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A Bike Race, Family, and Loss

Photo by Jan De Meuleneir/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

In this beautiful and emotional piece for Outside, Ian Dille manages to narrate the drama of the 2020 Tour de France, while also detailing the death of his father. The 2020 Tour was the last the pair watched together, after years of bonding through their love of the race. Dille deftly weaves the legs of the race with anecdotes about the ailing parent watching alongside him, demonstrating his love and appreciation for the man who gave him the freedom to pursue his own passion for biking as a career. When Dille is left to watch the final stages of the Tour without his father his devastation is palpable. This piece is expertly done, showing the shared interest that brought a whole family together, and the importance of taking time just to be together, even if it is while also watching a six-hour Tour stage.

Life’s metaphors, its various struggles and successes, seem to play out in a more dramatic fashion in a bike race. At least they did for me and my dad. Riders conquer mountains and succumb to crashes on the way back down. They surge ahead of the group with a violent effort called an attack, form temporary allegiances to share the draft and break the wind, and then try to dispatch each other in the closing kilometers. A rider will lead the race alone for a hundred-some-odd kilometers and then get gobbled up by the charging peloton just meters from the finish.

For my dad and me, watching the Tour became akin to an annual fishing trip or a multi-day hike. Growing up, I spent countless hours pedaling behind him on a shiny aluminum tandem, exploring rural North Texas roads, where we lived in the nineties, and tackling the rocky singletrack overlooking Lake Grapevine. When my dad moved to D.C. in the 2000s, he lost his tight-knit group of bike-club friends, and also his impetus to ride. I was too strong, or too cool, to get out with him then. We didn’t bond on our bikes anymore, but watching the Tour, we came to know each other as adults. 

My dad gave me his hearty laugh and his boyish eyes, but he could also be stoic, gruff, and comically reserved with his emotions. He’d ask how my car was running, and I understood that he loved me. Watching the Tour together, I cherished that, though my dad had never competed, he understood the sport, and through it, he seemed to understand me. Despite its impracticality, he supported my decision to pursue bike racing professionally. He was good at asking questions, and he didn’t fully fall for Lance’s fairy tale. Over the years, we watched heroic performances with a healthy amount of skepticism but also shared an appreciation for underdogs. An unlikely hero would emerge, and we’d root for him to beat the odds.

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Nelly the Elephant Packed Her Trunk … and Went on the Run

Photo by Vyacheslav ProkofyevTASS via Getty Images

Yvonne and George Kludsky grew up as part of circus royalty – fourth- and sixth-generation circus performers respectively. In the big top heyday of the ’50s and ’60s, circus animals were viewed as exciting and glamorous. Things are now very different. Reduced to one elephant named Dumba, keeping her has meant that animal rights activists have been “making the family’s life hell.” So much so that in September 2020 they packed up Dumba, and disappeared. 

In this article for The Guardian, Laura Spinney follows the Kludskys to Spain, where they ended up with their elephant. Spinney shows compassion for both the Kludskys, as they navigate a world where they are no longer welcome, and for Dumba, who has spent most of her life living in a pen the size of two tennis courts. Spinney finds no easy answers as she delves into the complicated issue of whether an animal the Kludskys consider “a daughter” needs, in fact, to be rescued.

While Arnal considers people who make their living from performing animals unfit to look after them, William Kerwich, president of the French union representing animal trainers, insists no one is better qualified to care for an animal than the trainer who has known it all its life. He is deeply suspicious of the do-gooders who set up animal retirement homes paid for by donations from a public who, he suggests, have been duped into thinking that all circus folk are animal torturers. “If there were to be a ban – and we’re not there yet – it is out of the question that our animals should go to a sanctuary where there is no one competent to look after them,” he said. The union, Kerwich told me, was standing squarely behind Yvonne Kruse.

What ageing elephants need, says Scott Blais, is space, autonomy and the company of other elephants. Blais, who set up a sanctuary in Tennessee in 1995 and another in Brazil in 2016, keeps elephants in a setting as close as possible to conditions in the wild, and says previous owners who have returned to visit their old elephants often marvel at their transformation. It was at the Tennessee sanctuary that workers witnessed the extraordinary reunion of two former circus elephants, Shirley and Jenny, in 1999. The two had spent one season together at a circus when Jenny was a calf. After a separation of more than 20 years, they recognised each other and bent the steel bars of an elephant fence in their eagerness to get close to each other. They became inseparable, and for seven years, until Jenny died in 2006, their relationship was like that of mother and daughter.

