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Catherine Cusick
Catherine Cusick is the audience development editor of Longreads. She was previously a rep at the American Booksellers Association, as well as the social editor for IndieBound, a nationwide local-first movement.

Downsizing in the Shadow of Disaster

Ghost Ship warehouse fire memorial mural
Local artist Norman Vogue works on a mural dedicated to the victims of the deadly Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, California. The mural includes the names of the 36 people killed in the fire. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group / Getty Images)

In Harper’s Magazine, Wes Enzinna writes about living in a 32-square-foot shack behind a friend’s ex-boyfriend’s house in Oakland in 2016, the year of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire. Struggling to find personal solutions they can afford amidst the country’s worst housing crisis, Enzinna and his friends try to live within their means by downsizing what they need to live and dwelling in dangerous makeshift spaces that threaten their health, well-being, and, when disaster strikes, their lives.

“It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out,” George Orwell wrote in Down and Out in Paris and London. “You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”

The powerful thing about smallness, it occurred to me, isn’t actually smallness for its own sake—the point, instead, is a matter of scale. If you reduce the size of your life enough, then the smallest change can be a profound improvement. Yet the hardest thing is to recognize your smallness without being diminished by it. In my shack I was always balancing that tension—I didn’t want to become so small that I disappeared, I just wanted to hide for a little while.

Everyone was sick with sadness following the fire. I saw survivors at bars, their eyebrows singed off. I chatted with old pals at parties and realized they were talking about their girlfriends or boyfriends in the past tense, as if they were ghosts, because they were. There was talk of suicide, songs about suicide, attempts at suicide that failed and attempts that succeeded. Jenny cried every time we hung out.

In the end, I lived in the shack for eleven months. It shrank to the size of a cage. Living like an animal was no longer liberating. I grew tired of waking up in damp, soiled T-shirts. The weeds by my bed grew head-high. The skunk birthed a litter and left me. My mind a fog, I kept accidentally kicking over my pee jar. Living on so little had exacted a heavy toll.

Being down-and-out is cheap, sure, but the things you do to stand it become expensive, whether drink, drugs, or whatever other vice gets you through the night.

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The Living Nightmare of Homeownership

House obscured by fog
Toomas Tuul/FOCUS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Katy Kelleher, whose work readers will recognize from her popular Longreads series on the ugly history of beautiful things, has a new piece in Curbed on the ugly history of homeownership — and why the manmade dream of owning a home haunts so many prospective homebuyers.

A 30-year time horizon seems almost impossible to imagine anywhere now, but I did once live out the anachronism of coming home to the same house for more than a quarter of a century. The specter of security that I associate with my since-demolished childhood home follows me from apartment to apartment, dangling the emotional logic of future homeownership over most of the choices I make. I ask myself daily, almost unconsciously, what it might take to reconstruct that feeling, whether any home can fill the role that house played in comforting me as a child. A decade after the housing crisis, the idea of accessing emotional stability through homeownership still sounds like so much marketing copy.

Despite years of setbacks and disappointments, my husband and I haven’t wholly abandoned our mission to escape the rental market, but we’re still millennials. We’re both self-employed in precarious industries that do not look good on paper. The size of the downpayment we’d need continues to rise while ballooning rents and healthcare costs erode our ability to save. And like so many of our peers, our vision of homeownership has permanently shifted to accommodate the warnings from the scientific community. Over time, regional housing markets are destined to undergo painful, unpredictable adjustments to climate-driven migration. That beachfront property actually isn’t going to appreciate, no matter what Miami real estate agents may say.

Emotionally, I still imagine living out the length of another mortgage with my family. But I can also read the writing on the proverbial seawall. My generation’s housing choices are necessarily limited; we all need to take far more into account than just our own private emotions, means, and finances. We can hardly afford to let the built environment stand, as it is. Most homes weren’t constructed to weather ahistorical climate conditions. The majority of our buildings were not constructed to support nature; to protect the health, safety, or welfare of people; to generate energy; or to sustain life. Until the construction of ecological housing is put within reach of everyone, previous generations’ outsized monuments to privacy will continue to threaten global health, haunting would-be buyers who can’t even afford to set foot inside them.

If the filmic nightmare of homeownership has looked, so far, like the claustrophobic fear of being trapped, the living nightmare of homeownership is shapeshifting to confirm the childhood terror of being forever locked out.

