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Thursday, October 20, 2011

NEWS: Blind athlete making history with dog

by Rob McCurdy
originally posted @ Mansfield News Journal Oct 15, 2011

Lexington, Kentucky, USA -- Sami Stoner has yet to cross the finish line in first place, but she has won over fans while trying.

In the process, she's become a champion for teens with challenges.

Stoner, who is legally blind and a runner on the Lexington girls cross country team, is believed to be the first high school athlete in Ohio to compete with a guide dog.

"How could anyone in cross country complain when you look at what she is doing? It's powerful stuff," Lexington head coach Denise Benson said.

Yet, that powerful example almost wasn't allowed to happen.

Historic precedent

As with anything pioneering, Stoner's quest was initially met with resistance.

"We had a hard time getting her approved through the OHSAA," Lexington assistant coach Anne Petrie said. "(Athletic Director) John Harris went above and beyond to get Sami a dispensation."

In order for Stoner to compete in events sanctioned by the Ohio High School Athletic Association, a waiver was needed. Harris made the phone calls to the organization's Columbus office and was denied.

But he wasn't going to be denied. Harris continued to appeal to Dale Gabor, the director of cross country and track and field for the OHSAA, each time hashing out ways to safely allow Stoner to run.

"To be very honest and be what the OHSAA stands for, we want to accommodate any kids with disabilities," Gabor said.

When OHSAA commissioners told Gabor it was his call, it didn't take him long to search his soul.

"As I told John, she already has a handicap. She doesn't need another one, so let her run," Gabor said of the decision made in September. "We have to do what's best for kids, and we either stand with them or we don't."

Gabor's waiver came with conditions. Stoner has to wait 20 seconds after the start of the race before she can run. That's to assure the dog doesn't get spiked or inadvertently knock another runner over. Stoner can pass other runners, but she can't impede them with the dog. She is to be a non-scoring competitor, and if finish chutes are deemed too small, she cannot cross the finish line with the dog for the same reasons she can't start with the field.

"We agreed full-heartedly," Harris said. "What's happened to her isn't fair, but she's such a positive example for everyone, and it motivated me to get this done."

Gabor, who has been around the sport for decades, believes Stoner is a trailblazer, possibly the first blind cross country runner to compete with a guide dog. He thinks she exemplifies the purpose of interscholastic sports, which is to broaden horizons and teach life lessons.

"The example she sets for those kids is phenomenal," Gabor said.

The funny thing is Stoner didn't set out to be a role model, just a runner.

"I don't run for time or place or anything. I run because I love it," she said.

Running with blindness

Like dozens of kids at Lexington, Stoner ran cross country in junior high, and she enjoyed the sport. However, in eighth grade, her vision began to worsen.

"When she started having eye problems, I thought that part of her life was over," her father Keith Stoner said. "It took eight or nine months to get the diagnosis, and as you can imagine, the Internet is a wonderful thing and a scary thing."

Stoner and his wife, Lisa, were trying to figure out what the problem was and what kind of future lay ahead for their daughter. When they finally got the diagnosis, it was a worst-case scenario.

Sami had inherited Stargardt disease, a juvenile form of macular degeneration that robs children and teens of their central vision. She would soon be legally blind, although she retains some of her peripheral vision.

"I was devastated. You have hopes for your kids, and a lot of it has to do with the things you see. It was a tough time for all of us," her father said.

Stoner's only question for doctors was whether she'd ever get to drive a car.

"She was pretty down," Keith said of the answer she received. "She was 14 at the time. She's now 16 and a lot of her friends are getting licenses and it's hard. She has a lot of wonderful friends and they are so good about picking her up and including her."

One thing Stoner could do is run.

"When she ran in ninth grade, we wondered how she would do it," Benson said.

Stoner ran with a companion runner. Hannah Ticoras became her guide, telling Stoner to watch for this root or that rut as they ran side-by-side.

The two became so close, members of the team began referring to them as Hami, a good-natured combination of Hannah and Sami.

But Ticoras graduated in 2010 and Stoner's eyesight continued to fade, leaving many to wonder if she had a future in running competitively.

Enter Chloe

In the uncertainty arose an opportunity.

"Sami mentioned it to me as early as last spring," Keith Stoner said. "She had a man come up from Columbus to work with her and he recommended her for a guide dog, and they're pretty restrictive about that."

