Search Results for: oceans

At the Maacher Bazaar, Fish For Life

Family photo courtesy of the author / Getty / Collage by Katie Kosma

Madhushree Ghosh | Longreads | April 2019 | 18 minutes (4,605 words)

It’s been over a decade since the parents left. I still don’t say they died, because they didn’t. Not to me. All my American friends whose parents are still alive console me, “It’ll get easier, Madhu,” — shortening my name with the casual authority most non-Indians have — “it’ll get easier with time.”

I have been waiting for that ease for years now.

When I moved to America a quarter of a century ago, what hit me wasn’t what I saw but what was absent on the streets, in neighborhoods, near the ocean, in movie theaters, in parks. The absence of older people. Everywhere, there were only young families, young singles, children, and animals. Lots of well-dressed puppies and even more tottering, unbalanced children. The older generation was hidden in assisted living behind decrepit malls, in high-rises facing lakes for exorbitant rental prices, or in Florida around golf courses.

I used to tell Baba when I’d call home every other weekend for 15 minutes at $2.05 per minute on an MCI calling card, “It’s as if they are afraid of seeing old people, Baba. Like that reminds Americans of impending death.”

He’d reply, laughing, “Ah, but it’s more than death, though. The previous generation guides the newest generation. The stories pass from the previous generation not to their children, but their grandchildren. The white people seem to have forgotten that, shotti, such a shame.”

I laughed with him, our favorite pastime, rolling our eyes at the follies of ‘these Americans.” But then, it was 1993 when I arrived in America with two suitcases and two hundred dollars in travelers’ checks. In 1993, I was invincible, young and convinced that my Baba would live forever.
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The Curious Tale of the Salish Sea Feet

Unsplash / Collage by Katie Kosma

Kea Krause | LongreadsApril 2019| 16 minutes (3,905 words)

They come by way of similar discovery: A beachcomber, perhaps gathering shells or out for some exercise, spots a flashy, nonpelagic lump that, upon closer inspection, turns out to be a human foot still nestled in its shoe. The feet, both lefts and rights, come in all sizes — sometimes wearing New Balance or Nike, occasionally a hiking boot, and sometimes still attached to leg bones, a tibia sticking out like a stake in the ground.

To the intrigue and often horror of Pacific Northwesterners, in 2007 feet began washing up along the shores of the Salish Sea, an inland ocean spanning nearly 500 miles from Olympia, Washington, the state’s capitol, to Desolation Sound, in British Columbia, Canada. Today the tally is 21 feet and counting (15 in BC, six in Washington). So prevalent are the gruesome discoveries that the BC coroner’s office has a map marked up with each new find: Foot #1 — a right — found in August 2007 floated up to Jedediah Island in a generic white sneaker with navy blue accents; Foot #5 in a muddy Nike; Foot #13 wore black with Velcro. New Year’s Day 2019 delivered the most recent foot, number 21, to a beach in Everett. It tumbled ashore in an aging boot, its condition indicating it had been out to sea for “some time,” according to local police.

A pattern of body parts washing ashore has all the trappings of a serial killer scenario or a horror movie or, in the very least, of an otherworldly phenomenon. Earned or not, the Pacific Northwest has a haunting prestige — the home of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, and Ted Bundy, and now also the land of Twilight’s Hollywood vampires in Forks, out on the peninsula. Some morbid element of the region has arrested our imaginations. It could be the skies: So gray and responsible for all the rain that keeps everything perennially damp. Or perhaps it’s the abundance of old-growth timber — plenty of dense and protected woods for stashing bodies. Rivers, branching across the state are another nature-made means of evidence disposal. It is rumored that Ridgway discarded the bodies of as many as 70 women around the Green River, 65 miles long descending from the Cascades and entering the Puget Sound just west of Seattle. In Washington State, geography and meteorology conspire to creep us out. But perhaps most lurid is the ocean itself, not just because it continues to spew body parts to its surface but also because of its infinite and perplexing nature. Its unknowability, though alluring to those in the script-writing business, has puzzled scientists and casual observers of the Sound for generations.

