December 11, 2012
As polar bears watch their winter ice recede farther and farther from boggy Arctic shores each year, skiers may notice a similar trend occurring in the high mountain ranges that have long been their wintertime playgrounds. Here, in areas historically buried in many feet of snow each winter, climate change is beginning to unfurl visibly, and for those who dream of moguls and fresh powder, the predictions of climatologists are grim: By 2050, Sierra Nevada winter snowpack may have decreased by as much as 70 percent from average levels of today; in the Rockies, the elevation of full winter snow cover may increase from 7,300 feet today to 10,300 feet by the year 2100; in Aspen, the ski season could retreat at both ends by a total of almost two months; and throughout the Western United States, average snow depths could decline by anywhere between 25 and—yep—100 percent.
These, of course, are just visions of wintertime future produced by climatologists and their computers—an easy venue for climate change naysayers to assault. In fact, a recent report commissioned by Protect Our Winters, an environmental organization, and the Natural Resources Defense Council on declining snow levels also noted that annual snowpack depth has remained stable or even increased in parts of California’s Sierra Nevada. Another study, published in January in Environmental Research Letters, foresaw similar outcomes, predicting that global warming could trigger counterintuitive winter cooling in certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere. But those findings seem tantamount to just the tip of the iceberg—which is undeniably melting. Because the thing is, global warming has already delivered serious wounds to the world’s ski industry. Europe, especially, has been hurting for years. Back in 2003, the United Nations Environmental Program reported that 15 percent of Swiss ski areas were losing business due to a lack of snow. A few years later, in 2007, one ski resort in the French Alps—Abondance—closed down entirely after a 40-year run. The closure came following a meeting of local officials, who reluctantly agreed that there simply wasn’t enough snow anymore to maintain the Abondance lodge as a ski operation. For several years, low snowfall had been attracting fewer and fewer tourists, and Abondance—once the recipient of millions of tourist Euros each year—began stagnating. The Abondance lodge and the nearby town of the same name lie at a little over 3,000 feet above sea level—low for a ski resort and, so it happens, right in the hot zone of 900 to 1,500 meters that climatologists warn is going to see the most dramatic changes in annual snowfall.
But more alarming than the Abondance shutdown is that which took place at almost six times the elevation, at Bolivia’s Chacaltaya Lodge, once famed as the highest ski resort in the world. Here, outdoorsmen came for decades to ski the Chacaltaya Glacier, which historically flowed out of a mountain valley at more than 17,000 feet. But that wasn’t high enough to escape rising temperatures. The glacier began retreating markedly several decades ago, and over a course of 20 years 80 percent of the icy river vanished. The lodge, which first opened in 1939 and was a training ground for Bolivia’s first Olympic ski team, closed in 2009.
Similar results of global warming can be expected in the American ski and snow sports industries. Already, as many as 27,000 people have lost their seasonal jobs in poor snow years in the past decade, with revenue losses as much as $1 billion, according to the recent study conducted for Protect Our Winters and NRDC. The study cites reduced snowfall and shorter winters as the culprits. In total, 212,000 people are employed in the American ski industry.
The irony of the ski industry’s impending troubles is the fact that ski resorts, equipment manufacturers and skiers themselves have played a role in fueling the fire that is melting the snows. The carbon footprint of the ski industry is a heavy one. Seventy million people visit the Alps alone each year to ski or otherwise play in the snow—and travel to and from the mountains is recognized as perhaps the most carbon-costly component of the industry. But excluding tourist travel, lodges and ski resorts are major users of energy and producers of trash. A 2003 book by Hal Clifford, Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry Is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment, details the many ecological and cultural problems associated with the skiing industry. Among these is clear-cutting to produce those dreamy treeless mountainsides that millions of downhillers long for on many a summer day. The ski resort Arizona Snowbowl, for one, was lambasted last year for plans to cut down 30,000 trees—a 74-acre grove of pines considered holy by indigenous nations. And just prior to the kickoff of the 2006 Turin Winter Games, in Italy, The Independent ran a story under the headline “Is it possible to ski without ruining the environment?” The article named “ski tourism-induced traffic pollution and increasing urban sprawl of hotels and holiday homes in former Alpine villages to the visually intrusive and habitat-wrecking ski lifts” as faults of the industry. The article continued, noting that with the “spectre of global warming … now stalking the Alps,” the ski industry of Europe “is waking up to its environmental responsibilities—just in the nick of time.”
