Unseeing a Snow Leopard

Not only is it rare . . . but it is wary and elusive to a magical degree, and so well camouflaged in the places it chooses to lie that one can stare straight at it from yards away and fail to see it.

— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

We are walking the length of the Wakhan Corridor in northern Afghanistan. We see villagers planting trees.

Why are they planting trees?

Because a tree offers shade, fodder, cooking fuel, building materials, and, perhaps, fruit. Because a tree always pleases the eye. Because trees are life. There have been few trees for a very long time in the Wakhan Corridor, a remote strip of Afghanistan that stretches for some 170 miles through the Karakoram to the wild frontier of western China. Why? First, the landscape here is extremely high, rocky, and mostly dry: a cold alpine desert. Second, the main valley of the Wakhan Corridor has been inhabited for thousands of years—it was an artery of the Silk Road—and its sparse tree cover was cut long ago. But today: Entire forests of saplings are sprouting up.

Read the full story, or explore more content from the Out of Eden Walk at outofedenwalk.org.

Human Journey

Meet the Author
Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent and National Geographic Fellow Paul Salopek’s 21,000-mile Out of Eden Walk is a multiyear experiment in slow journalism. Moving at the beat of his footsteps, Salopek is walking the pathways of the first humans who migrated out of Africa in the Stone Age and made the Earth ours. Along the way he is covering the major stories of our time—from climate change to technological innovation, from mass migration to cultural survival—by giving voice to the people who inhabit them every day. His words, as well as his photographs, video, and audio, are creating a global record of human life at the start of a new millennium as told by villagers, nomads, traders, farmers, soldiers, and artists who rarely make the news. Join the journey at outofedenwalk.org and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @OutofEdenWalk.