There are two different tales we tell ourselves about houses. The primary story is not about ghosts or demons or red rooms or ghouls, but rather about bright futures, long lives, children, grandchildren, and hard-earned success. The second story, the darker story, is about the horror of being trapped. Throughout American history, these stories have existed side by side. For people with the resources to buy in, one once felt more “real” than the other, but as we learned after the real estate crash of 2008, there’s truth to be found in both of them, especially for members of the cash-poor, dream-rich millennial generation.

…most of our desires are culturally rooted, shaped by a set of factors beyond our control. They don’t spring into being organically. I own a house in the woods for reasons other than my husband’s dreams or my own vision of myself as a future radical homemaker. I own out here because I can’t own in Portland, because the market is rising too quickly in the city, because I couldn’t buy in Boston, because I watched the real estate crash decimate my mother’s savings, because I feel the same anxieties as my peers. I’m afraid that a more expensive house in a more convenient area would put me into debt should the market experience another massive failure. I’m afraid that I could become trapped in one place, unable to sell, unable to move, haunting my own home and dreaming of mobility.

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1000 Days of Trump

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

It’s been 1000 days.

I doubt the definitive retrospective on this presidency and administration will ever exist. No one book or story, no matter how long, will be able to cover this kaleidoscopic history — let alone its fallout — in its entirety.

Three months after Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, we shared a collection of longreads from Trump’s first 100 days in office in an attempt to capture a cross-section of some of the early, often breathless stories that came out of that hectic period of adjustment (and refusals to adjust). The month after, we looked back even further, examining his war with the past.

Here are some of the longreads from Trump’s first 1000 days that Longreads editors and contributors chose as some of the best political writing of each year, as well as all the stories about the presidency and the administration that headed up our Top 5 Longreads of the Week emails since Trump’s inauguration.

1. Donald Trump: He Was Made in America (Kirsten West Savali, The Root)

The question is not “Where did Donald Trump come from?” It’s “Where have our so-called allies been?” It is not “Why is he resonating with so many people?” Rather, it’s “How could he not?”

But we already know the answer to that.

“I don’t trust any journalist in the world more that Kirsten West Savali,” Kiese Laymon wrote in 2016, when he picked this story as one of the best political analyses of that year. Written eight months before the election, Laymon singled this piece out for making it clear “to any one willing to listen what this nation was going to do on November 2” — and for anticipating so many clear answers to questions that are somehow still being asked years later.

2. The First White President (Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic)

“Few writers have done more to expose the racist truth of the Trump presidency than Ta-Nehisi Coates,” Longreads Founder Mark Armstrong wrote while highlighting this excerpt from We Were Eight Years in Power as some of the best political writing of 2017:

Replacing Obama is not enough—Trump has made the negation of Obama’s legacy the foundation of his own. And this too is whiteness. “Race is an idea, not a fact,” the historian Nell Irvin Painter has written, and essential to the construct of a “white race” is the idea of not being a nigger. Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white. Trump truly is something new—the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific—America’s first white president.

While reading one of its most iconic passages, Longreads editor and writer Danielle Jackson shares how this segment from Coates’ excerpt echoes James Baldwin’s commentary in the 1964 documentary Take This Hammer, on “the creation of a class of pariahs in America.”

3. The Loneliness of Donald Trump (Rebecca Solnit, LitHub)

The opposite of people who drag you down isn’t people who build you up and butter you up. It’s equals who are generous but keep you accountable, true mirrors who reflect back who you are and what you are doing.

Solnit’s Grimm fairy tale was one of our No. 1 story picks for 2017. For another poetic retrospective, read Brit Bennett’s essay on “Trump Time” in Vogue:

In Trump Time, the clock moves backward. The feeling that time itself is reversing might be the most unsettling aspect of a most unsettling year. What else is Make America Great Again but a promise to re-create the past? Through his campaign slogan, Trump seizes the emotional power of nostalgia, conjuring a glorious national history and offering it as an alternative to an uncertain future. He creates a fantasy for his base of white Americans but a threat for many others. After all, in what version of the past was America ever great for my family? “The good ol’ days?” my mother always says. “The good ol’ days for who?”

4. Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help. They Still Love Him Anyway (Michael Kruse, Politico)

He said he was going to bring back the steel mills.

“You’re never going to get those steel mills back,” she said.

“But he said he was going to,” I said.

