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A push for slavery reparations. The dilemma of wild cows. A complicated racial heritage. How bees require a balanced diet. And the joys of swimming in the slow lane.

1. Inside Barbados’ Historic Push for Slave Reparations

Janell Ross| TIME |July 6, 2023 | 4,309 words

It’s been nine years since Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote his seminal essay “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic. Today, the idea of compensating Black Americans for the horrors of slavery and institutionalized racism remains fringe at best. The same goes in other countries that were once complicit in human bondage. But in the island nation of Barbados, where slaves made sugar plantations wildly lucrative, support for reparations is very real—and growing stronger. This year, under the leadership of President Mia Mottley, the country is asking European countries for a “Marshall Plan-like public investment,” as opposed to the individual payments we usually associate with reparations. Mottley, though, isn’t at the heart of this feature about Barbados’ groundbreaking efforts. Instead, writer Jannell Ross showcases Esther Phillips, the country’s poet laureate, who went from believing reparations were radical, to viewing them as unlikely, to arguing passionately for them. Phillips hopes that other people, particularly in Europe, will undergo transformations of their own. “If something of such horror is revealed,” she tells Ross, “and you’re still benefiting from the proceeds, you cannot turn you head and say, ‘Well, what has to do with me?’”—SD

2. The Republic of Cows

Jude Isabella | Hakai | August 15, 2023 | 5,525 words

Last year, our sister publication, The Atavist, published one of my favorite features in recent memory: a story about feral cows who were washed away in a storm surge, only to resurface miles away, perfectly fine. I don’t think I’d thought about feral cows before that point. In my mind, conditioned as it was by cheese companies and weird college mascots, “bovine” was synonymous with “domesticated.” Even after reading it, my image of feral cows remained indistinguishable from the archetype of the placid ruminant. But as Jude Isabella points out in her visit to Alaska’s uninhabited Chirikof Island, the truth is udderly different. “Trappers on Chirikof have witnessed up to a dozen bulls at a time pursuing and mounting cows, causing injury, exhaustion, and death, especially to heifers,” she writes. Troublesome rutting is only one of the issues plaguing Chirikof; the 2,000 cattle there are federally protected, but everyone else is torn about whether that’s a boon or a bane for the island’s ecosystem. One wildlife biologist Isabella talks to points out that Chirikof’s shape—either a T-bone steak or a teardrop, depending on who’s describing it—neatly embodies the tension at hand. At its heart, this is a nature piece, one that transports you (by seaplane) to a land of wind-rippled meadows and majestic untamed beasts. But it’s also a challenge to our very conceptions of cows. Yes, we can imagine Chirikof as a utopia for its massive herd—but what of the many other species that call Chirikof home? —PR

3. My Time Machine

Arthur Asseraf | Granta | July 25, 2023 | 3,029  words

Arthur Asseraf became a historian in part to overcome the confusion of his ancestry: his paternal grandmother was born in Morocco and eventually returned to France, for reasons undiscernible to Asseraf as a child. As he gains context and knowledge, Asseraf carefully confronts his grandmother’s distaste for Arabs and her unwillingness to see them as equal to her as an Algerian Jew. The more he learns about her past, the more distant he becomes to her. “I never told my colleagues the truth: that I knew colonialism not only through reading books, but also because its representative served me fish fingers after school,” he writes. Things change as Assaraf’s grandmother develops dementia and she reveals the anti-semitism she encountered as a Jew after the Second World War. This piece is a beautiful read about a grandson’s desire to understand a heritage mired in racist colonialism, coupled with the discovery that his grandmother, over the course of her life, was both oppressor and victim. —KS

4. America’s Bee Problem Is an Us Problem

Lex Pryor | The Ringer | August 3, 2023 | 6,482 words

Nearly 6,500 words on the state of bees in America? Yes, please. Lex Pryor’s piece is the bee’s knees—one part education, one part entertainment, and replete with fascinating characters—a piece that just might inspire you to do what you can for your local pollinators. It is well known that bees help produce many of the foods we eat, and keepers Andrew Coté and Bill Crawford are among those who tote hives to farms across the US to ensure that there are enough pollinators buzzing around for crops to thrive. But, did you know that monoculture farming is partly to blame for dwindling bee colonies in America? “It used to be that I could put down my bees somewhere and they’ll get a nice diversity of nectar and they’ll be healthy,” says Coté. “But now if I put them down in almonds, it’d be like if you or I ate kale. Kale is good, kale is healthy…But if we eat kale only for six weeks, like the bees have almond nectar only for six weeks, at the end of it, we won’t be dead—we may wish we were—but we’ll just be unhealthy and then susceptible to other health problems.” It turns out that a balanced diet isn’t just good for you, it’s good for the bees, too. —KS

5. Epiphany at the Y

Diane Mehta | Virginia Quarterly Review | June 12, 2023 | 4,236 words

I love to swim. Put me in front of a body of water and I will want to jump in it—temperature be damned. The feeling of a new silky texture rushing to envelop your skin. The silence of submerging. The sudden weightlessness of heavy limbs. However, not all swimming has equal majesty. Give me endless wild splashing in a sea or a lake, never the confusing etiquette of public pool lane-swimming. As I read this beautiful essay, I nodded to Diane Mehta’s frustration at swimming in the slow lane of her local YMCA pool. Why was a woman touching her foot? Why was another woman performing cartwheels and ballet steps? But Mehta keeps on going. Every. Single. Day. You will root for her as she learns to swim freestyle for the first time, and feel for her as she comes to grips with middle age and her new, less cooperative body. She swims until she “fell in love with the woman who cartwheeled down the lane, the stalwart silver-haired man who strode in with deliberation, [and] the older lady who gravitated forward like a Galapagos turtle.” And she swims until she also loves her own body again. I think I need to give lane-swimming another chance. —CW

Audience Award

Here’s the piece that stood out for our audience this week.

True Crime, True Faith: The Serial Killer and the Texas Mom Who Stopped Him

Julie Miller | Vanity Fair | August 9, 2023 | 8,658 words

In yet another true crime story—but one that still manages to surprise—Margie Palm gets kidnapped by serial killer Stephen Miller and discusses her religious beliefs until he lets her go. Julie Miller recounts this bizarre, terrifying day and the even more bizarre friendship that followed. By smartly delving into the background of both characters Miller provides the necessary context to understand an otherwise unfathomable scenario. —CW