surfacing gray whale

Mexico

Surfacing in warm winter waters off the Baja California coast, a gray whale flashes its baleen plates by a boat. The area's lagoons and bays provide breeding and calving grounds for the giants, which migrate from as far north as the Bering Sea.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER SWANN, BIOSPHOTO

Cuba

Enjoying the storm, a boy dances in a downspout's downpour along a narrow street in Old Havana—a centuries-old part of the city that has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Restoration of the area's buildings is proceeding slowly.

PHOTO: DESMOND BOYLAN, REUTERS

United Kingdom

A lone mute swan stretches its wings upon a brook as the mists of dawn filter through London's Richmond Park. By tradition, the British monarch has the right to claim ownership of unmarked birds of this species in open water.

PHOTO: ALEX SABERI

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Jayne Harris-WallerOxford, England

On a spring trip to the seaside, Harris-Waller, 27, saw this couple relaxing outside their Exmouth beach hut—"a fleeting image of archetypal British culture. The blazing blue sky emphasized the intense man-made colors of the huts. It was the moment I felt the long winter was finally over."

       

Kathy ParkerRobe, Australia

"Living on a farm in South Australia," says Parker, 31, "we find a lot of blue-tongue lizards in our yard. This one came to our back door courtesy of Tiger, our son's cat, who bravely brings us all sorts of amazing creatures—alive and unharmed—for inspection and approval."

       

Timothy Archibald

Echolilia  All parents love their children. But what do you do when you can't connect with them? In my case, I started making photographs of, and with, my son Elijah, who has autism spectrum disorder. This series—the title is from "echolalia," a clinical term for the mimicking aspect of his condition—shows the bridges we've built on our shared journey of wonder, discovery, and understanding.

We began this project when Eli was five. He was doing well at school but fixating on odd things, lashing out, speaking repetitively. My wife and I couldn't figure him out. Then I started taking pictures of him around the house. It was an instinctive act for a photographer: Point your camera at something in order to make sense of it. But a curious thing happened. As I documented what Eli was doing and creating, he became interested in the images I was making. I was learning how he thinks; he was learning what I like and value.

We soon had a system. Eli would do something unusual, one of us would notice, and we'd make a photo of it together. The pictures we took over three years were more raw and feral than anything I'd done as an editorial or advertising photographer. And more personal. This is, after all, the story of a father and his son.

Echolilia

For Elijah, our home's vacuum cleaner hose became a system to repeat his favorite public-address announcements.


Timothy Archibald's book, Echolilia: Sometimes I Wonder, was published last year by Echo Press. See more of his work at timothyarchibald.com.

       

Timothy Archibald

One Christmas we collected logs at a park and brought them home to use in our fireplace. Eli became obsessed with the shape of one and asked us not to burn it. I wanted to make some pictures with the log outside, but he took it into his room instead. As a photographer— and as a parent—I often like to let him lead.

       

Timothy Archibald

Why Eli put these needle-nose pliers in his mouth I can't tell you. Maybe they reminded him of a bird's beak. To me, their sharp edges and his bare skin imply danger. Working with him, I find myself questioning boundaries. Am I his parent now or his collaborator? Am I empowering my kid, or am I overpowering him?

       

Timothy Archibald

At a point in this series I started to focus on the settings we were using. Our living room is great because it gets so much light. We cleared the floor and took all the toys out of this plastic bin. Eli was delighted to learn he could get his whole body into it—so he curled up and pretended he was sleeping inside an egg.

       

Timothy Archibald

I sometimes think of Eli as having a huge book of odd knowledge in his head. In real time the contents can be hard for people to understand. But when he sat with a big dictionary in his lap, hands spread as though reading braille, I saw the metaphor come to life. The blur is courtesy of a one-second exposure.

Spider Spigots

Tarantulas are among the largest, most primitive, best known spiders. Yet how these hairy crawlers negotiate steep, slippery surfaces has been a tangled web for arachnologists. Some say climbing tarantulas—too heavy and fragile to rely on sticky foot hairs as other spiders do—release silk from their feet when they lose their grip. Others insist silk comes only from abdominal spinnerets; the feet merely distribute it when a tarantula goes vertical.

Enter Newcastle University biologist Claire Rind. This year she and her colleagues studied several species, including a Chilean rose (pictured at right) that they put in a glass tank lined with microscope slides. When the bin was tilted and jostled, the spider slipped but hung on. A video verified that only its feet had touched the slides, which bore silken footprints. The final test was a hard look at molted exoskeletons, whose feet had silk traces and what looked like nozzles among the setae, or hairs.

Though some experts remain skeptical about silk-shooting foot spigots, Rind says she's pushing on. The next strands she hopes to unstick: whether nozzles exist on smaller or juvenile tarantulas—or even on other spider species. —Jeremy Berlin

Seen through an electron microscope, a tarantula's foot has sticky hairs and what some believe are thin, silk-secreting spigots.

An adult tarantula reaches the top of a glass pane.

photos: david liittschwager; claire rind (inset)

Showing Shuttles

After roughly 30 years of service, the remaining space shuttles are headed for the final frontier: retirement. Museums around the country have been clamoring for a chance to take one home.