Right: “Just in the nick of time.” That article came out almost seven years ago, and look where we are now. The earth, by most measures, is warmer than ever, and snow is declining. A study just published in Geophysical Research Letters reported that locations in Eurasia have set new records for lowest-ever spring snow cover each year since 2008. In North America, according to the same report, three of the last five years have seen record low snow cover in the spring. It shouldn’t be any surprise, then, that commercial use of snow machines is on the rise. These draw up liquid water and blast out 5,000 to 10,000 gallons per minute as frosty white snow. It may take 75,000 gallons of water to lightly coat a 200- by 200-foot ski slope, and the energy-intensive machines have been blamed for their role in pollution and excessive water use. And while snow machines can serve as a crutch for limping ski resorts, the snow they produce is reportedly quite crummy in quality—and they’re anything but a cure for the greater problem.
Where do you like to ski? Have you seen more exposed rocks and muddy December slopes and snow machines at work? This article offers a summary of how several major ski regions in the world will feel the heat of global warming. Every mountain range around the world will feel the heat.
Will warmer winters mean richer skiers? In 2007, the mayor of the French Alps town of Abondance, Serge Cettour-Meunier, was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “Skiing is again becoming a sport for the rich,” explaining that soon only more expensive, high-elevation ski resorts would have enough snow for skiing.
November 5, 2012
The presidential candidates look as suave and dapper as ever each time they step to a new podium on the long and winding campaign trail—but each man’s well-groomed countenance belies the rigors of the arduous road each has traveled during the 2012 presidential race. Following is a discussion, with some facts and figures from behind the scenes, about the two men fighting to have America’s most demanding job and each candidate’s long, long journey that ends tomorrow at the polls.
Where the candidates have been:
Between June 1 and November 2, the Obama camp—including the president, the vice president and each man’s spouse—made 483 campaign-related appearances. Barack Obama was present for 214 of them. The same four-tiered Romney party, meanwhile, made 439 appearances, with 277 by Romney. In late September, the Obama campaign’s efforts seemed to max out: on September 22, the Obamas and the Bidens made 11 appearances, and 10 the day prior. The Romney camp has more recently made its most active efforts, with 10 appearances on October 31, and 11 the next day. Barack Obama has not visited Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming, among other states, and neither candidate has bothered appearing in Maine, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma.
On October 24, Obama had what may have been the busiest day of his campaign. He flew 5,300 miles and made appearances in Iowa, Colorado, California (to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) and Nevada, before, at last, catching some sleep on an overnight trip to the major swing state of Florida (which has seen 112 campaign visits by both presidential husband-wife quartets since June), where the campaigning commenced the following morning. Later that day, the president continued to Virginia, Ohio and Illinois, where he cast an early vote. A week later, Obama made another campaign sprint beginning on October 31; forty-eight hours later he had bounded 6,500 miles around the country. November 1 was a particularly exhausting day. After leaving the White House at 9:20 a.m., he hit Green Bay, Las Vegas, Denver and, finally, Columbus, Ohio. And on November 4, he left the White House at 8 a.m. and made visits to New Hampshire, Florida, Ohio, Colorado and Illinois.
How they get there:
The president gets around in his own private jet, called Air Force One. While “Air Force One” is, in fact, the call sign of any Air Force plane on which a U.S. president is traveling, the term more commonly refers to a particular pair of customized Boeing 747s used exclusively by the White House. Operating the planes is not cheap. ABC News has reported that an hour of flight on Air Force One costs about $180,000–usually of taxpayers’ money, unless a flight is considered strictly part of the campaign. But Obama does occasionally journey overland by bus—specifically in a black, slick and shiny armored coach that, just like its duplicate vehicle, cost $1.1 million when the Secret Service purchased the pair last year. By some guesses, Ground Force One, as it’s been dubbed and which has been active during this campaign, travels just six to nine miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Mitt Romney has also covered some impressive distance during his campaign. According to the Huffington Post, Romney will make a last-minute, four-day, 15,000-mile dash that ends tonight after visits to seven states, and he has traveled tens of thousands of miles throughout the campaign. As of late August, he has been traveling mostly on a private jet—a McDonnell-Douglas 83. Running mate Paul Ryan has his own plane—a similar model called the DC-90.