The southern portion of the Salish Sea is more familiarly known as Puget Sound, a body of water servicing the Seattle metropolitan area, home to about 3.8 million residents and plenty of industry — Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, among others — all luxuriously settled in one of America’s most beautiful and diverse oceanic ecosystems. Seattle is rainy and weird, a place for artists and musicians to brood beneath weather-pregnant clouds, an offbeat city for both the creative and outdoorsy, resting in a hammock between two mountain ranges. But recently the area has seen changes out of its control: The tech industry is expected to expand the population of the Salish Sea region to 9 million people in the coming decades and has wiped away many of the city’s distinctive traits. The former home of Kurt Cobain and birthplace of grunge now has a median home value of more than $700,000 and mostly functions to accommodate well-compensated tech workers. It’s still weird though — after all, feet keep floating ashore.

A pattern of body parts washing ashore has all the trappings of a serial killer scenario or a horror movie or, in the very least, of an otherworldly phenomenon.

Last fall, I went looking for a foot. More specifically, I went to Crane’s Landing on Whidbey Island — a refuge in Puget Sound just north of Seattle — where a foot had been found, looking to see if the beach would tell me anything about why the sea had dropped the foot there. Off the ferry, I drove a narrow roadway so starved of sunshine that moss grew along its centerline. It wound through a collection of homes that petered out down by the water in a dead end. The pebble beach comprised of mostly smooth skipping stones, was lined with a row of ragged pilings, head-high with rotted bases, the remnants of the landing that had been the beach’s namesake.

When you’re from Seattle, it’s almost routine to be dazzled by the macabre sagas of the sea. As a child, my favorite story was one my uncle told about a body floating up behind his live-aboard sailboat on Lake Union. The idea of that bloated body floated into my imagination and from there on out, when visiting my family on their sailboat, I would keep my eyes glued to the water in the event another poor soul should bob up to the surface for my discovery. Read more…

Coming Home, One Word At A Time

Illustration by Missy Chimovitz

Sharanya Deepak | Longreads | March 2019 | 13 minutes (3,366 words)

“Big bird, red eyes …” my teacher said, hinting me toward the new word I was learning. “Big, big bird … think about Central Delhi …” he added, excited for me to untangle his clues, for this big bird to fly into my brain. I was in my third Urdu class, ripening my vocabulary in a language I had always known but never formally studied.

Gidh!” I finally screamed, the Urdu word for vulture, leaning onto my notebook. I thought about the times I would lay under trees in central Delhi and watch the birds perch on branches. Gidh, a vulture my friends and I once fed jam sandwiches, determined to get close. Gidh, the bird I once saw feed on an elderly man’s remains in Old Delhi. The simple word for a bird so ubiquitous in folklore, flushed in memories of warm Delhi winters, of stories told to me as a child, of faces of friends I had long forgotten, of the bird both revered and condemned in the city that raised me. But like the Urdu word for it, the vulture was long since gone from my life.

I grew up in a flurry of languages: in the beautiful, unfurling Tamil of my mother’s rage, in the curt English of my grandfather’s routine, in the effervescent Hindi of my father’s quickly changing moods. The concept of one native tongue had no meaning. Languages switched quickly in our house: New ones entered with meals presented by neighbors, unknown nurturing words appeared in the homes of friends. Our everyday lives were a wonderful linguistic mess, but Urdu — the language that floated in the backdrop of everything in Delhi, in songs, in corners of the old city, in anecdotes told by poetic uncles, in the history of the city’s kings — was the one that got away.

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America’s Post-Frontier Hangover

'American Progress' (1872), by John Gast, depicts settlers moving west, guided and protected by a goddess-like figure and aided by technology (railways, telegraphs), driving Native Americans and bison into obscurity. (Fotosearch / Stringer/Getty)

Will Meyer | Longreads | March 2019 | 17 minutes (4,498 words)

In the small New England town where I live, Hadley, Massachusetts, the common lies a few miles from the mishmash of corporate chains that make up the town’s economic center. A quiet residential neighborhood surrounds the common. It is a grassy patch, left vacant most of the year, save for occasional festivals and craft fairs; open space to be utilized as needed, hardly disturbed otherwise. Adjacent to the college towns of Northampton and Amherst, not much happens in Hadley. I go for walks around my neighborhood most days and seldom run into many people. The common feels like an oasis, a fleeting yet contained sliver of vastness.

