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Wise Guys

From absorbing shocks to shock absorbers

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To create his striking portraits of animals in a remote rain forest in the West African nation of Gabon (“Portraits in the Wild,”), photographer Carlton Ward Jr. had to handle a lot of slippery frogs, biting insects, poised-for-flight birds, jumping mice, leapin’ lizards, and snakes harmless or otherwise. For the poisonous ones, Ward enlisted the help of the scientists who caught the animals. “Through a team effort,” he says, “we were able to make detailed photographs of even the most dangerous snakes.”

One day as Ward was photographing a small brown snake, it bit him on the finger. “I held up my hand, snake still dangling, to show one of the herpetologists standing nearby,” he says. “He gave me a bewildered look and told me that no one really knew the effects of a bite from that snake—but it was in the same family as the deadly mamba. He asked me if I felt any strange sensations.” Another herpetologist came over, also with a worried look. “There I was in the middle of the Gabonese rain forest with two of the world’s foremost experts on African snakes telling me with straight faces that I should be concerned.” It wasn’t until his heart started pounding like crazy and he began feeling dizzy that the scientists admitted they’d been joking after all—the snake was truly harmless. “Not funny,” Ward deadpans.

One of the many things about Dubai, which is on the Persian Gulf, that captivated veteran sailor Ken Ringle was the daggerlike hull design of the small watercraft he encountered there. They “seem to have translated into fiberglass the piratical panache embodied in the 18th-century xebecs of the Barbary Coast,” says Ringle, who reported and wrote our story on the emirate (“Dazzling Dubai,”).

Speeding out to Dubai’s otherworldly Palm real estate project in an air-conditioned powerboat, Ringle complimented Palm chairman, and the boat’s owner, Sultan Bin Sulayem on the smoothness of the ride. Bin Sulayem leaned forward in his white robe and opened one of the seats to reveal the secret. Beneath it he had discreetly mounted automobile shock absorbers. “Here was a million-dollar idea, simple and obvious, which I had never seen in all my years on the water,” says Ringle. “It was typical of the ingenuity I saw everywhere in Dubai. Their solution to crew motivation in their highly competitive dhow races is even simpler: wealthy Arab boat owners have been known to give each victorious crewman a new Mercedes.”

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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