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In Georgia, Citrus is Just Peachy

(Photo by Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Climate change has created an opportunity for farmer Joe Franklin who grows citrus fruit — in Statesboro, Georgia, of all places. As James Murdock reports in this uplifting piece at The Bitter Southerner, Franklin has discovered that his farm is a temperate sweet spot to grow several citrus varieties from Satsuma oranges to Australian finger limes (considered the “caviar of citrus.”) Temperatures are warm enough to grow fruit yet too cold to allow the invasive psyllid — that has devastated Florida citrus crops — to thrive.

Joe Franklin believed he could grow citrus in Bulloch County, Georgia, based on his own experience of climate change. Without any research-based information on growing citrus in his climate zone, he took a risk and planted his first 200 trees in 2010. Today, his grove consists of more than 6,500 trees and 53 acres of citrus production.

As we stroll down a sunny open lane, I cannot help but notice the buzz of life around us. Bees bob on wildflower heads, which fill the gaps between trees. Thrashers scratch for worms and retreat to the woodline as we pass. Grasshoppers leap, sugar ants march, beetles flitter, an ecosystem works.

The hum of this grove stands in contrast to the silence of nearby cotton fields. Cotton, like most industrial crops, requires high levels of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides, chemicals which pollute ground and surface water, expose workers to dangerous toxins, and disrupt natural habitats. Cotton, as well as other crops, requires tilling and heavy irrigation, a combination which contributes to the structural collapse and erosion of soils.

This orchard, on the other hand, provides food and shelter for life. While it might exist as a result of climate change, it may also combat warming. University of Florida researchers found that 1 acre of citrus trees consume 23.3 tons of carbon dioxide and produce 16.7 tons of oxygen per year. Biologists have identified over 159 species that live in, and depend on, grove ecosystems. Large spaces between rows allow for natural small habitats to thrive. Rather than exposing soils with constant planting and tilling, the roots of trees hold the earth together.

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Rush Drummer Neil Peart: Master Student

Neil Peart (Photo by Clayton Call/Redferns — Getty Images)

The band Rush has a huge fan base at home in Canada and around the world, but despite having a big appreciation for their musicianship, I’ve never counted myself among them. (Please don’t @ me.) In reading Brian Hiatt‘s moving Rolling Stone retrospective in which family, friends, and bandmates remember the late Neil Peart, Rush’s drummer, I learned a lot that deepened my respect for the band, and for Peart in particular. A year ago, Peart died from glioblastoma, the same form of brain cancer that took another important Canadian musician, Gord Downie.

While Peart was a prolific reader who used his tour downtime to “fill the gaps in his education,” what struck me most was the student mindset he brought to the drums, despite being widely recognized as a virtuoso.

Before band rehearsals for Rush tours, he’d practice on his own for weeks to ensure he could replicate his parts. His forearms bulged with muscle; his huge hands were calloused. But he was also the self-educated intellect behind Rush’s singularly cerebral and philosophical lyrics, and the author of numerous books, specializing in memoir intertwined with motorcycle travelogues, all of it rendered in luminous detail.

Peart took constant notes, kept journals, sent emails that were more like Victorian-era correspondence, wrote pieces for drum magazines, and posted essays and book reviews on his website. Despite ending his formal education at age 17, he never stopped working toward a lifelong goal of reading “every great book ever written.” He tended to use friends’ birthdays as an excuse to send “a whole fucking story about his own life,” as Rush singer-bassist Geddy Lee puts it, with a laugh.

In May 1994, at the Power Station recording studio in New York, Peart gathered together great rock and jazz drummers, from Steve Gadd to Matt Sorum to Max Roach, for a tribute album he was producing for the great swing drummer Buddy Rich. Peart noticed one of the players, Steve Smith, had improved strikingly since the last time he had seen him, and learned that he studied with the jazz guru Freddie Gruber. In the year of his 42nd birthday, while he was already widely considered to be the greatest rock drummer alive, Peart sought out Gruber and started taking drum lessons. “What is a master but a master student?” Peart told Rolling Stone in 2012.

He was convinced that years of playing along with sequencers for the more synth-y songs in Rush’s Eighties catalog had stiffened his drumming, and he wanted to loosen back up. (For all of his efforts and mastery, there were some areas even Neil Peart couldn’t conquer: “To be honest, I am not sure that Neil ever fully ‘got’ the jazz high-hat thing,” Peter Erskine, who took over as Peart’s teacher in the 2000s, wrote affectionately.)

