Read the latest commentary from Editor in Chief Chris Johns, and then share your thoughts about the current issue.
January 2008
Posted Dec 17,2007

Maurice Krafft's bootlaces are melting. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I'm standing with Maurice—a pioneer in the perilous business of filming volcanoes—on the crater floor of an erupting volcano in Tanzania.

The Maasai's sacred mountain, Ol Doinyo Lengai, is stirring. The crater floor bubbles with hot lava interspersed with cooling black and white lava. Maurice suggests walking on the safer, cooler, white areas, but visions of melting bootlaces keep flashing in my mind. "It is not a worry," he says with his French inflection. "My boots just fell through into the hot red lava. Walk lightly." He offers to go first. It's a test of faith—but no one has better credentials to navigate the floor of an erupting volcano. Maurice and his wife, Katia, were often the first to arrive when volcanoes erupted around the world; over two decades they filmed more than 150 of them. We cross an infernal landscape punctuated with spewing lava. In a few hours, my bootlaces are melting too, but, like Maurice, I don't care. We camp on a dirt ridge for three days. The nights are breathtaking. The lava glows fiery red. The stars sparkle in the clear African sky. I know now why this 9,700-foot (2,956 meter) volcano is sacred to the Maasai. "Volcanoes are bigger than us," Maurice always said. "We are nothing compared to them."

In 1991 Maurice and Katia Krafft died while filming at Japan's Unzen volcano. A pyroclastic flow unexpectedly swept onto the ridge where they stood. "I am never afraid because I have seen so much eruptions in 23 years that even if I die tomorrow, I don't care," Maurice once said.

Indonesia—a place the Kraffts visited many times—is a volcano hot spot. It is also a place where volcanoes are a religion. This month writer Andrew Marshall and photographer John Stanmeyer discover how volcanoes have shaped that country's life and culture. "Volcanoes are the thrones of the gods," a Balinese tycoon told Marshall. The Kraffts showed us the view from those thrones.


Photograph by Maurice and Katia Krafft, Conservatoire Régional de l'Image


Don Frankster
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

As much as I enjoyed Eugene Richards' photos of North
Dakota in your January issue, I have to admit that I
enjoyed the ORIGINALS of the exact same subjects
(virtually COPIED by Richards) taken by Tony and Eva
Worobiec much more in their 2003 book, Ghosts in the
Wilderness, by Artist's and Photographers' Press....

Hello, NG photo editors, are you paying attention ---
AT ALL ??????????????

Emanuel Culman
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

As a recent (two years ago) arrival to North Dakota, I have travelled extensively alone and with my wife, Cheryl Planert, through the center, west and south of the state. I have seen a few places with derelict properties, mostly long ways from town. Reading this article,I felt pangs in my heart for friends whose homes are in the proud and energetic communities of Powers Lake, Belfield and Mott - the three towns mentioned that I know.

For me the photgraphs were interesting in and of themselves. The waxing poet who wrote the captions did not refer to a State of North Dakota that I know.

I purchased a movie theatre in what I call beautiful downtown metropolitain Beach, the western cultural portal to ND. The people speak and act from their hearts here and if this is a ghost town, watch out, we all say, "Whoo-oo!" especially around Halloween!

Terry O'Malley, CEO, PMI
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

The article on e-waste was very good, in that it drove the point home that the manufactures have to get more involved in EOL. The volumes of e-waste is the issue of concern, existing landfills are not recycling proficient, the tip fee is of more concern that the materials going in it, plus we are relying more on the electronics Industry than ever before to conveinentize our lives. The dedicated sciences in developing countries applied to waste disposal is fractional, yet out of necessity, third world countries recycle more waste (by hand), than most developed countries.
It was important that you brought to light the Carcinogenic Card; smoke travels and those in its path will be affected.
Please keep me informed of issues concerning Waste; of the 14,000 landfills and dump sites int he US ,less than 2,000 are active: We are running out of storage space.