In 1995, the Hadley Historical Commission installed a plaque on the side of a rock, near the end of the common, between where it meets the main road and a paved rail trail. The plaque commemorates the “17th Century Palisade,” a wall that was “3 fingers thick and 8 feet high” in 1676, 100 years before the American revolution. The “fortification,” the plaque states, “was one mile long by 40 rods wide.” Most saliently, however, “Hadley was then a frontier outpost which felt threatened by Native American attack.” In other words, the settlers built a wall (around the corner from where I live now) both to assert their settlement and ward off perceived threats — namely the brown-skinned Other the United States was founded, at least partially, to pacify and remove. Read more…

Atlantic City Is Really Going Down This Time

Illustration by Matt Chinworth

Rebecca McCarthy | Longreads | February 2019 | 14 minutes (3,579 words)

Atlantic City covers the northern third of Absecon Island, a barrier island made up of an alarming amount of sand. It is a bad town to die in — there are plenty of vacant lots but no cemeteries. In many places, if you dig down more than eight feet you hit water. A couple blocks away from the beach, the Absecon Lighthouse is built on a submerged wooden foundation for exactly that reason — so long as you keep wood wet and away from oxygen, it won’t rot. “We haven’t tipped yet,” said Buddy Grover, the 91-year-old lighthouse keeper, “but it does sway in the wind sometimes.”

“The problem with barrier islands is that, sort of by definition, they move,” said Dan Heneghan. Heneghan covered the casino beat for the Press of Atlantic City for 20 years before moving to the Casino Control Commission in 1996. He retired this past May. He’s a big, friendly guy with a mustache like a push broom and a habit of lowering his voice and pausing near the end of his sentences, as if he’s telling you a ghost story. (“Atlantic City was, in mob parlance … a wide open city. No one family … controlled it.”) We were standing at the base of the lighthouse, which he clearly adores. He’s climbed it 71 times this year. “I don’t volunteer here, I just climb the steps,” he said. “It’s a lot more interesting than spending time on a Stairmaster.” The lighthouse was designed by George Meade, a Civil War general most famous for defeating Robert E. Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. It opened in 1857 but within 20 years the beach had eroded to such an extent that the water was only 75 feet away from the base. Jetties were added until the beach was built back out, but a large iron anchor sits at the old waterline, either as a reminder or a threat.

A little more than two years ago, when I was an intern at a now shuttered website called The Awl, I went out to Atlantic City to cover the Trump Taj Mahal’s last weekend before it closed for good. My first night there I met a woman named Juliana Lykins who told me about Tucker’s Island — New Jersey’s first seaside resort, which had been slowly overtaken by the sea until it disappeared completely. This was a month before the election. The “grab ’em by the pussy” tape had just broken, it was pouring rain, the city was on the verge of defaulting on its debts, and 2,000 casino workers were about to lose their jobs. At the time — my clothes soaking wet, falling asleep in a Super 8 to the sound of Scottie Nell Hughes on CNN — it was hard to understand what Lykins was saying as anything other than a metaphor for the country. I missed the larger menace and focused on the immediate. Trump was elected obviously, but Tucker’s Island wasn’t a figurative threat; it was a very straightforward story about what happens to coastal communities when the water moves in. Read more…

What Falls to Earth

Illustration by Cristina Daura

Susanna Space | Longreads | January 2019 | 13 minutes (3,200 words)

On June 30, 1908, a star-like body with a fiery tail tore through the clear morning sky above the vast Siberian forest. As it neared the ground, a column of light shot twelve miles into the air. Booms like artillery followed, and stones rained from the sky; houses shook and windows shattered. A wave of intense heat threw people from their chairs. Hundreds of reindeer scattered and burned.