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‘Everyone Benefits from a Frozen Arctic’

Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler / Getty Images

At Granta, Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier recounts her community’s ancestral way of life: one based on hunting and gathering traditions that convey a deep respect for the animals and land that offer sustenance, and one that has been all but destroyed by government paternalism and climate change. She argues that the Arctic’s health is a barometer of the planet’s health and that the earth can still heal, provided we prioritize it over economic growth.

With the signs of spring all around me, and my dreams of soon being able to get out on the land again, in season to go berry picking with fellow Inuit women, it’s perhaps not surprising that my thoughts have turned to the place of nature in Inuit life. In our language we have no word for ‘nature’, despite our deep affinity with the land, which teaches us how to live in harmony with the natural world. The division the Western world likes to make between ‘man and nature’ is both foreign and dangerous in the traditional Inuit view. In Western thinking, humans are set apart from nature; nature is something to strive against, to conquer, to tame, to exploit or, more benignly, to use for ‘recreation’. By contrast, Inuit place themselves within, not apart from, nature.

From the start, the government’s policy to move us ‘off the land’ was misguided and paternalistic. The idea was to make the ‘administration’ of Canada’s Eskimos (as we were then called) easier. We were seen as a problem needing to be fixed. This would be mended by gathering us into settlements, building houses for us and ‘educating’ our children in English with a ‘Dick and Jane’ curriculum, an education that had nothing to do with what we knew to be the real world. We would partake of the government’s assistance programmes such as family allowances (which sometimes could be withheld if we didn’t send our children to school) and, when needed, social assistance payments and subsidized housing. Along with the provision of health services, these seemingly positive enticements were difficult to resist. Nowadays we recognize these offerings as coercive, though strangely packaged in well-meaning wrappings.

With the move, things happened very quickly. At first, we expected that this new world in which we suddenly found ourselves would be as wise as our own. But it wasn’t. It turned out that our new world was deeply dependent on external political and economic concepts and forces utterly at odds with our ways of being. In particular its structures seemed to have nothing to do with the natural world. Almost immediately, we started to give away our power. For a while we thought that if we were patient – as the Inuit hunters necessarily are – that patience would pay off. But we soon lost that sense of control over our lives, especially over the upbringing of our children. They were brought into the classrooms of southern institutional schooling, a concept totally foreign to us, where they were given an ‘education’ that had nothing to do with the knowledge and skills we needed for life on the land. All our traditional character-building teachings went out the window, and our social values began to erode. When we surrender our personal autonomy, we also give away our sense of self-worth, we lose the ability to define ourselves and to navigate our own lives.

Our Arctic home is a barometer of the planet’s health: if we cannot save the Arctic, can we really hope to save the forests, the rivers and the farmlands of other regions?

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The Boom and Bust Cycles of Rock Springs, Wyoming

Fracking Rig — Getty Images

Horrific on-the-job danger, drug addiction, deep camaraderie, the lure of big money without having to go to college — this is the stuff of life in a fracking town. In this oral history of Rock Springs, Wyoming at The New Republic, J.J. Anselmi reports on the after-effects and collateral damage of repeatedly becoming a temporary boom town, where it’s not just the land and ecology that suffer in the long term.

Chris Schmidt: The whole time I worked out there, I was honestly pretty fucking terrified. My second day, this guy in the shop had this huge water tank lifted up on a forklift, and, instead of strapping it down, he tried to drive really slow. When the tank started to wobble, he got out. It ended up coming down on him and literally ripping his face off—from where his hairline started all the way down to his nose. I was sitting in the shop and heard this horrible scream coming from one of the bay doors. This guy was crawling on his hands and knees with his face hanging off.

Andrea: I think it was a fairly common perception for people in Rock Springs to see college as a waste of time and money. You could make so much easy, quick money in town. Once you start making that kind of money, it’s hard to stop. I saw this a lot at the high school, kids saying, “Why should I go to college when I can work in the coal mines or at the power plant?”

But for a lot of these kids, they didn’t get a trade they could apply outside the oil field. Many of them would do the same stuff over and over again out there. Had they gone to college and taken classes in welding or mechanics, say, they would’ve set themselves up for the future a bit more. But again, I could always understand why they’d see college the way they did. Especially when you have the cars, trucks, house, and big toys—you have to keep up with the payments, and it’s hard to get out of that cycle.