Ann Laurence
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

North Dakota is a good place to grow old and that is what humans must do on this earth. From the day of birth, people living here learn to take care of their own needs as well as their community.
I am not surprised at NG's warmed over articles as they turned down my offer a few years ago to share my maps of Bakken Formation oil and an article on what is really happening in our country.
Guess, I am still getting to know my own town walking and riding bicycle as I sold my horse. Tarffic is not bad and if you get lost and need directions, ask any of us and we will probably invite you in for lunch.
The state has an excess amount of funds and will give property tax credits this year. My local public schoool received an anonymous gift of 100,000 dollars this year.
Melvin raises wonderful gardens and is generous giving tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots to anyone in Dakota who is fortunate to live around these parts. He has even delivered a pick-up truck load to Tioga Senior Center.
Oh Yes, Our son gave me a ROBIN EGG BLUE comport so I can add to my collection of portieux vallerysthall opaline. I can travel around the world but I choose to live in the state that is cleaner and greener in the summer and whiter and brighter in the winter.

Beth Postema
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

I wasn't surprised to see North Dakota depicted as it is in the article "The Emptied Prairie." I was, however, disappointed. I thought that NG had more integrity than to simply feed off of a stereotype of the state as a frozen wasteland. Along with the earlier article done on North Fargo (Zip Code 58102), this again was photographed in winter and just looking for the easy extreme. Even the title of the article seems to indicated that the population of the state has gone--"emptied" rather than "emptying." That assertion is actually in direct contradiction to the latest release from the Census Bureau (December 2007) that North Dakota has actually gained in population.

mick conlin
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Despite your attempts to paint North Dakota as a State on the verge of extinction, you will be proven wrong because what you fail to understand is that the actions of the people who live in North Dakota (whether physically or in their dreams) speak much louder than words.

My guess is that a similar article could be written about the trend in your subscription revenues, but it would be factual.

My bet is on the people of North Dakota to prove you wrong.

Best of Luck

Tom Riley
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

As Director of the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies, I loved the pictures with your article, though I feel that I had seen them all before.

I was appalled by the article, of course. It reminded me of the Indian tale of the Blind men and the Elephant.

We have just published a wonderful little essay by Dr. Gene Wunderlich, a former researcher with USDA out here. Its title, "Space and Motion: A View of the Northern Great Plains" gives a sense of its thesis that the great Plains are undergoing a continuing rescaling due to technology and infrastructure. For man, this rescaling began here at the end of the Pleistocene, and it will continue as long as there are massive changes in technology, environment and infrastructure.

Wunderlich's is a much more optimistic view of the future than that of your writer. The economy here, while it is less green than we would like, is thriving, and social and cultural life is vibrant. The towns outside of metropolitan areas are being repopulated as suburbs and exurbs, and people talk of public transit and research corridors, of Higher Education as economic engine, and of the largest contiguous acreage in the country devoted to organic farming, even as production agriculture continues to place North Dakota among the top ten states in crop production in everything from honey to wheat, dry beans and peas, soybeans and oilseeds.

North Dakota's economy, though, is incredibly diverse, with energy, light industry and the service economy far outweighing the agricultural economy in impact. From RFID research and production to R and D and outside sales for Microsoft, the place is alive.

With a November 2007 unemployment rate of 2.5%, and an enviable record in educational attainment of its people, it is a place much different than you or your writer can imagine.

You might come out to visit sometime. You would be surprised and maybe a little ashamed of the article you just published.