Where they sleep:
Luxury travel goes hand in hand with luxury lodging, and the president has stayed at the Beverly Hills Beverly Hilton Hotel in a room that costs $4,000 per night, the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte, North Caroline, the Hotel Bellevue in Washington, and many other fine establishments. And Romney has stayed at the Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, the New York Palace Hotel, which can cost $9,000 per night, and the Millennium Bostonian Hotel.
How they stay fit:
In spite of their busy schedules, Obama and Romney both take the time to care for themselves and maintain physical fitness. Romney, it’s been reported, jogs three miles daily, whether on treadmills, around the hotel premises or on trails. Obama, too, keeps an exercise routine and aims for 45 minutes of boosted heart rate per day, achieved through running, basketball and even boxing. Although one of the Air Force One jets contains a treadmill, as Obama recently told Jay Leno, the stationary running machine was installed during a previous presidency and Obama does not jog on it during flights.
In the end, for all the sleepless nights and airport marathons and shaking of hands, we wonder: Did their campaign efforts steer the election? Whether Romney wins or Obama, America will know soon which man will get to spend the next four years flying in Air Force One.
October 30, 2012
Who can resist the thrill of fear? We imagine that hotels and churches are haunted, and we love to believe it when locals tell us that witches, werewolves and the undead lurk in the nearby woods. And though these legends and rumors often terrify us, and though our instincts tell us to run, curiosity kills the cat—and we often go tiptoeing into the tombs, graveyards and forests of our nightmares. This Halloween, indulge in the nerve-zapping thrill of being afraid, and consider visiting these real-life destinations of ghostly legends and dark history:
The Blair Witch Forest. The Blair Witch Project, that terrifying low-budget cult film of 1999, reminded millions that we may have nothing to fear in a dark and gloomy forest but our own imaginations. The movie never showed a single image of ghouls or supernatural forces, yet it scared some of us almost to death and ruined camping for the rest of the summer. The story follows three film students into the rural backwoods of Maryland to interview locals on-camera and explore the dark forests as they documented a local legend about the so-called Blair Witch. They never caught the mean old lady on film, but she began visiting them each evening after they retired to their tent, and, night by night, turned the expedition into a nightmare. The film was partially shot in the real-life town of Burkittsville. If you go, you won’t be the first, as countless film buffs and Blair Witch believers have already swarmed this little hamlet of 200. Instead of bugging the locals, who have had to replace their town sign several times in the wake of film-fan thievery, take a walk in the nearby woods after dark—and try not to panic. No—that’s not a witch in the woods behind you; worse, it’s your own imagination. Perhaps camp out in order to get the full Burkittsville experience, and before you go be sure and watch the movie.
The mummies of Guanajuato. Around 1865, the local government in the town of Guanajuato, in the mountains of central Mexico, decided to begin collecting a cemetery tax from relatives of the deceased. Bodies of families unable to pay were exhumed—and some, it turned out, had been naturally preserved in the awkward poses of death. These were placed in storage—and they became, gradually, a draw for curious visitors. So was born Guanajuato’s famed mummy museum. The assembly of the dried-out dead features more than 100 bodies displayed behind glass, where they grimace unhappily at about a million tourists per year—people with that familiar urge to see up close the feared but fascinating face of death. Visitors to Guanajuato should be warned that the mummy museum is not an attraction for the timid—or one to treat irreverently. The bodies are of real people who died only several generations ago and, in some cases, may even have been buried alive. Scientists have speculated how the bodies became mummified. Some have suggested that high mineral content in the soil preserved them, while others believe the mummies are simply the result of a warm and dry climate.