“Yeah, but how’s he going to bring them back?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “but it’s what he said, last year, and people voted for him because of it.”

“They always say they want to bring the steel mills back,” Frear said, “but they’re going to have to do a lot of work to bring the steel mills back.”

He hasn’t built the wall yet, either. “I don’t care about his wall,” said Frear, 76. “I mean, if he gets his wall—I don’t give a shit, you know? But he has a good idea: Keep ’em out.”

He also hasn’t repealed Obamacare. “That’s Congress,” she said.

And the drug scourge here continues unabated. “And it’s not going to improve for a long time,” she said, “until people learn, which they won’t.”

“But I like him,” Frear reiterated. “Because he does what he says.”

Chris Smith, author of The Daily Show (The Book), contributor to Vanity Fair, and contributing editor at New York Magazine picked Kruse’s story as one of Longreads’ Best of 2017. Longreads Editor in Chief Mike Dang also selected it as an editor’s pick, alongside Adam Davidson’s New Yorker story,Donald Trump’s Worst Deal.”

5. I Walked From Selma To Montgomery (Rahawa Haile, BuzzFeed)

Rahawa Haile’s story on hiking the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail was one of our No. 1 stories for 2018:

On Feb. 9, 2017, 20 days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence as attorney general. The travesty of that sentence, the sinister potential of it more than a year later, fuels my anxiety still. It is the reason why, mere months after returning from the Appalachian Trail, I emailed my father on Feb. 22, 2017, to see if he might be interested in meeting me in Alabama for a thru-hike of sorts. I wanted to walk from Selma to Montgomery — following in the footsteps of the civil rights marchers who had come before me — to protest Jeff Sessions’ entire political career, specifically his most recent and wildly dangerous appointment as the head of the Department of Justice. […] I traveled to Selma, Alabama, because I had to, because no other walk on Earth made sense to me, or my rage, at a time when walking was the only activity for which my despair made a small hollow. And fam, let’s be clear — I did it for us.

6. How Russia Helped Swing the Election for Trump (Jane Mayer, The New Yorker)

Jane Mayer has written several blockbuster stories on the Trump administration, including this year’s “Fox & Friends” and 2017’s “The Danger of President Pence.” Here was another of our No. 1 stories for 2018:

Jamieson said that, as an academic, she hoped that the public would challenge her arguments. Yet she expressed confidence that unbiased readers would accept her conclusion that it is not just plausible that Russia changed the outcome of the 2016 election—it is “likely that it did.” […]

Her case is based on a growing body of knowledge about the electronic warfare waged by Russian trolls and hackers—whom she terms “discourse saboteurs”—and on five decades’ worth of academic studies about what kinds of persuasion can influence voters, and under what circumstances. Democracies around the world, she told me, have begun to realize that subverting an election doesn’t require tampering with voting machines. Extensive studies of past campaigns, Jamieson said, have demonstrated that “you can affect people, who then change their decision, and that alters the outcome.” She continued, “I’m not arguing that Russians pulled the voting levers. I’m arguing that they persuaded enough people to either vote a certain way or not vote at all.”

7. Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father (Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and David Barstow, The New York Times)

Last year’s ground-breaking investigation into the potentially illegal financial schemes, tax evasions, and grandiose lies employed by the Trump family was one of our No. 1 stories for 2018.

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

Much of this money came to Mr. Trump because he helped his parents dodge taxes.

8. Hideous Men (E. Jean Carroll, The Cut)

E. Jean Carroll’s excerpt from her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal was one of this year’s No. 1 stories:

Which brings me to the other rich boy. Before I discuss him, I must mention that there are two great handicaps to telling you what happened to me in Bergdorf’s: (a) The man I will be talking about denies it, as he has denied accusations of sexual misconduct made by at least 15 credible women, namely, Jessica Leeds, Kristin Anderson, Jill Harth, Cathy Heller, Temple Taggart McDowell, Karena Virginia, Melinda McGillivray, Rachel Crooks, Natasha Stoynoff, Jessica Drake, Ninni Laaksonen, Summer Zervos, Juliet Huddy, Alva Johnson, and Cassandra Searles. (Here’s what the White House said:  “This is a completely false and unrealistic story surfacing 25 years after allegedly taking place and was created simply to make the President look bad.”) And (b) I run the risk of making him more popular by revealing what he did.