Not a lot of those kids saw that the boom would end.

Mary: Back in the day, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Rock Springs was a pretty awesome town to grow up in. But when I graduated, it changed because of the boom and the drugs. It went to shit. Nobody cared about anybody else anymore.

People who came in only saw it as a money-making town—and where that could happen really quickly. People from all over were very enticed by that. And then they realized it was a good place to get fucked up and do drugs, and word got out to people who sold drugs. You could make money quickly, rip people off, rob people.

I didn’t really start doing drugs until around 2005. I remember going to football games on Friday nights when the whole town would show up. But then drugs, especially OxyContin, took hold of a lot of people. I lost so many friends when OxyContin came around, both losing them to death and just losing people as friends—people who you thought were family but fell in too far. Everybody and their mother did Oxy: lawyers, doctors, all sorts of people doing it behind the scenes. The epidemic was very real. It was crazy how fast things would unravel for people once they started doing OxyContin.

The first time I tried it, I actually threw the other half of the pill out the window because it made me sick. I said I’d never do it again. What felt like a few weeks later, I was fully addicted.

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How Does the Story End?

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At Harper’s Magazine, author Ann Patchett relates working with Tom Hanks, through which she meets and befriends his assistant, Sooki. After a series of emails, Sooki comes to live with Ann and her husband Karl in the early stages of the pandemic while receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer in Nashville, Tennessee. This is a beautiful essay, about the different shapes that friendship can take, and the limitations of truly knowing another human being, despite our best intentions.

When I’m putting together a novel, I leave all the doors and windows open so the characters can come in and just as easily leave. I don’t take notes. Once I start writing things down, I feel like I’m nailing the story in place. When I rely on my faulty memory, the pieces are free to move. The main character I was certain of starts to drift, and someone I’d barely noticed moves in to fill the space. The road forks and forks again. It becomes a path into the woods. It becomes the woods. I find a stream and follow it, the stream dries up, and I’m left to look for moss on the sides of trees.

Putting together a novel is essentially putting together the lives of strangers I’m coming to know. In some ways it’s not unlike putting together my own life. I think I know what I’m doing when in truth I have no idea. I just keep moving forward. By the time the book is written, there is little evidence of the initial spark or a long-ago conversation in California Pizza Kitchen.

This story—which begins and begins—starts again here. Of course we would exercise together; it was good for both of us. Kundalini is nothing if not an exercise in breath, and as it turned out, breath was what Sooki was craving. More breath. Almost from the moment we finished that first practice, she identified it as part of her recovery, the thing she needed to stay alive.

I had never found a way of asking what having cancer had been like for her, or what it meant to so vigorously refuse the hand you were dealt. With every passing day I seemed less able to say, Do you want to talk about this? Am I the person you’re talking to, or are you talking to someone else downstairs late at night? I was starting to understand that what she needed might have been color rather than conversation, breath rather than words.

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The Racist Healthcare System that Failed JaMarcus Crews

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JaMarcus Crews’ mom was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes while she was pregnant with him, making him more likely to develop the condition himself. As Lizzie Presser reports at ProPublica, he worked hard to manage his health after being diagnosed as a teen. He did everything right, everything they told him to do. He watched what he ate. He exercised. He lost weight. He drove hours and hours, sometimes having to borrow gas money to attend life-saving dialysis after the disease progressed. His only mistake? Putting his trust in a system that was set up to fail him as a Black man with Type 2 diabetes.

A race-adjusted equation was also at play in JaMarcus’ case. The formula calculates kidney function by looking at what’s called “estimated glomerular filtration rate,” or eGFR. Creatinine is plugged into the formula along with age, sex and race. Doctors must note whether their patient is “Black” or not. By design, the equation assigns healthier scores to those who are listed as Black, because at a population level, a few studies found that this was more precise. With little investigation into why this might be the case, it was just accepted. That inflated score can mean a longer wait for a kidney because eGFR must drop to a certain level before you can start accumulating time on the transplant waitlist. The best-case scenario is to get a new kidney before needing dialysis, to avoid weathering the side effects of the machines. But those transplants are given on a first-come, first-served basis, and Black patients are less likely to get one.

