If it is not broke…

by Ellen Herbert

My step-dad will be 90 years old in a few months. He is the son of homesteaders, a finish carpenter known throughout the South for his lovingly crafted rocking chairs and birdboxes, a WWII decorated Veteran, a farmer and rancher. And a much loved husband and father.

His pear preserves are un-paralleled, and his neighbors come from farms across the county for his council on everything from baling hay, to when to de-horn cattle, to how to make blackberry wine.

These days, various pesky physical ailments keep him close to home and his own rocking chair, although this time last year he was still splitting his own wood.

I have shown him all my gadgets – iPhones, tablets, laptops, the Farmers’ Almanac sites, and all the weather apps, that he could instantly access, if only he’d invest in digital delivery. He shows polite interest; but if you really want to engage him, ask him about his print subscription to National Geographic. I have been making this his annual present for over 20 years.

Every month, he reads it cover to cover: in his chair by the fire, in bed before he turns in, and at the breakfast table. He is hard of hearing, and hates the phone, but will call me to talk about a feature he is taken with. Just after surgery in January, as we visited in the hospital, he was less interested in canes and rehab than he was in the story about the giant redwoods and Nick Nichols’ pictures.

I make my way back to the farm every chance I get, these days, to see my folks and can’t wait to talk to him about this month’s special edition of 125 years of National Geographic Photography .  It is a mixture of old and new, that delineates the incredible variety of life on our planet, and how mutable it has been over the last two centuries.

Here is a bit about the history of the ‘Geographic’:


It tells us that: “Judd & Detweiler began printing the National Geographic magazine in 1896, when it had a circulation of just 5,000.  By 1926… National Geographic alone then had a monthly subscription of nearly 1 million issues that required almost ten days of press time.”

Over 85 years later, in 2013 it is published in English and 39 local-language editions, boasting a global circulation of around 8 million.

I want to know what dad thinks about the James Balog photos of glacial melting and the accompanying article by Robert Kunzig. I bet that he will have a thing or two to say about “The Price of Precious,” (photos by Marcus Bleasdale, article by Jeffrey Gettleman.). He will study Joel Sartore’s picture of endangered species, long and hard.

I guarantee you this will be a more stimulating conversation than the one I had, in a hipster coffee bar today, about upgrading the operating system on my smartphone.

Sure, National Geographic Digital Media receives more than 27 million visitors a month and that is wonderful. Let’s forget the delivery mechanism for a minute: NGS captivates people, who have seen new worlds that they would never otherwise see.  The 125th edition takes us from negatives to digital capture, but it’s the simple truth of the image, however we consume it, that grabs us, enraptures us and transports us.

Some people just plain old prefer print. And my dad does not have to upgrade the operating system on his magazine…

Pat Egleston © Ellen Herbert
Pat Egleston © Ellen Herbert

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