Ann Wendel
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

North Dakota – “a giant skeleton of abandoned human desire.” Charles Bowman is right about North Dakota – sort of. Living here, we know the sadness of endings, the changing loyalties that follow in small town life, the people and places lost to time. He is also wrong about it. We also know the solace of places long remembered, of farms and villages and friends. When modern celebrities embraced the old idea that “It takes a village to raise a child,” North Dakotans understood. We had been those children; we were that village.
In her book, Dakota, a Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris says of the modern American capitalist’s viewpoint, “ … the market is everything. Since there is no market here, nothing that counts demographically, we don't exist.” I recommend Mr. Bowman read that book. It may help him realize that we do still exist. His narrative matches the article’s lovely, haunting pictures, and we all know those “thousand word” pictures can distort the truth. Three of the four villages he mentions are not recently become ghost towns – he is reporting rather old history here. It is dangerous and damaging to marginalize what is simply different from the norm. We are still here, we are still small, we expect always to be so. There are quieter, subtler things to be learned here, to be appreciated here. We are not merely surviving to die another day.
We invite you to come to North Dakota, to stay if you have the “right stuff”, and to enjoy what Ms. Norris called “the emptiness full of small things.” You may find the weather difficult at times, but you will also find a resulting patience in the people, a peacefulness in the prairie’s empty fullness.

Becky Salberg
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

What is missing from your story, Mr. Bowden? Perhaps when you were in North Dakota you failed to notice
the towns nearby these “long ago” towns that are thriving and growing?
Perhaps you missed the fact that those of us who choose to stay here are
earning more than “adequate” livings without the metropolitan
drawbacks….traffic, noise, crime, etc. We can even drive a few miles to
one of our “metropolitan” areas (yes, we do have them), and enjoy the arts,
upscale restaurants….everything you can find in the over-populated areas
you seem to admire. I believe if you choose to do so, you can draw the
same dismal conclusion in any setting and I would suggest that you can go
to any state and find the same scenario being played out….one community
declining while another is thriving. However, your article does seem to
leave one with the impression that nothing is thriving in North Dakota.

I would also suggest that you visit North Dakota again. This time with
your dark glasses removed and try to appreciate what we have to offer……
solid employment opportunities; outstanding educational systems; clean air;
productive, fertile land; friendly, caring people. Maybe even walk through
a different type of house in a thriving small town this time, where nothing
is left decaying from the past, but rather is cluttered with the
future…….children playing, adults going off to work each day, friends
gathering. Maybe this time you will see the “My Shower” book displayed on
the coffee table, or the “Book of Knowledge” website open on the computer.
Or maybe you will look out the window of this home at the new construction
going on across the street or the coffee kiosk on the corner.

Send Mr. Bowden back, NG, to write about the great things all of you missed
the first time.

Kristy Rose
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Thank you, Mr. Bowden for your negative depiction of our beloved North Dakota. We would like to keep ND as America's best kept secret and your drivel will help us do just that.

It's unfortunate that you did not offer two sides to the story. You failed to mention that our schools are ranked higher than more populated states, that we're in the top 10 of states with the least number of suicides and cases of depression, that we have a budget surplus California would kill (literally I imagine) to have and that people flock to our proud state for some of the world's best hunting and fishing. You also failed to mention that we are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, you can still leave your car and home unlocked, and our kids are safe playing outside. And you missed one glaring thing that sets our state apart from the "progressive" states: Dakotans are proud of their heritage. We don't water it down with political correctness and we still celebrate Christmas.

But you're right, Mr. Bowden. This is just a cemetary for dead dreams and dying hope. Keep telling people that. We'd like to keep our state free of traffic and crime.

Dakota Kid
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Had your North Dakota story not mentioned what state you were talking about, I never would have guessed it was North Dakota. Your depiction certainly doesn't describe the state that I've called home for 44 years.

I travel extensively (45 states and counting) and the more places I visit, the more I confirm that I live in N.D. by choice and feel incredibly fortunate for what we have.

I can only guess that doom & gloom sells magazines better than good news.

Mark Olson
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Dear National Geo,

My, my, my...Charles Bowden is a gifted writer.

His Comp/Lit 101 piece is all the better for the Andrew Wyeth (Christina’s World) inspired photograph by Eugene Richards.

Is that Christina’s spine laying gently in the grass? Now we know what happened to her world.

Thank you both. Mr. Bowden’s Creative Writing courses are bearing fruit. Mr. Richards Art History studies serve him well.

Too bad neither have an original thought between them.

We’ve seen this photo and read this article a dozen times over the last twenty years.

This type of article is beyond cliché and stereotype.

These guys need to leave Manhattan, or at least get west of the Hudson River more often.