Founded in Columbus, Pilot Dogs has been training guide dogs for the blind since 1950. It's a private, nonprofit charity that requires a recipient to undergo an extensive screening process.

One of Stoner's first questions was whether she could learn to run with the dog.

"There are individuals that do it and have run marathons. It's her dog, but we caution against it," Pilot Dogs director Jay Gray said. "The concern is not every individual is capable of it. It is very rare."

Stoner had to spend four weeks this summer living full-time at Pilot Dogs, learning how to use her guide dog, a golden retriever named Chloe. Fortunately, Stoner's and Chloe's trainer was an avid runner.

"Her and Sami hit it off and they worked closely together," Keith Stoner said. "They didn't run enough because they had a lot to learn, but they did run."

Stoner needed to work her way up to run distance races, and so did her year-and-a-half old compatriot. Chloe ran up to a mile for a week, then up to two miles for a week-and-a-half, then the three miles for cross country.

"It took a while for Sami and the dog to get conditioned to run that far," Harris said. "I had complete faith that Chloe could function in this. My concern was with Sami and her safety and well-being. If you see them compete, they are basically one runner, and it's hard not to get emotional."

Benson was ecstatic for Stoner.

"I coached her for three years, and I could see how hard it was getting for her (to see), so I was excited about the opportunity Chloe would give her as an athlete," the head coach said. "I was counting down the days until they could get back home together."

When they did return, practices could be trying for Stoner. The dog is trained to come to a stop at all curbs, which makes running in town a difficult process.

There were other rules that had to be followed. Benson printed out a list of do's and don'ts with the dog and gave them to the team and parents. Chief among the rules is no one is allowed to pet or address Chloe while the harness is on.

"At first it was a little awkward, but now it's just a part of Sami and it is how it is," Benson said.

Running with Chloe

Running cross country for a sighted runner can be harrowing. The ground is uneven and any number of sticks, ruts, roots, stones and bumps can knock a runner out of a race with an injury.

"It's scary," Stoner admitted. "You have to have a lot of trust, and good ankles help, too."

It's one thing coaching a runner with two legs, but what about one with four?

"We had to teach Chloe a certain gait," Petrie said. "If you watch Sami and Chloe run together, you'll see Chloe almost trot. What's interesting is Sami is guiding the dog, really. The dog is following Sami's commands. The dog is not pacing Sami; Sami is pacing the dog."

At times, Stoner looks as though she's running with her eyes closed, but she's really using what's left of her peripheral vision to see her next step. Meanwhile, Chloe looks straight ahead to make sure all is clear in front of the duo.

"I'm just trying to stay focused to keep her focused," Stoner said. "I thought she would go toward the people cheering, but she barely looks to her sides. She just keeps amazing me."

Cross country races can be chaotic, with fans crossing the running path, people yelling and other dogs brought by spectators running about, but Chloe just runs, and so does Stoner.

"I think she's geared toward racing now, which is very cool," Petrie said.

Cross country courses aren't always marked well, so it's important that they get a trial walkthrough before a race.

"She kind of gets a feel for how the course goes," Stoner said. "While we're running, she leads me around roots and stuff, and when she turns, I can feel it in the harness so I can just kind of follow her so she can find a clear spot.

"It looks a lot harder than it really is."

It looks uncomfortable for Stoner as she hangs onto the harness across the dog's back with her left hand and holds a leash with her right hand, so she's essentially running with little arm movement.

"Anyone who thinks it's helping her needs to try to run with one arm while holding onto a dog. It's hard to run with a dog," Benson said.

But Stoner has adapted.

"In the last race her paw got scuffed up, so I didn't do the cool down with her. I was running by myself, and I thought I was going to fall over. I felt so off balance. It's just something you get used to," Stoner said.

Last year while running with her companion runner, Stoner ran a 31:19 at Ontario. A year later with Chloe, that time dropped to 30:24 while giving away 20 seconds at the start. Stoner may have started last, but she didn't finish last, passing seven runners on the course at Marshall Park in late September.

"It's a very good feeling," Stoner admitted through an aw-shucks smile.

A champion

Chloe has become not only an accepted member of the team, but of the school.

"She just sleeps through all her classes," Stoner joked. "I'm a little bit jealous, but it's all right."

