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Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
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    Homes like this one only exist on Læsø, an island in Denmark.


    On Læsø, a large Danish island in a bay of the North Sea, there are centuries-old houses that are unlike any others. Their roofs are made entirely of a thick cushion of seaweed, harvested from the water and layered to make long-lasting and uniquely charming structures, which look a little like giant, manmade mushrooms or like ‘80s rockers on a great hair day.

    Once, Læsø had about 250 houses in this style; over the years, they disappeared, and their numbers dwindled down to a couple dozen or so. Today, some are preserved as parts of museums and tourist destinations, but they aren’t just relics from the past. Some of them still serve as homes, and one of these tangtag houses, originally built in the 1700s and called Andrines Hus—Andrine’s House—is up for sale, for around $400,000.


    The backstory of the seaweed roofs isn’t quite as charming as the results. Læsø has an unusually high concentration of salt on its land and in its groundwater, and back in the medieval period, a salt industry hub developed here. Harvesting salt meant concentrating that brackish water down over huge fires, fueled by the island’s wood supply. Only, the fires needed to burn so hot and so long that eventually the industry had denuded the island of all its trees, making it all but unlivable and hurting the salt industry. Around the same time, in the 17th century, the Little Ice Age changed the salinity of the island’s groundwater, and soon the industry collapsed altogether.

    In the years that followed, the people who still lived on the island made do with the resources they had. The bay around them was abundant with eelgrass, Zostera marina, and they harvested it as a building material. Teams of builders (usually women) would form the seagrass into giant bundles with long necks, used for the lowest layer of roofing, wound around a building’s rafters. On that base, they would add a layer of branches, then pile on loose seaweed, climbing up to the roof to trample it down. The roof could be around five feet thick, a deep enough layer to keep water from pouring into the house. On the very top, the builders would add strips of turf to help the roof form.


    Over time, the seaweed roof would harden into its final form, turning a silver gray and becoming water-proof. The very last step was to cut away the overhang around the windows, letting light into the house. Resistant to fire and pests, the roofs could last for hundreds of years. Almost every building on the island was topped in this way: Only special buildings, including two churches, had tile roofs.

    But in the 20th century, this ingenious solution to a human-made resource crisis started to fail. In the 1930s, a disease started killing off the seaweed around the island, limiting the supply available to repair the roofs and make new ones. As the economic conditions on the island improved, too, people moved into more standard houses. As charming as the tanghus might look, inside it often felt dark and damp.

    By the end of the 20th century, only a handful of the seaweed houses remained. The island, too, had transformed again, reforested with trees. This new forest may have also contributed to the decline of the seaweed roofs. It’s possible that the salty winds blowing across Læsø helped preserve the roofs; once the trees grew in, blocking the winds, wildflowers and grasses had an easier time growing in the roofs and contributing to their rot.


    Over the past decade or so, though, there’s been a push from the government, nonprofits, and locals to restore and conserve the houses. In 2007, the national government listed them as a wonder of North Jutland, the region on the northern tip of Denmark, and the next year, some of the restorers started a “seaweed bank” to source their roofing materials from nearby islands. Slowly, the roofs of older buildings started to be repaired or redone. The architectural and planning company Realdania also created a modern seaweed house that used the eelgrass as hidden insulation and as a building material on the exterior.

    The roof on the Andrine’s House has been recently restored in the traditional style and could last for hundreds of years more. Inside, the scullery shows the roof’s underside, but most of the rooms have white, low ceilings. The house has been on the market for a few months already—it will take a rare buyer to take on the responsibility of a seaweed roof. But imagine coming home to this small wonder, a place unlike any other.

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    The food of 2050 includes crickets, plastic, and nothing at all.


    Rarely official and often humble, most national dishes have deep roots in the past. However, some national dishes don't reflect current gastronomic interests. For example, while apple pie speaks to many people as a quintessential symbol of the United States, Chinese food historian Jennifer 8. Lee poignantly notes in the television series Ugly Delicious that most Americans eat Chinese food more often than they down a slice of pie. The Europe-based Center for Genomic Gastronomy, an "artist-led think tank," is currently considering the subject, too. At museums in France and Portugal, the Center asked visitors to ponder what their nation's national dishes would look and taste like in the year 2050, taking into account climate and cultural changes on the horizon.

    At Atlas Obscura, we asked our global audience to imagine what their national dish would be like in 32 years' time. Some readers write that their current national dishes could change for the worse, as climate change and xenophobia make ingredients tougher to source. Some readers try to make the best of a nebulous future, speculating that less-favored proteins, such as crickets, will become commonplace. Others have a rosier view, and suggest that the melting pot might serve up something entirely new. Below is a selection of our favorite answers, to savor and think on.

    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: Sturgeon Dogs

    Jochosturg: a high-protein, quarter-pound of farm-raised sturgeon in a tofu casing, topped with equal parts of julienned kimchi and cabbage slaw. With a sauce made of hummus, all wrapped in a very thin naan made of ground, dehydrated, broccoli-stem flour (so, basically, a hot dog!) —Kris Winfield, U.S.A

    The United Kingdom's New National Dish Will Be: Old-School

    After Brexit (the U.K.'s exit from the European Union), I'm imagining that there's going to be less taste for—or simply less ability to afford—the imported ingredients that contribute to our cosmopolitan food culture. The agricultural industry will also go into decline as a result of lower migration. As a consequence, I predict that our future national dish will be a beef pasty with baked beans and/or mushy peas on the side. Either that, or fish fingers and custard, which is an especially British combo: it's eccentric, it combines local processed delights, and was celebrated in the great Brit TV series, Doctor Who. —James Clayton, United Kingdom


    The United Kingdom's 's New National Dish Will Be: Jetsons-Esque

    The "UKFT" (or U.K. Food Tablet) will be any one of numerous small tablets, each 20 centimeters in diameter, packed with numerous highly concentrated compositions of the most nutritious edible foods. To be taken with water, on waking, each day. —Jon Knox, United Kingdom

    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: Nothing at All

    My country, like most countries on earth, will have empty plates as the national dish. Climate change and political manipulation of hunger as a weapon against soaring populations will see to that. —Richard Derus, United States

    Northern Ireland's New National Dish Will Be: A Sky-High Fry-Up

    I don't think the national dish, Ulster fry, will change much. (Note: Ulster fry is Ulster's favorite breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs, griddled breads, and tomato.) But the future dish will probably have small changes. The future national dish will include the usual bacon, fried egg, and sausage, but it will have much more flavorsome breads: like black pudding potato bread, chili flakes soda bread, honey pancake, and a big hash brown. They will also be stacked up in layers like an apartment block with a bread, meat, bread sequence, and possibly a sauce or runny egg yolk, with greenery added to the top. —Nicholas Davis, Northern Ireland

    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: Clawful

    Plastic lobster. The oceans will be so polluted that we no longer will be able to eat the actual lobsters, assuming they’ve survived that long. So we’ll use fake plastic lobsters as centerpieces of other dishes instead. —Emeline, United States (Maine)


    India's New National Dish Will Be: Modified Favorites

    Cricket flour rotis, soy tikka, and synthetic lemon shikanji [a popular spiced lemonade]. With the weakening monsoons across the Indian plains, farmers will raise more water efficient proteins, bugs mainly. Dairy, once north India's mainstay, will be replaced by the much less thirsty, humble soy bean. Fruits will be mainstays only in the house of millionaires, and so, to feed the nostalgia of the teeming masses, the industry of synthetic flavorings will boom. A traditional dinner will start by offering the guest a tumbler full of cool water, to let the guest know that no expense will be spared. - Susruta Chakraborty, India

    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: Comfort Food

    Chili mac with cheese. It combines two traditional American comfort foods and the two most popular ethnic cuisines, Italian and Mexican, with the one food Americans associate with our British cultural ancestors: cheddar cheese. I've experimented with it, and wasn't surprised when I found a bunch of recipes online. It's something you could envision any recent president eating and it reminds them of food when they were younger, even if it didn't exist then. With a vegetable side dish of mixed stir-fried veggies (broccoli, carrots, pea pods, and bok choy) and oatmeal-cranberry cookies, you have an all-American meal of the future. —Steven Kluth, United States

    Malaysia's New National Dish Will Be: Coconut Rice in Your Coffee

    Nasi lemak [a fragrant coconut rice dish with a variety of savory sides]. The future of nasi lemak is an intriguing one! McDonald’s had a go at reinventing the dish by introducing the nasi lemak burger. I think nasi lemak will head towards a radical futuristic reinvention; perhaps a deconstructed nasi lemak coffee! —Vickram Thevar, Malaysia


    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: Without A-Peel

    Fake animal protein that resembles, smells, and tastes like steak. GMO potatoes grown without peels for faster processing, and hydroponic salad, watered via desalinated water. —Louise Fadness, United States

    The United States's New National Dish Will Be: A Dish?

    I think our national dish will still be white porcelain but larger than it is now. Probably more like a platter than a dish. It will have the White House on it with the flag flying overhead. The added diameter will be needed to show the pictures of the half-dozen-or-so additional U.S. Presidents. On it will sit our national sandwich, the quarter-kilo. Heart-stopping! —Mike Glazer, United States

    Italy's New National Dish Will Be: The Eternal Pizza

    Assuming pizza is Italy's national dish: 2050 is 32 years from now. 32 years ago it was 1986. In 1986, pizza was basically the same as it is today, so my prediction is it'll be basically the same also in 2050. Possibly, there will be a wider selection of acceptable ingredients on top of it. That's actually the only change that happened in the last 32 years. —Matteo M., Italy

    Responses have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

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    It's a slippery situation.


    Where do you keep your Vaseline? Is it in the cupboard above your bathroom sink? The cupboard below your bathroom sink? Is it hidden away somewhere in your bedroom?

    You can be honest, dear reader, for you are not the odd one out here. For years, someone (or someones) has been keeping their Vaseline on and around the median of 68th St. NE, a five-lane road in Calgary, Alberta. Scores of jars appear there regularly, bemusing maintenance workers, stymying investigative reporters, and sending local residents down slippery slopes of speculation.

    Like many mysteries, this one found its initial fingerhold on Reddit. "For the last couple years my family and I have been noticing tubs of [V]aseline at [the intersection of 68th St. and 32nd Ave]," the user SamaelSwine wrote in October of 2014, in what appears to be the first thread about the phenomenon. "Like dozens… They are replaced every few months evidently, since sometimes they are full, and other times they are empty, then full again."


    As the thread grew, he provided more details: It is always Vaseline brand, pharmacy-sized. The tubs are generally evenly spaced, as if placed there deliberately (although later posters would describe them as "strewn about").

    More recently, the poster WCRClassic started a new thread with an even more urgent tone, citing a "sudden overabundance of tubs" and calling 2018 "the year of Vaseline Alley." (He also posted a bunch of images.) Soon after, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation sent a team to investigate, and found several jars at 68th St. NE and 16th Avenue, about a dozen blocks from the location cited on Reddit. Rodel Bique, a maintenance worker, told reporters that he and his colleagues find between 15 and 20 containers per month. The CBC was unable to come to any conclusions, beyond speculating that "the culprit must be very slippery to have remained anonymous for so long."


    The Reddit boards have been more enterprising. Over the years, in several different threads, commenters have scooped up and shut down gobs of theories. Is it for greasing machinery? Probably not, and there's no road work going on nearby anyway. Do cyclists use it, for their arcane cyclist purposes? "I don't see why anyone would ride there," SamaelSwine wrote. Do ne'er-do-wells use it, for villainous or lewd purposes? If a Vaseline-adjacent act comes to mind, odds are someone has dared to imagine it happening on 68th St. NE.

