Finding pharmaceuticals in the sea, unsettling images and nuggets of Americana

Tide pools with sea stars and sea anemone
Tide pools with sea stars and sea anemone Wikimedia Commons

Out in the Gulf of Mexico, photographer Jeff Rotman accompanied divers collecting marine organisms from the artificial reefs created by offshore oil rigs ("Medicine From the Sea"), part of a major effort to discover new pharmaceuticals. Nearly every time Rotman returned to the boat, he would gush about all the curious creatures he'd spied beneath the sea. Finally, writer Kevin Krajick could stand it no more. He borrowed flippers, a mask and a snorkel and jumped over the side. Mistake. "Great big swells kept washing saltwater into my snorkel, and I started spluttering," Krajick recalls. "Not drowning, but definitely not having fun." Never mind. Krajick has other skills. In fact, he's the only person to win a second Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. He most recently won the prestigious award, sponsored by the American Geophysical Union, for an article in our September 2003 issue, "Defusing Africa's Killer Lakes," about efforts by scientists to prevent a recurrence of the massive eruption of carbon dioxide that killed some 1,800 villagers near a lake in Cameroon in 1986. Judges called the article a "superb and engaging piece of scientific writing" that "reads like a great mystery." Hear, hear.

Tessa DeCarlo first saw the photographs of Diane Arbus in 1967, when, as a college freshman, she visited the "New Documents" show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Her reaction was fairly typical. "I thought her pictures of odd and unfortunate-looking people revealed a vision that was dark and even cruel," she recalls. Years later, though, after months of immersing herself in Arbus' work to write "A Fresh Look at Diane Arbus," she modified her view—somewhat. "I still see an element of cruelty in her photographs," says DeCarlo, "but also a deep tenderness, a melancholy joy." Visiting a new Arbus show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art last year, DeCarlo recalled Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Jeff Roseheim telling her that Arbus had moved him as no other artist had done. "Once I saw the San Francisco show, I understood what he meant," she says.

You, dear readers, were the inspiration for our Destination America special section. We think of you as thoughtful, witty, engaged people, deeply interested in history, nature, science, art and culture. So we set out to create a special collection of places to visit across this great land of ours that the Smithsonian reader would particularly enjoy. Senior Editor Kathleen Burke and Associate Editor Beth Py-Lieberman ushered the section into print.

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