The Capuchin Catacombs of Sicily. On one wall of the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Italy, are deceased men, on another women, and another children. Still other chambers feature virgins, priests, monks and professionals, many preserved in varying states of life-like quality. This resting place of some 8,000 people was born in the 1500s when the cemetery serving the local Capuchin monastery ran out of bunk space, requiring the monks to dig out a new tomb to lay their dead. The chambers were originally meant to serve only friars, but the Palermo catacombs eventually expanded operations to include members of the public, whose families paid fees for the housing of their dead loved ones. Like many catacombs around the world, this communal tomb is not just a burial site but a place intended for preservation and display. The monks dried the bodies on racks, applied vinegar, glycerine and other chemical preservatives, and dressed the corpses in various styles of clothing. Fees from living families helped maintain the collection. Today, tourists may—if they wish—descend from the idyllic, sunny streets of Sicily’s chief city and go underground to meet the dead. Other catacombs of the world include those of Vienna, Granada, Melbourne, Lima and Paris. In the latter, sub-city tunnels have been filled with bones, and urban legends tell of tourists who have become lost in the maze-like corridors, which go on for hundreds of miles. The moral: Don’t ditch your tour guide.
The Hotel of The Shining. It was during Stephen King’s 1974 visit to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, that the story of The Shining was born. The author, who stayed in Room 217 with his wife, reportedly saw fleeting images of children in the hallways of the mountain lodge, and these flights of imagination eventually unraveled into the story, and psychological turmoil, of his most famous book and the 1980 movie that followed. The film, however, was shot at other locations—including the Timberline Lodge near Mount Hood, Oregon, where the fictional Overlook Hotel’s exterior shots were taken. The Timberline’s hotel managers, who granted director Stanley Kubrick permission to film onsite, worried that tourists might be scared away from staying the night, so they asked that the director edit his script to make the haunted Room 217 into the nonexistent Room 237.
Alcatraz Island. It was once a nest of thieves, but today, according to the legends and local lore that shroud “The Rock,” America’s most infamous historic prison is a den of ghouls. Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was first documented by Europeans in 1775 when Spaniard Juan Manuel de Ayala named the 22-acre, guano-frosted outcropping “Island of the Pelicans.” In 1845 the American government bought the island, which would serve as a cannon-studded fort and a military prison. Then, in 1934, the convicts came to stay, and for the next three decades the worst of America’s murderers and gangsters paid their dues and, sometimes, died here. One prisoner was supposedly found strangled to death in isolation cell 14D, and it is said that moans and cries still echo from the chamber. And though Al Capone died at his Florida mansion, his ghost is said to haunt the prison where he spent four and a half years. Capone reportedly took up the banjo at Alcatraz, and off-key twangs are sometimes heard today, according to employees and park rangers at what has become a national historic monument. Tourists may visit the island for self-guided daytime tours, while evening walks through the jail require a guide, who is sure to be well-versed in ghost stories of Alcatraz Island.
The Abandoned Villages of Chios. Guided ghost walks show visitors through the haunted districts of many cities, including New Orleans, Philadelphia and London, but for a ghost experience completely off the charted tourist path, go straight to the Greek island of Chios. Here, blue waters and tavernas on the beach draw crowds of sun-seeking Germans and Britons—but a darker history seems to lurk in Chios’ remote mountains. For as the island develops into a summer and fall tourist hotspot, it has left behind numerous villages, where abandoned homes stare from the dry slopes like so many skulls half buried in the earth. Anavatos is the most famous vacant village—and now a national historic site. And a number of empty villages seem to have no names at all—and good luck finding them. But Potamia in the island’s northeast is among the few abandoned towns that remain on the maps. A cluster of decaying old homes with broken out windows, like eye sockets, and crumbling doorways, Potamia is accessible by goat trails and can be reached by hikers and bikers with a hankering for the rare and stomach-fluttering feeling of exploring a whole town with not a soul—or at least not a person—in it. Walking through the slumping dirt streets, one may wonder where once was the bakery, the butcher, the school, and the chapel. You don’t believe it’s haunted? Neither did I when I visited several years ago—but try camping alone here on a full moon, and see if you don’t leave in the morning howling a different tune.
For further reading, check out Smithsonian‘s list of “Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories.” Of note are the castles that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Sleepy Hollow cemetery and the steep, low-lit stairway featured in The Exorcist.
August 31, 2012
Now, after more than 50 years of absence, the animals are staging a comeback. They have established themselves in the eastern quarters of the state and are subsisting on local elk and deer herds–and, as might be expected, the occasional cow and sheep. Also quite predictably, the return to Oregon of one of the world’s most maligned and persecuted predators has Oregonians passionately polarized on the matter, with many people fully in support and others adamantly opposed to the animals’ reappearance. Livestock ranchers have led the campaign to stop the return, which is occurring naturally–although only as a result of the 1995 reintroduction of Canadian gray wolves to the Yellowstone National Park region, in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Those animals have thrived and flourished, and experts expect that the same could happen in Oregon.