The researchers and physicians behind the original formula, developed in 1999, wrote that Black patients had higher creatinine levels because “on average, black persons have higher muscle mass than white persons.” The assertion that Black bodies are different from all other bodies keeps company with generations of racist ideas that have infiltrated medicine, some of which were used to rationalize slavery. Researchers who developed the equation acknowledge that race is an imperfect variable, but even though they have updated the formula, they continue to adjust for race. The vast majority of clinical laboratories in the United States use such formulas today.

Dialysis is corporate healthcare on steroids: For-profit companies dominate the market, reap their revenues from Medicare and lobby hard against government reform. DaVita and Fresenius recently spent over $100 million to fight a ballot initiative in California that would have capped their profits, much of which are derived from taxpayer dollars, arguing that the initiative would lead to a shortage of doctors. They have lower staffing ratios and higher death rates than nonprofit facilities. And studies have found that patients at for-profit clinics are less likely to reach the transplant waiting list; they are 17% less likely to get a kidney from a deceased donor. Purnell, the Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, said the whole system is broken as long as corporate dialysis, which is financially incentivized to keep patients, is in charge of steering them to the better treatment of transplant: “Why would I walk into a Nissan dealership to tell me about a BMW?”

Dialysis facilities are responsible for transplant referrals, according to federal regulations, and JaMarcus’ DaVita social worker was assigned to educate and support him. When he was first assessed, a couple of weeks after he began, she wrote that he was suitable for referral and she would get him one when he got insurance. JaMarcus qualified for Medicare within three months. But more than a year later, he still hadn’t been referred.

By 2015, JaMarcus had a new DaVita social worker, Robbin Oswalt, who attributed the delay to a different prerequisite: “He is interested in getting a transplant referral if the Dr. approves after his wgt loss.” JaMarcus had lost 108 pounds since he started dialysis, and his body mass index had been hovering around the University of Alabama’s limit for months. At the time, he didn’t know that his height had been mistakenly entered into his DaVita records as 5-foot-11 — an inch and a half short of his actual height. Their incorrect number was then used to calculate his BMI, which made it look to his doctor that his weight was disqualifying, when it wasn’t.

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‘Hue’s Hue’: Katy Kelleher’s Column on Color

(Photo by Óscar J.Barroso/Europa Press via Getty Images) (Photo by Europa Press News/Europa Press via Getty Images)

We’re huge fans of Katy Kelleher’s writing on color. She recently wrote a spot-on piece for Vogue about Pantone’s odd “color of the year” choices. (Spoiler: a drab gray, paired with a pale yellow.)

Over at the Paris Review, she does in-depth profiles of color as part of a column named — get this — “Hue’s Hue.” We’ve shared a few of these nerdy delights as editor’s picks in the past; we especially loved recent ruminations on periwinkle, russet, and verdigris. The entire series is worth your time.

Periwinkle goes by many names. You might know her by one of her more fabulous monikers, like sorcerer’s violet or fairy’s paintbrush. In Italy, she is called fiore di morte (flower of death), because it was common to lay wreaths of the evergreen on the graves of dead children. The flower is sometimes associated with marriage (and may have been the “something blue” in the traditional wedding rhyme), sometimes associated with sex work (because of its supposed aphrodisiac properties) and also with executions. I grew up calling her vinca, a pretty little two-syllable name, taken from her proper Latin binomial, Vinca minor. My mother cultivated periwinkle in our forested Massachusetts backyard, encouraging the hardy green vines to trail over the boulders and under the ferns. I would have been delighted to know even a fraction of vinca lore back then, but I knew nothing except she was poison. I could eat the royal-purple dog violets, but I was not to pick the vinca. Vinca was poison and poison meant death.

Mary Stuart was six days old when she became the Queen of Scotland. Her precious body was guarded from that moment onward, moved like a pawn on a chessboard from one castle to another. Maybe the people would have loved her if she hadn’t been spirited away to be raised in France in 1548, but perhaps they wouldn’t have. Maybe Mary was doomed to always be loathed for her femaleness and her Catholicism. By the time she returned to the newly Protestant Scotland at age eighteen, she had spent over a decade in the French court, developing a taste for elaborate gowns and flashy jewels. She was tall and graceful, beautiful according to some accounts, but this didn’t endear her to the common people. While Mary was strutting around in fine lace and velvet and elaborate lockets, her people were told that God wanted them in chaste, sober clothes. Embroidery was deemed “unseemly” as were “light and variant hues in clothing, as red, blue, yellow and such like, which declare the lightness of mind.” Instead, the Scots were told to wear simple fabrics in “grave colour,” such as “black, russet, sad grey, or sad brown.”

