On Assignment

WHETHER DINING ON RAT or carving a pig with a Stone Age implement, senior writer Thomas Y. Canby always finds a way to get personally involved in his science stories.

His culinary adventure occurred on assign­ment for a July 1977 article on rats. “They were plump, rice-fed critters captured by Phil­ippine harvesters,” Canby recalls, “and were delicious, almost like squirrels.”

Tom wielded stone blades, made on the spot, for his September 1979 story on early man in America; it won him the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science-Westinghouse Award. “The blades did a great job, but dulled quickly,” he says. “That probably explains why there is such a profusion of stone flakes from early times.”

Tracing the prehistoric Anasazi of the Southwest for this issue, Canby thinks he may have discovered unknown roads of this an­cient culture. He invited an archaeologist and two experts in aerial reconnaissance to search near ruins in southwest Colorado. “We flew when the sun’s angle might help reveal traces, and suddenly saw distinct lines,” Tom relates. “But we still need to locate them on the ground. Someday soon archaeologists will re­turn and try positively to identify them.”

” T HE PHYSICAL DAMAGE was over-1 whelming, but I’ll never forget the faces of the survivors of Mexico’s El Chichon vol­cano,” says Boris Weintraub, a 21-year newspaper veteran now on the National Geo­graphic Society’s News Service staff. Last spring’s blast rivaled Mount St. Helens’ and killed an undetermined number of people, yet was little reported in the United States. Gathering eyewitness accounts, Weintraub met a priest who told him that many of his pa­rishioners believed it was the end of the world.

The trip was not without humor, Weintraub says. Camping only a few miles from the steaming crater with photographer Guillermo Aldana E., Weintraub dozed fitfully during a midnight thunderstorm. “A sudden thunder­clap nearby brought the sound-asleep Aldana bolt upright. He shouted, ‘It’s erupting!’ and reached for his cameras. ‘Calm down,’ I said, `it’s only thunder and lightning.”

On  Assignment.

BIENG EXPOSED to risk is nothing new for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC photogra­phers. But for free lance KAREN KASMAUSKI, the invisible threat of radiation—encountered dur­ing fieldwork for her story in this issue—took some getting used to. Karen underwent tests for contamination at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland (above), after her first brush with the unseen ad­versary. It came in Goiania, Brazil, where radioactive mate­rial from a medical clinic had turned up in a junkyard after being handled haphazardly.

“I hadn’t worn any protec­tive clothing, and there was a lot of dust flying around—that sort of thing,” she recalls. “At the time it was pretty scary.”

Fortunately, the examination at NIH showed no artificial radioactive substances in her body. In fact, during six months of coverage for this article (her fourth for the GEOGRAPHIC), the only time she showed increased radioactivity was after nine days

in Lapland, where she ate rein­deer meat that might have been contaminated with radioactive cesium from Chernobyl. “It was a chance I chose to take,” she said. “Months of covering radiation had made me less afraid of it.”

“IT WAS a full day’s work,” says GALEN ROWELL, who with three other mountaineers as­cended a previously unclimbed 1,400-foot face of Seven Gables, a 13,075-foot peak in Califor­nia’s Sierra Nevada. Along that range runs the 212-mile trail named for naturalist John Muir. Once a popular pilgrimage for backpackers, the trail, Galen found, “can be crowded near trailheads, but its heart is wilder than much of the Himalaya” ­whose peaks he knows well.

Growing up in the San Fran­cisco area, Galen’s life took a vertical turn at age ten, when he began joining his wilderness-loving parents on Sierra Club outings. He has scaled the heights of Tibet, Pakistan, and Nepal, as well as Alaska, Cana­da, the American West, and the Andes, making more than a hundred first ascents. Veteran of eight GEOGRAPHIC assign­ments, he has also produced seven books and took the photo­graphs for a new edition this fall of Muir’s classic The Yosemite.