Further listening: The Daily covers this story in “Corroborating E. Jean Carroll,” which Longreads editors discuss on an episode of the Longreads Podcast, “All Things Being Unequal.”

Fox & Friends in High Places

Bill Shine
Bill Shine, former co-president of Fox News, now director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

For The New Yorker, Jane Mayer chronicles how the revolving door of personnel between Fox News celebrities and the Trump administration has turned Fox into something like state TV and the White House into its one-trick ratings pony. (The trick is using fear as a business strategy.)

Mayer focuses on Bill Shine — the former co-president of Fox News and current director of communications and deputy chief of staff at the White House — and his well-documented history helping to create hostile workplaces as one of Roger Ailes‘s key enablers.

Shine led Fox News’ programming division for a dozen years, overseeing the morning and evening opinion shows, which collectively get the biggest ratings and define the network’s conservative brand. Straight news was not within his purview. In July, 2016, Roger Ailes, the co-founder and C.E.O. of Fox, was fired in the face of numerous allegations of chronic sexual harassment, and Shine became co-president. But within a year he, too, had been forced out, amid a second wave of sexual-harassment allegations, some of them against Fox’s biggest star at the time, Bill O’Reilly. Shine wasn’t personally accused of sexual harassment, but several lawsuits named him as complicit in a workplace culture of coverups, payoffs, and victim intimidation.

Shine, who has denied any wrongdoing, has kept a low profile at the White House, and rejects interview requests, including one from this magazine. But Kristol contends that Shine’s White House appointment is a scandal. “It’s been wildly under-covered,” he said. “It’s astounding that Shine—the guy who covered up Ailes’s horrible behavior—is the deputy chief of staff!”

But at least four civil lawsuits against Fox have named Shine as a defendant for enabling workplace harassment. One of these cases, a stockholder lawsuit that Fox settled in 2017, for ninety million dollars, claimed that Ailes had “sexually harassed female employees and contributors with impunity for at least a decade” by surrounding himself “with loyalists”—including Shine. The suit faults Fox for spending fifty-five million dollars to settle such claims out of court.

The use of company funds for payoffs prompted a criminal investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan. In 2017, Shine was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury, but instead he agreed to be interviewed by prosecutors. The criminal investigation seems to have been dropped after Ailes’s death, but Judd Burstein, an attorney whose client was interviewed by prosecutors, told me, “I don’t think someone can be a serial sexual abuser in a large organization without enablers like Shine.”

Two months after Shine left Fox, Hannity became a matchmaker, arranging a dinner with the President at the White House, attended by himself, Shine, and Scaramucci, at that time Trump’s communications director. Hannity proposed Shine as a top communications official, or even as a deputy chief of staff. A year later, Shine was both.

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When Accepting Support Feels Like Becoming a Burden

Elderly Care
Raquel Cuellar / Getty Images

In an essay for Topic called “The Color of Money” — part of a series on how a financial windfall can change your life — Ijeoma Oluo writes about receiving her first large royalty check for her book, So You Want to Talk About Race. Oluo tells a fellow black writer that she wants to use the $70,000 to buy her mother a home, but her mom isn’t as excited about that dream as she is.

“Your mom’s white, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I answered, still not getting it.

He nodded like I just answered my own question. “White people don’t buy their parents homes. They put their parents in homes.”

I laughed. Of course that wasn’t true. I had white friends who took care of their aging parents. Plenty of them. Furthermore, I was pretty sure that after 37 years, I had already encountered all of the different nuances of my mom’s whiteness.

But his words lingered in my head, and I began to understand what was at the heart of what he was saying. My mom wanted my siblings and me to be proud of our blackness, and she tried to make sure that we were not lacking in black culture because we had a white mom. We saw every movie with a black character, went to every black and West African community event, listened to all the most popular black musicians. So it is no surprise that my dream of walking my mom into a new home I had just bought was a scene straight from countless movies and hip-hop videos. Black success was a black family’s success. A black community’s success. You’d help your brother, your sister, your cousins—but first and foremost, you’d help your momma.

I didn’t get the same messaging about success from white American culture. What I learned about white success was that those who earned enough to be comfortable became not only independent, but isolated. They’d move to another town and set up their own families away from their old ones. They’d visit on holidays. They’d never borrow money, and the only money they’d share would be in the form of a loan to younger relatives to help them on their way to financial independence. (Eventually, when those younger relatives found success, they could fully pay you back and move away to their own home.)