    Others have spun elaborate explanatory scenarios. The user hornblower_83 guessed that many people, chapped by the harsh Calgary winds, have been buying value packs of Vaseline, slathering themselves, and throwing the empty containers away. "Maybe they blow out of the garbage truck [as it goes] around the turn," he continues, adding that "This [theory] needs more work."


    It's possible that people just like leaving stuff on roadway medians. Earlier this year, Atlas Obscura reported on a similar mystery unfolding in Des Peres, Missouri. Drivers there have become attached to a jar of highway pickles, which intermittently appeared and disappeared from its perch on a concrete wall next to an exit ramp, for no reason yet ascertained. (As of July 31, 2018, it was still there.)

    You can't really get to the bottom of a tub of Vaseline—there's always a slick of mystery left. But now that they've found each other, the slippery sleuthers of Calgary aren't going to give up. "I'd just like to think there's an extremely well-greased person running around the city somewhere," writes Redditor GlassCentury wistfully. Us too.

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    Also, you're not supposed to break spaghetti.


    Can you break a single piece of uncooked spaghetti into just two fragments (while holding it by the ends)? The question has long bedeviled both Nobel laureates and flummoxed YouTubers. We tried, too.


    Nope—four pieces.

    While he was a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016, Ronald Heisser got serious about this question. For his senior thesis, he found that there is indeed a way to do it, and learned something about how things fail in the process. To do it, he needed to construct a custom spaghetti bend-o-twister (our term of art), possibly based on a medieval torture device. A clamp grabs each end of a strand—one fixed, the other mobile. After a single spaghetto is locked in, the mobile piece inches toward the other end by means of a knob, sending the noodle arching gracefully upward. The apparatus—and this is the key—can also twist the noodle to a precise degree.

    Heisser’s research built on an existing theory that explains why bent rods break this way (but doesn't show how you can change that behavior): A first break, in the center of the rod, sends a destructive, “bending wave” reverberating back down the split halves, which can cause them to fracture. But Heisser found that twisting spaghetti before bending it unleashes a counteracting “twist wave” that unravels the noodle into its resting position. Critically, the twist wave travels faster than the bending wave, so it can stop the residual fractures before they happen.

    With great consistency, Heisser says, the spaghetto could produce a clean break when twisted by 270 degrees (with exceptions attributable to pasta manufacturing variation). Heisser’s thesis provided the basis for a study published yesterday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which involved filming spaghetti fractures at up to a million frames per second.


    Heisser, now a Ph.D. student at Cornell University, finds in his results a lesson about the nature of failure itself. Breakages, fractures, failures, he says, are typically regarded as disorderly, runaway processes—out of our control. Thinking about the relationship between twists and bends, on the other hand, can help scientists and engineers plan for “how something breaks if it is going to break.”

    But not spaghetti, actually, because you're not supposed to be breaking it anyway.

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    It’s a nearly forgotten chapter of Cold War history that seems hard to fathom today—even for those who were there.

    By all accounts, it felt like the carnival had come to Baxterville that morning.

    Kids were out of school on a Thursday. Families were going on picnics. People from the government were handing out Cokes and sandwiches.

    “We all got up and got dressed up, and they told us to go to Caney Church,” says Dorothy Breshears, who was 13 at the time. “When we got there, everybody we knew was there.”

    But as 10 a.m. drew near, the party-like atmosphere started to grow tense. Which was understandable, considering that an atomic bomb was about to go off about three miles away.

    In the decades of the Cold War, the U.S. government conducted more than 1,000 nuclear tests. Most of them were in the Nevada desert or on faraway Pacific islands. But Breshears and her neighbors lived in southern Mississippi, around 100 miles from New Orleans. And on October 22, 1964, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was about to blow a gaping cavern in the Earth beneath the pine forests of Lamar County.

    It was the first of two nuclear tests conducted there, the only ones on American soil east of the Rockies. It’s a nearly forgotten chapter of Cold War history that seems hard to fathom today—even for some of those who lived through it.

    “I never did know why they wanted to do that,” says Donald Nobles, now 80.


    Two factors brought the Bomb to Mississippi: suspicion and salt.

    By the late 1950s, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Britain were setting off atomic and hydrogen bombs on land, at sea, and in the air. The tests spewed radioactive fallout around the globe, fueling widespread public fears of cancer and birth defects. Pop culture was full of insects and reptiles turned monstrous by radiation. And the countries that did have nuclear weapons wanted to make it harder for others to join the club.

    So the nuclear powers started talking about banning bomb tests. And in 1958, experts meeting in Geneva proposed a worldwide network of sensors that would detect nuclear blasts, which appear on seismographs like earthquakes.

    But how could you tell if someone was cheating?


    In 1959, the American physicist Albert Latter theorized that setting off a bomb in an underground cavity could muffle the blast. After tests with conventional explosives, Latter wrote that a detonation as big as 100 kilotons—more than six times bigger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima—“would make a seismic signal so weak it would not even be detected by the Geneva system.” His theory, known as “decoupling,” became a rallying point for people who wanted to keep testing, says Jeffrey Lewis, of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California.

    “They wanted to come up with a reason that we couldn’t verify an agreement with the Soviets,” says Lewis, who’s also the publisher of the Arms Control Wonk blog. But in 1963, after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world nose-to-nose with the unthinkable, the superpowers signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty. It kept future tests underground, and researchers turned to making sure those tests would be spotted.

    The Atomic Energy Commission wanted to test Latter’s theory using actual nukes. And salt deposits were considered the ideal places for tests, since they could be excavated more easily than rock and the resulting cavity would endure for years. So the search was on for a salt dome in territory similar to where the Russians tested their bombs, Auburn University historian David Allen Burke says.

    “It had to be a certain diameter. It had to be a certain size. It needed to be a very large salt dome that was still a distance underground and not where it could interfere with water or petroleum or anything else,” says Burke, who wrote a book about the Mississippi tests.

    That led the agency to southern Mississippi, which is full of salt domes. The government leased a nearly 1,500-acre patch of forest atop one of those domes and got to work.


    The idea of nuclear testing in an area with several medium to large cities nearby wasn’t universally popular. But Governor Ross Barnett was eager to host the AEC, even as he battled with the Kennedy administration over civil rights.

    “Barnett, even though he was a Dixiecrat and a segregationist, and one of the most vociferous, bombastic, and worst, was more than happy to welcome the image of Mississippi as helping to protect the United States from communism,” Burke says.

    And Breshears says, when she was growing up, Lamar County was “a small county, very patriotic.”

    “If the government told you the moon tomorrow night would be green, everybody would expect a green moon,” she says.


    The first blast, code-named Salmon, was a 5.3-kiloton device that would blow a cavity into the salt dome half a mile underground. The second, Sterling, was only 380 tons, and would go off in the cavity left behind by Salmon. AEC crews drilled a 2,700-foot hole down into the salt dome, lowered the first bomb into it, plugged it with 600 feet of concrete… and waited.

    The Salmon test was put off nearly a month by a string of technical problems and bad weather, including Hurricane Hilda, which hit one state over in Louisiana. People living up to five miles from the test site were evacuated and recalled twice in preparation for blasts that never happened. They got paid $10 a head for adults and $5 for children for their trouble.

    Finally, at 10 a.m. on Oct. 22, came the boom.

    Steve Thompson and his family had cleared out of their house for a picnic at Lake Columbia, about 10 miles away. They watched a wave spread across the water—and then through the ground underneath them.

    “It was like being in a boat,” says Thompson, who was 15 at the time. “There was two big waves and a bunch of ripples.”

    To Brenda Foster, “It felt like the Earth just raised up and set back down.”

    “The windows on the house were shaking and rattling, and you could see the chimney on the house cracked all the way down,” says Foster, who was a few days shy of her 10th birthday. “That’s about all I remember of that, but I never will forget it.”


    In the aftermath, about 400 people filed claims for damages with the government, mostly for cracked plaster or masonry. On Nobles’s father’s farm, eight miles from the blast site, two wells quit working after the blasts. But one man, Horace Burge, found his house was “completely destroyed,” says Nobles, who was friends with Burge’s son.

    “It broke everything on the inside of his house, threw the stuff out of his cabinets, and messed his foundation up,” Nobles says.

    More than two years later, in December 1966, the AEC lowered the second bomb into the 110-foot hole gouged out by the first and set it off. The smaller device went almost unnoticed at the surface, and the scientific results weren’t spectacular, either.

    Far from Latter’s predictions that a blast as big as 100 kilotons could be kept off the scopes, Lewis says, it turned out that decoupling “is not a worry for anything but a very small explosion.” However, the data helped shape a later treaty which limited underground tests to 150 kilotons.

    And the fact that the tests were something of a wash is a good thing, Lewis says. A country that wanted to start building its own nuclear weapons isn’t likely to be able to conceal a test, even if it wanted to—and most aspiring nuclear powers, such as North Korea, are happy to let the world know they have the Bomb.

    “Iran has big salt domes,” Lewis says. “The last thing we would want Iran to do is have confidence in how big an explosion they could conduct without being detected. So there are some things we’d rather not know.”


    After the tests came a letdown among the locals, Burke says. There were hopes they would help Mississippi’s economy and land a new high-energy particle physics center, but it eventually went to Texas. The AEC was slow to address damage claims, and as the work wound down at the site, “the locals were no longer being involved in things,” he says.

    And some people feared the bombs left behind more than a hole in the ground. Everyone seemed to know someone who died of cancer, including Breshears’s uncle, who regularly ate fish he caught nearby.

    “Everybody was happy, everybody was laughing and talking and happy,” Breshears says. “Then it was probably five or six years, people started mumbling about ‘What did they do?’”

    Most of the radioactive waste produced by the blast was fused into the surrounding salt. But in early 1965, a mix of water and acid poured into the still-hot cavity caused a burst of contaminated steam to spew out of the hole. Drilling into the chamber between and after the tests brought up irradiated chunks of salt, dirt, and drilling fluid, which were dumped back into the cavity or injected deep underground.

    In 1989, after residents complained to then-U.S. Senator Trent Lott, the state looked at cancer rates in the area. The results were inconclusive, but the federal government eventually built water lines to nearby homes to replace old wells. Federal records now indicate cancer rates in Lamar County are lower than both the state and national average.


    Today, a chest-high granite monument marks the spot where the bombs went off below. It’s tucked away in a clearing down two miles of sandy dirt road, and the buildings and equipment that neighbored it are long gone. The surrounding 1,450 acres are a state timber preserve where conservation officials are trying to bring back the native longleaf pines, quail, and black bears.

    The marker is surrounded by test wells for the local groundwater, which gets analyzed regularly for signs of contamination by tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. Despite the fears of local residents, the results are well below the maximum safe limit set by the federal government, and often too low to detect. Before the state took over the site in 2010, scientists also took samples from dozens of surrounding trees to test for radioactivity, and found nothing.

    The United States and the Soviets halted nuclear testing in the early 1990s, as the Cold War wound down. Only India, Pakistan, and North Korea have lit off nukes since then, and nearly 200 countries have joined a treaty swearing off future tests. (The United States has yet to ratify the pact.)

    Burke said the detonations that shook Lamar County not only contributed to arms-control treaties, but helped build a network of scientific instruments that has life-saving applications today, such as estimating tsunami risks after an earthquake.

    “This stuff has saved a lot of lives,” he said. “I think that properly understood, that’s something the people around that site have a reason to be proud of.”

