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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A female piping plover with a chick.
A female Piping Plover prepares to settle over her newly hatched chick and three unhatched eggs to brood them at her Nantucket nest. (Photo by Mark Wilson/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. The Price of Admission

Rachel Aviv | The New Yorker | March 28th, 2022 | 10,600 words

I’ve started writing this blurb, erased my attempt, and started again a few times now. The difficulty of summarizing Rachel Aviv’s latest feature is a testament to how good it is, and how complex. What starts as the story of a teenager escaping an abusive parent, navigating foster care, and making a life for herself in the form of a full ride to the University of Pennsylvania, a Rhodes scholarship, and even a new last name pivots at a certain point to something else entirely: an examination of the narrow frameworks that powerful institutions impose onto trauma and suffering, an indictment of the unforgiving expectations society has of abuse victims, and a study in human resilience. Just read it. Then talk about it. We need to talk about it. —SD

2. ‘In my 30 Years as a GP, the Profession has Been Horribly Eroded’

Clare Gerada | The Guardian | February 22nd, 2022 | 3,707 words

This essay tells the story of two days: one in 1991, the other in 2021. On both days, Clare Gerada was on-call as a General Practitioner in London, but 30 years have brought immense change to life as a community doctor. This comparison offers a simple yet incredibly effective story-telling technique. Gerada made three house calls on her first day on call in 1991. Each person’s story was very different — from an addict with pneumonia to a little girl with an earache — but the care and time Gerada was able to take with each of them remained the same. Fast forward to 2021, her very last day on-call, and Cohen finds herself juggling numerous visits arranged through a call center, part of a “gig economy, as impersonal as the driver delivering a pizza.” Her patients have also changed, and she explains that “with advances of medicines and technology, patients are living longer, often with three or even four serious long-term conditions.” It has stretched the system into something thin and fragile. Gerada used to see the same patients for decades but “each patient I saw that day was a stranger, and each contact an isolated encounter. We would never meet again.” This piece paints a concerning picture, but one that warrants discussion. Gerada offers a clear-eyed, first-person insight into the healthcare debate in the UK. —CW

3. Plovers Quarrel: A Tiny, Endangered Bird Returns to Sauble Beach to Find Sunbathers Dug Into the Sand

Fatima Syed | The Narwhal | March 26th, 2022 | 5,029 words

Sauble Beach, a lakeside community and tourist destination on Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula, is currently the backdrop of a lengthy, expensive legal battle. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula was fined $100,000 for destroying the habitat of the piping plover: a tiny endangered bird that had vanished from the Great Lakes region for 30 years, until a pair suddenly returned to the beach in 2007. The community has since actively protected these birds, calling themselves “plover lovers.” But some people, including the town’s mayor, want a pristine shoreline of smooth sand for sunbathers and vacationers — and have raked and bulldozed the beach, scraping away the natural dunes and vegetation that plovers need to nest, breed, and live. So, who is this beach for? Can humans and plovers share the sand? This is a well-reported story from Fatima Syed on the battle within this community — and what it means to “damage” a habitat — accompanied by gorgeous photographs. (You’ll love the unexpected plover puns, too.) —CLR

4. Bright Passage

Leslie Jamison | Orion Magazine | March 11th, 2022 | 5,501 words

At Orion Magazine, Leslie Jamison explores her experiences in hospital and the necessary indignities and frustrations of being vulnerable. She recounts the heightened and dulled sensory experiences of recovering from surgery, a place where pain and numbness merge, a place where the patient is struggling to make sense of the world around her and the boundaries of a body now irrevocably changed: “Each time, I felt part of a world—just briefly, in passing—that was structured by a series of contradictory intensities: the simultaneous exposure and anonymity of sharing cramped spaces with strangers; the vulnerability and disconnection of needing strangers so badly; the intimacy and tenderness of bodily care alongside the brisk assembly-line necessities of caring at scale…Private lives become public. The nurses know your business, the other patients know your business, the doctors know your insides. The surgeons see your insides. Extreme emotion—whether desperation or relief—becomes impossible to contain, visible for all to see.” —KS

5. My Friend Goo

Deb Olin Unferth | The Paris Review | March 28th, 2022 | 3,463 words

“In March 2020 the entire human world was out walking,” begins Deb Olin Unferth’s charming, tender essay. We all remember that time; in those earliest days of terrifying mystery, the only thing we could do was find whatever unoccupied bit of the planet we could, and move through it. While most of us did so to avoid anyone and everyone, however, the writer found connection — with a massive goose she names Goo. There’s more to this story, as she reminds us throughout: a long-dead older brother, a strained relationship, the hostile vagaries of the natural world. Above all, as she recounts her growing intimacy with Goo, the essay serves as a paean to the idea of difficult friendship. There’s less of a wallop here than a prolonged, low-grade emotional ache; Unferth draws you through her life and loss with an unerring sense of pace, and from the very beginning you sense that there’s only one place this path can end. It does, of course, at least in a way. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hold your breath waiting for the punch to the gut. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A clean, empty, white plate with a fork and knife atop it.
Photo by Peter Dazeley (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. 20 Days in Mariupol

