Walking Grass

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea . . . And there was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.Willa Cather, My Antonia

The Karakoram range that cleaves northern Afghanistan from Pakistan is a cold desert.

Precipitation rarely exceeds more than four inches a year at the habitable elevations where human beings live. For all their thick glaciers and snowpack, the towering mountains are parched. When water flows at all, it usually jets like a fire hose. In the late summers, glacial melt scours the steep ravines, clawing away villages, roads, and topsoil down to naked rock.

The inhabitants of this austere landscape, many of them ethnic Wakhi farmers, have learned to trap this explosive blessing through the filter of grass. Every autumn, as their alpine pastures—some nearly vertical—dry to the color of gold and copper, villagers harvest wild hay. You can see them walking fast to shorten their agony under loads of up to a hundred pounds: human ants toting huge bundles of sunlight and snowmelt in the distilled form of animal fodder.

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

Human Journey

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.