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    Blue Point Brewing Company led guests through their brand new facilities in Patchogue and kept their cups full.

    Ernest Hemingway once described a moment immediately after eating an oyster thusly: "I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans." Though he was writing from a time and a place far away from Patchogue, Long Island, one could see a similar reaction across the faces of guests who joined Atlas Obscura and Blue Point Brewing Company for a decadent evening of oysters, beer, and exploration last Friday night. One might even describe the experience as a moveable feast...

    Together, Atlas Obscura and Blue Point encouraged would-be weekenders to exercise their right to celebrate Summer Fridays by hopping on the LIRR, brown-paper-bagged beers in hand. After arriving at the Patchogue station, guests were whisked away by tour bus to the site of Blue Point's soon-to-be opened brewing facilities, where they were treated to a private, hard hat tour by the president of Blue Point, Jenna Lally. Those who went on the tour got to taste Blue Point's new Summer Friday IPA, which had been bottled the day previously in anticipation of the event.

    From there, the mobile party continued, as guests took a bus ride along Long Island's South Shore to the Blue Island Oyster Farm. On the ride, they were treated to a "colorful" lecture about the history of talking like a sailor from historian Mark Roberts. At Blue Island, guests got to see a real working oyster hatchery that provides mollusks for some of New York City's best restaurants. There they sipped beers, slurped oysters, and learned the inner workings of sea farming. They viewed impossibly tiny baby oysters under a microscope, and witnessed the bubbles and burbles of an algae laboratory.

    Finally, guests headed to Blue Point's original brewing location for a indulgent lobster dinner. Guests feasted, banquet style, and then made their way to the tap room where they continued imbibing. Aerial acts, burlesque performers, and a live band playing sea shanties transformed the parking lot into a oceanic carnival. After a relaxing Summer Friday with Blue Point and Atlas Obscura, guests returned to the LIRR, full, happy, and ready to make plans for their next adventure.







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    Keeping a 170-year-old tradition alive on the mighty Muskingum.


    The mighty Muskingum River winds 112 miles through southeastern Ohio, from Coshocton to Marietta, where it flows into the Ohio and, in turn, the even-mightier Mississippi. The Muskingum was, for decades, a critical route for the movement of people and goods in the region, though today it’s almost exclusively used by pleasure boaters. As the river bends around downtown Zanesville, a small city with an emerging art scene in the gentlest foothills of the Appalachians, there’s a dam, one of 10 on the river. Boaters who want to pass it need to steer toward an old but well-maintained canal on the eastern side of the river, and grab the attention of a man sitting in a small wooden shack. That’s Tim Curtis, and he’s one of the few full-time lockmasters still manning America’s waterways.

    A boat that wants to get past the dam has to rise or drop 15 feet, so the canal is equipped with locks. The Muskingum’s locks are some of the last period-correct examples in the country, Curtis says, and his job has barely changed in 170 years.

    Curtis’s shack sits on a narrow, verdant island, approximately 600 yards long, formed where the canal splits off the river and accessible from the town's three-way Y-Bridge. As a boat approaches, Curtis dons a small lifejacket—“we have to wear these even if we’re mowing”—and grabs the crank handles from the shack, where they are kept under lock and key.


    He attaches a crank to an old mechanism, and then uses it to manually open the first doors of the lock to let the boat in. Once the boat is in place, he shuts the door behind it and begins the process of lowering or raising the water in the lock via a valve on each door. They’re opened by crank, too, and water then flows in or out, depending on which way the boat is going. Once the lock chamber is level with the water on the other side of the lock, he opens the other set of doors and the boat can progress. His lock, #10, is unusual on the Muskingum because it is a double lock, so the process is repeated in another chamber. Approximately half a million gallons are displaced during each step. Once the boat makes it through the lock, Curtis goes back to tending the grounds until the next boat arrives.

    According to Ron Petrie of the Canal Society of Ohio, there only a few hundred lockmasters employed throughout the United States, and most of them are in the industrial waterways of upstate New York. On the Muskingum, Curtis and the 11 other trained lockmasters are there to help the 7,000 fishers and boaters who use the river each year. They’re mostly taking local river trips, but it is quite possible to take a boat from Lock #10 all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

    Curtis, 32, is rangy, with hair sprouting from his chin and a small moustache. He is from nearby McConnelsville, a rural upbringing reflected in his drawl and good-old-boy charm. The locks are operated by Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources as part of the state park system, and Curtis works for the parks department as a “rover,” attending to park upkeep. The longtime operator of Lock #10 moved on from the job not long ago, so Curtis has been working with it for around two years. The job requires a year of on-the-job training, he says, but most lockmasters, like himself, grew up on the river and already feel at home there.


    Adjusting his camo hat, he explains that the dams and locks are what made the Muskingum navigable in the first place. The river is fairly shallow, and the dams create a “slackwater” system that deepens it, and the locks are needed to get around them. “Without the dams, it would be like a creek,” he says. “I’ve seen people walk all the way across the river.”

    In fact, when European settlers arrived in the late 18th century, the shallow river meant they could only use flatboats with a miniscule draft, and most were chopped up for lumber once they reached their destinations (rather than get paddled back against the current). Plans for a lock system on the Muskingum River were hatched as early as 1812, but the Ohio General Assembly didn’t authorize construction until 1836, during an “epidemic … of internal improvement,” according to Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Muskingum County, Ohio. Twelve locks and 11 dams were installed by 1841. (One lock since has collapsed and is permanently closed.)

    Lock #10’s original stone walls from 1837 are intact, and the doors are made of massive timbers held together by metal frames. The wood on the doors was replaced as recently as 1984, Curtis says, due to their creosote coating, a wood preservative that can leach out and pose environmental hazards.


    At the height of the lock’s usage, people and freight moved from Zanesville to all over Ohio and beyond so frequently that the lockmaster lived in a house on the canal island, ready to allow a boat through at any hour. That house still stands, but is now used only for storage.

    Operating the lock is an art, Curtis says, and requires some finesse. If you go too fast, boats can bounce around and be pulled off the cables that hold them steady. If the boat is too close to the door, it can be pulled into the whirlpool created by the valve and sucked into the door. But after years of working the river, Curtis can intuit adjustments so the water flows calmly and evenly, and boaters hardly notice what’s happening. Going through the double lock takes about half an hour. Though if you want a really quick and bumpy ride, Curtis laughs, it can be done in 20.

    After a day on the Muskingum, “the boaters can get a little rowdy. In the evenings it’s not PG-rated,” Curtis says, but once they’re in the lock, they tend to respect its history and seriousness. (The danger of boating on the Muskingum is quite real. Two boaters drowned in Zanesville in June 2014 when they stole a boat and tried to go straight over the dam.) They certainly don’t want to end up in the canal water, or stay in the stuffy lock for any longer than they need to.


    Once the locks and dams had been installed, the more reliable river led to an economic boom on its banks—both for the capitalists who used the system and the pool of labor necessary to staff and maintain it. Passenger boats in the 19th century were alive with card games and songs, while others carried “rather more freight and less frivolity”—upwards of 300 tons of goods at a time. Boats leaving Zanesville could go north to Cleveland, east to Pittsburgh and New York, south to New Orleans, and west to St. Paul. (Travel from Zanesville to New York took roughly two weeks.)

    “For nearly 25 years … every lock frequently had a string of boats waiting to pass,” writes J. Mark Gamble in Steamboats on the Muskingum. “Each passenger boat carried 40 to 60 people. They have been called the ‘Pullman cars of the [18]50s.’” At least two babies were born en route to St. Louis in 1855, and a contingent of soldiers sailed from Zanesville to fight in the Mexican-American War, though they arrived after the fighting stopped.

    The downside for Zanesville and the surrounding areas—a common predicament for towns that benefited from canals, railroads, and other means of transportation—was that business no longer had to stay in town. Local farmers were able to move their wares elsewhere for competitive prices. Land along the river became incredibly expensive, and some local people introduced ordinances against the “horrible, odious, and useless steam whistle” to their local legislatures.


    Boating helped knock out the area's stagecoach business, but river traffic was in turn diminished by the railroad, whose bridges, as Gamble put it, were built “with little regard for the needs of water carriers.” Steamboats lowered their fares to compete and bragged that while trains could only stop at stations, boats could pick up passengers anywhere along the river. But then the automobile came along, and the age of river travel and freight was largely over. Commercial traffic on the Muskingum was done by the 1920s.

    Today, Ohio’s dams and locks are less pieces of necessary commercial infrastructure than tranquil historical sites, waypoints on countless summer excursions, idylls away from interstate traffic or the unending struggle of air travel. Cranks in hand, Curtis surveys his surroundings. “This is a unique place in the U.S.,” he says.

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    The Vegetable Lamb of Tartary puzzled scientists and philosophers.


    Imagine you're strolling through the woods in Central Asia, in a region formerly called Tartary, sometime during the Middle Ages. As you adjust your woollen cloak, you spot an eye-catching plant. A long, swaying stalk juts out from the ground, bearing a bleating, life-sized lamb hovering a few feet off the ground.

    According to ancient lore, you’ve encountered the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary. Luckily there’s no need to run, as it’s solidly tethered to the ground. But though this animal-plant hybrid couldn’t go very far, the legend of it did—although completely imaginary, the vegetable lamb of Tartary crops up in ancient Hebrew texts, medieval literature, and even poetry, philosophy, and scientific musings of the Renaissance. Also called the borametz, the Scythian lamb, the lamb-tree, and the Tartarian lamb, this mythical zoophyte intrigued, inspired, and perplexed writers, philosophers, and scientists for centuries.

    According to Henry Lee, a 19th-century naturalist who wrote rather extensively on the vegetable lamb, the woolly plant first appeared in literature around 436 A.D., in the Jewish text, Talmud Hierosolimitanum. According to Lee, Rabbi Jochanan included a passage detailing the plant-animal that is “in form like a lamb, and from its navel grew a stem or root by which this zoophyte ... was fixed ... like a gourd, to the soil below the surface of the ground.”


    Later, Sir John Mandeville would refer to these creatures in his travel writings on Tartary. He refers, rather sweetly, to the lambs borne from gourd-like fruits as “little beasts,” and rather quickly follows that with, “of that fruit I have eaten.” Though we now know Mandeville wasn’t the most reliable narrator, his thoughts on the lamb-tree were taken seriously in medieval England.

    In Mandeville’s imagined anatomy of the zoophyte, the plant branched out into several seed pods from which newborn lambs would spring forth. But Mandeville’s configuration wasn’t the only one in existence. In another version, each plant bore a single fully grown lamb, with a thick coat of wool “as white as snow.” The fabled creature hovered off the ground on a highly flexible stalk, which allowed it to bend deeply enough to chomp on the grass below. There was a catch to this seemingly laid-back life: Eventually, the grass would run out. Once it had devoured all the vegetation within reach, the lamb-plant would die.

    Though it may have seemed helpless, swinging around aimlessly on its stem until it starved to death, procuring a vegetable lamb for one’s own was apparently a difficult task. Most iterations claim that, because the lamb could not be extracted from the plant without severing the stem, the borametz could not be hunted, except by wolves, who somehow always get the best of the poor lamb in folklore. A human looking for a leafy lamb could track one down, too, but would have to shoot arrows or darts at the stem until fully severing it to get the woolly prize. (Writers of the time did not specify why knives could not be used.)