Mstyslav Chernov | The Associated Press | March 21st, 2022 | 2,400 words

“The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.” So begins video journalist Mstyslav Chernov’s account of the siege of Mariupol, Ukraine. In spare, blood-chilling prose crafted by Lori Pinnant, an AP colleague in Paris, based on conversations with Chernov, this feature recounts the extraordinary lengths journalists have gone to in reporting on Russia’s senseless bombardment of the city — and the extraordinary efforts Vladimir Putin’s forces have taken to suppress the truth. Chernov conveys the fear, shame, grief, anger, sadness, and — above all — sense of responsibility that comes with bearing witness to an unfathomable tragedy. This is war reporting at its finest, its most clear-eyed, its most humane. If you read one thing about Ukraine this weekend, make it this. —SD

2. The Book that Unleashed American Grief

Deborah Cohen | The Atlantic | March 8th, 2022 | 4,854 words

Nowadays, we are used to people sharing personal information about themselves: Social media and reality television operate as vehicles for shouting out much — and as loudly — as possible. With a few clicks, you can find out more about a perfect stranger — and their current mood — than you know about your gran. This influx can make it easy to forget how much things have changed. In the buttoned-up years pre-Second World War, over-sharing was still very much a taboo. Deborah Cohen’s fascinating essay explores how John Gunther’s book, Death Be Not Proud, led the way to public discussion of cancer and death, as well as “divorce, pain, and parental remorse.” Gunther’s book was a memoir: an account of the death of his son, Johnny, from a brain tumor. Written in 1947, it was the very first chronicle of cancer. It feels crass to portray Gunther as paving the way for today’s social media stars — but Cohen’s poignant essay did make me consider the changing social norms around emotion and the role of memoir in instigating these changes. Gunther making his grief public was brave — founding the process of making connections with others through shared experiences. This essay is not a light read, but it is powerful and meticulously researched. I will be thinking about it for a long time. —CW

3. Personal Growth

Marina Benjamin | Granta | March 11th, 2022 | 5,563 words

My brother was forever small for his age and pale; he simply refused to eat foods he didn’t like. In our house in the ’70s, that meant he was made to stay at the dinner table until he ate what was on his plate. Many nights, he would eventually push his plate away, put his head down on the table and go to sleep, his food long congealed. Years later, my parents discovered dozens of calcified dinner rolls in a little-used cupboard near the stove, evidence of his attempts to clear his plate. Distant and tenuous are two words that accurately describe his relationship with our parents. He hasn’t been at a family dinner in nearly two decades. I can’t say I blame him. In this stunner of an essay at Granta, Marina Benjamin recounts similar experiences at her own family’s table, suffering pleas and threats and edicts around eating and food. Although my brother never suffered the physical violence Benjamin endured, it’s clear my parents left their marks on him. Benjamin’s essay is one of the most gorgeous pieces of writing I’ve read this year. It’s about the fog of memory, the imbalances of power and control inherent in families, the irreparable harms even mostly well-meaning parents can do by abusing their children, and the lifetime of work some have to do to overcome it: “To refuse what the world imposes on you when you possess no other means of resisting is a strength. But refusal is a delusory power, too, because it divides you against yourself. Breaks you in two. One half of you submits to the ordeal while the other half protects the self by dissociating.” —KS

4. Futures From Ruins

Johanna Hoffman | Noēma | March 17, 2022 | 3,882 words

In the mid-20th century, Bombay Beach saw brighter days as a vibrant California resort playground on the Salton Sea. But agricultural pollution, water issues, and toxic air led to its demise, and by the ’80s, this once-thriving desert town to the southeast of Los Angeles fell into decay. In recent years, an art movement and community are breathing life back into it, with a festival, the Bombay Beach Biennale, transforming the tiny town into a post-apocalyptic wonderland. Johanna Hoffman visits and speaks with its residents, exploring how this tight-knit, compassionate community — one that’s lived and survived in such a harsh landscape — continues to reenvision itself and emerge from ruins. Can art really remake Bombay Beach? Is this just another place lost to gentrification? Or does this town at the edge of a toxic lake offer us a glimpse into our collective future? Photographs from Tao Ruspoli, who co-founded the Biennale, add a nice visual layer to Hoffman’s story. —CLR