This depressing list comes from a summary of the 1575 General Assembly of the Kirk, recorded in the Domestic Annals of Scotland. Although the upper classes continued to wear silks and velvets and pretty bright dresses, most people wore their sad rags. It was more practical, to be dressed in dark gray and black and brown. Life for the lower classes was hard. The clothing reflected this fact.

And yet, thrown in with those drab colors was russet. In this context, russet was both a general chromatic descriptor and a specific type of rough spun cloth, colored with a mixture of woad (a member of the cabbage family that was used to make a blue-gray dye) and madder (a similarly yellow-flowered herb whose roots could be turned into a pinkish-brown dye). Russet wasn’t a bright color, but it was at least more cheerful than “sad grey,” it had a bit more life than black. While Mary, Queen of Scots reportedly wore vivid scarlet under her black mourning clothes, her people dressed like dead leaves and gray stones. At their most vibrant, they could wear the color of rust, of dirty root vegetables, of aging fox fur.

Verdigris is the ur-turquoise. The name comes an Old French term, vert-de-Grèce (“green of Greece”). It is also sometimes known as “copper green” or “earth green,” since the pigment was commonly made from ground-up malachite or oxidized copper deposits. Certainly, verdigris owes a great debt to copper (symbol: Cu), as do the gemstones turquoise (chemical composition: CuAl6(PO4)4(OH)8·4H2O) and malachite (chemical composition: Cu2CO3(OH)2). In America, we’re more likely to call these green-blue shades turquoise (from the Old French for Turkish, or “from-Turkey”) or Tiffany Blue (coined in 1845 with the publication of the Tiffany’s Blue Book catalogue and trademarked in 1998) than we are to invoke old-timey verdigris. Yet I prefer the odd old name, with its vivid consonants and slithery tail. The word sounds unstable, fittingly fluid for such a liquid hue.

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Longreads Best of 2020: Profiles

All Best of Longreads illustrations by Kjell Reigstad.

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Visible Men: Black Fathers Talk About Losing Sons to Police Brutality (Mosi Secret, GQ)

At GQ, Mosi Secret offers a moving portrait of Joe Louis Cole, Larry Barbine, Rev. Joey Crutcher, Selwyn Jones, Jacob Blake III, and Michael Brown Sr., who are the fathers and father figures of Michael Brown, Terence Crutcher, Daniel Prude, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake — all Black men who were killed by police brutality.

Their lives were transformed by the worst kind of news, a blow that left everything that followed so suddenly and painfully different. Not only have they suffered the abrupt and traumatic loss of their loved ones, but often just hours after being stunned by tragedy, they grieve before news cameras. They are transformed from ordinary people into symbols of this country’s injustice, symbols onto which so much meaning other than their own is projected. How easily could that parent have been me, grieving my child, the thinking goes. And yet these fathers endure such moments in uneasy juxtaposition with the mythical assumption that they don’t even exist.

These fathers and father figures, in just being present, fight against a myth of the absent Black father, one that began in 1965, when “Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant secretary of labor, delivered a report to the Johnson White House, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, arguing that the plight of Black American communities was in decline due to a simple factor: the crumbling of the family unit and, in particular, children being raised in fatherless homes.” What Moynihan’s report failed to convey was the way in which social structures meant to assist actually penalized the nuclear Black family.

Just weeks after the study’s release, riots broke out across the Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles and critics latched onto the report to blame the ensuing violence on what Moynihan called “the deterioration of the Negro family.” The number of fatherless families, Black and otherwise, would rapidly grow in the following decades—a trend partly driven by the nation’s primary welfare program, in which for a period some states considered families ineligible for benefits if an adult male was a member of the household. The legacy of that policy and Moynihan’s report continues, and the notion of troubled, fatherless Black men has resurfaced after each national reckoning with racial injustice, including in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.