    If one could track down a live vegetable lamb, however, it was a delicacy. Both humans and wolves alike loved the taste of lamb-plant meat, which, according to ancient writer Maase Tobia, tasted “like the flesh of fish.” And as if a lamb-vegetable that tasted like fish flesh weren’t peculiar enough, it allegedly also contained “blood as sweet as honey.”


    But there was a more sinister version of the narrative. Lee includes a passage from Rabbi Simeon, who hints that the zoophyte was not a lamb-plant hybrid, but rather a human-plant hybrid. He claims that, according to the Jerusalem Talmud, the ‘Jadua,’ was a plant found in the mountains that grows "just as gourds and melons," but in the form of a human—with a face, body, hands, and feet. Similar to the vegetable lamb, it was connected at the navel to the stem, which, if cut, would cause the Jadua's demise. "No creature can approach within the tether of the stem, for it seizes and kills them,” he wrote. It seems that iteration was too dark for philosophers of the Dark Ages to stomach, as most devout believers of the borametz seemed to stick to the version featuring the fluffy, tasty, non-human plant.

    Whether one believed the zoophyte to be lamb-like or man-like, it took until the 16th century for scientists and philosophers to begin publicly questioning the Scythian lamb. The renowned Italian polymath, Girolamo Cardano, tried to disprove it by pointing out that soil alone couldn’t provide sufficient heat for a lamb to survive embryonic development. But his argument was highly controversial. Claude Duret, an Italian linguist, botanist, and, above all, firm believer in the existence of the lamb-plant, passionately denounced Cardono. Echoing a common claim at the time, he affirmed that “in a place filled with heavy and dense air (such as is Tartary), the Borametz—true plant-animals—might exist.”

    Soon enough, however, naturalists began to make the point that, maybe, there were plants that simply looked like lambs. In 1698, Sir Hans Sloane brought forth a lamb-like specimen from China, the rootstock of a fern, which was “covered with a down of dark yellowish snuff colour.” It seemed, he argued, that it had been manipulated by a clever artist to look strikingly similar to a lamb. However, there was an issue with this argument: The species that birthed these lamb-like sculptures wasn't native to Tartary. Besides, Lee argues, the coat of the lamb-plant was depicted as “snowy-white,” while the woolly substance produced by the rootstocks was decidedly orange. There’s a better theory, Lee offers, and it looks a lot like a poorly played game of ancient Greek telephone.


    Cotton was likely brought to Western Asia and Eastern Europe from India—and while the ancient Greeks didn’t really know much about the cotton plant, they felt very comfortable waxing poetic about it. Greek historian Herodotus’s writings refer to the cotton padding of a corselet sent from Egypt as “fleeces from the trees.” Alexander the Great's admiral would later write that “there were in India trees bearing ... flocks or bunches of wool.” A bit further down the line, Pliny the Elder (whom Lee calls “admirable as a writer,” but “incompetent and worthless as a naturalist”) went further off-script, erroneously claiming that “these trees bear gourds ... which burst when ripe.”

    And then, there’s the fact that the Greek word for “melon” can be translated into “fruit,” “apple,” or “sheep.” It’s possible that, throughout various translations of early texts describing the cotton plant among other trees, the “fruits” resembling “spring-apples” could have been misinterpreted as “spring-lambs.”

    Though the vegetable lamb isn’t real, its story paints a very real picture of how science and mythology, fact and fiction, are closely connected—and often resemble one another. And while the vegetable lamb has disappeared from the minds of scientists and philosophers today, it will likely persist as a strange scientific history, an overblown origin story, and perhaps, a far-away fantasy for vegetarians with a craving for lamb.

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    At an English estate, the ground still remembers its past.


    Across the United Kingdom and Ireland this summer, heatwaves and wildfires have been revealing hidden signs of the past, from crop marks dating back thousands of years to giant signs meant to signal World War II pilots. At Chatsworth House, a Derbyshire estate perhaps most famous for its connection to Pride and Prejudice, the heat wave has exposed the outlines of a long-gone world—the gardens and village that existed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Going back centuries now, this piece of land has been a large estate in a picturesque part of England. Many years ago, starting toward the end of the 1600s, the first Duke of Devonshire had parterre gardens, a style developed in France, put in, with curling paths and highly designed, elegant flower beds. By the mid-1700s, though, the fourth Duke was ready to make a change.

    This duke was drawn to natural landscapes and replaced the garden with a less formal arrangement. The village on the estate, Edensor, also needed to change, he thought. He had parts torn down, in order to complete the more natural picture he’d envisioned.


    In the 1830s, the sixth Duke had his own plans for the village, which he imagined could become a tidier, more comfortable, and more beautiful place. Under his management, the village high street was demolished, along with the small homes of his tenants. In their place, he built more modern, more charming cottages and instructed tenants that only one family could live in each one, instead of crowding in as they had before.

    Parts of the village were missing, though. In the new Edensor, there was “neither a village ale-house, blacksmiths’ forge, wheelwright’s shop, or any other gossiping place,” according to an account from 1872. (The Duke did make plans for tenants who were displaced: The blacksmith, for instance, was given a new place a mile away.)

    More than 150 years later, though, the mark of these gardens and the old village is still hiding on the estate. This summer’s heatwave has stressed the lawns enough that the plants living above old foundations and paths, where water can be scarcer, have browned and revealed traces of the past and the history of the Dukes’ work on their land.

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    Field biologist Josh Kelly shares his perfect long weekend in the verdant North Carolina city.

    Asheville, North Carolina, is a city of superlatives. It’s located in one of the most scenic spots in the U.S., thanks to the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and the sparkling French Broad River. The combination makes for a stunning urban landscape, one that’s also environmentally significant. “It’s arguably the best area in the eastern United States to explore old-growth forests,” says Josh Kelly, a field biologist for MountainTrue, a conservation organization based in Asheville.


    Asheville’s abundance of edible plant species has put it at the forefront of the food-foraging movement. The city also boasts one of America’s most vibrant craft beer scenes. And there’s the palatial Biltmore Estate, built by George Vanderbilt III at the height of the Gilded Age. The local mansion still claims the distinction of being the largest privately owned residence in the United States.

    You could spend a lifetime studying this region’s incredible biodiversity (more than 2,000 species of fungi alone are known to grow in the Southern Appalachian Mountains, for example, and more salamander species exist here than in any other single place on Earth). But you needn’t quit your day job to experience the area’s natural wonders. With Kelly’s help, we’ve put together this guide to spending “Three Obscure Days” exploring Asheville’s wild beauty.

    Day 1: Agenda

    • Learn about local plant species at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville

    • Meet the animals of the area at the Western North Carolina Nature Center

    • Forage for food at George Washington Carver Park

    • Experience the nightlife of West Asheville


    Botanical Gardens at Asheville

    As you kick off your three-day adventure, take a moment to get your bearings and learn about local flora and fauna at the Botanical Gardens at Asheville and the Western North Carolina Nature Center.

    “[The Botanical Gardens at Asheville] is one spot, it’s free to get into, and it has a really approachable, easy trail system to walk and just a ton of information,” says Kelly.

    In the late summer and early fall, you can expect to find sunflowers, goldenrods, and heart-leaved aster, or “a lot of yellow and purple flowers,” as Kelly puts it. You’re also likely to see several species of lilies. Kelly suggests you keep your eyes peeled for North Carolina’s official state wildflower, the Carolina lily, or lilium michauxii. The flower’s scientific name refers to the famed botanist who “discovered” it, André Michaux. Under French royal command in the 18th century, he was sent to North America to investigate plants that could be of benefit to France’s soil. His contributions to botany were ultimately more appreciated in North America than in his home country. Several species of plants native to North Carolina are named after him.


    Western North Carolina Nature Center

    At the Western North Carolina Nature Center (WNC), you’ll become acquainted with the non-human residents of Asheville and its surrounding wilderness. The park highlights each animal’s story via informative signage, making even the most common of animals appealing to observe. According to the center's website, Sassy the raccoon, for example, is known for her peculiar habit of sucking her foot like a toddler might suck their thumb.

    Don’t miss the shier species such as the bobcat or the black bear, and take a moment to appreciate the zoo’s American river otters, Olive and Obi Wan. Once critically endangered in North Carolina, they were rescued from extinction through reintroduction programs in the early 1990s. They’re back to being ubiquitous in the area; Kelly sees otters a few times a year while fly-fishing.


    George Washington Carver Park

    For a literal taste of Asheville’s foraging scene, Kelly recommends booking a trip with a guide to forage for “a bounty of wild plants and mushrooms” with one of several outfitters that specialize in such trips. “This will help with your identification abilities for the rest of your stay,” he advises. Alternatively, you can wander on your own into George Washington Carver Park, a public park stocked with edible plant species.

    In the summertime, expect to find berries. But according to Kelly, the best time to go is actually in the fall, when the fruit and nut trees are in bloom. As the temperature begins to dip, apples, pears, pawpaws, hazelnuts, and chestnuts beckon you to pick them.


    West Asheville

    If you’re at all squeamish about eating food you’ve found on the ground, in a bush, or hanging from a tree, don’t worry: Asheville has plenty of dining establishments that take advantage of locals’ penchant for foraged food. Restaurants that utilize found ingredients particularly abound in downtown and West Asheville. Some of them will even cook up ingredients you’ve found yourself.

    Local bartenders have taken to adding foraged herbs to their cocktails, infusing the city’s vibrant nightlife with a new menu of flavors. Take a seat at one such drinking establishment in West Asheville and end the night by strolling through town, admiring the many colorful murals that have splashed onto buildings in this part of the city.

    Day 2: Agenda

    • Hike the picturesque Craggy Pinnacle trail

    • Continue onto Douglas Falls

    • Make a stop in Black Mountain

    • Learn about Black Mountain College's legacy at the Black Mountain Museum + Arts Center


    Craggy Pinnacle Trail

    Armed with your newfound knowledge of the local ecosystem (and, hopefully, with some foraged apples or berries for breakfast), head out for one of Asheville’s most photogenic hikes, the Craggy Pinnacle Trail.

    You’ll travel the famously scenic Blue Ridge Parkway to get there, which winds through cloud-level mountain crests and acts as a gateway to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Stop by the Craggy Gardens along the way at mile post 367 to take in views among mountain-top meadows, or relax at one of the facility’s picnic tables. Then, head just a bit farther up the road to the trailhead of Craggy Pinnacle, accessible by the Craggy Dome parking area at milepost 364.

    Less than a mile round-trip, the trail to the hike’s summit is as easy as it is visually rewarding. Along the way, you’ll pass through dense thickets of fairy-tale-esque forest. In the springtime, these areas are awash in fuchsia as the bountiful rhododendron bloom.

    At the summit, a walled overlook allows for safe viewing of the vista you came here to see. If you missed the rhododendron in the spring, perhaps you’re lucky enough to arrive in the fall. “In the fall, those higher elevations change color first, and then after they pass their peak, you can look down on the progression of color as it fades into the valley,” Kelly says.


    Douglas Falls

    Hikers who haven’t had their fill of nature can continue farther down the Douglas Falls trail, a route that leads to a 60-foot waterfall. “More impressive, from the naturalist’s point of view,” Kelly says, “is the old-growth northern hardwoods forests along the trail.” The trees in these old-growth forests, he notes, are some of the biggest you’ll find east of the Mississippi.

    If the 3.5 mile, downhill hike from Craggy Pinnacle doesn’t sound appealing, there’s an easier way to view the falls. At the end of nearby FS 74 (a narrow, Forest Service road), there’s a trailhead that ends at the falls. This is a comparatively easy hike that covers just under one-mile, round-trip.