5. Nicolas Cage Can Explain It All

Gabriella Paiella | GQ Magazine | March 22, 2022 | 6,673 words

As someone who’s been on the journalist side of plenty of celebrity profiles, believe me when I tell you that it’s not easy to break people out of autopilot press mode. Just because you sat in Jennifer Lopez’s house or walked around with Shia LeBeouf or enjoyed a cordial but stilted breakfast with Eric Bana (all real examples) doesn’t mean you’re going to leave having gotten a single milligram of candor from them. But not every celebrity is Nicolas Cage. And not every writer is Gabriella Paiella. Paiella, whose GQ profiles of Diplo and Lil Dicky have already cemented her as the magazine’s preeminent anthropologist of White Dudes, captures Cage at the perfect moment: coming off a tear of 46 movies to pull himself out of bankruptcy, and looking to the future. Yes, as a subject he delivers everything you hope he might — the guy opens the door in a goddamn kung fu suit — but it’s Paiella’s assiduous secondary reporting and lovely arm’s-length affection that makes the piece a gem. “Nothing about him feels like an affectation,” she writes. “Not the kung fu suit, not the talking crow. He is a true eccentric holdout in the increasingly banal landscape of American celebrity. You never see him posting on social media, flashing his veneers above a faux self-deprecating or inspirational caption, or giving pithy sound bites on a red carpet. The man is physically incapable of pith.” You already knew Cage was in National Treasure; now you’ll know he’s one himself. —PR

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Close up of orange seaweed on fine sandy beach seen from above.
Close up of orange seaweed on fine sandy beach seen from above. Horizontal composition.

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Love and Longing in the Seaweed Album

Sasha Archibald | The Public Domain Review | March 9th, 2022 | 2,500 words

The news of 2022 is like an anvil weighing down on our collective psyche. This week, I found myself hungry for a read that felt like a relief — a collection of words that would inspire delight, not despair. This essay delivered. It’s the quintessential example of a factoid-filled piece you read and then find yourself immediately (and perhaps annoyingly) telling people about. Me to a friend: “Did you know that seaweed collecting in 19th-century England was a feminist activity?” Also me: “It’s possible that seaweed collecting inspired George Eliot to start writing fiction.” Me again: “Tweens once exchanged seaweed albums like kids now trade Pokemon cards!” Sasha Archibald writes with grace and humor, and she shows how, far more than just a charming pastime, the bygone practice of seaweed collecting intersected with the wider currents of history. It’s a breath of sea air. —SD

2. Night Shifts

Michael W. Clune | Harper’s Magazine | March 4th, 2022 | 6,731 words

I’ve always been fascinated by my dreams. I’ve made attempts to become more attuned to them over the years, but the books on lucid dreaming I’ve bought or the notepads I’ve kept on my nightstand to jot down middle-of-the-night notes end up collecting dust. These days, I’ve given up viewing sleep as a state I can control: my experiences with sleep paralysis — and my sleep apnea, whose treatment requires bulky hardware — make me feel completely powerless. So I read Michael W. Clune’s essay on dream incubation, the shaping of dreams according to a dreamer’s chosen words or images, with great interest. Clune takes us along for the ride as he tries a prototype of the Dormio, a device that enables you to shape the images that appear during hypnagogia, the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep. He explores thought-provoking questions about the mind and its potential for creativity once we’ve lost conscious control of our own thoughts, and what this might mean for the future — including more dystopian possibilities. I’ll end with a line I haven’t stopped thinking about: “Just below the surface of wakeful awareness, just a minute or two under it, everything is change.”—CLR

3. What Lies Beneath Hip-Hop’s Swagger

Danyel Smith | The New York Times Magazine | March 11th, 2022 | 2,391 words

The NYT Magazine‘s annual music issue hit a special gear this year, from Hanif Abdurraqib’s “sad bangers” paean to Jody Rosen’s exegesis of scam rap. However, one piece in particular was so dialed in, so sleek and powerful, that I had to get up and walk it off once I’d gotten to the end — and I’m not speaking metaphorically. Danyel Smith’s bonafides have long been indisputable: from running Vibe and Billboard to the recent Black Girl Songbook podcast, she’s been part of the music journalism firmament for more than 30 years. And here, she takes the measure of aggression and identity within hip-hop (“I am a fan, and I want all the smoke,” she writes early on), tracing it from today’s young nihilists back to her own early engagements with the genre. The magic isn’t simply in the threads she extends, yarn-mapping Moneybagg Yo and Kash Doll to Golden Age artists like LL Cool J and Queen Latifah, but in how she traces the underlying terrain that made that map necessary. “Spoiler alert: The bombast is a response, a defense, a pose, a stance,” she writes. “It’s magic, and it seduces. But it’s labor. Under threat of a variety of harms, you have to camouflage your soul. So if I’m tired — of always staying ready, so I never have to get ready — imagine the music-makers themselves.” Make time today. —PR