The first wolf to return to Oregon in modern times entered the state from Idaho in 1999. The animal, known as B-45F to researchers, was trapped and sent home to Idaho by wildlife officials, however. Subsequently, two other wolves were hit and killed by cars in Oregon, and one was shot by a poacher, according to Sean Stevens, executive director of the wildlife and natural space advocacy group Oregon Wild, who recently spoke with me by telephone. But in 2007, an animal wearing a remote tracking collar and named B-300 by researchers, who had tranquilized and handled it in Idaho, entered Oregon. Here, it put down roots, and in the summer of 2009, officials with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed the presence of three adult wolves and three pups in Wallowa County–the first wolf pack in Oregon in about six decades.
Now, at least 30 wolves in five packs live in Oregon, according to Michelle Dennehy, communications officer with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“We want confirmation of two pups for an adult pair before we consider it a
pack breeding pair,” she said. “By now, all five packs have produced multiple pups.”
Dennehy says that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has confirmed 54 head of Oregon livestock killed by wolves as of July, with most kills being cattle, a few sheep and one a goat. Several wolves have been legally killed, she said, as a result of habitual depredations on livestock, and Dennehy says that the state of Oregon, along with Defenders of Wildlife, have joined resources to reimburse farmers who have suffered losses. The state’s Department of Agriculture has allocated a reimbursement fund, too.
Even before the first modern-times wolf moved permanently into Oregon, officials foresaw the potential for the species’ return and the problems the wolves might cause. And so the Oregon Wolf Conservation and Management Plan [PDF] was enacted in 2005 by the state of Oregon with the intention of readying the state and its people for the presence once again of the gray wolf. The wolf plan outlines just how to respond to wolves that prey upon livestock and at what point Oregon wolves might be removed from the state’s endangered species list as their numbers grow, among other issues of question. Ranchers, hunters, hikers, conservationists, government land managers and other stakeholders took part in developing the wolf plan, Dennehy said.
According to Stevens at Oregon Wild, roughly 1,000 wolves could probably live in Oregon’s vast wild spaces, mostly in the arid eastern half of the state. Ranchers of cows and sheep are hardly thrilled at the idea, however. They have already helped write and introduce multiple legislative efforts to block the wolves’ return–one a proposal that, had it become law, would have allowed a person to shoot a wolf onsite if he or she deemed the animal to be a threat.
It would have also done something else controversial. “It would have taken the management of an endangered species out of the hands of government and given it to private citizens,” Stevens said.
It was the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association that introduced that proposed law. This year, the same group introduced another effort to rid the state of wolves–a piece of legislation calling for a state of emergency in eastern Oregon because of the wolves’ presence. Both proposals were rejected by lawmakers.
More than 1 million cows live in the state, according to Stevens. In 2010, he says, 55,000 of those cows died prior to entering the slaughterhouse of disease, nasty weather and other non-wolf causes.
But Rod Childers, the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s Wolf Committee Chairman, says that ranchers are suffering far greater financial losses because of wolves than have been conveyed to most media. Childers, who raises cattle in Wallowa County, says that for every dead cow or sheep confirmed as a victim of wolves, several more wolf kills go unconfirmed, due either to inconclusive evidence or the entire lack of a carcass. That is, some animals simply go missing–and they’re doing so at about double the rate that they once did. Childers says he is certain that the wolves are involved.
“Because nothing’s changed but the wolves,” he explained. “We’ve always had cougars, bears, coyotes. But now wolves are here, and our losses are up.”
Childers says that in Wallowa County, 26 head of cattle have been confirmed as killed by wolves. But 86 other animals have disappeared–almost certainly, he says, killed by wolves.
And the reimbursement plan is not a fair deal, Childers says, because it only provides payment for confirmed wolf depredations. Childers also points out a more subtle loss that he and other ranchers are enduring: Their animals have been returning from their high country summer pastures thinner than they once did–a result, he explains, of being continually harassed and attacked by wolves. Such underweight animals bring ranchers less profits than properly fattened cows might.
“But that’s not accounted for in the wolf plan,” he says.
