Going the Distance

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We might have published “The Waymaker,” associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story on Andy Strauss GCP’89, in our previous issue, only the self-described “carpenter of land deals” was still putting the finishing touches on one unusually complex and sensitive transaction, so we decided to hold off until this one. (You can read how things turned out in the article.)

Strauss is a consultant for municipalities and non-profit groups on land preservation and the creation of hiking and biking trails from old rights-of-way, and few of the projects he works on are simple. “It’s easy saving farmland,” he told Trey. “It’s easy to save upstream wetlands. It’s hard saving land where people live.”

As our cover photo shows, terrible things have been done to this land. Mining and related industries, subsequent development, and continual indifference to environmental impacts have wrought untold havoc in the old Pennsylvania coal country where Strauss operates.

But there’s plenty of beauty there, too, if you know where and how to look for it—as Trey learned when he accompanied Strauss on a biking excursion. Trey admits that the 46-mile trip was grueling for him—just reading about it exhausted me!—but says it seemed routine for Strauss, whose physical endurance apparently is a match for his patient persistence in negotiation.

Endurance and persistence are words that also come to mind in relation to senior editor Samuel Hughes’ story, “Unconditional Pavlov,” about Daniel Todes C’74 Gr’81 and his 25-years-in-the-making biography of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, famed for having conditioned dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell (except of course he didn’t).

The seeds for Todes’ monumental work were sown at Penn, where he studied Russian history and the history and sociology of science. While working on his doctorate, he realized that there was no full-length biography of Pavlov available and decided to remedy that lack, taking advantage of the vast troves of new information becoming available in the wake of the Soviet Union’s dissolution.

A key theme in the book is Pavlov’s fractious relationship with the Communist authorities. Protected by his fame and the perceived value of his research to the nation, he was an outspoken critic of the party and strenuously resisted its attempts to assert control over his laboratories—sometimes physically, as the excerpt on page 47 reveals.

Geralyn Lucas C’89 had a mastectomy the day after her 28th birthday—putting on bright red lipstick just before her operation, which for her was a symbol of strength and defiance. As Alyson Krueger C’07 describes in “Living Up to the Lipstick,” she’s shared her spirited, exuberant approach to life post-cancer in two published memoirs, a made-for-TV movie based on the first one, a website, and countless personal appearances and advocacy activities.

The blow that struck journalist Michael Finkel W’90—getting fired for falsifying information in a New York Times Magazine article—wasn’t life-threatening, just potentially career-destroying. But as Caren Lissner C’93 recounts in “Strange But True,” pretty much simultaneously with that disaster an incredible (in every sense) story fell into his lap: A man who had killed his wife and three children had been pretending to be “Michael Finkel of The New York Times” while on the run from the law. Finkel told the story in a 2005 memoir, and it has now been made into a movie, True Story, starring Jonah Hill as Finkel and James Franco as the killer, Christian Longo.

And finally in this issue, freelancer Violet Baron reports on the origins, rise, and eventual demise of the ritual known as Skimmer Weekend, and the early-1970s transition to its successor, Spring Fling.

—John Prendergast C’80
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