Harris said the dog goes unnoticed, lying by Sami's side until it's time to switch classes. In the hallway when it's busy, Chloe acts as a wedge between the crowd and Stoner to make sure no one inadvertently bumps into her.

Stoner is enjoying the high school experience. Petrie and Benson, who taught her science and math respectively in that trying year as an eighth-grader, marvel at her spirit.

"She's just an incredibly brave young lady," Petrie said. "She gets great grades. I also coach her in Destination Imagination, a creative problem solving group. It's more of an academic team, and I've coached her for four years in that. She is so creative. She writes songs. She acts. She's very modest and won't tell you that."

In the early stages of the disease, teachers would make special copies for Stoner with enlarged high-contrasting print. Now she works exclusively off an iPad.

"She does the same things as any student. She's just doing what she can to equalize the playing field," Benson said. "She's such a wonderful young lady, and she's not letting her disabilities dictate who she is."

And that's been the case in cross country.

"Each and every day, that's what my job is -- to coach," Benson said. "She doesn't want to be treated any less. She has goals for the race.

"She is able to do this sport, and that's what is so great. Sami has ability. And I think she can get to 24 minutes."

Stoner admits this is a learning year with Chloe.

"We're just hoping to keep on racing and hopefully keep breaking our times. We're just trying to do our best. Hopefully, next season we can just keep getting better," she said.

Keith Stoner, who is a member of the Lexington school board, is grateful to Benson and Petrie for all their work with his daughter and her dog. He appreciates Harris for his tenacity in getting her waiver and the OHSAA and Gabor for granting it. Most of all, he's thankful for everyone's acceptance of Sami and the school's understanding of her plight.

"It's a great message," he said. "She's never going to be up front getting a medal, but as far as my wife and I are concerned, she wins every race.

"I'm thankful that puppy was brought into our lives."

That puppy turned a teen-aged girl into a champion.

Word List:
  • to win over: to persuade someone to agree with you or to be friendly to you
  • pioneering: done for the first time using new methods
  • quest: a long difficult search
  • hard time: difficult time
  • dispensation: official permission to do something that people are not normally allowed to do, especially from a religious authority
  • waiver: an official statement or document that says a right, claim, or law can be officially ignored or given up
  • denied: to not allow someone to have something
  • to hash out: to discuss a plan or agreement in order to agree about the details
  • impede: to make it more difficult for someone to do something or more difficult for something to happen
  • trailblazer: someone who is the first to do something or to discover something
  • phenomenal: extremely impressive or surprising
  • worst-case scenario: a situation that is the worst one that you can imagine
  • peripheral vision: side vision; what is seen on the side by the eye when looking straight ahead.
  • devastated: feeling very shocked and upset
  • arose: to exist or start developing because of something
  • to undergo: to experience something, especially something that is unpleasant but necessary
  • extensive: involving a lot of details and information
  • screening process: tests done to check someone
  • avid: very enthusiastic about something you do regularly
  • harrowing: extremely frightening
  • duo: two people who work together
  • chaotic: happening in a confused way and without any order or organization
  • scuffed up: to scrape or scratch something
  • wedge: something used to divide or separate
  • inadvertently: not deliberately, and without realizing what you are doing
  • marvel: to show or feel surprise or admiration
  • to dictate: to influence or control how something is done
  • tenacity: quality of being very determined and is not willing to stop when they are trying to achieve something

Saturday, October 8, 2011

MV: Walk the Line - 2005


The story of how Johnny Cash became Johnny Cash traces from his childhood under a distant father to his early attempts at a music career, during which he married his girlfriend Vivian. During a tour with the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, he encounters singer June Carter, and his love for her--and her rejection of him through the years--spurs him into drugs, drinking, and depression. As with most movies based on real-life singers, as his popularity grows, the women come a-flockin', and the childhood demons surface.


