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Life Is Short

Had a strange and discomfiting experience the other day.

 

I had to take a last-minute day trip to Boston, to attend an event downtown. Hotels were extremely expensive for some reason, so I found an AirBnB: a room in an apartment in a very nice building near the event. The day before I left, I messaged the host, asking for info on how to get keys. No response. On the morning of departure, I texted him. No response. Landed in Boston, called him. Straight to voice mail.

 

Concerned that something was afoot, even though the host was AirBnB verified, I nonetheless made my way to location, feeling like I had little alternative. I walked in the front door and told the concierge I was supposed to be staying at the host's apartment, but that I hadn't  been able to reach him.

 

The concierge 's brow furrowed, as he informed me I was not on a visitor list. He called the host's number - and, like me, found his call going straight to voice mail.I mentioned that I had had confirmation through AirBnB, which he did not seem to find reassuring. He asked me if I could take a seat and he would see what he could find out.

 

A few minutes later, the concierge came over to where I was sitting. He looked quite serious, even mildly distraught.

 

"I just spoke to the leasing office," he began. "I called them because you mentioned Air BnB, and residents aren't supposed to do that."

 

For a moment, I was worried I had somehow gotten the host in trouble, then wondered if this had something to do with his being uncommunicative, but it was rapidly evident that something else was afoot.

 

"I also found out why his phone is going to voice mail," the concierge continued. "I'm not supposed to tell you this, but given the circumstances ... Well, I just found out he's dead. He died this weekend, in a skiing accident."

 

I gasped involunarily. I had sensed from the beginning that something was up, but had never imagined this. The next several minutes were something of a whirl: I apologized to the concierge for the fact that he had found out in this way, but I still needed a place to stay, and he was incredibly gracious in giving me advice on location as I searched for, and ultimately found, a new AirBnb.

 

The next day, I entered the host's name in a search engine, and there was the story: he had been skiing on Mammoth Mountain when he had been spotted wiping out at the top of a slope. Ski Patrol got to him after he reached the bottom, and found him in full cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at hospital.

 

He was just 25. 25!

 

It took me several days to shake the strange feelings it all instilled in me. (Feelings that were, of course, as nothing compared to those who knew and loved him.) I had never met the man, didn't know him at all, and he was presumably entirely unaware of my existence. (He was dead by the time I booked his apartment.) Yet we had come so close to crossing paths, however briefly, only for his life to be cruelly and prematurely ended. For a brief period, I found myself wanting to reach out to his friends and family, to ask about this man, even to attend his funeral.

 

It was all very strange. And I feel so terribly sorry for this man I came so close to knowing, and his family and friends.

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Modern Huntsman

Earlier this year, news reports worldwide related the tale of a town in the Russian Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya being essentially "invaded" by polar bears. At least outside of Canada, there was no such coverage the previous summer, when polar bears took the lives of Inuit villagers in two separate attacks in the Canadian province of Nunavut. But the incidents have their roots in the same problem: climate change is reducing the availability of sea ice, forcing polar bears to spend more time ashore where, relatively hungry, they are drawn toward attractants such as hunting camps and food dumps. That inevitably increases the possibility of interactions between bears and humans - interactions in which neither is likely to come off well. The controversies that arise as a result are the subject of an article I've just had published in Volume 3 of the beautiful publication Modern Huntsman, which is available for purchase and subscription here.

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I wrote a piece ...

... about a curve. A very important curve.

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Living with Polar Bears

Back in my early days of planet-saving and freelance writing, I wrote an opinion piece on "scentific" whaling for The Guardian. It coincided with the launch of an organization, then called the Whale Conservation Society, later dubbed the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and now trading as Whale and Dolphin Conservation, that I founded with my friends Sean and Margaret Whyte. I've written hundreds of articles and blog posts in the 30+ years since, but never again for The Guardian.

 

Until now.

 

When the writing was on the wall for me at HBO, and I had no idea what the future held, I reached out to my friend and fellow Liverpool FC supporter Bryan Armen Graham, who is deputy US sports editor at the Guardian, for advice on how to pitch boxing and other sports pieces there. He gave me the scoop but also suggested that I look to place my non-sports work there, and recommended I reach out to Jessica Reed, the US features editor. I did, with a pitch that I write something about Churchill, the polar bear capital of the world; she loved the idea and the finished article posted today. Jessica and her team did a wonderful job with it, and I'm thrilled to be in such a prestigious publication. I'm also particularly happy that my first piece for them in over three decades is about a town that I, and indeed most flks who spend time there, love. I hope to write more pieces for them in the future - and certainly don't plan on waiting 32 years for the next one.

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It's Showtime, Folks

Last year was a struggle in many ways, as HBO's commitment to boxing waned, and then officially became a thing of the past. The final HBO fight night was a desperately difficult and emotional affair - gutturally so because it meant the breaking up of a road family, and also, on a more base level, because of concerns over what it meant for my future, professionally and, specifically, financially.

 

I really did contemplate the possibility that I had attended my final fight card and that my world would need some major reordering, and in a hurry.

 

But rescue was at hand, a little way up the road and across the street from HBO. From the intersections of 6th Avenue and 42nd Street, I've moved (remotely) to Broadway and 50th. Yes, it's Showtime, folks!

 

I'm very excited to be moving, with my podcast partner Eric Raskin, to the network that for so long was HBO's major rival. Unlike HBO, Showtime is not only still commited to boxing, it is doubling down on its commitment, and its investment in digital platforms is strengthening. As well as podcasting, I will be doing an-as-yet-undetermined-amount-of digitial video, hopefully with a lot less travel than I experienced at the height of my HBO work, allowing me to regain a work-life balance and spend time in bristol writing articles and books. i'm extremely excited and relieved, and looking forward to seeing what the future holds.