I thought about whether any of my white friends were proud to be able to help their families financially. Few were. Many were embarrassed for themselves and their parents.

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This Month in Podcasts: Innocent Until Proven Grifty

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* * *

Let’s start right off the bat with a correction:

When our team introduced the Longreads Podcast last month, I opened the series by saying that on April 17, 2009, Mark Armstrong tweeted the tweet that launched a decade of #longreads, noting (for the comedy!) that this auspicious announcement had only been retweeted twice.

But now that I’ve listened to our first roundtable episode on fact-checking — and Mark has since helpfully reminded me that, in the spring of 2009, Twitter hadn’t formally rolled out native retweets yet — I would like to redress my cavalier lack of rigor by issuing a belated correction. Because lo and behold, he was right: retweets weren’t formally introduced as a native feature on Twitter until November 2009.

So more than two people retweeted that first tweet! It was more like four.

More importantly, the first attempted retweet appears to have graced Twitter on April 17, 2007. So not only does this first monthly podcast newsletter give me a chance to set the record straight, the checking process has given me the additional gift of discovering that retweets and @Longreads have the same birthday! (Is running an account according to its zodiac sign the next frontier in social? Should I be reading @Longreads‘ horoscope? Are you an Aries? Talk to me at

So to celebrate Longreads’ tenth birthday in two months, we’ve decided to follow up Bundyville — just nominated for a National Magazine Award in Podcasting! — with a twice-weekly podcast in 2019. Every Tuesday, we run a narrative feature or recent interview as an audio companion to Longreads’ original reporting, essays, and criticism. Every Friday, we host an editors’ roundtable, where Longreads editors discuss what we’ve been reading and nominate stories for the Top 5 Longreads of the Week.

In this first month of roundtables, we’ve covered antidotes to hot takes, rethinking what you “know,” revisiting overlooked and underreported stories, investigating even the more innocent-seeming grifters, and processing discomfort in the face of climate denial. Here are links to all five of our first feature episodes:

Living With Dolly Parton

In Conversation with Doree Shafrir: Dress You Up in My Love

Checking Facts in 2019: Fact-Checker Roundtable

Every Day I Write the Book

Poached Eggs: An American Caviar Crime Caper

I’d recommend starting with our most recent true crime feature on counterfeit caviar from David Gauvey Herbert, the aforementioned fact-checking episode, and our editors’ roundtable on the latest in long cons.

If you’d like to receive new episodes as they air, you can subscribe here on Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Tune in tomorrow morning to hear Lily Burana read from her recent Longreads original essay, “Elegy in Times Square,” and Friday morning to hear what Longreads editors have been reading in the run-up to this week’s Top 5.

Just 59 days until Longreads turns 10! Count down with us at

Thanks for listening!

Audience Editor
Catherine Cusick (@CusickCatherine)

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Utility worker installing cable
Jiangang Wang / Getty Images

At HuffPost, Lauren Hough recounts a decade of bizarre, bittersweet, and dangerous jobs she was assigned as one of the few women cable technicians in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Maybe next I had the woman with the bull mastiff named Otto. I don’t remember much about her because I like bull mastiffs with their giant stupid heads. I told her I needed to get to her basement. She said, “Do you really? It’s just it’s a mess.” (That’s never why.) I explained the signal behind her television was crap. The signal outside her house was great. With only one line going through the cinderblock wall, there was probably a splitter. She was taller than I am. That’s something I remember because, like I said, I’m tall. And probably a useful trait for her considering what I found next. I told her what I told everyone who balked about their privacy being invaded: “Unless you have a kid in a cage, I don’t fucking care.” Kids in cages were an unimaginable horror then. A good place to draw a line.

This is a good time to say, if you’re planning on growing massive quantities of marijuana, look, I respect it. But don’t use a $3 splitter from CVS when you run your own cable line. Sooner or later, you’ll have a cable tech in your basement. And you’ll feel the need to give them a freezer bag full of pot to relieve your paranoia. Which is appreciated, don’t get me wrong. Stoners, I adore you. I mean it. You never yell. I can ask to use your bathroom because you’re stoned. You never call in complaints. But maybe behind the television isn’t the most effective place to hide your bong when the cable guy’s coming over.