N.K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds (Raffi Khatchadourian, The New Yorker)

“John Scalzi, the former president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, heralded Jemisin as ‘arguably the most important speculative writer of her generation.’” (Edit, mine.) Jemisin’s fiction is imaginative, original, and immersive and I’ll just say it: I’m an unabashed fangirl.

In this portrait by Raffi Khatchadourian at The New Yorker, we learn about the personal dreamscapes that inspire Jemisin’s fiction and the critical influence that Noah, her artist father, had on her development as a writer. We get a glimpse into the systemic racism Jemisin has experienced in her career and into some fantastic writing that offers hope amid the chaos of a failed civilization.

Accepting her third Hugo, Jemisin stood at the lectern, with the rocket-shaped award beside her, and declared, “This is the year in which I get to smile at all of those naysayers, every single mediocre, insecure wannabe who fixes their mouth to suggest that I do not belong on this stage, that people like me could not possibly have earned such an honor, and that when they win it’s ‘meritocracy,’ but when we win it’s ‘identity politics.’ ” Holding up the award, she added, “I get to smile at those people, and lift a massive, shining rocket-shaped finger in their direction.”

“How Long ’til Black Future Month?” includes one of her earliest published stories, “Cloud Dragon Skies” (2005), in which an ecological disaster has caused most of humanity to abandon Earth for a ring-shaped space colony, built from crushed asteroids, beyond Mars. “Old foolishness lay at the root of it,” notes the narrator, a young woman named Nahautu, one of the few who stay. The planet has rebounded, except for the atmosphere. The toxic chemicals it has absorbed combine to form a new kind of life:

One morning we awoke and the sky was a pale, blushing rose. We began to see intention in the slow, ceaseless movements of the clouds. Instead of floating, they swam spirals in the sky. They gathered in knots, trailing wisps like feet and tails. We felt them watching us.

Ozark Life (Terra Fondriest, The Bitter Southerner)

Terra Fondriest’s ode to Ozark life in text and visuals at The Bitter Southerner is firmly set in the before times, when you could safely hold a wedding without masks, and when you could mix with more than members of your household without fear. What I loved most about his piece is how it exalts in simple joys — the best kind. This piece cleanses your mental palate not only with words and images, but with its grace.

Motor down just one dirt road, and you’ll begin to collect moments that are unique to this part of the South we call the Ozark Hills. Up and down hills and across creeks, maybe stopping in the middle to listen to the water flow and then heading back up, you’ll pass vistas of seemingly endless peaks dotted with cattle pastures. You’ll see wild turkeys dash across the road in front of you on their way to the acorns and hickory nuts in the forest on the other side. If your windows are open, you might hear waterfalls cascading down the drainage ways after a hard rain, or the interior might fill with dust and the smell of oak leaves burning during a dry spell. You might meet a truck coming at you on the narrow road and see how it pulls off near the edge of the woods to let you pass.

And if it so happens you decide to put roots down and call these hills home, you might start to develop relationships with certain parts of the creek or different bends in the road. You might start to become familiar with the people nestled in the hills who have been here for generations and those who arrived recently, just like you. You will slowly become part of the cadence of everyday Ozark life.

While Fondriest is new to the area, she understands that the only way to find her place is to get to know her neighbors and to earn their trust.

I am still the same introverted girl who grew up in the suburbs. Getting to know new people makes me more nervous photographing for this project. It’s a challenge that is daunting on most days, but the camaraderie built by pushing through that with my subjects yields the intimacy I strive for in my storytelling. Some of the folks I photograph are friends and neighbors, but others are people I meet through circumstance, whose everyday story I find interesting and a good piece for my Ozark Life story quilt. But I approach them. I might talk to them right away about my project, or I might let it simmer a bit and get to know them over days, months, even years before I bring up my project and my request to photograph them. Building a relationship is important, because it makes the pictures secondary.

Death and the All-American Boy (Kitty Kelley, The Washingtonian)

In 1974, Joe Biden had just lost his first wife Neilia and his daughter in a car crash and as the youngest person in the Senate at age 31, it is the sum of these things that make him “good copy.”

Joseph Robinette Biden, the 31-year-old Democrat from Delaware, is the youngest man in the Senate, which makes him a celebrity of sorts. But there’s something else that makes him good copy: Shortly after his election in November 1972 his wife Neilia and infant daughter were killed in a car accident. Suddenly this handsome, young man struck down in his moment of glory was prey to scores of hungry reporters clamoring to write soul-searching stories.

