Americas Archive

In the Black Hills and the Badlands


My article for Telegraph Travel about South Dakota, pegged to the 70th annniversary of the start of work on the Crazy Horse Memorial, is now online

In the many-storied South

The Bitter Southerner magazine, which I’ve just come across thanks to the Twitter feed of the estimable Rocky Mountain Land Library, has a fine tribute to Bill Ferris, who has spent his lifetime collecting the stories and songs of the American South. This Friday, the Georgia-based record label Dust to Digital will release Voices of Mississippi, a four-disc set that includes Ferris’s field recordings and films of blues singers, gospel singers and storytellers. If that whets your appetite for Southern stories, you will also enjoy Pamela Petro’s Sitting Up with the Dead, which was reissued in the United States earlier this year.

Following the fish

Every summer, king salmon swim 2,000 miles up the Yukon river in Alaska to spawn. For thousands of years, their journey has helped to sustain the native people. But with the effects of climate change and globalisation, the health and numbers of the salmon are  in question, and so is the fate of those who depend on them. Adam Weymouth followed the fish for Kings of the Yukon (Particular Books), which is published this week; he summarised his findings in an essay yesterday for The Observer.

New Orleans at 300

My article for Telegraph Travel marking the tricentennial of the founding of New Orleans is now online.

‘Momentous’ memoir from a border guard

William Atkins, who has recently spent time himself on the US/Mexico border while researching a forthcoming book on deserts, reviewed for The Guardian yesterday Francisco Cantú’s memoir of his years as a US Border Patrol agent (see my earlier post). He says it’s a remarkable book, written “with a raw-nerved tenderness”, and “frequently feels momentous”.

Another dispatch from the border

Borders are the theme of the moment. They provided the subject for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year and one of the titles short-listed for that prize, as well as for Graham Robb’s much-praised The Debatable Land, in which the historian explores what used to be an independent territory between Scotland and England.

  In March, Bodley Head is due to publish in Britain The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú, which is based on journals Cantú, a third-generation Mexican-American, kept while working as a US Border Patrol agent in the Sonoran desert. In an interview with Ursula Kenny in The Observer at the weekend (now online on the website of The Guardian), Cantú said he wrote the book as a way of “acknowledging the human cost of our border policy, and the ways in which individuals are caught up in it”. Cantú (who was also interviewed earlier this month by NPR in the US) has himself been caught up in protests while promoting the book, shouted down by protesters who accused him of profiting from the suffering of migrants.

Road trip through racism

Between 1936 and 1964 — when racial segregation was outlawed by the Civil Rights Act — African American motorists relied on a guide known as “the Green Book” to tell them where they could safely fill their tanks, get a bite to eat and stop for the night. Surely, in the 21st century, advice of that kind is no longer necessary? Ed Pilkington, having made a 900-mile road trip for The Observer through Missouri, suggests otherwise.

Edward Abbey — a voice crying for the wilderness

“Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.” For Edward Abbey, writer of those words, that place was the canyonland of south-east Utah, where he served as park ranger at the Arches National Monument. In Desert Solitaire, published 50 years ago this month, he was, as one reviewer memorably put it at the time, “a voice crying in the wilderness, for the wilderness”. It was a passionate, combative book, in which he argued that there should be

No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs — anything — but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. . .  What about children? What about the aged and infirm? Frankly, we need waste little sympathy on these two pressure groups. Children too small to ride bicycles and too heavy to be borne on their parents’ backs need only wait a few years — if they are not run over by automobiles they will grow up into a lifetime of joyous adventure. . .  The aged merit even less sympathy: after all they had the opportunity to see the country when it was still relatively unspoiled.

Half a century on, when Donald Trump and his interior secretary are intent on opening up parts of “Abbey Country” to oil and gas companies, the message of Desert Solitaire is more urgent than ever, the novelist John Buckley writes in High Country News.

In the country of the bear

In midsummer, McNeil River State Game Sanctuary in Alaska is the venue for the largest gathering of the biggest brown bears on earth. Up to 75 bears can be fishing on the McNeil River falls at one time. Christopher Solomon, who was lucky in the lottery for viewing tickets, reports in the latest edition of High Country News on what it’s like to to “brush against nature, where it still exists in all its humming electric-dynamo bigness”.

Yellowstone after the wolf

Yellowstone Park is a much-changed place since the reintroduction of the wolf in 1995. Vegetation that had been over-grazed by elk is flourishing, as are populations of animals from beavers to badgers. But there are hunters fearful that the wolves will wipe out all the elk, and ranchers on the park’s fringes who argue that their stock is being terrorised. Nate Blakeslee tells the story in his new book American Wolf (Crown),  an extract from which you can read on Literary Hub. It’s a story in which he aims to follow, in novelistic detail, the life of one wolf — O-Six, nicknamed for the year in which she was born. In an interview with National Geographic, Blakeslee tells how O-Six herself fell prey to a hunter.