Elephants have shown they can retain a bond with humans, too. Joyce Poole recalled her reunion with a wild African elephant after 12 years. When she called out to him, he recognised her voice, walked up to her car window, and “allowed her to touch him”, she said. Elephants also kill humans, in captivity and in their ever-shrinking natural habitat, but these numbers are tiny compared to the numbers of elephants killed by humans each year.

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Zoom Towns — Where Tourists Never Leave

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For many, the pandemic has meant barely shuffling from the kitchen to the sofa — but for some people, it’s been an opportunity to move their sofa to a completely different town. With many jobs shifting online, working from home via Zoom has meant no longer being tied to a particular place, so now, as Rachel Levin explains in her article for Outside, “you can work for Pinterest and ski powder.” This chance to “live the dream” in a mountain town has come with a downside — a culture clash. Those looking to move generally have cash — and are drawn to tourist towns occupied by locals making their money in hospitality. It’s a shift that has happened around the world, but in this interesting piece, Levin explores the situation in Lake Tahoe, which has seen a particularly big influx of new residents due to its proximity to the tech industry of San Francisco. So what happens when those who have money and those who don’t live side by side? Levin explores that question with a level head — looking at both sides of the picture.

Nina, a director at a Silicon Valley–based AI company who asked that only her first name be used, moved to the area in October, when she bought her first home just five minutes from Heavenly Ski Resort. She and her husband, newly married thirtysomethings, say they may not be experts at mountain life, but they’re eager to learn. (YouTube has been helpful, she says—it’s where they learned how to rake pine needles.) When she’s not working, Nina is snowboarding with women she met on local Facebook groups. She’s in heaven.

But like other newcomers, she and her husband have sensed a little resentment. She recalls the time a check-out woman at a grocery store in Stateline, Nevada, gave her and her husband one look and said, “Oh, you’re not going to last a winter.” She admits to skirting around the fact that they moved during the pandemic in casual conversations with locals. “I’ll say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re not the bad tech people,’” she says. Another source told me, “There’s a lot of negative feelings about people like us.” Most Bay Area transplants I spoke with similarly requested anonymity, and many more declined to be interviewed. (So did many longtime locals. “Sorry, it’s a touchy subject,” one told me.) The newcomers just want to quietly slip in and fit in. 

Not everyone has that option, though. If you’re not white, like 82 percent of people in Truckee, you stand out, says Grace (not her real name), who is Korean-American and moved into her longtime second home last spring before the boom. Being Asian American “is like a big ‘Bay Area’ sign pointing at my head,” she says. She was disgusted by the “Kung flu” comments and other casually racist quips she saw on Facebook and deeply disturbed by the time she was fake sneezed on at the Safeway. She and her family moved back to San Francisco full-time by the fall: “I needed to be with my people,” she says.

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The Lies Told to Speak to a Princess

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It was 26 years ago, but I vividly remember the night Princess Diana gave an interview to BBC journalist Martin Bashir. I was allowed to stay up late to watch it — after my parents deemed it a “historical moment.” So I, along with 23 million other Brits (probably not all in paw print pajamas), watched, aghast, as a wide-eyed Princess Diana gave her first-hand account of the soap opera that had been played out in the British tabloid press — the breakdown of her marriage. 

As a child, I never considered how Martin Bashir managed to obtain an interview with arguably the most famous woman in the world. Now the truth has come out, and it’s ugly. This article by John Ware candidly documents how Bashir gained access to Princess Diana through deception and false documents. It’s a disturbing story, and this particular account of it is written by a journalist with direct insight, with Ware also having worked at BBC Panorama — the program that aired the 1995 interview. Published by the BBC themselves, whether as an act of contrition or an attempt at redemption, the piece explores their failings —  ones that led to a “ticking time bomb about public trust” that has “now detonated.”

Asked by Gardam why he had compiled the graphics in the first place, Bashir said it was simply to record and file the information – an implausible reason for getting a graphic designer to work all night, paying him £250 of licence fee payers’ money and getting the documents couriered to Heathrow, when jotting down the details in his notebook would have sufficed.

Nonetheless, however improbable this may seem today, Diana’s letter appears to have reassured management. “All could now relax for Christmas,” said Suter at the time. “We had had a scare, but we had got through it.” But for Earl Spencer, the letter doesn’t exonerate the BBC. “Diana is dealing from a position of having been lied to. She didn’t know that the whole obtaining of the interview was based on a series of falsehoods that led to her being vulnerable to this,” he told me.