4. The Shape Of Walking

Victoria Livingstone | Joyland | March 15th, 2022 | 1,524 words

As Victoria Livingstone recounts the early days of the pandemic and the uncertainties about being around people — even outdoors — she retraces the many steps she took in a local park, observing others as they too navigated a familiar communal space that at the time, felt like uncharted territory. As the pandemic continued, Livingstone walks and walks. As her young daughter emerges from a stroller to take her own first tentative steps, Livingstone mulls the varying shapes and directions her essay could take as well as the simple and oh-so-necessary pleasures of discovery: “By spring of 2021, when pandemic restrictions briefly eased, she was running: a bouncing toddler run, more up and down than forward. She ran towards the swing-set or to the dandelions or to someone walking a dog or to a park bench or to a piece of trash that looked like a treasure or to the geese sitting in the middle of the field. Her direction was often impossible to predict…I struggled to write this essay even when I believed I was the singular author. Now my daughter continually reminds me that our steps intersect with the movements of those around us in illegible patterns. The rhetoric of walking resists order.” —KS

5. Under The Big Sky

Drew Magary | Defector | March 7th, 2022 | 2,443 words

As a teenager, I loved the Baz Luhrmann song “Everyone’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” but it was not until much later that I learned to appreciate the line, “Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they are gone.” A couple of ski accidents and a knee surgery later, I sure do miss those springy youthful knees. These lyrics were in my head reading this beautiful essay. Like the song, it is a lesson on how to get the most out of life — even when your body does not work in the way it once did. It’s a gentle piece — Drew Magary simply reminiscing about skiing with his Dad, his friends, and his family — but the writing draws you in, letting you share his happiness. Over the years, this joy becomes peppered with frustrations as new limitations appear: “I could feel my thighs and spine ready to burst as I held crucial turns. When I felt myself going too fast, I reflexively dragged my poles behind me, as if that would slow me down any. Skiing will expose you like that.” But, even while dragging his poles, Magary is still awed by simply being on a mountain and declares he will keep skiing even as his body and ability deteriorate, “It’s not about conquering the mountain. It’s simply about going there. A mountain is a god.” A sentiment with which I concur — even with my dodgy knees, I also still ski. —CW

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Close up of a deer antler
Pirmin Föllmi / EyeEm (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Man Who Paid for America’s Fear

Jason Fagone | The San Francisco Chronicle | March 2nd, 2022 | 14,500 words

This is the definitive story of Hamid Hayat, a man wrongfully convicted of terrorism, sentenced to prison on his 25th birthday, and finally set free after 14 years behind bars. It is a profile, yes, but it is also a deep, unflinching examination of just how ugly and far-reaching Islamophobia became in America after the 9/11 attacks. True to form, author Jason Fagone — whose work was featured in our Best of 2021 collection — offers readers a master class in structure. When I read the closing anecdote, I said aloud, to no one in particular, “Damn.” —SD

2. The Airport

Shannon Gormley | March 7th, 2022 | 15,807 words

“I say I’ll get them out. I mean this, too. But in Afghanistan whatever we meant turned to sand; what we did is the only trace we left behind. In time our actions, also, will be subsumed by the actions of others, like the wind moves tracks across a desert plain.” Shannon Gormley self-publishes a breathtaking narrative about her friend’s escape from Afghanistan as Kabul fell to the Taliban. Gormley weaves her own personal story of her time in the country, as well as the backstory of her friendship with Asghar, in this meditative piece. Through exquisite yet gripping writing, Gormley conveys the gravity of the situation on the ground as she calls on colleagues to help Asghar get his wife Zahra, his 4-month-old son Farhan, and himself to safety once they reach Kabul’s international airport. I read this slowly and steadily one evening, gasping at times. It’s a long read — even by Longreads standards! — but well worth the dive. —CLR

3. On Memory and Survival

Nickole Brown | Orion Magazine | February 9th, 2022 | 2,348 words

In this deeply moving essay at Orion Magazine, Nickole Brown relates how routine dissociation and an inability to form memories helped her cope with childhood trauma. While dissociation protected Brown from memories of childhood abuse, it also left her unable to recall moments of beauty. In one instance, she struggles to remember an aggregation of monarch butterflies seen from a New York City high-rise not long after 9/11, a kind of random yet all-encompassing beauty that helps fend off despair amid the ongoing horrors of climate change and worldwide human suffering. After encountering the body of a vulture that died entangled in fishing line and willing her brain to remember the bird, Brown discovers that remembering is more important to survival than forgetting: “So what is it I need to learn well enough to recite by heart? Why work so hard to verify a cloudburst of butterflies migrating so long ago through the busiest part of one of the busiest cities on Earth? Why struggle to memorize a vulture who likely starved upside down? Because survival has to do with remembering what you most do not want to face. It has to do with not turning away, in believing your own testimony, in writing it down. We must keep remembering in case one day another needs that memory to survive.” —KS