    Black Mountain

    “If you’re passing through and want to see a cute little town in the area, Black Mountain is a great one,” Kelly says.

    Still closely associated with Black Mountain College (a former art school with a faculty and alumni list that reads like a who’s who of luminaries across disciplines in the 20th century), the town has retained a creative spirit that’s reflected in its restaurants, cafes, and boutiques.

    The grounds of the college are closed to the public (and occupied by a summer camp for boys), but they're open several times per year to host the Lake Eden Arts Festival in May and October and {Re}HAPPENING in March, an evening of supper and performances inspired by John Cage’s Theatre Piece No. 1.


    Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

    If you’re back in Asheville before it closes, visit the Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center to learn more about the college and those who were involved with it, including Ruth Asawa, Allen Ginsberg, Cy Twombly, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. The permanent collection includes more than 2,000 pieces of artwork and ephemera, all related to the college. One highlight of the museum is alumnus Robert Rauschenberg’s Opal Gospel, 10 American Indian Poems, a piece composed of 10 movable, silk-screened panels depicting American Indian stories and images.

    If you’re lucky, you might even catch one of the space’s readings, concerts, or other special events, which are scheduled about once per month.

    Day 3: Agenda

    • Hike to the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi

    • Learn about traditional, southern Appalachian craftsmanship at the Folk Art Center

    • Kayak or tube down the French Broad River


    Mount Mitchell's Summit

    You’d be remiss not to visit the peak of Mt. Mitchell on a trip to Asheville. Heading up N.C. Highway 128 (off the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway at milepost 35), you can drive nearly all the way to the top of the 6,683-foot summit. Mt. Mitchell holds the distinction of being the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi, and the man who gave the mountain its name (the educator and geologist Elisha Mitchell) died in pursuit of proving that fact.

    Mitchell first observed that a mountain that was then known as Black Dome appeared to be higher than what was previously believed to be the highest peak in the east (Grandfather Mountain, also in North Carolina) on a geological survey in 1828. He returned to measure the mountain three times between that trip and 1844, in the process proving that his theory was correct. More than a decade later, he would return to the mountain one last time, after his claim was challenged by a state senator. On that fateful journey, he fell to his death at nearby Mitchell Falls.

    A short, mile-long hike (round trip) from the parking area at the end of Highway 128 leads visitors to an observation deck where they can take in panoramic views from what is without a doubt the highest point in the U.S. east of the Mississippi river. They can also pay their respects to Mitchell—his tomb is located here.


    At this elevation, Kelly explains, you’re also likely to see red spruce, yellow birch, and mountain ash trees, which tend to be associated with states like Maine rather than North Carolina.

    Another type of tree to watch out for is the Fraser fir. “Here in the southern Appalachians we have the Fraser fir, which only occurs in this area,” Kelly explains. Plenty of farms in the area harvest these trees for the winter holidays.


    Folk Art Center

    Head back to Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Stop about eight miles outside of the city at milepost 382 at the Folk Art Center, the home of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, which represents over 900 juried craftspeople from the South. In addition to a permanent collection featuring historical artifacts and rotating exhibitions, the center also maintains the oldest continuously run craft store in the U.S.

    One of the guild’s founding members, Frances L. Goodrich, had originally come to this area in the late 19th century as a Presbyterian missionary. Surprised and inspired by the utilitarian yet thoughtful designs of the local people (especially women), she began to unify their efforts to market their wares. Within a few years, she was selling local products nationally, working within the larger Southern Appalachian Handicraft Revival movement.

    In contrast to Black Mountain College and its museum in Asheville, the Folk Art Center celebrates traditional craftsmanship. The handmade baskets, pottery, and tapestries on display here favor craft over concept.


    The French Broad River

    The French Broad River is believed to be one of oldest rivers in the world (behind the Nile River and the New River, which also flows through North Carolina). It runs through the center of Asheville and helped shape the Appalachian mountains that surround the city. Named by French settlers who arrived in the region in the late 18th century, Connestee settlements along its course have been dated back to the year 200.

    This river is also rare among urban waterways in the U.S., in that residents will happily jump into it. Over the past three decades, Asheville has rallied around keeping its river clean enough for everyone to enjoy. Frequent community “clean-up” days demonstrate the city’s continued devotion to the cause.

    The French Broad’s waters flow gently through the city, perfect for paddle-boarding, kayaking, or canoeing. There’s even a portion that runs through Biltmore Estate, offering views of the palatial mansion and its grounds that can’t be seen anywhere else.

    Another popular activity is tubing—perhaps the best option for those exhausted from three days spent exploring Asheville.

    Kelly has lived in the Asheville area since he was born and isn’t making plans to leave any time soon. For someone with his passion for nature, Asheville is paradise. “I like the fertility of the land,” he says matter-of-factly.

    For those with a deep appreciation of the outdoors, Asheville is the perfect getaway. After three days, you’ll have encountered a hemisphere’s worth of disparate plant and animal species, plus the culture, history, and recreation areas that come alongside this thriving natural landscape.

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    Scientists are hoping archaeology, carbon dating, and tree rings together can help solve the mystery.


    They left before the eruption came, abandoning their island, their frescoes, their furniture. When the volcano blew, sending ash more than 18 miles up, into the stratosphere, it blanketed the the island and darkened the sky. Across the Mediterranean, people saw the effects of the eruption at Thera, which was so large it changed the climate for a time. It was larger than Vesuvius, or Tambora, or Krakatoa. It’s thought to be the largest volcanic eruption ever witnessed by humankind, or the largest volcanic eruption in the current geological era, which goes back almost 12,000 years.

    This catastrophic event, which spelled the end of Bronze Age Minoan civilization, may have cast a shadow over Mediterranean tales and myths for ages. It is thought that the eruption could be the origin of the myth of Atlantis, a lost island world, or the source for the Biblical plagues of Egypt—polluted river, darkened sky.

    But over thousands of years, details and dates have a way of blurring, so that now no one knows exactly when the eruption took place. It was almost certainly more than 3,500 years ago. Evidence in texts from Egypt’s New Kingdom suggests the 16th century B.C. Radiocarbon dating of materials found from Thera (known today as Santorini), though, put the date a little further back, in 17th century B.C.

    For years, experts have struggled to reconcile this gap and pin down the exact date of the eruption. The ash that spewed from the volcano settled across the Mediterranean and the layer can still be found in the ground. If the event could be precisely dated, that layer would provide a very useful time horizon for understanding chronology across the region. In a new paper published in Science Advances, a team led by scientists at the University of Arizona has gathered new data that they think could help resolve the mystery.


    The problem of the Thera eruption gets at one of most basic questions of archaeology: How do we know when things happened in the past? In the absence of written records that can be lined up with known calendar systems, pinning down the specific year of an event can be tricky, if not impossible.

    But archaeologists have a few strategies. The growth rings of trees, for instance, keep a record that can be traced back thousands of years by matching up rings of trees whose lives overlapped. Some long-lived species, such as bristlecone pine, can contain records going back thousands of years on their own. Radiocarbon dating is another critical, widely used tool. It measures the amount of a radioactive carbon isotope, carbon-14, in organic material, using the rate of the carbon’s decay as a clock that can be wound back. To estimate the calendar year in which that plant or animal lived, the results of carbon dating need to be adjusted to account for the amount of carbon-14 in the atmosphere, which fluctuates over time.

    This calibration is critical to how radiocarbon dating works, and over the years researchers have joined together to create a standard curve representing the change in atmospheric carbon over time, using information trapped in wood, coral, rock, and other materials. Tree rings, which can be tracked to specific years and are made of organic material, can be a useful tool—combining two of archaeologists' more important dating techniques—for refining the calibration curve and making radiocarbon dating more accurate. In the past, this data encompassed a series of rings covering a stretch of years. But now is possible to test tiny bits of wood—as small as a single, annual tree ring.

    “It’s the next step in how we understand time,” says Charlotte Pearson, an assistant professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and the lead author of the new paper.


    Pearson and her colleagues measured the carbon-14 in individual tree rings of a known age from bristlecone pine in California, as well as from oak trees in Ireland, specifically for the period in which Thera likely erupted, between 1700 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Using these new results, the researchers found that the organic material from Thera could be a few decades younger than radiocarbon data had previously indicated.

    It’s a small shift in time frame, but if they’re correct there is some overlap between the timing suggested by radiocarbon dating and that suggested by archaeological evidence. It's not a smoking crater, but it might be a breakthrough that points to the solution of the Thera mystery.

    But it's too early to say for sure. “The new data is welcome, but there are a number of question marks until it’s replicated by other labs,” says Sturt Manning, a professor of classical archaeology at Cornell University, who has long studied the dating of the Thera explosion but was not involved in this study. To adjust the standard calibration curve will require data from many sources to back up the annual tree ring data. There’s new archaeological evidence from the beginning of Egypt's New Kingdom that could also help narrow the window of Thera’s date.


    If these sources of data ever come into alignment, the eruption—and its ash layer—would become a chronological signpost across a large region of the world. Events like these, that can be matched precisely across an entire region, help bring the ancient past to a more human timescale. “Humans live at a very fast pace,” says Pearson. “We’re not around for very long. The events that can affect human society, they happen in one or two years. If we’re really going to study their effects in past societies, we need really well-resolved timelines.”

    The new paper will likely at least help push forward ongoing work on the carbon dating calibration curve. Already other labs are working to replicate the results for parts of the period, but it’s unlikely to end the long-running debate over the date of Thera’s eruption by itself. To do that, says Manning, a great piece of evidence would be a piece of a tree that formed rings annually and clearly died in the eruption, and could be dated clearly using these tools. “So far no one’s found that tree,” he says.

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    New research shows ancient embalmers were using resins and gums far earlier than we thought.


    Thousands of years ago—long before he arrived at the Egyptian Museum in Turin and became known as S. 293, the oldest preserved body in the collection—a man died in the desert. Estimates place his death somewhere in the vicinity of 3600 B.C., but it’s hard to say exactly when he perished or where his remains were found. There are no provenance records for the remains before 1901, when an Italian Egyptologist purchased the mummified body from a dealer and delivered it to the museum. S. 293 has spent millennia curled on his left side, knees tucked up toward his elbows. Judging by wear on the man’s teeth, he was probably in his 20s or 30s when he died.

    Researchers had long assumed that this mummy, like many others that predate Dynastic Egypt (which begins around 3100 B.C.), was preserved somewhat spontaneously—desiccated by the natural scorching and parched sand of a shallow desert grave. Scientists have often considered this hands-off approach to be a major precursor to the painstaking process of deliberate mummification that was refined over the next 2,000 years and reached its apex during the New Kingdom era (c. 1550–1070 B.C.), when embalmers excised organs and drained fluids before swaddling a corpse in strips of linen.

    But in a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science, a team of researchers led by Jana Jones, an Egyptologist and honorary research fellow in ancient history at Macquarie University in Sydney, makes the case that this was no accidental mummy. Instead, they suggest it was the result of a carefully concocted recipe.

    Back in 2014, Jones detected traces of fats, oils, and resins on funerary textiles from graves in Upper Egypt, dating to between 4500 and 3350 B.C. To Jones and her collaborators from Oxford and the University of York, these findings suggest that bodies were preserved using specific ingredients long before experts had thought. At the time, the researchers only had the textile scraps, and the bodies themselves weren’t available for study. “Museums are very jealous of their collections,” Jones says. “Egyptology is a very conservative science.” But the museum in Turin allowed the team to come in and work with S. 293. The mummy was particularly appealing because it hadn’t undergone any known conservation work that could adulterate its chemical signatures.