While tempers flare and the occasional bullet flies at a wolf, the biggest wild canine is still expanding its range. Now, as officials and others expect continued growth in the wolf population, another question arises: How far will the wolf go? In fact, one wolf, a collared animal named OR-7, became the first wolf to go west of the Cascades since the bounty days—and eventually entered California. The animal has been nicknamed “Journey,” and the California Department of Fish and Game is tracking and publicizing the animal’s approximate whereabouts via the Internet.
The wolf situation in Oregon is extraordinary because the animals are coming back on their own–a rare example of a large predator actually expanding its range instead of, as is the more common pattern, diminishing ever closer to extinction. Moreover, the fact that their swelling population has spilled into Oregon’s more vacant regions indicates that, aside from a few conflicts with livestock, there may be room for the animals.
Today, wolf tourism could be a new draw for visitors to wolf country. Oregon Wild has led tours to eastern Oregon each of the past three years to show groups of about 10 people the state’s wolf habitat—and to meet the ranchers who believe their livelihoods may be imperiled by the animals. Check the organization’s website to learn more.
Size matters. Some wolf opponents are arguing that the wolves now recolonizing Oregon are larger than those wiped out last century. If true, this would be more than just interesting. It would also mean that the animals need more food and are more capable of taking down large head of livestock. While it may be true that the wolves of Oregon today are of different genetic roots than those that inhabited the state in the past, scientists and experts have denied that they are substantially larger.
What do you think? If wolves want back in to Oregon and California, should we welcome them?
August 10, 2012
Where does a traveler go to best taste the foods and flavors of a region? Local restaurants? Not me. Because when a dish arrives at the table in a fine restaurant, it is more often the artful work of a chef, not the pure product of the land, and I don’t know about you, but I travel to experience a place, not its chefs. When I visit the East Coast of America, I want a steamed lobster, plain and simple—not shredded and rendered into a bisque, or folded into a delicate soufflé. And when I visit Southern California, I want to see the avocados, whole and complete, one variety beside the next, not whipped into some unidentifiable frothy salad dressing or blended into ice cream. And when I travel to Turkey, I want to eat Turkish figs, fresh off the branch as the tree offered them—not wrapped in bacon, doused with oil, stuffed with cheese and grilled. And in Alaska, there may be no better summertime dinner than a steak of salmon, grilled over open flames and drizzled with lemon—no fancy kitchen tricks required.
No, it doesn’t take a culinary college graduate to make good food. The land does it for us—and here are a few walk-around festivals this summer and fall, each starring some of the world’s greatest ingredients.
Tomatoes. The 16th Annual Sonoma County Heirloom Tomato Festival arrives on September 14 for a two-day gala at Kendall-Jackson Winery in Fulton, California, where visitors will meet 175 varieties of tomatoes that have almost slipped to the wayside in the shadow of Romas and other dominating commercial varieties. Tasting opportunities will abound for those interested in discerning the subtle and dramatic differences between varieties, while local star chefs will also get their hands on a few tomatoes for a competitive cook-off. In Valencia, Spain, meanwhile, the annual giant tomato fight arrives again on August 29 as thousands of revelers engage in La Tomatina. There is less food at this event than there is tomato smashing, stomping and squashing, plus half-naked wrestling in freshly pulped tomato sauce.
Figs. In Fresno, California, heart of America’s fig-growing industry, the 11th Annual Fig Fest comes this Saturday, August 11, on the front lawn of Fresno State University. The gathering will feature farmers, each at their own stalls and each showcasing the fruits of their mid-summer labors for guests to see and taste—like the Calimyrna, black mission, Kadota, brown Turkey, panache and other varieties of fig grown in local orchards. Wine and fig-based hors d’oeuvres can also be sampled, while a “Fig Feast” later in the evening at the Vineyard Restaurant will present the sweet and squishy fig in a fine-dining context. I’ll sate myself with unadulterated figs on the university lawn, thank you—though I’ll venture to guess (and correct me if I’m wrong) that those who buy the $75 meal ticket will find figs wrapped in salted swine and grilled.