4. Of Course We’re Living in a Simulation

Jason Kehe | Wired | March 9th, 2022 | 3,518 words

True story: When I started working here, the very first thing someone asked me was “What do you think of simulation theory?” What I said to him then is what I’m saying again now: I’ve always thought of it in the same way as the existence of life elsewhere in the universe. In other words, the idea that our reality is in fact some gargantuan digital illusion may sound nuts, but it’s nearly impossible for it not to be the case, even if that truth never touches our lives in a perceptible way. That also happens to be the perspective of Wired‘s Kehe, though he unspools it in delightfully loopy fashion in this essay that’s part provocation, part book review (of David Chalmers’ recent Reality+), and part excuse to play with language like a young Stephen Fry. There’s an argument in here, and an interesting one, but there’s also a real joy — which is seldom the case in tech criticism, or technophilosophy, or whatever you want to call that realm of rhetoric concerned with teasing out the implications that we’re all actually inside a video game. This is unlike anything else you’ll read this week, and it may just be the thing you remember most. —PR

5. The Great American Antler Boom

Abe Streep | The New Yorker | March 7th, 2022 | 5,307 words

I found myself engrossed in Abe Streep’s account of a subculture I knew very little about — didn’t know existed, in fact — the world of the shed hunter. Initially, I suspected a shed hunter was someone who ambles into the woods to take a casual glance about to see if a deer antler catches their eye. I was wrong. Streep illuminates me with vivid descriptions of shedder social media stars, furious bidding wars, and the May hunt — which sounds more like an intense endurance race. At 6:00 a.m. on May 1st, public lands in Jackson are opened up to antler seekers, and Streep describes the ensuing mad scramble, where people “raced across the water and ascended into tawny meadows. One rider was bucked off his horse and injured himself. A teen-ager from Montana alleged that someone stole an antler he had spotted first.” This story made me consider both the foibles and ingenuity of the human race; it was fascinating to learn of the obsessions and livelihoods formed around a bone that another animal discards as waste. It is very human of us. —CW

Great American Wasteland

A foreboding, dark sky over a flooded highway
Illustration by Carolyn Wells

Lauren Stroh | Longreads | March 2022 | 23 minutes (6,171 words)

Once upon a time, James Doxey lived with his wife in an inherited home that had served their family for generations. When Hurricane Audrey flooded homes from their foundations in 1957, survivors swam to its porch. The storm surge had moved 20 miles inland overnight, catching them in their sleep. More than 500 people died. Their home survived every subsequent storm that hit Southwest Louisiana until Hurricane Laura came through in summer 2020. What remains is a stout set of concrete stairs. They lead to a slab. Once upon a time, they framed his front door.

Down the road I meet Angela, her sister-in-law Victoria, and her father, Carl James, in the camper trailer they bought after losing their first home. When hurricanes come, they drive it off the lot.

These are some of the people still left in Cameron Parish. There is nowhere else they would ever go.

Cameron Parish is Louisiana’s largest by landmass, once made up of thousands of miles of grass, marshland, and water. So much of this wilderness has already washed into the Gulf. Louisiana’s coast is among the most rapidly disappearing places on earth: What is lost amounts roughly to the size of the state of Delaware; what is left continues to go.

Louisiana’s coast is among the most rapidly disappearing places on earth: What is lost amounts roughly to the size of the state of Delaware; what is left continues to go.

Carl James Trahan: I know since 1969, I own some property out here on Hackberry Beach. From 1969, we have lost 1,800 feet of land.

If you’ve never been out there, let me draw you a map. You go south from Lake Charles, the closest city inland, over Conway LeBleu, the most beautiful bridge in the world, this tall elegant winnowy thing, where you look out over all of the marsh covering the last stretch of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. You ride down a two-lane highway with water rising up on either side of the car. You’re almost scared to go out there, scared you’ll run right off the side of the road. I hit a snake crossing in front of me, saw pink herons spring up above my windshield, pumped gas in floodwater up to my calves when it came in during high tide. I got lost, had to turn around, and feared for my life. Folks out there drive trucks for good reason — when the tide comes in, it floods over the main road.

Despite its size, Cameron is now one of Louisiana’s most sparsely inhabited parishes, due to its proximity to our eroding coast and vulnerability to hurricanes. The population splintered after Audrey (1957), then Rita (2005), then Ike (2008), and then Laura (2020) and Delta (2020). Before Rita, several thousand people lived out there; after Laura and Delta:

Angela Trahan Doxey: A lot of people left.

For good?

Carl James Trahan: Yeah there’s probably less than 50% come back.

How many people live here right now?

Carl James Trahan: Here? On this ridge?

Yeah that’s what I mean, the people that are from here, live here.

Carl James Trahan: They ain’t many. They ain’t many. They ain’t many left.

