I have just finished Bill Vaughn's "Skating Home Backward" (January) and although it's sunny and 70 degrees as usual here in San Diego, I am fondly remembering my boyhood days tromping through the snowy woods of my native Missouri to the frozen pond on my grandparents' property, where I wobbled across the ice with my brothers. Once again, you have managed to publish the kind of simple story that can touch and connect with a reader in a very special way.
San Diego, California
I sit in a cubicle lit by fluorescent bulbs that highlight the pastiness of my complexion, and Bill Vaughn's article about building an ice-skating pond where there once stood a dump made me wonder what value I get out of sitting like this. I want to go out and brave the elements, feel the wind, rain, snow, sun, whatever's out there. Thanks for waking me up.
Ticket to Ride
I ride my bike every day to work in a coat and tie, and I wouldn't trade the experience, not for a second, for one of those energy- and money-incinerators we call automobiles. Hats off to Mark Jenkins for encouraging cycle-commuting in his January column ("An Un-American Activity"). Keep pedaling, Mark. We're out there.
Thank you for Mark Jenkins's eloquent and thought-provoking ode to bicycling. As he noted, funding is available to communities across America to do what the Dutch government did: build bike trails, bike lanes, and improve access across bridges and intersections. The bad news, however, is that these funds are also available for building more highways and freeways, and bike lanes remain on the back burner in many states. Some 54 million Americans have bicycles hanging in garages or lurking in basements, but what's needed to get them riding is more places to do so safely.
Mark Jenkins's column on biking was a welcome read to those of us who use a bike as a primary means of transportation—often against our better judgment—in a nation filled with hyperaggressive drivers who regularly come painfully close to running over the slower-moving two-wheel pedal-pounders. Jenkins neglected to mention one key argument, though: Americans are a portly group. In a nation rife with sedentary and overweight people, biking ten miles a day has obvious health benefits. Americans are not pleasingly plump—they're fat. And they could use some exercise.
The point of John Tayman's story ("Trouble on Fantasy Island," January) seems to be that the pristine Thai island of Phi Phi Lay, having been the site of a Leonardo DiCaprio film, will now inevitably be inundated by swarms of tourists, despite efforts by Thai authorities to restrict access to the island. But why did Tayman, as if to prove a point, hire a local fisherman to ferry him to the island, where he spent the night ashore in contravention of Thai regulations? That's a little bit like writing about the increase in crime, then pulling a stickup to illustrate its prevalence.
I agree with your January Wild File columnist's negative answer to the question, "If I were stranded in the desert, could I extract water from a cactus?" Drinking potentially toxic cactus juice directly from a plant is not a very good idea. However, if one is stranded in the desert, making a solar still and lining the inside with split and crushed cactus leaves can provide enough drinkable water to maintain life. I have obtained more than a quart of water a day—and almost a gallon a day where there is direct sunlight for 14 hours daily—by this method. It's not particularly friendly to the environment, but in a real emergency, it's certainly preferable to dying.
Editor's note: In Doug Peacock's February article, "The Voices of Bones," two phrases describing the ancient Clovis people ("the first people on this continent to develop weaponry that allowed them to go one-on-one against big, dangerous game" and "the greatest hunters on earth") were inadvertently borrowed almost verbatim from "Woody's Dream," a November 15, 1999, New Yorker article by Douglas Preston. The error was introduced by an editor, not by the author. Outside deeply regrets this mistake, and we apologize to Douglas Preston, Doug Peacock, and our readers.
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