersize, Healey suffered a phenotype cursed in his poor, rural neighborhood. He didn’t crack 100 pounds until long after he’d gotten his driver’s license. Bloody noses and black eyes weren’t uncommon. He would never be able to fight all the bullies, despite boxing training from his father and martial-arts classes. “If you didn’t confront a situation, it would fester for years,” Healey recalls. “The only way to get any respect was to do things in the ocean that other people couldn’t."

Photo: Kanoa Zimmerman

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A Noble War

Biographic

Damien Mander removes his hat to cover his nose, an act of instinct and ceremony that does little to temper the thick stench of death. The cloudless sky is empty of vultures on this scorching Mozambique morning, and as Mander approaches the kill site, an orchestra of heavy wing beats reveals why. Scores of the scavengers have settled onto comfortable perches, frosted in days of bird shit and molt, for a macabre feast: two dead rhinos, mother and calf.

Photo: Erico Hiller

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First Draft

Outside

Paragliding is tricky little sport. You've got your wind, you've got your mountains, you've got your gravity, and then, in instances like this, you've got your stubborn Indian bureaucrats whose sole purpose on an otherwise quiet Sunday morning is to ensure that you don't go paragliding.

Photo: Jody MacDonald

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hello kitty

Outside

Then the world turns a slobbery black. The jaguar spreads those skull-crushing jaws wide and wraps them around my face. His canines press into my temples and into my cheekbones just below my eyes. Hot breath seeps through my eyelids. When his tonsils finally cease to blot out the sun, I see the jaguar standing on my chest with his head, golden and spotted, held aloft in victory.

Photo: Noah Friedman-Rudovsky

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CAT NIPPED

Snap Judgement

I went to Bolivia to walk a jaguar. It turns out, it was the jaguar that was walking me. 

Photo: Snap Judgement

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Off The Deep End

Outside

Karl Stanley’s homemade submarine has sprung a leak. It’s a discovery both fortuitous and disconcerting. Fortuitous because I notice it as we bob on the surface of the placid Caribbean Sea, just a few hundred feet off the Honduran Island of Roatán. Disconcerting because it’s 8:30 p.m. and we’re about to spend the night 1,600 feet down searching for the six-gill shark, an enigmatic 15-foot, 1,300 pound predator that patrols these depths. 

Photo: Thayer Walker

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The Unbreakable
Timmy Turner

Men's Journal

After more than a decade working over operating tables, few cases surprise Dr. Richard Kim. The neurosurgeon has removed brain tumors the size of softballs and once had to bury his knee into a patient’s forehead to leverage a six-inch knife out of his skull. He has operated on infants with cranial fractures (“The skull looked like a cracked ping-pong ball,” he says) and a multi-platinum rapper with gunshots wounds (“He was very angry.”) Kim has cut into so many skulls that the familiar process offers all the novelty of opening a can of tomatoes. So on December 17, 2005, when Timmy Turner was wheeled into the operating room of Newport Beach’s Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Kim wasn’t anticipating anything he hadn’t seen before. Then he opened Turner’s head.

Photo: Jeff Harris

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EMPTY SOUND

Sierra Magazine

On this unseasonably hot and clear May morning, however, no orca fins cut the water. This is whale season, but marine biologist Ken Balcomb hasn't seen the Southern Residents for days and doesn't expect them back anytime soon. They've been spending less and less time around San Juan, and last year an alarming seven whales--nearly 10 percent of the population--failed to return. Standing in his living room, scanning the water for the missing giants, Balcomb faces the most alarming question of his 34-year career: What's killing the killer whales?

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Me. By Myself. For A Long Time. (Very Long.)

Outside 

I called them slime nuggets, though I should have been more gracious as they were one of the few things keeping me alive. I discovered the mollusks on my second day stranded on a desert island called Pargo, in Panama’s Gulf of Chiriqui. I carried little more than a knife, a dive mask, and the clothes on my back and hadn’t yet taken down a mastodon, so I embraced the variety they offered my coconut-and-termite diet.

Photo: Author Self Portrait

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Off Limits

Surfer's Journal 

No one really knows how many white sharks patrol the water during the peak season of September through November but in October 2006, the scientific group Tagging of Pelagic Predators (TOPP) photographed more than 40 different white sharks around Southeast Farallon. The following year TOPP detected 14 distinct acoustically-tagged individuals in a single day at the island. It’s impossible to calculate the odds of a surfer getting hit out there, but they certainly aren’t favorable. “I do not encourage people to try to surf here,” says Farallon biologist Adam Brown.

Photo: Adam Brown

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READY, AIM, SUSHI 

Outside  

From the surface, the oil platform Medusa appears an unlikely fishing hole. The rig, a tight weave of steel girders supporting cranes, a helipad, and the roughnecks who run it, rests atop a narrow concrete pillar like an industrial lollipop. Thirty-six miles south of Louisiana’s Mississippi River mouth, in more than 2,200 feet of water, Medusa extracts up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil and 110 million cubic feet of natural gas every day. In one of nature’s ironic twists, this floating monolith doubles as a thriving, vertical coral reef--precisely the reason that Craig Clasen and Cameron Kirkconnell motored a crew out there one sunny day last June.

Photo: DJ Struntz

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Now Hear This!

Surfer's Journal  

Early medical literature attributed surfer’s ear to causes as varied as syphilis and excessive alcohol consumption. Treatments were a thumbscrew away from torture. In the 1870s, one favored technique required doctors to run electrical currents through needles and into the mountain of aural bone growth and then cut out the offending chunks with scissors. At least one patient suffered facial paralysis.

Photo: Peter Spacek

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Just Don't Call It A Submarine

Outside

"We largely think the Earth is explored, and we have the vehicles we need to master this planet, [but] that’s only our terrestrial third," Hawkes said, scanning the crowd of business moguls, scientists, and enthusiasts through round-rimmed spectacles. The ocean is "the core of all life, and for some reason this deep space is the last we set about tackling." To illustrate his vision of the future--and the vehicle that will take us there--Hawkes is rolling out DeepFlight Super Falcon, a machine he claims will "put marine science back on track." On temporary exhibit downstairs, the sleek silver craft is fast, light, and looks as if it zoomed out of an Issac Asimov novel.

Photo: Misha Gravenor

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Kayaking Mexico's
Rio Alseseca

Men's Journal

Searching for a drowned horseman is never the most encouraging way to begin a three-week kayaking expedition, but the team didn’t have much of a choice. As the paddlers put on to the Class V Xico River on their first day exploring the waters of Veracruz, Mexico officials stopped them to explain that eight days prior a man and his steed had fallen upstream and plummeted over a 90-foot waterfall. The horse survived, the man didn’t and the only way the kayakers could start the trip was if they agreed to look for the body.

Photo: Lucas Gilman

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