    In textile fragments from strips encircling the body’s torso and wrists, the researchers found plant oil, conifer resin, and a plant-based sugar or gum. “These would have been lightly heated and mixed together,” Jones says. “The chemistry shows evidence of heating, which is why we can refer to them as ‘recipes.’” The researchers believe that the resin and aromatic plant extracts functioned as antibacterial agents—and they would go on to become the main preservatives in later mummification, too, Jones says.

    “It's fair to say that the natural environment and being buried in the hot dry sand certainly played a part in the preservation of these prehistoric mummies, but what's important here is that there was also an artificial—anthropogenic—treatment of these bodies with 'balms,'” says paper coauthor Stephen Buckley, an archaeologist at the University of York. Jones thinks the textile wrappings may have been dipped into the mixture, then wrapped around the body; Buckley suspects that the concoction was slathered on with some sort of stick, though he hasn’t found one yet.

    It’s easy to think we know mummies—they can be such familiar figures in both museums and movies—but there is still a great deal to learn about their early years and how they came to be. Jones won’t be the one to do it, though: “I’m going to retire after this!”

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    A new archaeobotanical study is helping shift the historical record.


    The Silk Road was one of the world’s preeminent points of exchange between the East and West. The historical record details how goods, ideas, cultural practices, and foods moved through this ancient commerce region in Central Asia, but historians' focus has traditionally been on the interplay between East Asia and the Mediterranean. The flow of trading goods that came from areas mid-route is less studied, even though many fruits have their roots in this point of intersection.

    This is the core of a study published this week in PLOS ONE, which examined seed and plant remains found at a medieval archaeological site named Tashbulak, located in the foothills of eastern Uzbekistan’s Pamir Mountains, and other archaeological revelations in the area. The excavation (led by Farhod Maksudov, of the Institute for Archaeological Research, Academy of Sciences in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, and Michael Frachetti of Washington University in St. Louis) looked at peach and apricot pits, apple, melon, and grape seeds, and shells from walnuts and pistachios.

    The researchers discovered that many of these crops not only spread because of the Silk Road, but also either originated along the route or were directly shaped by it.

    Consider the apple, which is thought to have originated from the Malus sieversii, the domestic apple’s ancestor, in the Tian Shan mountains of Kazakhstan. The study advances that idea by suggesting that “the Silk Road probably led to what we think of as the apple today by bringing smaller varieties together that hybridized,” says Robert Spengler, the Director of the Paleoethnobotanical Laboratories at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, who conducted the botanical analysis from samples Tashbulak.


    For the study, Spengler and his colleagues examined remains found in a deposit near the center of this high-elevation site, at a place that researchers believe was an ancient market bazaar. Given the elevation, it’s likely that fruits were carried from lower-elevation farms to be sold, consumed, and taken elsewhere on the Silk Road. In the study, the authors suggest that the orchards and vineyards around cities including Bukhara and Loulan were crucial to producing crops for travelers and merchants.

    For several reasons, this is the first study to systematically probe the medieval crops along the Silk Road. Many years of political tumult made it challenging for teams to consider excavations in Central Asia. “There were a few collaborative Soviet projects, mostly with the French, but there were few teams that were able to get in before the Soviet Union collapsed,” Spengler says. “And even after it collapsed, the political unrest for much of the ‘90s made it very difficult to work there.” Studying plant and seed remains is also a relatively new area of focus in archaeology. “Looking for plant remains, [which are] basically, small carbonized leaves, isn’t quite as flashy as if you were looking for glass from Rome, or coins from the Persian world.”

    In recent years, there’s been a move to study more underrepresented components and areas along the Silk Road, particularly in Central Asia. “History is very Eurocentric, and so everybody thinks that Rome was one of the major hubs of the Silk Road,” says Spengler. “The traders and the major economic and political players of the Silk Road were in Central Asia, and it has been a region largely overlooked in scholarship. But if you are a historian or archaeologist studying the Mediterranean, you really need to know what was going on [there]."


    The study also questions the way people have long imagined movement along the Silk Road. “Everybody thinks of these long-distance camel caravans that brought goods from China to the Mediterranean,” Spengler says. “I think now more historians have accepted that that’s not really how it functioned. You can probably think a lot more along the lines of short-distance movements between these market hubs.”

    That’s why further scholarship in the region is vital. There’s still a lot of work to be done at Tashbulak: For instance, it’s unclear how and why people built a settlement at such a high elevation, where night frost makes growing many of these crops challenging. But this research is part of a larger reckoning.

    “I think in the next few years you’ll see in Central Asia archaeology major changes in what the history and prehistory look like," Spengler says. "And as these new discoveries come out, it becomes increasingly clear how influential Central Asia was in the actual development of human cultures, across both Europe and Asia.”

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    Bats are farmers' new best friends.


    For anyone driving the Yolo Causeway, the sight can come as a shock. As the summer sun sets behind the marshy floodplain of the Yolo Bypass, a swirling stream of bats soars out from beneath the elevated thoroughfare. To the delight of bat-lovers and a local rice farmer, roughly a quarter-million bats have made the underside of the tall, 3.2-mile causeway their summer home.

    The Yolo Bypass is a study in coexistence. Water routed there keeps the nearby city of Sacramento from flooding, and some of its 59,000 acres house the Yolo Basin Wildlife Area, a refuge for waterfowl, animals, and fish. It's also home to rice farms: Sacramento Valley produces most of the nation's sushi rice, and several are located within the bypass. Since rice farming also creates a habitat for marshland animals, the Wildlife Area even leases land to one rice farm.


    At this farm near the Causeway, Mike DeWit grows wild rice. "Never really had a problem with insects," he says laconically, "because of the bats." For him, the bats are a benefit: They eat half their weight in insects each night, and pregnant bats eat even more. In his other rice fields in southern Yolo County, he has to spray for armyworms, and he knows rice farmers who have lost 20 percent of their crop to the pests. While weather conditions might also play a role, DeWit swears that the local bat population plays an outsized role in keeping his wild rice worm-free.

    He's likely right, according to Rachael Long, a farm advisor with the UC Cooperative Extension in the Sacramento Valley. She's researched for decades how bats can help farmers control pests. "Armyworms are always a big problem in rice production," she says. "Bats are predators, of armyworms, cutworms, and other pests." Bats’ nocturnal feasts prevent adult moths from laying eggs that will hatch into hungry, rice-eating caterpillars, and, Long says, their impact cannot be overstated. When pest populations get out of control, "it can be really devastating."


    It's a happy accident that so many bats have made the Causeway their summer home. The conditions are ideal for bats, says Mary Jean “Corky” Quirk. Quirk is program coordinator at the Yolo Basin Foundation, but she's also the founder of NorCal Bats, a rescue and educational organization. As program coordinator, she leads the Foundation's wildly popular Bat Talk and Walks, which are currently completely booked except for one date in late September.

    The bats beneath the Causeway, Quirk says, are Mexican free-tailed bats, who are making a migratory stop. Since they form gigantic colonies, they are the region's most numerous variety. The spaces between expansion joints beneath the Causeway make for comfortable roosting. Summer is when the bats come to give birth, and the hot asphalt of the bridge keeps everything warm, providing a heated nursery. Their large population has an equally large effect, Long says. "We've got three hundred thousand of them group feeding and patrolling over these fields," she says. Quirk agrees. "These guys are the farmers' best friend."


    The surrounding marshland and farms in the Bypass act as a bat buffet. Bats can travel far in search of food, flying up to 30 miles every night. They can also go vertical. According to Quirk, bats will chase moths two miles up into the air. The Causeway "batnado," which is a locally famous phenomenon, consists of bats going out to feed each night. Quirk is ambivalent about the term, though. "That kind of sight is more associated with caves, where they do a spiral," she says. "I call it a ribbon."

    All this hard work from the bats is burnishing their reputation. Outside of rice fields, they also eat insects in California's orchards, which produce almonds, walnuts, and more. During Long’s 25 years of researching the topic, superstition and fear of rabies have long made people cautious of bats. But farmers are now interested in their insect-eating capabilities. Organic farmers, who have limited pest-fighting options, are particularly intrigued. According Long’s research—based on examining bat guano for the number of moths eaten each night at a local walnut orchard—a single bat can save a farmer up to $10 a season in pest control.


    Multiply that by a quarter-million and … well. "If they're saving me $30 to $40 per acre a year? Because of the benefits, I love bats," DeWit tells me. He's not alone. Long regularly receives calls about bats, and she says roughly half are from farmers looking to attract them. She advises farmers to build bat houses. (Although both Long and Quirk warn emphatically against touching bats: It's extremely rare, but they can carry rabies.) It's not easy to attract bats, though, because bats like to return to where they were born.

    That means the Yolo Causeway will host bats for many summers to come. The Mexican free-tailed bats arrive in spring and disperse in September. Where they go, Quirk says, remains a mystery.

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    The polar exploration ship survived freezing, sinking, and seizure by creditors.


    On June 7, 1916, the polar explorer Roald Amundsen took a moment to christen his new ship. As in many places, sailors around Vollen, Norway generally did this by smashing a bottle of champagne over the bow. But Amundsen, who intended to take the ship to the North Pole, changed this tradition a bit.

    "It is not my intention to dishonor the glorious grape," he reportedly said, "but already now you shall get the taste of your real environment. For the ice you have been built, and in the ice you shall stay most of your life, and in the ice you shall solve your tasks." He then crushed a block of the stuff against the front of the ship, and named it Maud, after the Queen of Norway.


    Amundsen was a little too correct. Although Maud never made it to the North Pole, it did spend most of its life in the ice, either stuck, sunk, or conscripted into labor. This Saturday—August 18, 2018, over a century after it first set out—Maud will finally creak back into Vollen.

    The ship's life "represents a big, but quite unknown, part of polar history," writes Jan Wanggaard in an email. Wanggaard is the leader of Maud Returns Home, a project dedicated to bringing the ship to Norway from Nunavut, Canada, where it foundered in the early 1930s. At press time, he is onboard Maud, which is being towed along the Norwegian coast, stopping at various ports along the way. "We have sailed since June, and it's good to be back in Norway," he writes.


    Maud first left home in 1918, carrying Amundsen and three crew members northwards. The plan was to freeze the ship into the ice cap, where it would serve as a scientific research station and eventually drift all the way to the pole.

    Amundsen's most recent journey had been quite successful—in 1911, he led the first team to reach the South Pole—but this one was more difficult. Amundsen was attacked by a polar bear, and crew members got carbon monoxide poisoning from working in an unventilated observatory lit by a faulty kerosene lamp. The ship didn't cooperate, either—as Wanggaard writes on the project website, "Maud spent several years in the Arctic ice without reaching the North Pole, and thus the expedition never got the deserved public attention."


    Amundsen tried again, hatching a plan that involved both airplanes and boats, but that failed, too. No attention means no money, and in 1925, Maud was seized by creditors. It was sold to the Hudson Bay Co., rechristened Baymaud, and put to work supplying company outposts in the Arctic.

    The explorer did finally reach the North Pole, making it there by plane in 1926. But the loss of Maud to bankruptcy was "a big tragedy for him as a person," Wanggaard writes. "He died a bitter and sad man," disappearing in 1928 while trying to help rescue the crew of a downed airship.


    Baymaud, née Maud, struggled, too. As its new owners soon learned, the ship wasn't well-suited for transport work. In 1927, it was moored in Cambridge Bay, off the coast of Nunavut, and used as a warehouse and wireless station. In the winter of 1931, it sank. People salvaged material from it, and law enforcement eventually dynamited its stern, in order to remove the fuel tanks.