When the Apollo program ended, the Smithsonian had right of first refusal for surplus NASA artifacts, from astronaut diapers to lunar landers. But for the shuttles, NASA issued a special proposal. Museums that wanted an orbiter could apply for one, but they had to say how the ship would be displayed, how their exhibit would "inspire the American public," and—most important—how they would raise the $28.8 million needed for cleaning and transport.

As a result, the California Science Center will soon be one of only four museums to house a space shuttle: Endeavour is due to land in Los Angeles in 2012. "We have the honor of being stewards of something that we all hold as part of our national heritage," says the museum's aerospace science curator, Kenneth E. Phillips. "It's an overwhelming feeling." —Victoria Jaggard

Discovery is taken apart for a thorough cleaning at Florida's Kennedy Space Center before its eventual display in Virginia.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Showing Shuttles

Stretching 60 feet long, the shuttle's cargo bay transported payloads into space, including the Hubble telescope, solar arrays, and parts of the International Space Station.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Showing Shuttles

A peek beneath Discovery reveals its nose landing gear, plus dark tiles that protected the craft from temperatures of more than 2000° Fahrenheit during reentry.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Showing Shuttles

Switches like these surrounded the shuttle commander and pilot in the cockpit. Danger labels and switch guards helped prevent accidental activation of the switches.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Showing Shuttles

Multicolored pipes in the aft compartment carried liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen from the external tank to the three main engines that provided power for launch.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Showing Shuttles

Near the shuttle's tail is a compartment for some of its key engines. These have been removed and will be replaced with nonworking reproductions for display.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MORRIS

Whether plopped from a can (at right) or plated as a freshly made compote, cranberries will grace many an American table on November 24. The scarlet fruit wasn't tied to Thanksgiving until the 19th century, says food historian Andrew F. Smith, who cites an 1817 newspaper reference. Yet it's been part of our diet since the 1600s, when Native Americans introduced it to English settlers. Today the tart berries are marketed year-round in both juice and dried form. They're also touted as a health food, because they can keep bacteria from clinging to the urinary tract and may even play a role in cancer prevention.

One of just a smattering of fruits indigenous to the U.S. (blueberries and pawpaws are among the others), cranberries are harvested "dry," by lawn-mower-like machines that comb the vines, or "wet," which involves flooding a bog with water and corralling the floating fruit. Native to the Northeast, cranberries also flourish in developed bogs farther west. In fact, with 18,000 acres, Wisconsin now reaps more of the crimson crop than any other state. —Catherine Zuckerman

Cranberry Nation

Skydivers reach a top speed of more than 100 miles an hour.

photo: cary wolinsky. art: jason lee

Turf Tug-of-War

It's long been a staple of Irish rural life:
the earthy warmth of burning peat. For
centuries families relied on turf bricks
cut from raised bogs (left) and dried for
fuel. Now a move by the European Union
to enforce a 1997 directive to protect
these disappearing ancient habitats—rich
in decomposing plants and rare species—
has turf cutters bristling.

The EU designation of dozens of large
bogs for conservation, part of a push to protect environmental diversity, went largely unenforced due to rural Irish sensitivities. But evidence of extensive cutting led the EU to threaten heavy fines last year. Industrial interests continued to cut, citing jobs. A tentative peace was reached this past summer, with contractors agreeing to halt activity for the rest of the year. But the ground remains unsteady; Irish legislator and turf cutter Luke Flanagan promises a fresh fight next year. —Erin Friar McDermott

Water in a cumulus cloud
of this size weighs about
as much as 400 elephants.

A turf cutter pauses on a raised bog in Achill, in Ireland's County Mayo.

photo: chris hill. NGM Maps. Graphic: NGM Art

Whiskers at Work

Not much gets by a harbor seal. That's because its whiskers, or vibrissae, pick up highly detailed data about the animal's environment. A seal's snout hairs protrude from follicles containing about ten times as many nerve endings as a rat's sensitive whiskers. Sensory biologist Wolf Hanke of the University of Rostock says seal vibrissae have adapted over 25 million-plus years to read minute changes in water movement.

Hanke and colleagues study this phenomenon with Henry, a trained harbor seal (at left). Wearing a blindfold and headphones, Henry has shown that he can detect the traces of an object in calm water even 30 seconds after the object has passed. And the latest trials reveal that he can also distinguish among shapes and sizes—using just his whiskers. Other species likely share this ability, which, Hanke posits, helps seals nab darting fish. It even lets them "see" the meatiest prey in the murkiest waters, for a more fruitful chase. —Jennifer S. Holland


KOI STORY Legend has it that a fish named Hanako was the world's longest lived. After swimming for 226 years in Japan, the story goes, the scarlet koi died in 1977. Her scales were said to determine her elderly age—a notion that holds water with science today. Much as trees have rings, fish have microscopic "zones" within their scales that reflect seasonal growth patterns. In summer, when food is abundant, fish grow quickly and produce wide zones. Winter lines are narrow. A pair of zones represents one year. In Hanako's case, adding them up must have taken an eternity. —Catherine Zuckerman

PHOTO: WOLF HANKE, MARINE SCIENCE CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF ROSTOCK. ART: MARC JOHNS

A harbor seal named Henry is outfitted for sensory studies at a lab in Rostock, Germany.