You know every story in Scripture.
  • Scripture = from the Bible
You know every song in Mama's hymnal.
  • hymnal = book containing hymns, religious songs
Them radio stations will say anything to get them niggers off.
  • niggers = [offensive slang] African-Americans
Whoa!
  • whoa = stop
Drop it in a brook.
  • brook = very small stream
I saw this church in Dusseldorf...
  • Dusseldorf = city in Germany
Is it any wonder a man sometimes went berserk...
  • berserk = to become violent and uncontrolled because you are very angry
- and it is selling like hotcakes.
  • to sell like hotcakes = to sell very well
I mean, I got a lot of personality, I got sass...
  • sass = to talk to someone in a way that shows you do not respect or like them, especially someone in authority
I give it my all, but my sister Anita's really the one who's got the pipes.
  • pipes = [slang] singing voice
Ten to one, and they're obscene.
  • obscene = offensive in a sexual way
He didn't say take a nibble when you're hungry.
  • to nibble = to eat something by taking a lot of small bites
Ease off, ease off.
  • to ease off = to go more slowly, especially when you are driving or running fast
Ray, why don't you say grace?
  • grace = a Christian prayer said before meals
Well, what'd you use, a sapling?
  • sapling = very small tree
All right, well...quit that clutching on me, and I'll sing with you...
  • to clutch = to hold someone or something firmly, for example because you are afraid or in pain, or do not want to lose them
Well, "Big River" ain't a duet.
  • duet = two singers
It's inappropriate.
  • inappropriate = not appropriate, used about behavior that you think is wrong because it is morally wrong or against acceptable social or professional standards
I surmise you've never been to bed.
  • to surmise = to guess that something is true, when you do not have enough information to prove that it is true
Y'all are gonna blow this tour.
  • to blow = to destroy your own chance of succeeding, or to waste a good opportunity
We even had a flying nanny.
  • nanny = a woman whose job is to take care of someone else’s children. A nanny usually lives with the family that she works for.
So you think this one will stick?
  • to stick = [slang] to last, not breakup
Stock car driver.
  • stock car = an ordinary car that has been changed for racing
You don't have to worry about bookings
  • bookings = an arrangement made by a performer to perform at a particular place and time in the future
Highfalutin' high rollers out there.
  • highfalutin = [old slang] used for describing people, language, or ideas that sound very educated and difficult to understand
  • high rollers = someone who spends or gambles a lot of money
He's been detained for just a minute.
  • to be detained = to delay someone who has to go somewhere
Or is he incognito?
  • incognito = using a false name, or changing your appearance so that you will not be recognized
Big spread.
  • spread = [slang] land, property, ranch
I was trying to pull out that stump, and I couldn't...
  • stump = the base of a cut off tree
While Johnny was out recuperating...the world changed.
  • recuperating = to get better after being sick or injured
Might I suggest you refrain from playing any more tunes
  • to refrain = to stop yourself from doing something. This word is often used in official announcements or signs
You got these people all revved up, John.
  • to be revved up = to become or make something become faster, more lively, or more exciting


Past Movie word lists can be found at Movie Vocabulary
link at the top of the page

Thursday, October 6, 2011

NEWS: Steve Jobs, Apple founder, dies

By Brandon Griggs, originally posted on CNN.com Oct 5th, 2011


(CNN) -- Steve Jobs, the visionary in the black turtleneck who co-founded Apple in a Silicon Valley garage, built it into the world's leading tech company and led a mobile-computing revolution with wildly popular devices such as the iPhone, died Wednesday. He was 56.

The hard-driving executive pioneered the concept of the personal computer and of navigating them by clicking onscreen images with a mouse. In more recent years, he introduced the iPod portable music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet -- all of which changed how we consume content in the digital age.

His friends and Apple fans on Wednesday night mourned the passing of a tech titan.

"Steve's brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives," Apple said in a statement. "The world is immeasurably better because of Steve."

More than one pundit, praising Jobs' ability to transform entire industries with his inventions, called him a modern-day Leonardo Da Vinci.

"Steve Jobs is one of the great innovators in the history of modern capitalism," New York Times columnist Joe Nocera said in August. "His intuition has been phenomenal over the years."

Jobs' death, while dreaded by Apple's legions of fans, was not unexpected. He had battled cancer for years, took a medical leave from Apple in January and stepped down as chief executive in August because he could "no longer meet (his) duties and expectations."

Born February 24, 1955, and then adopted, Jobs grew up in Cupertino, California -- which would become home to Apple's headquarters -- and showed an early interest in electronics. As a teenager, he phoned William Hewlett, president of Hewlett-Packard, to request parts for a school project. He got them, along with an offer of a summer job at HP.