However, if management thought that was the end of it, they were mistaken. On 21 March, the Mail on Sunday told Spencer they were investigating how Martin Bashir had been introduced to his sister and secured his scoop interview. In order to convince Spencer of his credentials, the newspaper alleged that Bashir had shown him bogus security service documents about bugging phones at Kensington Palace. Clearly the Mail were on to something, but were wrong about the content of the documents.

Distrustful of the tabloid press, Spencer called the BBC to find out more. Spencer was put on to Hewlett and told him he had introduced Bashir to Diana “on 19 September on the back of extremely serious allegations he had made, against various newspapers, named journalists, named senior figures at St James’s Palace, and unnamed figures in the secret service.”

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Solving the Mystery of Dyatlov Pass

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In late 1958, Igor Dyatlov, an engineering student at the Ural Polytechnic Institute (U.P.I) in the Soviet Union, planned a cross-country ski trip for himself and some fellow students in the Ural mountains. It was a “lively and strikingly handsome group of young people” that set out to have the adventure of their lives. However, U.P.I never heard from them again, and their partially clothed remains were eventually found with a bizarre range of injuries — from burns and bruises to catastrophic trauma. It was a true mystery, and as Douglas Preston discovers for The New Yorker, one that spawned at least 75 different theories as to what happened, including a yeti attack, without conclusion.  

Two years ago, the case was reopened, and a young prosecutor in Yekaterinburg, Andrei Kuryakov, was put in charge. He came up with a new narrative — one, which, personally, I see as very plausible. However, his conclusions have been greeted with scorn by the families of the dead. 

Read this gripping story, and decide for yourself whether a mystery spanning many decades has finally been solved. 

Four bodies remained missing. In early May, when the snow began to melt, a Mansi hunter and his dog came across the remains of a makeshift snow den in the woods two hundred and fifty feet from the cedar tree: a floor of branches laid in a deep hole in the snow. Pieces of tattered clothing were found strewn about: black cotton sweatpants with the right leg cut off, the left half of a woman’s sweater. Another search team arrived and, using avalanche probes around the den, they brought up a piece of flesh. Excavation uncovered the four remaining victims, lying together in a rocky streambed under at least ten feet of snow. The autopsies revealed catastrophic injuries to three of them. Thibault-Brignoles’s skull was fractured so severely that pieces of bone had been driven into the brain. Zolotaryov and Dubinina had crushed chests with multiple broken ribs, and the autopsy report noted a massive hemorrhage in the right ventricle of Dubinina’s heart. The medical examiner said the damage was similar to what is typically seen as the “result of an impact of an automobile moving at high speed.” Yet none of the bodies had external penetrating wounds, though Zolotaryov’s was missing its eyes, and Dubinina’s was missing its eyes, tongue, and part of the upper lip.

A careful inventory of clothing recovered from the bodies revealed that some of these victims were wearing clothes taken or cut off the bodies of others, and a laboratory found that several items emitted unnaturally high levels of radiation. A radiological expert testified that, because the bodies had been exposed to running water for months, these levels of radiation must originally have been “many times greater.”

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All Flourishing Is Mutual

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In this beautiful piece for Hakai, ‘Cúagilákv (Jess Housty) talks about the importance of the salmonberry bush, whose fruit has nourished generations of her family. It is through salmonberries that the Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) children first learn about the connections that run through nature — being told that a good crop of salmonberries corresponds to a good salmon run and luck in the harvest. The salmonberry bushes themselves also benefit from a good run — being fertilized with salmon remains “so that they will bloom and bear fruit again in a cycle much deeper than any one season.” A recent paper published in Ecosphere demonstrates the accuracy in the ecosystem links that the children are taught, with researchers determining that increased salmon density in one season leads to increased density of salmonberries per bush in the next season.

Salmonberries glisten like small bursts of orange and red fish roe, nestled in the greenery beside magenta flowers and the hard, green clusters of berries still to ripen. On these shrubs, at the height of the season, you can see a whole life cycle painted across the riverbank in jewel tones. The salmonberry, from the same genus as raspberries and blackberries, has fruits that are composed of a chaotic heap of juicy drupelets that set a table to nourish a whole host of human and nonhuman kin: songbirds, small mammals, and black and grizzly bears. And the delicate fragrance and flavor are as satisfying as the dull thud of berries hitting the bottom of my bucket.