 

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Sunset over the Tundra

I probably took, oh, 100 or so photographs during my most recent trip to Churchill, Manitoba - the "polar bear capital of the world" - last week. Somewhere in the region of 90 were of this sunset, as it played out over the tundra on what seemed like the only period during which the clouds parted and the visibility lifted even a little bit. For much of the rest of the time, we drove around in near-whiteout conditions, driving snow making it all but impossible at times to see more than a matter of feet in any direction. Not that there were many bears to look at anyway: conditions were very cold, more like a typical season in the beforetimes rather than in these extra-warm recent decades, and Hudson Bay froze up swiftly. As soon as it did, most of the bears were gone, out onto the sea ice to begin a fall, winter and spring of seal-eating. Given that they managed an early start, they should come off the ice next year fat and happy - good news for the bears, if not necessarily us would-be bear-watchers.

 

As always, I am extremey grateful to my friends at Polar Bears International for making the trip possible. I am hopeful that I will be publishing some articles about it in various publications in the coming weeks and months.

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And So It Ends ...

For 45 years, and through 1,111 fights and counting, HBO has been the 500 lb gorilla when it comes to boxing in the United States. It has, by and large, broadcast the most significant fights featuring the biggest names: from Hagler, Hearns, Leonard and Foreman; through Lewis, Klitschko, Barrera, Hatton; Mayweather De La Hoya, Pacquiao; and Morales, Marquez, Jones, Cotto and Mosley; to Ward, Kovalev, Golovkin and Canelo. But over the last couple of years, its position atop the industry has come under threat and then been usurped. And now, bowing to the obvious and yielding to what absolutely did not need to become inevitable, the etwork has officially announced that, as of the end of this year, it will be out of boxing altogether.

 

At this time of writing, one fight remains on the calendar, at Madison Square Garden on October 27. Internally, there is discussion that there may be as many as three more to follow after that. But then, it will be all over.

 

I have plenty of thoughts on all of this, few of them measured. I have been working with HBO Boxing, on and off, for nine years, and virtuallt full-time for five. I will need to ind a new means of income, and soon. But I will miss the crew with whom I work, for whom I write, and with whom I have traveled to, by my count, five countries on three continents for who-knows-how-many fight cards. They have become family, and whatever happens next, it won't be the same.

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Return to the North Pole

Well, not literally. I have not been back to the top of the world since my journey last year. But I have written a cover story for the Washington Post Magazine, part of a special issue that examines world travel in a time of climate change. In my piece, I describe the sights, sounds, and emotions of traveling to such a remote and inhospitable location, but note also the disturbing thinness of the sea ice en route. As I argue: "To travel to the North Pole is to be acutely aware of not only the isolation of the present, but also the weight of the past, of those who sought to be where we now stood, to meet, in the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the "challenge of human daring." It is also, increasingly, to consider the future — to wonder whether, just as the window of accessibility is cracking open, the opportunity to see the North Pole as we know and imagine it is already starting to close."

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Refresh, Coming Up, and Notes

I have been singulrly lax in my blogging here in 2018. It has been a challenging year. At some point, I shall presumably lay it all out. But for now: well, it's time for a periodic refresh around here, and I think the new look is pretty neat. Nice and clean. Many thanks to the good folks at the Authors Guild, who make it all possible. 

 

I have a couple magazine pieces coming up: the aforementioned short National geographic essay, and another Washington Post Magazine cover story, on the trip I made to the North Pole last year with colleagues from Polar Bears International. Before that, I'm off to Alaska for some R&R. Specifically, to Anchorage, and to Homer, my happy place.

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Hot

I'm presently writing a short piece for National Geographic on 'The Lure of the Cold.' The essential premise: to answer the question of why people voluntarily visit, explore, live in and work in some of the coldest places on Earth. It's a question that's been a lot easier for me to answer these past few days, as temperatures have soared above 90 degrees in Vermont, and the heat index has been over 100. I have, for the first time since moving here, cracked and installed a window AC unit in one of my rooms. And yes, I am aware of, and uncomfortable with, the irony: that by using an air conditioner I am contributing to the global warming which, while not necessarily responsible for this specific heatwave, makes it and others like them likelier and probably more frequent. But at least it means, in one room of the house at least, I am cool and I can work.

The broader context, of course, is clear. It is not just hot, it is historically hot. On Monday, Burlington, experienced its highest daily low temperature on record, with the temperature never falling below 80 degrees. It's not just the United States, either. "From the normally mild summer climes of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week," notes Jason Samenow of The Washington Post's Capital Weather Blog. We all know of course, why this is; and yet the Trump Administration continues to pursue policies that are deliberately ignorant of, and hostile toward, efforts to bring climate change under control. So much so, in fact, that even automakers have reportedly been urging it to put the brakes on some of its rollbacks on Obama-era fuel efficiency mandates. Nor, of course, is it just climate change: this administration is more overtly antagonistic toward environmental protection than any since Richard Nixon founded the Environmental Protection Agency. Ronald Reagan's first Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, was almost comically villainous; but even he couldn't hold a candle to the Cruella de Ville-like awfulness of Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has finally been forced to resign as EPA Administrator following a laundry list of scandals; the biggest, and ongoing, remains his boss' war on the environment and the climate, which, without the cartoonish Pruitt around, may be prosecuted more efficiently and with less of a spotlight.  Read More 

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