    Even as the ship slowly rotted away, people remained fascinated by it. In 1990, the Norwegian municipality of Asker, where Vollen is located, bought Maud's remains from the Hudson Bay Company for one dollar. Asker eventually gave the project over to a private company called Tandberg Eiendom.


    In 2011, they brought Wanggaard on board, and over the past few years, he has jumped the various hurdles required to bring the ship back, from raising it off the seabed to negotiating with the residents of Cambridge Bay, some of whom wanted to keep it. (They ended up building a large stone cairn on the beach near the bay, to remember it by.)

    Finally getting the ship back to Norway "feels pretty surreal," writes Wanggaard. After they reach Vollen, they will turn Maud into a museum, similar to ones built for Amundsen's other vessels, Gjøa and Fram.

    "We have taken on one challenge after the other over the years," Wanggaard writes. "I feel happy but also extremely tired these days."

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    We asked our readers to describe the scent of childhood, and their answers didn't stink.


    What does home smell like to you? It's a simple question, but the answer for any individual person can be as unique as a fingerprint. We recently asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us about the specific scents that always transport them home, and we received hundreds of responses—no two exactly alike.

    Many of you described a blend of several aromas, while others were triggered mostly by cooking smells (turns out an awful lot of you grew up in homes that smelled like cabbage). Below, we've collected some of our favorite responses. As you read, perhaps you'll be inspired to try to recreate your own smells of home, at, well, home.


    Moth balls, arthritis cream, and boiled cabbage

    “My 80-year-old little Polish immigrant grandmother came to live with us and brought these with her. I was a 12-year-old American boy coming of age and of course for me, at first it was an invasion, until I got to both appreciate her as a person and also eat her delicious cooking almost every day! Forty years later, if I smell any of these I can see her still in the kitchen in her apron singing polkas to herself and rolling out dough.” — Joseph Healey, Edwardsville, Pennsylvania

    Pine Sol cleaner, freshly mowed grass, cigar smoke, and Mom’s perfume tray

    “Pine Sol permeated the air in the kitchen on Mondays and Wednesday mornings. On Saturday, the clean aroma of freshly mowed grass wrapped around the yard like a pungent blanket. My uncles sat outside in the evening, smoking wonderfully fat cigars, their laughter pressing cocktail breath on my cheek, with loving embraces of family joy.” — Barbara Ann Engel, Birmingham, Alabama

    Toasted peppers, suave hairspray, wet concrete, laundry detergent, hot cast iron

    “Saturday mornings, getting ready for church, screaming, things being broken, playing outside.” — Brianna Lomeli, Austin, Texas

    Benson & Hedges menthol cigarettes, Steak-umms, and Heinz Baked Beans

    “How hard my mother had to work (after my father financially abandoned us) to keep us from going homeless.” — Mike Quindlen, Baltimore, Maryland


    Cleaning Products

    Washing powder, earthenware pots, brown sugar

    "The little local store that sold clay pots and cleaning products. My grandma’s pantry." — Patricia, Leamington Spa, England

    Clorox bleach

    “Reminds me of going to bed with clean, dried in the sun, Clorox-smelling sheets that my mother hand washed.” — Pat, Ocala, Florida

    Lemon Pledge

    “My stay-at-home mom was a consummate neat freak and we lived in an early 1900s house full of wooden banisters, accents, and furniture, so I always associate Pledge (or in later years Lemon Pledge) with the smell of home.” — Amanda, Northeast Pennsylvania



    Rotting cabbage

    “The smell of rotting cabbages will always remind me of the house my Hungarian grandmother lived in when I was a child. It seems like she always had a pile of green cabbages rotting in the bottom of her refrigerator. They were so potent they stunk up the entire house, even though the fridge remained closed. She also kept her milk out of the fridge, so the smell and taste of unrefrigerated whole milk will always remind me of her, too.” — Jenny Respress, Boise, Idaho

    Roasted red peppers

    “Every fall in my country people would make ‘ajvar,’ a traditional winter dish with peppers. I knew as a kid playing outside on hot summer evenings that school is approaching if I could smell the sweet, roasted scent.” — Ivana, Serbia


    “My grandmother was from Sweden and brought with her many Swedish recipes, one of which was bullar or sweet rolls. Flavored with cinnamon and cardamom, she made this every week and would often ask me to help her crush the cardamom seeds with the mortar and pestle. This scent immediately transports me to the kitchen of my youth and reminds me of the special bond I had with my grandmother.” — Ellen Ashton, New Hampshire

    Hot milk

    “The smell of milk cooking immediately transports me to my paternal grandmother’s kitchen in Nürnberg, Franconia, Bavaria. Spending time there as a child in the 1960s and 1970s I would watch her heat milk for her coffee. More than once it foamed over the lip of the pot, if she didn’t watch it closely.” — Brigitte Mor, Cambridge, Massachusetts


    "I grew up in a small town off of Highway 152. If you've ever driven through a California truck stop that reeked of garlic on a dusty August afternoon, you've been through my hometown. [...] I lived in that town most of my life. I remember walking in the hills in June, my first kiss, funerals, birthday parties, births, broken hearts. Hell, it seems like my whole life is tainted with the sweet stench of that bulb. Garlic and I have a history, an understanding. There's an almost sorrowful romance to garlic. An entire town's nostalgia wrapped up in a pizza topping. No vampires, though." — A.V. Eichenbaum, Seattle

    Freshly ground coffee

    “Sunday mornings with parents and sisters and the sun is shining in our kitchen while the radio plays Zwischen Hamburg und Haiti on Radio Bremen.” — Christian Hlasek, Oldenburg, Germany

    Leftover Thanksgiving turkey, mixed with motor oil

    “We always had thanksgiving at my grandma's house in northern Wisconsin. There wasn't enough room in the refrigerator but it was cold enough that we used the attached garage as an extended refrigerator, placing most of the Thanksgiving leftovers out there. The smell of turkey mixed with garage smells is one of my most enduring smell memories. A few years ago we had dinner with friends the day after Thanksgiving and they have a fridge in their garage. When I opened it and smelled the turkey mixed with garage, I was right back at grandma's!” — Kerri, Albuquerque, New Mexico

    Celery and onions frying in butter

    “My mother making stuffing on Thanksgiving.” — Gloria, Alexandria, Virginia


    “Green skittles remind me of when I lived in a small Reno apartment, two beds and one bath, and my mother was a single mom. The memory reminds of my 4th or 5th birthday, my mom was sick and she told me to go in her closet and I saw a small black guitar that I lost years ago. Her room smelled like lime Skittles. That’s why I’m upset that Skittles replaced lime with green apple.” — Trevor Schoefer, Fallon, Nevada

    Freshly shucked corn

    “Every summer, us kids would have to shuck corn cobs and the musky soil and sweet corn smell still makes my head spin with wonderful flashbacks.” — Kris Weaver, Los Angeles, California

    Cheese fondue

    “Gran had lived in Switzerland for a while and worked in Davos at a sanatorium for children, I think sometime during the ‘50s. There she had learned how to make kaasfondue, cheese fondue, without alcohol (because of the children she cared for). Mostly we ate it during the holiday season, in her nice Scandinavian-like kitchen on the big and chunky round table, special linen on it. I have her recipe and always when I make it, I know it will taste great when my kitchen smells the same as hers!” — Attie Vrijhof, Rotterdam, Netherlands

    Parmesan cheese

    “I grew up not far from a Kraft parmesan cheese factory in Wausau, Wisconsin. When the wind was right, the whole neighborhood would smell like parmesan cheese. It takes me back to our middle-class neighborhood of 1950s ranch homes, narrow streets, and playing with childhood friends. The smell itself was nothing fantastic, but the memories certainly are!” — Eric Brinkmann, Kimberly, Wisconsin

    Fried hamburgers, covered in mustard

    “They were less like hamburgers and more like hockey pucks. Walking in the door from school on lunch break and having the salty, greasy, mustardy smell smack me right in the face. There are a couple of diners in the city that have the same fragrance. Whenever I experience it, I'm instantly eight years old and back in our kitchen.” — Yolanda Brantley, Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Garlic, onions, meats, etc., simmering for hours

    “The distinct aromas of old-school Puerto Rican recipes, which you only occasionally smell nowadays because few people have the time, patience, or inclination to make those intricate recipes come to life anymore.” — Catherine Ortiz, New York City, New York




    “To be more specific my mom’s signature tea rose perfume she’s worn for decades now. We live over 2,000 miles apart sadly, but any package she sends manages to smell like her and makes me miss her so much more. Also the smell of her poundcake when I make it. Man I miss her. The plan is she’ll be living near soon *fingers crossed*.” — Michelle Stepp, Olympia, Washington

    Chanel No. 5 and Tide laundry detergent

    “My mother and spending the day away at the local laundromat washing load after load of clothes. Makes me very happy and peaceful.” — Cora Fields, Iowa

    A waft of Joy perfume

    “My mother always wore it and it followed her on a gentle cloud. She died years ago but I still have her last bottle on my dresser. When I mentioned it to my daughter some time ago, she said, ‘Oh, I know! I go sniff it sometimes when I need to feel Dee around me.’ I had been doing the same thing since we lost her.” — Peg, Virginia

    Chanel No. 5 and leather

    “Whenever my mother went somewhere special, she wore soft leather gloves. She had been given some Chanel No. 5 as a gift that she used it sparingly on her wrists as it was very expensive. The scent of the perfume lingered in the gloves. I liked to smell her gloves when I was small. The combination of the leather and perfume evoked a sense of mystery because I was never quite sure of where she was going (or had where she had been). My world was small—home, school, and the woods where I played with my friends. But my mother's gloves awakened a need within me to see the world for myself. And I did. But nowadays, when I think of that combination of smells, my world shrinks to the kitchen table in the house where I first picked up her gloves and felt the softness of the leather. The smell still lingers.” — Dawn Upham, Prince Edward Island, Canada



    Sagebrush after a summer rain in Eastern Montana

    “The clean air, after the rain settled the dust on the farm.” — Jeff Cramer, Ely, Nevada

    Hot sun on fallen pine needles

    “In 1932, my great grandfather built a rough hewn cabin in Cedar Pines Park, near Crestline in the San Bernardino mountains. No indoor plumbing, wood stove, river rock fireplace. Every summer our extended family would spend two weeks living in the woods, sleeping out on the open porch under the trees and stars. Each night before bed we would leave birdseed and peanuts along the porch rail and awaken to watch the blue jays and chickadees and squirrels feasting on their breakfast. Any time I smell the scent of the sun-warmed pine needles, I am transported, in my olfactory lizard brain, back to those summers at the cabin.” — Joni, Gold Country, California

    Dry earth and sun-scorched oregano and thyme plants, jasmine blossom, and petrichor

    "I associate these smells with Greek summers, my childhood holidays. For better or for worse, these things never change and can instill a sense of home, of belonging and identity. I also think of home when I smell decomposing carcasses of roadkill, sadly a frequent feature of summer road trips in Greece." — Angie Athanassiades, Athens, Greece

    Gardenias and honeysuckle

    “When I was a child in Mississippi (I'm 55), our house had a hedge of gardenias under my bedroom window, and every fence was covered in honeysuckle. In the humid evening, it was almost, but not quite overpowering. It has stuck with me all my life, even though we moved from that house when I was in 4th grade. Every time I smell gardenias and/or honeysuckle, it's a time machine back to a wonderful childhood spent in a small Mississippi town, where we played outside all day long, returning home at dinner and no one worried. A place where we collected bottles on the side of the road to buy penny candy, where I went to Woolworths counter with my gramma for BLTs. Thanks for the memories :).” — Lisa Gonzales, Rio Rancho, New Mexico