I treasure so many gifts from the salmonberries that help me through every season of the year, and my life: the fresh leaves that helped me through childbirth, the new shoots in the spring that I gently peel before eating them like licorice strings, the deep blush of blossoms that give me hope in the dark of early spring. And of course, the berries that talk to me, lovingly, of salmon as I fill buckets and bowls to make jelly for my precious ǧáǧṃ́. Salmonberries are my definition of comfort food.


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No Escape from Online Memories


In the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a couple uses a medical procedure to erase each other from their memories after the relationship ends. It was a simpler time — that wouldn’t work now. Memories of relationships (and all life events), don’t just exist in our heads anymore, they are online, and online memories are very tricky to destroy

Social media memory prompts popping up over the past year have been challenging for everyone — photos showing our former, blissfully unaware selves, hugging family, having dinner with friends, going to a concert — constant reminders that thanks to the pandemic, we are now sitting at home in our pajamas binge-watching Netflix. But what if social media thinks even bigger life events are still happening? In 2019 Lauren Goode called off her wedding. The internet didn’t get the memo. In this fascinating article for Wired Goode explores what it means to be stalked by “a digital ghost, that is still getting married.”

Even if I could permanently delete my WeddingWire account, I had already shared uncountable bits of data with marketers during the time I used the website. “It’s one thing to say ‘I want to buy shoes’ and then have that ad follow you across the internet,” says Jeremy Tillman. “But there are specific life events that are these exclamation points for marketers. Like, I’m going to get married! Or, I’m going to have a kid! And the more valuable that data is, the more intrusive it seems.”

Tillman is the president of Ghostery, which offers an open source browser extension that shows you how many trackers are receiving data from the websites you visit—a mere glimpse at the network of data brokers that are creating shadow profiles of you. While I was on the phone with Tillman, I punched into a Chrome browser, navigated to a page for a wedding DJ, then clicked on the Ghostery extension. At least 16 trackers were identified—including Google Ads, DoubleClick, and Facebook Custom Audience. I had browsed web pages like this dozens of times in 2019. And then, suddenly, I had stopped.

“In your case, you have the life cycle of somebody that you’re not, following you throughout the web and beyond,” Tillman says. “It’s like a ghost life cycle that you never had the chance to live out.”

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The Silent Farm for Developmental Disabilities

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This gentle essay by Mark Mann for Beside takes us into the understated world of David and Peter, who share a friendship spanning four decades, yet no words. Peter’s form of down syndrome means he is non-verbal, so ever since David first became his support worker they have been finding other ways to communicate — beginning with artmaking, to gardening, and ultimately, to farming. When David bought a 25-acre farm in 1998 he realized it was a place where he could “break the limitations imposed on people with developmental disabilities.” Abhorring the condescension he sometimes saw Peter face, on the farm David lets Peter take the lead in the quiet routines of  “preparing and sharing meals, tending to a few animals, and passing the time.”

This essay radiates with the peace that David has created for Peter in their silent sanctuary. It may not be a productive farm, but “rather than crops or yields, David and Peter’s harvest is each little detail noticed and celebrated: a trusting moment that passes between Peter and one of the horses, or the bright red sumac buds that David hangs above the kitchen table.”

Inspired by what David and Peter were doing at the Farm, others began joining them. David and Peter were connected to a larger network of families with members who were on the autism spectrum and used no spoken language, and some of these men became regulars. Neighbours started dropping in regularly, and friends and acquaintances from around Ontario began making the trip, to lend a hand and savour the atmosphere. (I was one of those, for several years.) The numbers have ebbed and flowed, but a small community has always coalesced around the Farm: loose, evolving, and delightfully unlikely. Today, it’s mainly just Peter and his close friend Kevin. Kevin doesn’t use spoken language either, but he, Peter, and David have found a rich and subtle terrain of conversation that goes beyond words: gestures, body language, touch, and eye contact.

… if everyone is feeling well, they make a trip to the barn. The 300-foot journey is as slow and deliberate as a religious procession, especially across the winter snow and ice. Once arrived, the atmosphere inside the barn is precisely like a cathedral, with its sombre light and air of stillness. One feels an instinct to whisper, and, like Peter and Kevin, to take careful, quiet steps.

The first order of business is to feed and water the sheep. On this particular day, we discover that one of the ewes has given birth. The little newborn is already skittering around on four legs while keeping close to its mother. Seeing the lamb, the quietness among the men intensifies. For several long minutes, they hover in the corner, taking in the scene. Kevin reaches out and removes some straw from Peter’s hat.