Jobs dropped out of Oregon's Reed College after one semester, although he returned to audit a class in calligraphy, which he says influenced Apple's graceful, minimalist aesthetic. He quit one of his first jobs, designing video games for Atari, to backpack across India and take psychedelic drugs. Those experiences, Jobs said later, shaped his creative vision.

"You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future," he told Stanford University graduates during a commencement speech in 2005. "You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life."

While at HP, Jobs befriended Steve Wozniak, who impressed him with his skill at assembling electronic components. The two later joined a Silicon Valley computer hobbyists club, and when he was 21, Jobs teamed with Wozniak and two other men to launch Apple Computer Inc.

It's long been Silicon Valley legend: Jobs and Wozniak built their first commercial product, the Apple 1, in Jobs' parents' garage in 1976. Jobs sold his Volkswagen van to help finance the venture. The primitive computer, priced at $666.66, had no keyboard or display, and customers had to assemble it themselves.

The following year, Apple unveiled the Apple II computer at the inaugural West Coast Computer Faire. The machine was a hit, and the personal computing revolution was under way.

Jobs was among the first computer engineers to recognize the appeal of the mouse and the graphical interface, which let users operate computers by clicking on images instead of writing text.

Apple's pioneering Macintosh computer launched in early 1984 with a now-iconic, Orwellian-themed Super Bowl ad. The boxy beige Macintosh sold well, but the demanding Jobs clashed frequently with colleagues, and in 1986, he was ousted from Apple after a power struggle.

Then came a 10-year hiatus during which he founded NeXT Computer, whose pricey, cube-shaped computer workstations never caught on with consumers.

Jobs had more success when he bought Pixar Animation Studios from George Lucas before the company made it big with "Toy Story." Jobs brought the same marketing skill to Pixar that he became known for at Apple. His brief but emotional pitch for "Finding Nemo," for example, was a masterful bit of succinct storytelling.

In 1996, Apple bought NeXT, returning Jobs to the then-struggling company he had co-founded. Within a year, he was running Apple again -- older and perhaps wiser but no less of a perfectionist. And in 2001, he took the stage to introduce the original iPod, the little white device that transformed portable music and kick-started Apple's furious comeback.

Thus began one of the most remarkable second acts in the history of business. Over the next decade, Jobs wowed launch-event audiences, and consumers, with one game-changing hit after another: iTunes (2003), the iPhone (2007), the App Store (2008), and the iPad (2010).

Observers marveled at Jobs' skills as a pitchman, his ability to inspire godlike devotion among Apple "fanboys" (and scorn from PC fans) and his "one more thing" surprise announcements. Time after time, he sold people on a product they didn't know they needed until he invented it. And all this on an official annual salary of $1.

He also built a reputation as a hard-driving, mercurial and sometimes difficult boss who oversaw almost every detail of Apple's products and rejected prototypes that didn't meet his exacting standards.

By the late 2000s, his once-renegade tech company, the David to Microsoft's Goliath, was entrenched at the uppermost tier of American business. Apple now operates more than 300 retail stores in 11 countries. The company has sold more than 275 million iPods, 100 million iPhones and 25 million iPads worldwide.

Jobs' climb to the top was complete in summer 2011, when Apple listed more cash reserves than the U.S. Treasury and even briefly surpassed Exxon Mobil as the world's most valuable company.

But Jobs' health problems sometimes cast a shadow over his company's success. In 2004, he announced to his employees that he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. He lost weight and appeared unusually gaunt at keynote speeches to Apple developers, spurring concerns about his health and fluctuations in the company's stock price. One wire service accidentally published Jobs' obituary.

Jobs had a secret liver transplant in 2009 in Tennessee during a six-month medical leave of absence from Apple. He took another medical leave in January this year. Perhaps mindful of his legacy, he cooperated on his first authorized biography, scheduled to be published by Simon & Schuster in November.

Jobs is survived by his wife of 20 years, Laurene, and four children, including one from a prior relationship.

He always spoke with immense pride about what he and his engineers accomplished at Apple.

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do," he told the Stanford grads in 2005.

