TWELVE-THOUSAND YEARS AGO, THE GLACIERS receded from modern-day British Columbia, leaving the land to bleed silt into the sea. In the salty shallows hugging the coast, bivalves struggled to survive, growing slow and dying small in the fluctuating temperatures of the newly thawed ocean. Their shells fell to the floor and built up on beaches, forming layers of calcium carbonate that, today, archaeologists in galoshes dig through, deciphering the story of this land in clamshells.
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WHEN ARUNA TIRKEY, A MEMBER of Central India’s Oraon indigenous community, walked into her small town’s glossy new department store almost a decade ago, one product made her stop short: a packet of millet. Known locally among the Oraon as madua, millet was a staple in Tirkey’s family when she was growing up. As the influence of industrial agriculture spread to India’s hinterlands, however, the traditional grain had become increasingly rare. Seeing millet in an upscale store, marketed at a price many indigenous Indians couldn’t afford, Tirkey was shocked. “It was surprising for me to see the product in the store at a premium price, knowing that at the same time it was fast disappearing from our diets,” she wrote.
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SKIP MCKINNELL FOUND THE SLIM books in a Vancouver basement: stacks of field notes coated with salmon scales still stuck to the 100-year-old fiber with slime. Then affiliated with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, McKinnell had read about the notebooks, which allegedly contained extensive data about and samples from British Columbia’s salmon population from the first decades of the 20th century. But even after scouring collections from British Columbia all the way to Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, McKinnell found the wrinkled pages elusive. That changed one day in 1996, when, at a colleagues’ suggestion, McKinnell searched the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Vancouver basement. There the notebooks were, overlooked but intact. When the notebooks were opened, papery fish scales sloughed off their brittle lined pages and fluttered like moth wings to the ground.
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