As usual, it’s difficult to settle on the single best thing in the latest issue of National Geographic, because the August issue is crammed with great stuff from front to back.

The issue’s cover-article is a predictably wrenching piece called “In the Shadow of Wounded Knee” by the great Alexandra Fuller, all about the modern-day lives of the Oglala Lakota. Any single word said on the history involved will be deeply shameful to the white inhabitants of the United States, and the Oglala Fuller interviews have plenty of words to say:

And then White Plume asked me to consider the seemingly calculated insult of Mount Rushmore. “The leaders of the people who have broken every treaty with my people have their faces carved into our most holy place. What is the equivalent? Do you have an equivalent?”

There’s also a fascinating article about a madman named Tim Samaras who drives around the American West in a van trying to capture an image of the precise instant when a lightning bolt forms, the moment that happens a pico-second before lightning strikes.

But for me, the highlight of the issue is a mind-stoppingly haunting photograph by Jody MacDonald with this caption:

India: Trees infused with sunlight dwarf an early morning visitor to the rain forest on Havelock Island. Rajan, an Asian elephant retired from logging, takes the stroll as part of his daily routine and occasionally swims in the Andaman Sea.

It’s easily the best National Geographic image of the year – sad, and inestimably beautiful.


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