Anyway, Otto’s mom laughed and said, “Not a kid.” It took me a second. She went down to get his permission. And I was allowed down into a dungeon where she had a man in a cage. I don’t remember if she had a bad splitter. So that was probably early on. After a few years, not even a dungeon was interesting. Sex workers tip, though.

(Special thanks to late-nineties era Nickelodeon for the headline inspiration.)

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The Case of the Poisoned Calves

A newborn calf
(William Campbell / Corbis via Getty Images)

In Longview, Texas, someone poisoned eighteen of the Birdsong family’s calves, killing them one at a time over the course of four years by feeding them a mysterious grain. But who? And why? Texas Monthly writer-at-large Leif Reigstad digs into a confounding true-crime cold case with no leads, no motive, no patterns, and no suspects.

In more than two thousand investigations over a twenty-year career as a special ranger with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, Scott Williamson, who now serves as the executive director of law enforcement and theft prevention, has never seen a case like Buck’s. “Typically, anything we saw was either small numbers or ended up tying back to more of a prussic acid poisoning, which is just a natural poisoning of grasses that come under awful [drought or frost] conditions and can kill cattle in a short period of time,” said Williamson. “It’s just an act of God through a natural process. But I have personally never worked a case of intentional poisoning.”

After a fourth calf died, in 2014, Buck took a pair of night vision goggles that Becky had bought him for Christmas and went out into the pasture after dark, hoping to catch the perpetrator in the act. For four nights, he sat on a bucket behind the cover of the trees along his fence line, so that he could see almost the entire pasture, staking out his land through the night with a cooler full of water and Gatorade beside him. He was alone with his thoughts, and all the possible scenarios and unanswered questions began running through his head again and again. But by the time the sun came up, he’d be no closer to catching the killer than he was the first day he heard the terrible wailing of the mother cow.

Everyone had a theory or a quick fix. Put up game cameras, one suggested. (Buck had.) Was it blackleg? one commenter asked. (None of the calves exhibited symptoms of the fatal disease.) Leptospirosis? No. White snakeroot? Bad bull semen? Larkspur? Nightshade? Hemlock? No, no, no, no, and no. Get a Great Pyrenees guard dog. Get a Doberman. Buck has had dogs on his ranch, and they’ve never done much good. I’d sit out there all night with night vision goggles, someone said. Of course, Buck had done that too.

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‘I’d Rather Import Water Than Export Children’

Moab, Utah
An unusally wet spring in the Desert Southwest. (George Rose / Getty Images)

In Outside MagazineMark Sundeen visits St. George, Utah, “the fastest-growing metropolitan area in America,” to report on the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.

“The battle over the pipeline is a proxy for the debate on growth,” Sundeen writes. Some Utahns hope that the water project, which is projected to cost between $1.1 billion and $1.8 billion, will support a growing economy and provide the next generation with opportunities for local employment. Without enough water, pipeline advocates believe that the state’s investments in education and infrastructure will go to waste.

But local activists believe Utah’s urban centers should follow examples set by desert cities like Albuquerque, Las Vegas, and Tucson, which manage to conserve water while serving far larger populations. Continued growth may also create more environmental problems than economic solutions for the next generation, especially in cities where the landscape is already naturally inhospitable.

“There is no lack of water here,” Sundeen quotes author Edward Abbey, “unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”

It was easy to like Dean Cox and his tale of entrepreneurial grit. He welcomes the new growth. In the past, most local kids were forced to leave St. George—or Dixie, as it’s nicknamed—if they wanted a career. The area became a haven for retirees, the first wave arriving in the 1970s. One big achievement of this early boom, Cox told me, is the expanded new hospital. Instead of a handful of country doctors, they have a first-rate medical center with a roster of specialists. His daughter works there. “She wouldn’t be here—that job wouldn’t be here—” he said, “without the previous water projects.”

Old-timers like Cox say they have no right to shut the door behind them. He believes that the county needs the water for the next generation. “If we don’t have the pipeline, we don’t have the growth, and we can send our kids somewhere else,” he said.

Van Dam and Rutherford also dispute the line that growth makes the city more affordable for future generations. They showed me a report by a panel of university economists forecasting that, if the pipeline is built, it could raise water rates more than 500 percent. Eventually, Van Dam said, St. George will have to reckon with the fact that it’s living beyond its natural means. “They’ll keep building until you have more people here than God ever intended,” he said. “They are passing the hard decisions they should be making now onto their grandkids.”

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