Thought I'd end the year with updates on some of my favorite assignments from 2011.
When I spent time with Mark Kitchell, the director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Berkeley in the Sixties," in San Francisco back in early June, he was a man down on his luck. As I wrote in "Lights, Camera, Activism!" for On Earth, he'd almost completed his next picture, an epic history of the environmental movement titled "A Fierce Green Fire," but his money was running out. Distribution deals were falling through. And he couldn't find an ending for the film. Seven months later, things have taken a dramatic turn for the better. His film has been accepted into Sundance. He's raising money again. He's found both an executive producer and a distribution partner. And he's secured a narrator for the film. A fellow by the name of Robert Redford. So...not a bad end of 2011 for Mr. Kitchell. "A Fierce Green Fire" will have its world premiere on January 23 in Park City, and I'll be there to blog the festival for OnEarth. Look for my updates Jan 23-30 at www.onearth.org.
Guy Cramer, the camouflage genius I had the great fortune to find and profile for The Atlantic Monthly last summer, continues to crank out new patterns and inventions in his Hyperstealth studio in the backwoods of British Columbia. The Army Camouflage Improvement Effort, the competition to design the next generation of US Army camo, is expected to announce the winning design in mid-January 2012. Meanwhile, Cramer has come up with some far out new patterns, including this one being considered by the Canadian armed forces.
He's also working with the US Bureau of Land Management to conceal new oil-and-gas structures on public land. High Country News had a nice piece on that effort a few months ago; it's worth a read.
The Elwha Dams, which I wrote about in the Oct issue of Seattle Met, are not just coming down--they are gone, daddy, gone. If you recall what the two old dams look like, you owe it to yourself to check out the National Park Service's live webcam photos of the two dam sites today. It's astonishing. The Lower Elwha Dam is simply gone. The Glines Canyon Dam (at right) has been notched to let the reservoir drain through.
Perhaps my favorite story of the year was a massive feature the editors at Bicycling let me run with: "The Italian Job," a profile of Campagnolo, the great Italian bicycle component manufacturer. This was a rangy one, covering everything from Asian outsourcing to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner to a false advertising lawsuit in Seattle. I had the chance to spend a day at the famously secretive Campagnolo factory in Vicenza, Italy, and meet with Valentino Campagnolo, CEO and son of the company's founder. Part of the fun of the piece came in talking to Sr. Valentino about whether the company would ever, after nearly two decades of research, release an electronic shifting group. And, in a bit of beautiful timing, the company introduced the new Super Record 11 EPS (Electric Power Shift) and Record 11 EPS one week after "The Italian Job" hit the stands. The new gruppos should be available in early 2012 for, ahem, around $4,000 to $5,000.
Hold on--nope, I was wrong. "The Italian Job" was my second favorite assignment of the past year. The winner: "Totally Psyched for the Full-Rip Nine," a big ol' rip-roarer of an Outside Magazine piece in which I was given the freedom to imagine (with the backing of months of painstaking research) a subduction zone megaquake, like the one that hit Japan in March 2011, erupting off the West Coast of the United States. The resulting infrastructure collapse and tsunami destruction gave me a new perspective on the Northwest. The research for this piece took me back to my days working on "The Measure of a Mountain," when I had the chance to talk to some of the geologists who unearthed the mystery behind the Osceola Flow. Thanks to the work of scientists at Oregon State, UW, and other institutions, we now know that a killer quake and tsunami last hit the coast of Washington and Oregon in 1700, and we're due for another any year now. Update: The megaquake did not hit the Cascadia Subduction Zone in 2011. But the year's passing did put more tension on the CSZ. When you feel the rumble, head for the hills, people.
Coming in 2012: Brazilian Gauchos, grassland birds, marathon runners, microbes, Detroit, nuclear waste, and more stories about buildings and food.