Hurricane Laura (August 2020) was the strongest to hit the state in over 150 years. She reversed a river in Texas for 12 straight hours, damaged nearly 900,000 properties, killed between 300 and 400 head of cattle, flooded 80-100 thousand acres of rice fields, and destroyed the entire transmission system in and around Lake Charles. Grid reconstruction took over a month, though they are still running substations off of generators out in Cameron Parish.

When Hurricane Delta (October 2020) followed a little over a month later, there was no fixing them up. It was May 2021 when I went and the houses left were totally done for, as if they had been mauled and left for dead. I passed contents strewn in both directions for miles driving in. Tarps hung tattered from their roofs, blue flags of surrender. The front walls were torn off so you could see straight through to the back. They sat tall on stilts up to 17 feet high to meet the insurance code, ruined haunted houses on this greenest bit of earth.

Carl James Trahan: This is the third time I’ve started over in my life.

Angela Trahan Doxey: I did it as a kid, as a parent.

Carl James Trahan: Rita, Ike, and Laura — the third time I’ve lost everything. It’s expensive. [laughs]

After a certain point you stop buying stuff.

Carl James Trahan: Well, that’s why we ended up in campers now.

Angela Trahan Doxey: It’s more permanent. You get attached to less. You start buying less after the first hurricane or second hurricane — you learn what you need that’s more important to pack up and what matters more.

Why did I go? I grew up in Lake Charles, not far, about the closest city inland from the coast. It is a small town, sweet and southern and kind of like Mayberry, where everybody knows everybody and spends their whole life driving up and down the same two roads. It was a charming, if not a superficially unremarkable place, to grow up in, like many other close-knit communities littered across the South. We have coffee at the diner. We have dinner in front of the television most weeknights.

But everything has changed: It is America’s most weather-battered city after the litany of natural disasters that struck it in the past year-and-a-half — two hurricanes, an ice storm, a thousand-year flood, and then tornadoes. In 2020, the New York Times identified it as the city with the highest number of displaced residents in America. You drive up and down those streets and it’s as if time has stopped — despite whatever progress that recovery efforts have made, it still looks bombed. In May 2021, my mom lost about everything inside the house I grew up in during that flood; we walked furniture, photographs, and 15 years of moldy ballet costumes out to the side of the road. From our kitchen window, I watched people take what they could salvage from our trash: wooden furniture that sat in sewage for five hours until the water receded, old clothes that stank of mildew and fetid rot.

Why did I go? I know that when storms hit us, they hit Cameron first. I know we spent over a year after Hurricanes Laura and Delta without federal aid, waiting in hope and agony with bated breath. I know that when that aid did arrive, it failed us: $600 million dollars to address $3 billion in unmet housing needs, damaged schools and businesses, debris removal, and infrastructure. I know that $2.7 billion was allocated toward Hurricane Ida recovery in New Orleans down the road only after a month or so. I assume that what little we get in Lake Charles, those out in Cameron get even less. So when you consider the devastation we were subjected to and how it compounded after more than a year of no aid, just federal neglect — they got next to nothing at all.

I wanted to understand what failures of government, mutual aid, and human decency led us here — well over a year later with a region still totally undone. I wanted to understand the reasons the people in charge failed us, how they could live with themselves in spite of it, and why so few people outside the region heard what happened here or gave a shit if they did.

It is true it is a news desert; the closest rag inland is the American Press in Lake Charles, which functions as a community bulletin board. Facebook is how people communicate with each other. But this community is small, insular, and not particularly well-off — our friend lists mostly read of one another. If you weren’t around last year (it is not some destination), it is unlikely you’d ever know what was going on.

But people in positions of power and influence did visit: Donald Trump took photos in front of my friend Jack’s house while he was still president and passed out autographed portraits of himself, which he invited city officials to sell on eBay to help with the cost of recovery and repairs. Joe Biden didn’t do much better: He promised aid, then raised flood insurance premiums for at least five million homeowners in predominantly working class coastal communities instead. I get it: It’s not a politically advantageous cause. But this is not a partisan issue. It is a crisis of conscience. It is a constitutional obligation — and even then, so many are excluded from aid arbitrarily (the indigenous, immigrants, those incarcerated, those without homes). These are Americans who have been left to fend for themselves on the forefront of climate change. They lost the better part of everything they worked their whole lives to own. They pay their taxes. They fought in all of America’s stupid wars.

These are Americans who have been left to fend for themselves on the forefront of climate change. They lost the better part of everything they worked their whole lives to own. They pay their taxes. They fought in all of America’s stupid wars.

If you don’t quite see it yet, I will tell you. Out in Cameron it is just between you and God. There is no other witness. It is just you and the water and the earth and something mystic up in the sky watching over. The rare neighbor is 20 or so miles down the road. Mr. Doxey and I get around to talking about what happens if you’re unlucky enough to have a heart attack — there is no hospital. He laughs at me, no hesitation: “You die!”