There’s a big world out there boys – and it’s dying to see you.

Not dying for you to see it.

Critically yours,


John Kirkiede
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Your article about North Dakota is correct - but only about a very small piece of North Dakota. Yes through the tremendous improvements in farming technology farms have gotten much larger. But your article paints a picture of a declining farm economy - that is incorrect.

Yes far fewer people are needed to farm the land - but it is not due to decline - it is due to succes.

You fail to mention that as farms have gotten larger and transporation (cars, or should I say pickups, and roads) has improved many farmers have chosen to move from the farm to a mid-sized town. They now commute to their work place - the farm.

Your story missed the bigger picture of what is happening on the farm and totally misses on what is happening in greater North Dakota. Fargo is thriving. Bismark is doing so well that it has had some of the largest increases in home values anywhere in the country. Sparsely populated western North Dakota's biggest problem is finding housing for all the oil workers it needs to handle the boom that is happening in that area.

I am a North Dakota native living in Chicago and I am proud of my heritage. I like North Dakota and in 15 or 20 years when I retire will probably return to Fargo to enjoy that beautiful city and the rest of the state.

I would eoncourage your magazine to retrun to North Dakota and do another story focused on a realistic assesment of the farm economy and the bigger picture of how North Dakota has evolved to be a succesful state.


John Kirkiede

David Gunderson
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Mr Bowden
I have to say this is the most lousy Artical I have ever read. North Dakota Is my home State I have a father and aunts and uncles buried In Page North Dakota. I am 41 yrs old, when I die I want to be buried in Page. My life's history is in that state the one you say is abandoning the people.

North Dakota is rich in history as it has richness in it's future to come.
North Dakota To Me is and always will be home. I vist as often as I can. I see the old towns through out the countryside, there I remember walking those dusty roads, Exploring those schools houses. those pictures tell me more about North Dakota than your Negative artical, that there are places worth travling too exploring and learning of history. NO sir North Dakota Is Not a state near death but a state of re-birth in its own time, if it has not happend already. North Dakota To me Is still home. My herritage, my past. I have never forgoten where I have come from and who we are.
North Dakota is a great State Unlike many others, Your state Sir, seemes to be totaly Enthrawled in the state of confusion.

David Gunderson
2315 Fern st
Grand Rapids Mn

Traci Atwell
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

I'm a Fargo/Moorhead native living in the Washington D.C. area, and I am proud of where I'm from, I appreciate it more now that I've moved away and I miss it very much.

In your article you failed to mention all the thriving farmers in rural North Dakota. The Red River Valley, where I am from, has some of the richest farmland in the world. And according to a state statistic, farms and ranches occupy more than 90% of North Dakota’s land area. That said, your article seems to be describing another place. Fargo has been named over and over again by numerous publications as one of the “Best Places to Live and Work.” That is no mistake, Sir – the people there are kind, the crime rate is low and the environment is clean. In fact, those characteristics describe the entire state of North Dakota. What more could you ask for?

Living in Washington D.C., I’ve come to appreciate the quality of life I left behind in Fargo-Moorhead. D.C. is a place I will never raise children - but I certainly would back home. North Dakota is an extraordinary place with an undeniable beauty that deserves to be appreciated.

I invite you to go back and visit the North Dakota I know, with your eyes wide open this time.

Traci Atwell

Ted Sitz
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

For a magazine that has the word 'geographic' in its title, one would think that the obvious ommission of Minot would not be an error one makes. Perhaps National Geographic should send some of its writers to North Dakota schools to study geography. On second thought, just have them check the internet. North Dakota if one of the few states that can boast that all of its school districts are connected with a unified, very robust state network positioning them for education far into the future.

Mike G.
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

I am a ND native, and moved away as a child, only to come back 30 years later to the state of ND. I can honestly say everyone is making a big issue about an artical in National Geographic about ND, that has more merit then some of these people realize. I have been here about three years, and lived in small towns around Fargo, and guess what? All I see are small towns dying off, and abandon houses, and downtowns that are falling apart. Believe me this state in a few years could become one big oil field, and I think no one would really notice. North Dakota is a state with little to offer a family, and even less for the state government to offer people to stay here and live. I plan on taking my children back to reality, and away from a state that offers little to nothing other then the next dustbowl of 2008.