What intrigued me about this piece at The Washingtonian is the pure swagger Biden displays for reporter Kitty Kelly. Oh 1974, you were a different time, indeed.

In his office in the New Senate Office Building surrounded by more than 35 pictures of his late wife, Biden launched into a three-hour reminiscence. It wasn’t maudlin—he seemed to enjoy remembering aloud. He was the handsome football hero. She was the beautiful homecoming queen. Their marriage was perfect. Their children were beautiful. And they almost lived happily ever after. “Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover. The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports. Most guys don’t really know what I lost because they never knew what I had. Our marriage was sensational. It was exceptional, and now that I look around at my friends and my colleagues, I know more than ever how phenomenal it really was. When you lose something like that, you lose a part of yourself that you never get back again.

“My wife was the brains behind my campaign. I would never have made it here without her. It’s hard to imagine ever going through another campaign without her. She was the most intelligent human being I have ever known. She was absolutely brilliant. I’m smart but Neilia was ten times smarter. And she had the best political sense of anybody in the world. She always knew the right thing to do.

“Let me show you my favorite picture of her,” he says, holding up a snapshot of Neilia in a bikini. “She had the best body of any woman I ever saw. She looks better than a Playboy bunny, doesn’t she?

“My beautiful millionaire wife was a conservative Republican before she met me. But she changed her registration. At first she didn’t want me to run for the Senate—we had such a beautiful thing going, and we knew all those stories about what politics can do to a marriage. She didn’t want that to happen. At first she stayed at home with the kids while I campaigned but that didn’t work out because I’d come back too tired to talk to her. I might satisfy her in bed but I didn’t have much time for anything else. That’s when she started campaigning with me and that’s when I started winning. You know, the people of Delaware really elected her,” he says, “but they got me.”

Some detractors accuse him of shrouding himself in widower’s weeds, of dredging up his late wife in every speech. But Biden prides himself on being candid and honest—”That’s the only way I could be with the wife I had.” He understands the accusations: “I’m not the kind of guy everyone likes. My personality either grabs you or it doesn’t. My sister says I almost lost the campaign because ofmy personality, and my brother-in-law says you either love me or you hate me. I’m not an in-between type.

Feeling Bullish: On My Great-Uncle, Gay Matador and Friend of Hemingway (Rebekah Frumkin, Granta)

Speaking of intriguing men in very different times, at Granta we have Rebekah Frumkin’s portrait of her uncle Sidney Franklin. Discontent with the prospect of a potentially hum-drum existence as a teacher or an accountant, Franklin, armed only with persistence, self-confidence, and a desire for fame, ditched his Brooklyn-based identity in 1922 to fashion himself into a matador on a dare. What’s more, he became very good at it.

On 26 April 1976, after suffering a stroke that robbed him of the ability to walk and speak, the matador Sidney Franklin died in a nursing home in Manhattan, roughly thirteen miles from his native Brooklyn. Fifteen years earlier, on 2 July 1961, Ernest Hemingway donned his ‘emperor’s robe’ and shot himself in the head with a double-barreled shotgun. As young men, the two had split bottles of brandy in Spain, had traveled through the countryside together (a remarked-upon odd couple, one clean and effete and the other greasy and unshaven), had watched bombs explode in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. The New Yorker journalist Lillian Ross had said theirs was a friendship between a great man and a lesser one. I am the grand-niece of the lesser one.

After six years of touring successfully in Mexico, Sidney fought his way to the central stage of the bullfighting world: the Plaza de Toros de la Real Maestranza in Seville. On 9 June 1929, Sidney would acquit himself expertly in the ring, earning praise from Spanish aficionados and major newspapers. Again, adoring fans would flood from their stadium seats to lift Sidney up on their shoulders. Again, they would tear his traje apart, but these would be Spanish hands tearing, the hands of people who considered their arenas too good for Mexican toreros. Sidney would be carried back to his pension and strangers would crowd him – they would even join him in the shower. ‘I enjoyed and savored what I had done with an intensity almost sexually sensual,’ Sidney wrote, and later: ‘All the sexes seem to throw themselves at you.’ The Brooklyn Eagle, which had been covering Sidney’s story in lavish terms since his debut in Mexico, would publish headlines such as ‘Brooklyn Bullfighter Wins Great Ovation in Brilliant Spanish Debut’ and ‘Ten Thousand in Seville Arena Cheer Him as He Dispatches Bovine Foe with Single Stroke.’