    Pleasantly Unpleasant


    “It's that particular odor that (usually empty) garbage dumpsters can take on—a vaguely sweet musky smell. It reminds me of pre-adolescence, living in New Orleans. My family would frequently go to the French Quarter Flea Market to sell craft items and household stuff we didn't want. Sometimes I'd get to wander around the streets near the French Market a bit and I'd smell those dumpsters in the alleys. If I encounter that smell now it takes me right back there.” — Stephen Posey, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

    Mildewed canvas

    “We moved houses quite often when I was young but every summer we always camped out in the same, big mildewed tent. It smelled best—I mean worse—in the morning dew. Camping was always a relaxed and happy time for us, in the woods, by a lake or at the seaside. I guess you could say that I am fonder of mildew than most people I know.” — Andrea Ipaktchi, Iran

    Musty cardboard

    “We keep our holiday decorations in cardboard boxes in a basement that is not the driest place on Earth. Over countless years, the boxes have absorbed that unmistakable funky dampness. Whenever I smell musty cardboard, it's Christmas.” — Joseph Ditta, Brooklyn, New York

    Cigar smoke

    “It meant dad was home from the sea. He was a merchant seaman who would be gone for long periods.” — T. Gallegan, Delaware

    'Mussel mud'

    “I grew up on the east coast of Canada (Prince Edward Island) and whenever the tide was out and the sun was shining, the flats that the mussels were on would start to smell and it's not a great smell, like rotten seaweed, but I love it. Whenever I'm back home I hope for the perfect day for the smell but I know the locals that live there don't. It reminds me of summers at the beach and sunny, salty days by the ocean.” — Jodi, Ottawa, Ontario

    Hay bales mingled with manure, leather, and old wood

    “I don't think I'll ever find it in a scented candle, but one can hope. Hard work, love for animals, and sexual awakening. I had my first tryst in that hayloft.” — Kelly Tabor, Columbia, South Carolina



    Small gas engines

    “Our family has a summer cabin on a lake. The smell of engine fumes reminds me of many happy childhood weekends spent boating, swimming, jet-skiing, four-wheeling, mowing the lawn, etc. Ahhh…” — Anne Laverty, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

    Oil on railroad tracks

    “I am from Russia, so when I smell this oil I feel transported to Russia. There are a lot of railroad tracks in Russia and our dacha was close to railroad tracks (you could take a 20 minute train ride to get form the town to the dacha), so in the summer when we came in my dad's car, the smell of the oil on railroad tracks when we were passing through was very strong. It is crazy but I love this smell because it takes me back in time to my childhood.” — Anastassia, East Moline, Illinois

    The vacuum when it's running

    “It's the combination of the mustiness of the carpet from a week's worth of dirt and the smell of the vacuum's plastic parts and bristles working. [...] Cleaning the house on Saturday mornings while my dad plays his Motown CDs through his floor speakers, windows open.” — Amanda, Cleveland, Ohio



    The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland

    “The ride's musty smell reminds me of my grandmother’s basement in Northern Wisconsin!” — Kathe B., Southern California

    Subzero air, caught in the fur of cats

    “Our ‘cat door’ was a kitchen window. The cats would sit on the the top of a wooden ladder propped against the outside house wall. On very cold nights we had to be quick: open the window, scoop up the cat, close the window. I'd bury my nose in their fur as I welcomed them home, inhaling the cold night air. Now in Mexico, I still have cats but no frigid nights.” — Constance Stoner, Oaxaca, Mexico


    “Rocking my baby sister in a wicker bassinet and my mom’s bizarre and undying love for wicker furniture.” — Kristen, St. Louis, Missouri

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    The Church and anti-witch propaganda may have contributed to beermaking becoming a boys' club.


    Beer has been an essential aspect of human existence for at least 4,000 years—and women have always played a central role in its production. But as beer gradually moved from a cottage industry into a money-making one, women were phased out through a process of demonization and character assassination.

    It’s telling that the oldest-known beer recipe comes from a Sumerian hymn to the goddess of beer, Ninkasi. It also includes a description of how the fermented beverage was made in ancient times:

    [...]It is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.
    It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall. Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.
    It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes. Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes [....]

    Sumerian women brewed low-alcohol beer for religious ceremonies (including ones dedicated to Ninkasi) as well as for daily food rations. Ancient Egyptians worshipped a beer goddess named Tenenet, and hieroglyphics have been found depicting women brewing and drinking beer. Baltic and Slavic mythology both include a goddess, named Raugutiene, who provided protection over beer. And the Finnish told of a legendary woman named Kalevatar who invented beer by mixing honey with bear saliva.


    The image of the woman as ale-maker persisted well into the Middle Ages, moving from a sacred role to an everyday necessity of homemaking, historically typified as “women’s work.” Water in cities was unsanitary, at times bringing with it deadly diseases. But the process of fermentation created a sterile drink, so beer was considered a safer option. Most ale was very low-alcohol level, while more potent ales were reserved for special occasions such as holidays and weddings. So even before the year 1500, nearly all women in England knew how to brew.

    Making beer is difficult and time-consuming in any age. But given that a typical medieval family of five might have needed roughly 9 gallons of beer to subsist per week, and said beer spoiled quickly, women had to get creative. They then began sharing the workload with friends and neighbors, a system that often involved one woman making extra each week to sell to other households. As this culture of shared work evolved, some women in England began making ale more professionally, with some providing a constant flow of it for sale. Occasionally, these women might open makeshift bars located in their own homes, where people could sit together and drink. And so the term “alewife” (or “brewster”) emerged, referring to a woman who brewed beer for a small profit.

    Professional brewsters and alewives had several means of identifying themselves and promoting their businesses. They wore tall hats to stand out on crowded streets. To signify that their homes or taverns sold ale, they would place broomsticks—a symbol of domestic trade—outside of the door. Cats often scurried around the brewsters’ bubbling cauldrons, killing the mice that liked to feast on the grains used for ale.


    If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because this is all iconography that we now associate with witches. While there’s no definitive historical proof that modern depictions of witches were modeled after alewives, some historians see uncanny similarities between brewsters and anti-witch propaganda. One such example exists in a 17th-century woodcut of a popular alewife, Mother Louise, who was well-known in her time for making excellent beer.

    While the relationship between alewives and witch imagery has still yet to be proven, we do know for sure that alewives and brewsters had a bad reputation from the jump. Beyond the cheating that some of their counterparts engaged in, brewsters also had to deal with the bad rap their entire gender suffered because of original sin. “The ale trade was (and is) filled with trickery—poor ale substituted for good, pint measures that were just a bit too small, inflated prices, and of course, inebriated customers who found they’d been robbed or cheated,” explains Dr. Judith Bennet, author of Ale, Brewsters, and Beer in England: Women's Work in a Changing World 1300-1600. “For medieval people, it was easy to link these deceptions with women. Were not women, as daughters of Eve, naturally more deceptive and wicked than men? By such logic, any alewife, no matter how friendly and open, was suspected of being a secret swindler.”

    The medieval Church was also not a fan of brewsters. They saw these early female entrepreneurs as temptresses who used their wiles to get pious men drunk and spend money. The Church also saw alehouses as playgrounds for the devil, where the cardinal sins of gluttony and lust ruled supreme.

    Furthermore, as Bennet notes, one of the most iconic images of feminine evil in the Middle Ages was that of the alewife in hell: The Church specifically taught that alewives would be the only people left in hell after Christ freed all the damned. “Enacted in plays, drawn on the walls of parish churches, and carved into wood, it was a fate that medieval people imagined with resentful glee,” Bennet details.


    Brewsters’ bad reputation didn’t help their case when wealthier, more socially-connected men started taking up the trade. After the devastation of the Black Plague, people began drinking a lot more ale, doing so in public alehouses instead of at home. This also marked a shift in people’s relationship with beer, which moved from being just a necessity and occasional indulgence to something closer to what we have today. Men suddenly saw they could make a real profit off of what was once seen as a semi-lucrative side gig for women. So they built taverns that were bigger and cleaner than the makeshift ones that alewives provided, and people flocked to them to revel and conduct business alike. Over time, alewives grew to be seen not only as tricky, but also dirty and their beer unsanitary.

    Women continued to make low-alcohol ale for their family’s daily consumption after the Industrial Revolution increased production methods, which made buying beer cheaper and easier than making it at home. But that died in the 1950s and 1960s, when marketing campaigns branded beer as a “manly drink.” Companies such as Schlitz, Heineken, and Budweiser depicted beer as a means of unwinding after a long day of work, often featuring women serving their suited-up husbands cold bottles of brew.

    That’s been a factor in why the contemporary brewing industry is a notorious boy’s club, but the craft beer industry has helped moved the needle a bit: A 2014 Auburn University study found that women represented 29% of all brewery workers. It seems that the brewing industry has taken a circuitous route, moving away from small homebrewing methods to large-scale production, and back again. These days, the sky’s the limit for brewsters. They don’t even have to ride broomsticks to get there.

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    In Middle Age Europe, animals were popular storytellers.

    In the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, amid a vast collection of medieval texts, there is a manuscript known as The Ashmole Bestiary. It’s a particularly lavish example of one of the most popular kinds of texts in the European Middle Ages: a book of beasts, describing animals—real and imagined—and their meanings within the time's Christian belief system.

    In one of the illustrations, a fox pretends to be dead in order to attract birds; once they are close enough, it leaps to life to devour them. In another, a spotted panther attacks its only enemy—the dragon. In yet another, a lion breathes life into its dead, three-day-old cubs. These were more than mere illustrations; they were Christian allegories. According to the new edition of The Grand Medieval Bestiary—a 620-page behemoth by Christian Heck and Rémy Cordonnier, devoted to medieval creatures great and small—the fox was commonly portrayed as untrustworthy, and ensnared birds the way the devil traps sinners. The panther symbolized Christ, with the ultimate serpent—the dragon—as the devil. The life-giving lion was, of course, related to the resurrection.


    The blueprint for medieval bestiaries arose long before the Middle Ages. The Greek text Physiologus, written in Alexandria sometime between the second and fourth centuries, linked particular animals to Christian morals and stories. In the seventh century, Isidore of Seville produced his 20-volume Etymologies, an encyclopedic tome on a range of subjects, from mathematics to agriculture to furnishings. Book 12 related to animals, but without the Christian moralizing. Instead, it focused on how the etymology of animals' names related to their characteristics.

    By the 12th and 13th centuries, when The Ashmole Bestiary is believed to have been written, bestiaries had become particularly popular in England. They also had broad appeal because even the illiterate could understand the stories behind the illustrations.


    Animals appeared in medieval texts beyond bestiaries as well. Marginalia, the doodles and drawings on the edges of manuscripts of all sorts, commonly featured animals. (These drawings are not the only embellishments in medieval manuscripts, either. Some texts contain delicate embroidered patches in the parchment, itself made from animal skin.) Animals also featured in art, tapestries, heraldry, and jewelry, and continued to carry the meaning and symbolism that had long been ascribed to them.

    As The Grand Medieval Bestiary points out, “Whether they are faithful servants and benevolent companions, subjects of a humorous fable or parody, wild animals that represent danger or evil, or strange creatures from afar, real or imaginary, their place on these pages is as important as the place accorded to them in the life and culture of the period.”

    Atlas Obscura has a selection of images of medieval beasties from the compendium.