Word List:

  • visionary = with clear ideas or hopes of how something should be done or how things will be in the future
  • pioneered = to be a pioneer doing something for the first time
  • concept = an idea of something that exists
  • consume = to use a supply of something such as time, energy, or fuel
  • mourned = to feel extremely sad because someone has died, and to express this in public
  • titan = a person or organization that is very important or successful
  • brilliance = great skill or intelligence
  • innovations = a new idea, method, piece of equipment, etc.
  • enrich = to make something better or more enjoyable
  • immeasurably = in an extreme way (not + measurable)
  • pundit = someone who is an expert in a subject, and is often asked to talk to the public about that subject
  • phenomenal = extremely impressive or surprising
  • dreaded = frightening or worrying
  • legions = a large group or number of people
  • dropped out = to leave something such as an activity, school, or competition before you have finished what you intended to do
  • audit = to take a university class not for credit or grade
  • venture = a new business or activity
  • inaugural = an inaugural event is the first of a series, or the first one to be held by members of a new organization
  • pricey = expensive
  • succinct = expressed in a very short but clear way
  • wowed = to impress someone by doing something extremely well
  • marveled = to show or feel surprise or admiration
  • pitchman = A person delivering a sales pitch
  • mercurial = lively and continuously active
  • gaunt = very thin, usually because you are sick, tired, or worried
  • spurring = to encourage someone to do something
  • legacy = something that someone has achieved that continues to exists after they stop working or die
  • immense = extremely large

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NEWS: The Urban Clan of Genghis Khan

An influx of nomads has turned
the Mongolian capital upside down.
By Don Belt, originally posted on NationalGeographic.com Oct'11


Photograph by Mark Leong

Not long ago a young Mongolian livestock herder named Ochkhuu Genen loaded what was left of his life into a borrowed Chinese pickup truck and moved it to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's sprawling capital. Slender and dignified, Ochkhuu gave no outward sign of turmoil as he buried himself in the mechanics of packing, lifting, unpacking, and assembling. He may have been disappointed in himself, even shaken, but outwardly he was as smooth and focused as a socket wrench.

Within hours of arriving, Ochkhuu had pitched his ger—the nomad's traditional round dwelling—on a small, fenced plot of bare ground he'd rented on the outskirts of the city. Around it were thousands of other plots, each with a ger in the middle, jammed together on the slopes overlooking Ulaanbaatar. Once his stovepipe was raised and the stakes driven in, he opened the low wooden door for his wife, Norvoo; their baby boy, Ulaka; and their six-year-old daughter, Anuka.

Norvoo also took comfort in the task at hand. She put aside her worries long enough to make sure their ger was as cozy as it had been in the countryside: linoleum floor, cast-iron stove, and cots around the edges, with family pictures neatly pinned to the wall and a small television on a wooden table.

Outside their door, however, the view was starkly different from what it had been on the steppe an hour southwest of the capital, where they'd raised their livestock next to the ger of Norvoo's parents. Here, in place of rolling grasslands, there was a seven-foot-high wooden fence a few feet away. And in place of Ochkhuu's cherished livestock—the horses and cattle and sheep—there was only the landlord's dog, a black and brown mongrel staked in the yard, who barked himself hoarse at the least provocation.

There was plenty of provocation just beyond the fence, in the ramshackle slums, or ger districts, where about 60 percent of Ulaanbaatar's 1.2 million people live without paved roads, sanitation, or running water. As in other urban slums, the ger districts are high in crime, alcoholism, poverty, and despair, which is why many people here do the unthinkable, for a herder: They lock their gates at night.

"We step outside the ger and all we can see is that fence," Ochkhuu said. "It's like living in a box."

Nomads were never meant to live in a box, but Ochkhuu and Norvoo weren't there by choice. During the winter of 2009-2010, most of the couple's livestock either froze or starved to death during a white dzud, a devastating period of snow, ice, and bitter cold that follows a summer drought; it lasted more than four months. By the time the weather broke, the couple's herd of 350 animals had been cut to 90. Across Mongolia some eight million animals—cows, yaks, camels, horses, goats, and sheep—died that winter.

"After that, I just couldn't see our future in the countryside any more," Ochkhuu said quietly. "So we decided to sell what was left of our herd and make a new life."

It was also a clear-eyed calculation to improve the lives of their children. Ochkhuu and Norvoo feel no great affinity for city life, but they see its advantages. In the countryside they were far removed from nurses and schools, but here they can get free medical care for their infant son, and Anuka can attend a public school.