The dead and the living

Just how bad did it get, I imagine you wonder. It was hell. It still is. There are at least 100 caskets with corpses rotting inside them in trailers out in Cameron Parish and probably 20 body bags. They came up after Hurricane Laura, when the 17-foot storm surge in Creole flooded them away. Reburials are delayed while the state has yet to distribute money necessary to fix the cemeteries and reinter them in new graves.

I talked to Patrick Hebert, a marsh contractor who specializes in levee and terrace construction, debris clearing, excavation, dozer work, and oil spill cleanup. He handled the retrieval himself, along with his small crew, hunting down remains in Cameron’s bogs and marsh.

Patrick Hebert: Right after the storm we started picking them up and bringing them to my shop.

And that’s in Sweet Lake, right?

Patrick Hebert: Yes. And then we just stored ’em and I didn’t know what else to do, ya know?

Right, what a hard job.

Patrick Hebert: Yeah it’s not for the faint of heart, I’ll tell you that.

Are they all in caskets or are you finding … ?

Patrick Hebert: So, like, 90% of the time it’s kind of a boring deal, you can pull right up with an air boat and two guys can usually get the casket on the boat. It’s very uneventful. But about 10% of the time you’re gonna have some issue like maybe the casket is underwater or full of water and mud and then we can’t physically … like, the casket will just break apart if you try to pick it up. And it’s too heavy for men to pick up. So then we have to cut ’em open and put the body in a body bag or whatever we can find in there. I had about 75 caskets stacked up in the back of my shop, just covered up for tarps for quite a while.

Do you have any idea how long they were left there?

Patrick Hebert: You know, it was probably 60 or 90 days before we saw somebody from the Attorney General’s office actually come to my shop.

And so at that point they went and moved them to Creole, correct?

Patrick Hebert: Right. We loaded them in some 18-wheeler van trailers and they pulled … well, I actually pulled ’em. I brought ’em all to Creole and they just sat there and nothin’s happened since, ya know? They’re renting the trailers to leave the bodies in but they haven’t moved forward with doing anything yet. You know? At least have them more identified because they still have the identification tags on the caskets and we recorded it as we picked them up. And I know at least half of ’em.

Right, that’s how Cameron is, everybody is family more or less.

Patrick Hebert: Oh yeah, yeah. That’s kinda why we did it with Rita, because, shit, half of ’em that I was picking up I knew who they were or I at least knew their kids. Ya know? I’m a wetland general contractor. We really do all of our work in the marsh. I got marsh buggies and air boats. So we’re out there all the time. I mean, you’re on a job and you run across a casket sittin’ somewhere you can’t not pick it up. You know?

Of course not.

Patrick Hebert: I mean, shit.

You must feel traumatized at times.

Patrick Hebert: I mean, I’m gonna be honest with ya, I’m just not that kinda guy. It doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people apparently, ya know? The first time I went and did that in ’05, it’s kind of a funny story, but one of my airboat drivers grew up in the funeral home business and he was actually a licensed mortician, okay? So he was good with all that. It didn’t bother him one bit. And he and I were the first ones to start pickin’ ’em up. And he was so nonchalant about it that it kind of rubbed off on me like well, you know, I guess it’s not that big a deal; it’s just a body and we’ll get it done. I don’t have nightmares about it or anything like that… although I’m sure lots of people would if they saw some of the stuff I saw.

Do you mind telling me what you’ve seen?

Patrick Hebert: Well, like I said, 90% of the time we don’t even open the casket. But about 10% of the time there’s gonna be some issue: They’re gonna be full of water, or perhaps it’s a family that’s been callin’ about one and I’ve got a description on a casket so we’ll open the casket to make sure what clothes they had on so we could help identify ’em.

I ask a mortician what dead bodies look like. She tells me after a certain point they turn pitch black; it takes a while to get down to just bones.

I call Ryan Seidmann, who runs the state’s Cemetery Response Task Force through the Attorney General’s Office, to confirm that what Patrick said was true.

I’m curious about the situation with the caskets that are being held in Cameron Parish in the trailers. Why are they being held in these trailers instead of reburied?

Ryan Seidmann: Because … well, there are roughly two answers to that. Number one, not all of them are able to be identified based upon what is on the exterior of the caskets. So only about half of them are known individuals. And then, for those, we are still waiting in many cases on FEMA funding to repair the graves that they came out of before they can go back. So those are just kind of in a holding pattern for their graves to be repaired, which are in turn in a holding pattern from FEMA for the funding.

