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Stimulants

Both ginseng and dolphins evoke passionate emotions

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Claudia Glenn Dowling, who wrote our cover story (" Incident at Big Pine Key"), was driving south from Miami toward Key West when a tractor-trailer in the oncoming lane suddenly jackknifed. It just missed her, and in Dowling's rearview mirror she saw the truck flip over in a cloud of dust and crash into several cars. Traffic in and out of the Keys was halted for hours. Journalism, she was reminded, is a craft full of close calls. "I have a friend reporting in Afghanistan and another in Israel right now, and I'm the one who almost gets killed," she says. "I thought I was doing a nice, safe story on dolphins. I guess all living creatures swim in perilous waters."

In 25 years of reporting and writing for Life and People, Dowling, 51, has climbed 21,000 feet up Mount Everest—"the easy part," she says—and canoed the Amazon. She has interviewed Presidents, including Bush père and Bush fils. And she reluctantly admits to being a coauthor of The Bridges of Madison County: The Film, a book, she notes, that "reads better in Japanese."

After interviewing eccentric, impassioned characters vying with one another for the rare privilege of handling wild dolphins in the Florida Keys, she reflected on the kinds of people who seem to gravitate to that funky, sunblasted string of connected islands. "Most of them seem to be fleeing something: the cold, their former lives," she says. "It's as if they ran as far south as they could get in the continental United States before getting stopped by the sea."

To David Taylor, author of this month's " Getting to the Root of Ginseng," one rendezvous with a source felt like something out of a John Grisham novel. David Cooke, a BooneCounty agriculture agent, had asked Taylor to meet him in a nondescript parking lot at a particular exit of Interstate 64 in West Virginia. There Taylor waited in his car for what seemed a long time, until a blue Ford pickup slowly entered the lot and approached Taylor's car. Finally, the driver got out, ambled over and introduced himself as Fred Hays, a ginseng grower. It was only then that Cooke showed up, and the three headed into the forest to find some "sang," as ginseng is known in those parts. Hays later explained the need for all the secrecy. "The way it is, if somebody finds out you got ginseng on your land, it disappears," he said. "It's like having money buried on your property."

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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