There are more than half a million Ochkhuus and Norvoos living these days in UB, as Mongolians call Ulaanbaatar. Many have been driven from the steppe by bad winters, bad luck, and bad prospects. And now that Mongolia's coal, gold, and copper mines are attracting billions in foreign investment, they also have flooded into UB in search of job prospects created by the economic upsurge from mining money.

Beyond the downtown high-rises, UB often feels like a frontier town run amok, strewn lengthwise along a river valley like gravel left behind by a flash flood. Founded in 1639 as a movable Buddhist monastic center and trading post, the settlement took root in its present location in 1778. The town was laid out along one major thoroughfare, which runs along the base of a low mountain. Today that road goes by the name Peace Avenue, and it's still the only direct way to get from one side of town to the other. From daybreak to nightfall, it's jammed with traffic. Driving it is like getting on a conveyor belt that inches past crumbling Soviet-era apartment blocks, side streets that run promisingly for 50 yards and then end at a barricade, unexplained piles of rusted iron and concrete, and office buildings so clumsily situated and hidden from view that no taxi driver can find them.

Add to this a flood of nomads, many of them recent arrivals whose skill set doesn't include city driving, crossing a busy road, or the subtleties of social interaction in an urban environment, and you've got a heady mix. It's not unusual to be waiting in line at a kiosk and have some gnarled tree trunk of a man in herder clothes—steppe boots, felt hat, and the traditional wraparound del—stomp to the front of the line, shouldering customers out of the way like a hockey player, just to see what the place is selling. If there are other herders in line, he gets pushed back just as hard. There are no fights, no hard feelings. That's just the way it goes.

"These people are completely free," says Baabar, a prominent publisher and historian who writes often about Mongolia's national character. "Even if they've been in UB for years, their mentality is still nomadic. They do exactly what they want to do, when they want to do it. Watch people crossing the road. They just lurch out into traffic without batting an eye. It doesn't occur to them to compromise, even with a speeding automobile. We're a nation of rugged individuals, with no regard for rules."

Early one Saturday morning Ochkhuu, Norvoo, and their kids returned to the country for a weekend at Norvoo's parents' home to prepare their farm for winter. Ochkhuu helped Norvoo's father, Jaya, cut hay for eight hours, and by Sunday night they had moved enough hay to the barn to keep his animals alive through the winter, even a dzud. Jaya too had lost huge numbers of animals during the last dzud—his herd had dropped from more than a thousand to 300 animals—but he was determined to make a comeback, banking on decades of experience as a herder both during and after communism, which he rather misses.

"There were bad things, of course. I hated being told what to do by bureaucrats. But communism protected us from disasters like last winter," he said. "Even if you lost all your animals, you wouldn't starve to death."

Although they supported Ochkhuu and Norvoo's decision to move, Jaya and his wife, Chantsal, often said how lonely they were without them next door. But moving to UB was out of the question. "I wouldn't last a week in that city," Jaya scowled. "Too much noise, too much jangling and banging. I'd get sick and die."

Men like Jaya and Ochkhuu are authentic livestock herders, unlike others who failed during the dzud, said historian Baabar. After the collapse of communism, when many Soviet-era factories closed down, thousands of people left UB to reclaim their pastoral roots. But "they'd forgotten everything they knew about being nomads, how to raise livestock, how to survive these tough winters," he said. The pity, says Baabar, is that they are also not fit to compete in the city.

All this comes at a time when Mongolia, communist until 1990, is seeking to reassert itself between the two powers next door, Russia and China, that have pushed it around for centuries. Nationalism—even xenophobia—is on the rise, and foreigners are increasingly blamed for Mongolia's problems in the same breath as local and national politicians, who are widely considered, with justification, as deeply corrupt.

Visiting Chinese businessmen, accused of enriching themselves at Mongolia's expense, no longer venture out after dark on the streets of the capital for fear of being attacked by young guys in black leather channeling Genghis Khan, who is back in vogue as a symbol of Mongolian pride. Banned during Soviet times, images of Genghis are everywhere you look today, from vodka labels and playing cards to the colossal, 131-foot steel statue of the conqueror on horseback that rises from the steppe an hour east of UB to cast the mother of all dirty looks toward China.

