Revisiting Yamuna

Yamuna was already dead when I met her seven years ago, in the words of several activist and environmental groups, but they’re still trying to revive her. It hasn’t worked yet.

Yamuna is both a Hindu goddess and a major river that flows through India’s capital, a metropolitan area of tens of millions of people, before joining the Ganges. Yamuna is sacred and essential to all of those lives in one way or another. Their drinking water comes from her. They grow food with her help. They worship alongside her. They wash clothes with her water or pick through her shores and beneath her surface for a living. They destroy her, ecologically speaking, with their raw industrial and human waste on a colossal scale. And they endure her revenge in the form of lost fish and other aquatic life, infectious and waterborne disease and toxic metal exposure.

I previously posted on here a photojournalism project I did in college about the river and its paradoxes. This week I revisited my archive for that project for the first time since 2012. It turns out I forgot about a few pictures that aren’t too bad, so I thought I’d share some with you. But it’s also a chance to see if anything has improved in India’s core. The answer seems to be mostly no.

In just the last couple of weeks, poisonous foam coated Yamuna’s surface during a religious festival. And earlier this year, a project to capture and treat the huge amount of sewage flowing into the river missed its latest deadline. That project is the third of its kind in more than 20 years.

Everyone knows the state the river’s in. But because of alleged corruption and incompetence, the inability of several governments to work together, indifference among parts of the public and the country’s colonized past, it just doesn’t get better. Yamuna still runs black, she’s still short on life-giving oxygen but rich in lead and iron, she’s still dead.

I also wonder how the people I met back then are doing. Dozens of locals put up with a random American college student who came out of nowhere to ask about their stories. Banny Miya and his family and Babi Devi and hers grew crops beside the river. Seventeen-year-old Saddam and his family washed clothes and linens in it, and he hoped to become an engineer. Gauri Singh, a young mother, angrily said nothing changes. I might never find out what came next for them.

As for the Yamuna, it’s only one of many environmental issues for India; Delhi’s air has made recent headlines for being some of the most polluted and dangerous in the world. We’ll see if Yamuna Action Plan Phase III accomplishes what phases I and II couldn’t. There are a few small reasons for optimism, such as some recent adjustments to religious ceremonies that might’ve cut down on one form of pollution.

Regardless, India’s struggles aren’t just some far-off problem. We all share this planet’s atmosphere and ocean. And our own country knows a little something about arguing over environmental disaster. Yamuna and other natural places have something to teach all of us.

The Goatherder

_C1_8812I’ve been sitting on these photos for a while: This is Ella Kraft, a 10-year-old 4-Her and goat raiser in Fayetteville, feeding one of her animals as she prepared for this year’s Washington County Fair. Her grandmother, Wendy Walker, reached out to us at the newspaper back in June, saying one of Ella’s goats had just given birth to quadruplets, a remarkable feat among goat-kind.

I headed out to Walker’s house shortly after that with a notebook and a camera to see what raising goats is about. As I wrote in a story in Monday’s paper, Ella was caring but all business:

“They kind of grow on you,” Ella said with understatement one June afternoon as she tended to a small flock of bleating goats at her grandmother’s barn east of Fayetteville. She hugged and kissed the animals on their foreheads while feeding the little ones from a bottle as they wagged stubby tails and climbed over each other. Ella looked over the group with the cool and appraising air of one used to the commotion.




_C1_8823Devoting the time to raise and show animals as a kid these days seems more remarkable each year, even for someone as grounded as Ella. She’s one of thousands of people descending on the fairgrounds this week for the fair, which started today. Good luck, everybody!

Thanks for looking,


Selling Flowers

IMG_9639If you see people at Fayetteville’s Farmers Market walking around with fistfuls of boisterous lilies, pale puffs of virburnums and other bright flowers, chances are they came from the Dripping Springs Garden stand, where there’s always a line for the blooms and organic vegetables. A woman there named Nancy has bundled blossoms, matched up customers and available workers and overseen the swarm for more than 20 years. She has a quick smile, keen eyes, a lined face, flyaway hair and a bright gingham dress, so I asked to take her picture.

IMG_9647Yesterday was a solid market day, bright and warm and crowded. Down the block from the flower stand, another swarm gathered around a row of painted doors.

IMG_9594An Arkansas artist named V.L. Cox painted them, and apart from the bold colors and messages on those doors, I suspect they also drew a crowd because Fayetteville is still working through a years-long debate on the proper rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; an election on whether to punish discrimination against them in their workplaces and homes is coming up next month.

Anyway, have some more photos.








IMG_9586Thanks for looking! And have a good Sunday.


The Road

_C1_4856In January 2002, a British man named Rory Stewart walked alone across Afghanistan. He went from village to village along his eastward path for hundreds of miles, passing ancient ruins, feet of snow and militia men who didn’t care much for him, you might say. A police officer in the city of Herat guaranteed his death. Stewart later wrote a fantastic book about his walk called The Places in Between. I read it all during a travel writing workshop more than a year ago.

I didn’t do anything like Stewart’s walk this weekend, but I love the title, and on the way to and from Eureka Springs for some Christmas shopping, I found a few places in between.

_C1_4851One place is a hundred-foot observation tower, which a sign said was used by the Arkansas Forestry Commission back in the day. A wide, one-story gift shop with an underground, rock-walled bathroom and a kind older woman behind the counter stands nearby.

I’m focusing on the places in between because my photo attempts in town were pretty lackluster. I was distracted by my goal — or maybe I just need to get better.

_C1_4892The Crescent Hotel, also known as America’s Most Haunted Hotel (TM).


_C1_4880And then it was time to go back. I’ll tell you, the area around Beaver Lake’s northern edge as the sun sets is a special place in between.


_C1_4898(Don’t worry, I looked both ways.)


_C1_4972There’s a cliché out there about journeys and destinations that you might be familiar with; my editor at work hates clichés. I’ll just say it’s always worth looking out the window.

Thanks for looking,