I came upon the story of the Tunguska meteor by accident. It was 2014 and I had watched a documentary about Russian girls, children of 12 and 13, sent abroad by American modeling agents to work. The film made me curious about the girls’ home in the Siberian countryside, a backdrop they were eager to shed.

My interest in the girls receded as I read about the meteor. I was online, trying to learn more about Siberia when links to articles popped up about a similar event, this one a century later and 3,500 miles away in Chelyabinsk. A meteor had exploded over the city one February morning, the flash recorded by hundreds of smartphones and dashboard cameras.
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Sea Lion Herschel: Steelhead Salmon Scapegoat

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

It wasn’t necessarily Herschel the sea lion outside the locks with a very hungry tummy; the decline of steelhead salmon in Puget Sound in the last couple of decades could be due to many factors including whales, hake, pollock, and sculpins, though as Katharine Gammon reports at Hakai, humans needed someone to blame for depleting fish stocks.

The sea lions kept on coming and kept on eating. In 1986, the Seattle Times trumpeted, “It’s the return of ‘Herschel’ and the good old boys—those wandering California sea lions that are arriving earlier, staying later, and dining out more frequently. Pass the salmon and steelhead, please.” In 1982, 2,575 steelhead, Washington’s state fish, had swum through the locks; in the fall of 1988, only 686 were counted.

It’s undeniable that sea lions impacted the steelhead population by capitalizing on the advantage afforded by the locks. Wildlife managers estimate the animals consumed between 42 and 65 percent of the total steelhead run between 1986 and 1992. Yet steelhead had been in decline in parts of Puget Sound long before Herschel boldly poked his whiskered snout up to the foreign structure and discovered nirvana. Models suggest that the historical steelhead run in Puget Sound maxed out somewhere between 409,000 and 930,000 fish. The fishery likely peaked in 1895 with 204,600 steelhead caught, but such a heavy harvest was unsustainable. Just three years later, the Washington State Fish Commission estimated that the run had dropped by half.

When predatory animals go from being a rarity to a commonplace, people struggle to adjust—and it’s especially hard if we watch them compete for depleting resources. Sea lions often consume their meals on the surface, which is unfortunate for their public image. “We tend to want to blame things on the surface, but would anyone think to start blaming hake, pollock, sculpins?” says Andrew Trites, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit in the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at the University of British Columbia. Those are all species that may be feeding on juvenile fish. “We tend to come up with simple narratives: when salmon are down, it must be the fault of something we see.”

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Duet for a Small Porpoise’s Extinction

Wikimedia Commons / Collage by Katie Kosma

Kimi Eisele | Longreads | December 2018 | 22 minutes (5,477 words)

Were we ever to arrive at knowing the other as the same pulsing / compassion would break the most orthodox heart.

— Claudia Rankine

One December afternoon two years ago, I came upon an iceberg in the Place du Pantheón in Paris. Twelve of them actually, each the size of a small car, arranged in a circle, clock-like. I observed them for a while, and then I did what I sometimes do in nature: I started dancing with the ice.

There was another dancer there, too, moving fluidly around one of the pieces. When I saw him I thought, kin, which is also what I came to feel for the ice itself.

I approached the other dancer and asked to join him. At first he said no. A cameraman was filming him, and I understood this to mean his dance was important and would be preserved. He mentioned an injury. Maybe he was afraid I would touch him or lean on him, which is a fear I myself have, given my own fragile lower back. Or maybe he thought I wanted to partner dance — waltz or jitterbug, say — and I understood that refusal as well, because that is not the kind of dancing the icebergs seemed to summon. I clarified, “Not together, just alongside. We each can do our own thing.” So he nodded and I joined him and we danced that way, improvising, alone and together, with the ice.

The ice was from Greenland. It had already broken off from the ice sheet and was melting into the sea when the Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Elliason and his geologist collaborator Minik Rosing scooped it from the ocean and transported it in refrigerated shipping containers to Paris for the occasion of the 2016 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21.