Oysters. Any seafood fan knows that the best oyster is a raw one, slurped down minutes after being shucked from its shell—and oyster lovers at the annual International Oyster & Seafood Festival in Galway, Ireland, held the last three days of September, will find no short supply of their favorite cold and clammy mollusk. Events at the the festival include an oyster- shucking contest (watch that knife!) and Irish dancing. And don’t mark my words, but I would bet that somewhere in that three-day spell you could find yourself a pint of oyster stout. We just missed another oyster fest in June in New Orleans, as well as in Arcata, on the wild, black bear-trodden North Coast of California. Pencil them in for next year.
Wild Salmon. In British Columbia more than anywhere else, perhaps, a sharp line separates farmed salmon from wild. The former is abundant, cheap and likely a direct cause of the decline of some wild salmon populations—and proceeds from the annual Wild Salmon Festival of Lumby, British Columbia, held each July, go toward restoring local salmon-spawning habitat. As the event’s website poignantly states, “This festival honors the Wild Salmon who still come here to spawn and die.”
Mangoes. A festival each July in Coral Gables, Florida, features all things mango in one of the only American states where this tropical rock star of fruits can thrive. Florida farmers grow unique local varieties that festival visitors may taste nowhere else. In Guam, a celebration each June in the village of Agat showcases the island’s summer mango harvest with tastings, music, two- and five-kilometer runs and plant sales.
Watermelons. Festivals for America’s favorite and clumsiest fruit abound each summer. In Hope, Arkansas, watermelons take the stage this weekend at the 36th annual Watermelon Festival. Other similar festivals occur in Fair Bluff, North Carolina, in Carytown, Virginia, and in Mize, Mississippi. Throughout the Old World, too, summertime festivities honor the big juicy fruit, native to Eurasia. Upcoming is the annual watermelon festival in Salamanovo, Bulgaria, while the one in Beijing, China, came and went in late May.
Avocados. The Hass is the king of commercial avocado varieties, but hundreds of others can be found in Central American forests, in smaller orchards in California and Florida, and in government tree collections—like the experimental orchard at U.C. Irvine, where we just missed the annual walk-around-and-taste tour of the 80-variety avocado grove. But yet to come this year and early in 2013 are the avocado festival in Carpinteria, California, from October 5 to 7, next February’s avocado festival on the Big Island of Hawaii, where 200 varieties of avocados grow on local farms, and still another festival next April in Fallbrook, California. At each event there is sure to be mountains of guacamole—and even avocado ice cream.
Maine Lobster. We missed this one by a week—but pencil the Maine Lobster Festival into your 2013 calendar. Here, at Harbor Park in Rockland, the East Coast’s favorite crustacean will be served up in almost every manner. Consider getting to know the lobster first with a whole steamed two-pounder before moving on to more complicated dishes, which will be served by competing chefs in the lobster cook-off.
Mushrooms. They rise unpredictably from the mossy forest floor, in dark, damp places, and in a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes—and the fact that some wild mushrooms are gourmet-grade edibles stirs fascination in millions of human admirers, who wait for them aboveground, frying pans greased to go. And so it’s hardly a surprise that countless fungus festivals celebrate wild mushrooms. In California’s Mendocino County in November, the annual Wine and Mushroom Festival spotlights one of the world’s most productive mushroom hotspots. Visitors will see and taste such culinary stars as the porcini, chanterelle, morel, lobster and black trumpet. Other annual mushroom festivals occur in Madisonville, Texas, Boyne City, Michigan, and Telluride, Colorado. And the world’s favorite underground mushroom, the white truffle, stars at the 82nd Annual International White Truffle Fair, which runs October 6 through November 18 in Alba, Italy.
Zinfandel. The largest single-variety wine tasting in the world, held each January in San Francisco, is a celebration of the Zinfandel grape, but just as much, it is a celebration of California itself, producer of virtually all the Zinfandel wine in the world. This Croatian-native grape variety makes a distinctively sharp and peppery red wine, which may owe its unique qualities in part to the chemistry of California soil. Scientists have found compounds of marine origin in the skins and juice of Zinfandel grapes—delivered, so the theory goes, from ocean to inland valley via migrating Chinook salmon, which die after spawning and whose carcasses were historically hauled from the rivers by bears and eaten in the state’s future vineyards. Taste a Zinfandel today, and you’re tasting California of yesteryear.
Yogurt, garlic, apples, wild game, olives, durians, cheese, jackfruit—foods of almost every sort are celebrated by the people who love them in the lands that produce them. So tell us: Which great or off-the-beaten-path food festivals did we leave out?