Mike G.
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Here is an added note for Mr. David Gunderson: First off if North Dakota is such a grand state to be proud of, and live in what are you doing in MN? Second item is if you went to school in North Dakota, I would sue the school system for your lack of being able to spell.

Deb Swenson
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Wow - Is this writer lucid? The writer may fare better conjuring up romance novels.

Kyle Huber
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

North Dakota, I grew up there and now live in Minnesota, not far away but I will return again to live out my years there as there is no place else like it, I hope you have convinced many of you metropolitian friends not to come? North Dakota has great places and some poor places but, only great people. Clean, responsible and proud people. We know how it is it is too bad NG is unable to see it also.

Curt Stofferahn
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

As a rural sociologist, and a native son, who teaches a course in the sociology of the Great Plains, I'm enjoying reading the reaction to the article in National Geographic about the emptying out of the northwest quarter of my state. These trends of outmigration, industrialization of agriculture, depopulation and aging of the population are nothing new; neither are the defensive responses to the article anything new -- the same response occurs anytime an outsider writes an unflattering article about the state. While all the critics of the article point out some fact -- growth in metro areas, increasing vitality in metro adjacent counties, a prosperous agriculture, a vibrant energy economy, a warm and friendly people -- which they believe discredits the article, the demographic trends are irrefutable. We have an aging population, more counties in the state are classified as frontier counties than ever before except during settlement, we have a dearth of young people, we have low birth rates, we have a labor shortage, wages are quite low compared to other states, youth continue to leave for better jobs elsewhere. As the depression generation leaves us, and the baby boom generation retires, ND will have a major demographic crisis. Meanwhile, industrialization of agriculture, aided by federal agriculture policy which stimulates growth and expansion in large farms, will exacerbate the decline and death of rural communities in non-metro adajcent counties. But the state's political leaders refuse to or won't recognize this demographic timebomb. Twenty years ago when the Popper's published their thesis about the buffalo commons, the citizens and political leaders of this state were livid. But the Popper's thesis has been occurring, albeit through individual responses rather than federal policy. Without major federal intervention, the state will resemble the buffalo commons. For someone who loves the rural places and people, it is sad to watch, but no amount of boosterism of the state or criticism of the article or denial of reality can change the demographic trends.

Thomas Rene
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

I have to laugh at the up in arms attitude some of these so-called North Dakota natives have concerning the January 2008 NG article on North Dakota. I was born and raised in North Dakota. With the exception of the time I spent in a war in southeast Asia, I lived the first 35 years of my life in North Dakota. For the most part I hated it. I couldn't wait to get out. I spent most of my free time in that state to the east. Some of the simplistic in North Dakota like to use a tired old saying when trying to ridicule anyone who finds any fault with their damn frozen piece of dirt. They know the one. "It keeps the riff-raff out."
In actuality, while it is true. The bad things about North Dakota(and there are many) keep sane people away or out of the state. The good thing is that those same bad things in actuality "keep the riff-raff IN." Watch out for the tumbleweeds. :-)
In all fairness. I do miss a couple things about North Dakota. The duck, goose and pheasant hunting for one.

Angry North Dakotan
Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

As a ND native I am more than offended at the picture that has been painted with this article. You ought to do some research before writing another article.

Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Mike G., you spelled article wrong too.

We farm and I love ND. My grandchildren are 6th generation members of our church and 5th generation members of our school. It's not that I haven't seen much of the world - I have - and I'll take ND anytime.

Goodbye Mike G.

Dec 17, 2007 2PM #

Oops Mike G. - It's abandoned houses - missed that one first time around.

I think it's great that ND people are willing to stand up for their state. We feel that there's a lot there. I guess if you don't like (or love) the state, you can leave.

Goodbye Thomas Rene.

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