While world leaders listened to scientists and economists and debated the future of the planet, people came to the Place du Pantheón to be with the 12 chunks of ice. Children, grandmothers, musicians, dancers, sanitation workers. Dogs came too. It was not unlike a petting zoo, but instead of goats and ponies, they petted ice.

Photo by Shannon Cain

I returned to the icebergs nearly every day. One night after a rain, the pavement glimmering under city lights, I made another dance, just me and the ice, dueting.

A friend filmed this dance and some weeks later, he sent me the video. He’d added music: Antonio Sanchez’s “Pathways of the Mind,” from Meridian Suite — a perfect pairing, by sheer chance. I’ll always have it now, to remember.

Technically, the word “iceberg” signifies a chunk of ice more than five meters wide that’s fallen from a glacier or ice sheet. Smaller ice chunks are called “growlers” or “bergy bits.” The Greenland growlers in the Place du Pantheón remained there for a few weeks. And then they disappeared.
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To Tell the Story, These Journalists Became Part of the Story

Hiroshi Watanabe / Getty, Collage by Katie Kosma

Martha Pskowski | Longreads | October 2018 | 16 minutes (4,194 words)


The attention paid to the U.S.-Mexico border seems to ebb and flow like the tide. News coverage spikes and then recedes, giving the impression that migration itself must be doing the same, when in fact the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has been stable for the last 10 years. In summer 2014, it was the wave of unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America drew our scrutiny. The year 2018, as in so many arenas, brought new horrors, with young children forcibly separated from their parents and the ensuing debacle of reunification.

I spent the first few months of 2014 as a volunteer at a migrant shelter in Ixtepec, Oaxaca. On the side, I was dipping my toes into journalism, pitching to small non-profit websites. On a typically sticky afternoon in Ixtepec, I asked the priest who runs the shelter, Alejandro Solalinde, what changes he had seen so far that year. More children than ever, he said. And more of them coming alone. I wrote about the rising number of unaccompanied minors for the Americas Program that April.

Just a few months later, I watched with a mix of relief and bewilderment as international media flocked to the U.S.-Mexico border to cover the full-blown controversy. Few outlets had bothered to look at what had been apparent in refugee shelters in Southern Mexico for months: minors travelling solo. Only when these adolescents and children arrived on the doorstep of the United States did their situation become a “crisis” meriting media attention and presidential action. But then as now, Central American migrants were compartmentalized, and their stories simplified for easy consumption.

I stayed in touch with some of the young men and women I met in Ixtepec, meeting up in person when possible. In strip malls in Northern Virginia and Van Nuys, California, I have caught up over pupusas with young Salvadorans who made it across the border after passing through Ixtepec. Instead of writing about just a snapshot of individual border crossings, I wanted to fit together the disparate pieces of their shared stories into the bigger picture; leaving home, the dangerous journey through Mexico, and now, adjusting to the United States.

When I needed more substance, and a respite from flash-point news coverage of the border this summer, two books satisfied my desire for depth, context and nuanced empathetic storytelling: Patriot Number One: American Dreams in Chinatown by Lauren Hilgers and The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham. Both trace the stories of families migrating to the United States and explore the gap between the myths the immigrants had heard before arriving and the reality of the life they experienced in America. Hilgers and Markham unravel the complicated circumstances that led their subjects to come to the United States, and the unexpected barriers they faced once arriving in their respective destinations. Read more…

Beyond Growth

Paul Sableman, Flickr CC / Stock Unlimited / Composite by Katie Kosma

Livia Gershon | Longreads | September 2018 | 9 minutes (2,229 words)

Late this August, an article in the journal Science offered a preview of the earth that we are now hurtling toward. Based on evidence from previous periods of global temperature change, an international research team described collapsing ecosystems and dwindling water and food supplies. “If we allow climate change to go unchecked, the vegetation of this planet is going to look completely different than it does today, and that means a huge risk to the diversity of the planet,” Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, wrote. “We’re talking about global landscape change that is ubiquitous and dramatic, and we’re already starting to see it in the United States, as well as around the globe.”

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