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Life and Love in the Utah Desert


In this immersive piece for Outside, Mark Sundeen writes about his last two decades spent living in a trailer in Moab, Utah. An English major from San Francisco, when he first arrives in the “sweltering hamlet” Sundeen finds himself in awe of the rugged characters he meets. Ashamed of his own bookishness, he seeks to hide it and emulate their qualities, to become “the sort of man who is competent with chains and repairs, rough roads and icy curves.” He also finds himself drawn to the new type of women he meets, none more so than Wendy. Sundeen develops an obsession for the former rancher that lasts for years, to the detriment of other relationships. Sundeen describes his romantic history with great self-awareness, painting a vivid picture of the women in his life, as well as the arid atmosphere of the Moab desert that forms a backdrop to his personal development.

The upshot of seeing Wendy was that when I moved back to Moab in that summer of 1999, age 28, she rented me the trailer for $300 a month. I wouldn’t trouble her with complaints but would do any repairs myself.

I woke each night at 3 A.M. with my lungs clenched and visions of Q in my head. She’d been seen in Moab with that snowboarder. Now and then I’d call and tell her how she betrayed me. I wallowed in the fantasy of my unrequited longing.

The story I told myself eventually unraveled. I replayed the memories. That night she offered herself to me: I hadn’t declined out of some sense of chivalry. It was because, even as every molecule burned to make a child with her, I couldn’t envision us raising the thing. All I could see us doing was smoking in bed and engineering increasingly innovative paroxysms. Which was what I thought love was.

Q already saw me more clearly than I did. I had shown her my heart, and she’d seen the cautious vanity I couldn’t hide. In the future I wouldn’t be so embarrassed to be a delicate writer, and I would treasure the exchange of ideas about literature and writing with a woman. But not yet. I still couldn’t see past my own delusion.

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Before Donating Your Body Was a Choice

Items are on display at German anatomist Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds anatomical exhibition at VDNKh Exhibition Center. The bodies of donors are used for plastination. (Photo by Sergei SavostyanovTASS via Getty Images)

In recent years, museums around the world have been repatriating human remains — often gathered during colonial plunder — to their descendants. I myself am guilty of peering at human relics, having visited the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England, where shrunken heads of the Shuar people of the Amazon rainforest were once displayed (and have since been removed). 

But what about cadavers used for science? In Atlas Obscura, Jessica Leigh Hester deftly explains the dark history of obtaining bodies for anatomical study, with some also ending up on public display. “Harriet Cole,” a network of fibers fastened to a blackboard showing the human nervous system, is one of the most famous, receiving so much attention when first displayed in 1893 that Philadelphia physician William Weed van Baun wrote she “had greatness and world-renown forced upon her after her death.” It has been claimed “Harriet” was a black “scrubwoman” who left her body to the anatomist Rufus Weaver. However, once the story of “Harriet” is delved into, it seems unlikely that the body was a willing donation. In this piece, Hester discovers a world of the dead as full of social inequality as that of the living.

On a sweaty Saturday, before social distancing was the law of the land, a group of visitors gathered at Drexel University’s medical campus in Northwest Philadelphia to meet “Harriet.” The preamble to this encounter was a display case holding several unusual and meticulously prepared medical specimens, long used as teaching tools. Like “Harriet,” each had been created in the late 19th century by a star anatomist, Rufus Weaver. Now, behind glass, between the cadaver lab and a bookstore, a segment of intestine and a piece of a spinal cord sit in stillness. A dissected eyeball floats ethereally in century-old liquid, its separated parts looking like a tiny jellyfish, a bit of brittle plastic, a mushroom cap.

The practice of mainly white American physicians honing their skills on the bodies of disenfranchised people is a legacy of slavery, and an imagined racial hierarchy that propped up white supremacy. “It is one of the ironies of medical history that, although Blacks were generally regarded as ‘inferior’ or even ‘subhuman,’ their corpses were considered ‘good enough’ to use in the instruction of human anatomy,” write anthropologists Robert L. Blakely and Judith M. Harrington in Bones in the Basement: Postmortem Racism in Nineteenth-Century Medical Training. In her book The Price for Their Pound of Flesh, The Value of the Enslaved, From Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, University of Texas at Austin historian Daina Ramey Berry describes how the cadavers of enslaved people came to hold a “ghost value,” based on their appeal to 19th-century doctors and medical students—a final way to extract work from a person no longer living.

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