He's not the only one looking in that direction. By many estimates, Mongolia is sitting on a trillion dollars' worth of recoverable coal, copper, and gold, much of it concentrated near the Chinese border around Oyu Tolgoi, or Turquoise Hill. There Ivanhoe Mines, the Canadian mining giant, is tapping the world's largest undeveloped copper and gold deposit in partnership with Rio Tinto, an Anglo-Australian company, and the Mongolian government, which holds a 34 percent share of the project, potentially adding billions of dollars to the national economy.

How much of that will migrate 340 miles north and into the pockets of ordinary people such as Ochkhuu is an open question. Experts at the World Bank and the United Nations are urging Mongolia to invest that money in infrastructure, training, and growing the economy, although the current government, led by Prime Minister Sukhbaatar Batbold, took a more direct approach, pledging to grant every man, woman, and child a payment of about $1,200 from the mining windfall.

Ochkhuu doesn't believe he'll ever see that money. But in the meantime, he needs to work. At first he tried his hand as an entrepreneur, having identified what he thought was a need in the community. He and a partner rented a room at a local hotel and then marketed it to ger dwellers, who lack running water, as a place to take a shower or a bath. He went door-to-door looking for customers. There were very few takers. Ochkhuu lost more than $200 on the deal, a sizable chunk of his savings.

Now he's thinking of buying a used car and turning it into a taxi. He'd need to borrow the money, but he'd make a pretty good living, and the freedom of driving and being his own boss appeals to him. More important, he'd be able to drive his daughter to and from school.

"We may not be able to raise our animals in UB," he went on. "But it's a good place to raise our children."

Passing through the fence into his yard, Ochkhuu drags the wooden gate behind him until the latch clicks.

"God, I miss my horses," he says.

Word List:

  • influx = a large number of people or things coming to a particular place
  • sprawling = built over a wide area in a way that is ugly or not carefully planned
  • slender = tall or long and thin in an attractive way
  • turmoil = a state of excitement or uncontrolled activity
  • task = something that you have to do, often something that is difficult or unpleasant
  • starkly = used for describing a building or scene that is very clear and plain to look at, often in a slightly unpleasant or frightening way
  • cherished = to take care of someone or something because you love them very much
  • mongrel = a dog that is a mixture of different breeds (=types with particular features)
  • hoarse = someone who is hoarse or has a hoarse voice speaks in a low rough voice, usually because their throat is sore
  • provocation = something that causes you to react in an angry or violent way, often something that is intended to cause such a reaction
  • ramshackle = in bad condition and likely to fall down
  • despair = the feeling that a situation is so bad that nothing you can do will change it
  • devastating = causing a lot of harm or damage
  • affinity = a natural understanding and sympathy between people
  • upsurge = a sudden increase in something
  • run amok = to behave in an uncontrolled and often violent way
  • strewn = to be covered with things that are spread around in a careless or messy way
  • crumbling = if something hard such as stone or a brick crumbles or crumbles away, parts of it fall off because it is very old or damaged
  • barricade = a temporary structure that is built across a road, gate, or door to prevent people from getting through
  • clumsily = a clumsy person moves in a way that is not careful or graceful, and breaks things or hits them
  • situated = in a particular place
  • subtleties = the quality of being complicated, delicate, or difficult to notice, often in a skillful or attractive way
  • heady = very exciting and making you feel that you can achieve anything you want
  • gnarled = old and twisted and covered in lines
  • prominent = important and well known
  • lurch = to move suddenly in a way that is not smooth or controlled
  • not batting an eye = to not be shocked, worried, or upset by something
  • compromise = a way of solving a problem or ending an argument in which both people or groups accept that they cannot have everything they want
  • rugged = strong and able to deal with difficult conditions
  • banking = to depend on something happening or on someone doing something
  • bureaucrats = someone who is employed to help run an office or government department. This word can suggest that you do not like people like this because you think they have too much power and care too much about rules and systems
  • jangling = to make a noise by hitting small metal objects against each other
  • collapse = to suddenly fail or stop existing
  • xenophobia = a strong fear and dislike of people from other countries and cultures
  • blamed = to say or think that someone or something is responsible for an accident, problem, or bad situation
  • colossal = extremely great or large
  • entrepreneur = someone who uses money to start businesses and make business deals
  • latch = an object for keeping a door, gate, etc. fastened shut, consisting of a metal bar that fits into a hole or slot