Sidney was more than a novelty, a weird American who’d decided to try his hand at a foreign sport: he was a bullfighter in his own right, el único matador, and to his extreme satisfaction more than a little Spanish. He fashioned himself as a sort of cultural ambassador to Spain, singularly capable of introducing bullfighting to his American countrymen. ‘I shall not return to my hometown, Brooklyn, until I have gained fame throughout Spain,’ he told the Eagle. ‘I am sure that as soon as Americans are able to understand the beauty of this art, they will take to it, the same as they have taken to other sports.’ He joined an elite group of Spanish bullfighters whose company he continued to keep for decades.

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Plastic’s Broken Promise

(Photo by Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images)

At Orion Magazine, as part of its series “on the effects of the petrochemical industry on life, economics, and democracy,” David Farrier reflects on gloves and their medical history, as well as the strange beauty and environmental cost of cast-off plastic gloves — now oft-sighted street detritus that have become a requirement for many to survive amid the pandemic.

In late March, around the same time I first noticed the gloves outside my house, photographer Dan Giannopoulos was pondering how to document life under lockdown. After the order to isolate was issued, he didn’t leave home for several days, and when he finally stepped out his front door he was immediately confronted, like I was, by a lone discarded glove. He noticed more and more as he approached his local shop, and over the next four days—walking for an hour each day within the same one-mile radius of where he lived, in Nottingham—he documented 363 of them.

The human finger is extraordinarily sensitive. One study found that participants could detect a difference of thirteen nanometers (roughly the width of a human hair) between the textures of two surfaces. But unlike wood and stone, which wear their histories on their surfaces, plastic is strangely mute to the touch. There is a subtlety to even the most garish plastic, a kind of discretion, because all plastics decline to speak of their origins. The illusion that even the most ordinary plastic object is somehow out of time, perpetually isolated in its moment of use, is fundamental to its promise to be disposable. History sloughs off their wipe-clean surfaces. The cut-price synthetics that initially flooded postwar American society betrayed this promise when they quickly became discolored and tacky, often leaving behind an oily residue. The more robust plastics that followed gave away nothing of where they came from, and so could easily be taken for granted and cast away. Roland Barthes understood this, when he celebrated plastic’s alchemical promise. “Plastic is wholly swallowed up in the fact of being used,” he wrote in Mythologies. It arrives in the hand as if from a void, to which it returns when we let it go.

Plastic breaks its promise to seal us off from the messiness of life from the very start, dipping our hands in the sumps of oil wells and leaving a trail of chemical fingerprints, but so are its prints all over us.

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“Over a Glass of Wine and a Pint on a Quiet Friday Night”

(Photo by Karol Serewis/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

At a campsite in Dutch Limburg, as Eoghan Walsh drinks industrial Dutch Lager and snacks on sour cream and onion Pringles, he remembers his mother, who died of cancer at age 47. In this piece at Good Beer Hunting, he recounts that the “beer-suffused memories provoked by that sensory encounter in the Dutch campsite stand out so starkly because they were rare flickers of joy or irreverence in an otherwise unhappy childhood.”

I remember the gray Friday afternoon, sitting with her in that quiet room when it was done, and me mumbling inane banalities about the important life events she would never see and the ones I was so grateful that she had, her face slack and relaxed and impassive.

That was the definitive goodbye, but when a loved one dies of a terminal illness they don’t die just once. They are, instead, dying over and over again, as grim milestones accumulate with you powerless to arrest the dawning inevitability of the final, conclusive death.

I miss her. Not every day, but enough to entertain the odd melancholic notion of how her life and mine might have turned out had she survived the intervening decade, and what parenting advice she might be able to impart—were I in a mood to listen—over a glass of wine and a pint on a quiet Friday night.

For one, the beer-suffused memories provoked by that sensory encounter in the Dutch campsite stand out so starkly because they were rare flickers of joy or irreverence in an otherwise unhappy childhood. Whether I have been successful or not in my attempts to break with my past in my six years as a father, I have tried to will into existence an environment for my children that is more carefree, warmer, and more predictable than the one I endured. It is also a childhood in which beer is much more present.

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