The ineptitude continues. Danny Lavergne, the director of Cameron’s Office of Emergency Preparedness, tells me it took 51 weeks for FEMA to get 201 people housed in mobile housing units after Hurricane Laura. For months they refused to place camper trailers in a flood zone before abruptly reversing that decision without reason or explanation. That’s how arbitrary bureaucracy can be. But it fucks up your life: For nine months, 201 people were homeless and waiting. They made do in loved ones’ living rooms, in their cars, in hotel rooms they had to drive in from situated far and wide across the state. People lived this way through the fall and into spring — throughout the pandemic in 2020, when at times Louisiana suffered among the highest caseloads in the United States, long before there were any vaccines. Cameron’s only hospital is still operating out of a tent with limited services. Lake Charles has no homeless shelter, and all the hotels and apartments in close vicinity were damaged or price gouged to match the demand for livable housing. In the meantime, while they waited on FEMA to coordinate temporary housing, do tell me — where exactly were these people supposed to go?

I asked Angela and Carl what they got in FEMA assistance — only $500 for immediate recovery expenses. They were denied for housing assistance, lodging reimbursement, and the cost of their generator. Meanwhile, I know people in New Orleans that had no damage from Hurricane Ida and got $1,500 fast, while most everyone in Cameron lost everything that they owned. There is no equity in the economics FEMA uses to justify their system of aid. In Cameron Parish, folks make their living selling bait for fish in what must be one of the most polluted bodies of water on earth — y’all saw that video of the Gulf of Mexico on fire after a gas leak a few months ago. It is also significantly more difficult to access material goods in rural places when resources are scarce after disasters and everything costs more to import in the first place. If you choose not to buy something that costs a lot at the one store that has goods in stock, where else are you gonna go?

I remember after Rita, my mom told me they gave her $1,500 after the storm.

Angela Trahan Doxey: Sure.

And then after this storm she applied and they only gave her $500. I’m wondering if people around here got any money after the storm. [Laughter] No?

Victoria Trahan: All we got was the $500 and we got denied for everything else.

Carl tells me he believes Hurricane Laura’s wind speeds were a lot higher than the 153 mph logged in official reports. He claims that on the crane out in Cameron they registered 202 mph and 198 mph at the Port of Lake Charles. I looked into it but couldn’t find the numbers he mentioned. But I did speak with Roger Erickson, a meteorologist working with the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, who led me to believe what Carl said just might be true:

Do you know at what point the weather instruments that were measuring everything went offline?

Roger Erickson: I wanna say the radar and the observations both went out about the same time. It was around one o’clock in the morning.

So it was before the storm hit.

Roger Erickson: Right. Well, I mean, the eye was still moving on shore, but the eye wasn’t up over us yet for another hour.

Do you have any idea what the strongest wind was?

Roger Erickson: Yeah. Well in terms of actual numbers that we got, there’s 133, 134, 135 numbers.

Why do you use (air) quotations when you say that?

Roger Erickson: Because it was higher than that. But that’s the —

How much higher?

Roger Erickson: In my opinion it’s probably gonna be in the 140 to 150 range from the gusts.

From the gusts? You don’t think it got any higher?

Roger Erickson: Well, yeah, it coulda been higher. When we go out and do tornado surveys, I see damage to whatever, there’s an app that I use to determine how strong the winds were to cause the damage that I’m looking at. So using that after a hurricane, you can do the same thing. Everything that I had was in the 140 to 150 range.

And that was about an hour before the eye got to shore?

Roger Erickson: About. Yeah. But the reality is it could have been 20 or 30 miles an hour more because if I know that the minimum requirement to damage this thing is 140, I know that it’s at least 140 but heck, it could’ve been 200 for all I know. But you can’t prove it. All I know is it’s for sure 140. You know what I’m saying? You’re stuck with whatever the lowest threshold to cause that damage that you’re looking at. So that’s the problem with after a tornado or after a hurricane — you look at the damage, you go, okay, well that’s 140-mile-an-hour, that’s 120-mile-an-hour. But in reality, it could’ve been 180 coming through here, but you don’t know that because there wasn’t anything strong enough to hold up 180 that would’ve shown it.

One-hundred and eighty an hour, the disaster passes, and then begins the war. Despite changes to the state’s legal policy in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, insurance companies largely failed to pay policyholders their premiums within the mandatory 30-day timeframe after Hurricanes Laura and Delta. It took my mother over a year to get what she needed to fix our home.

Roger Erickson: I haven’t heard of anyone really having a good story. And after [Hurricane] Rita, I mean, most of us had an okay process getting our money from our insurance company.

I heard wonderful stories.

Roger Erickson: The only people that had a problem in Rita were the people closer to the coast because the insurance companies were arguing whether the damage to their houses was from the water or the wind. Because they’re like, if it’s from the water, we’re not gonna pay you that. So I mean, we had proof from that Cameron gauge that no, the wind happened first and then the water rose. So we were able to help the residents down there.

What came first — the wind or the water? It’s an ambiguous genesis, the facts of which nobody will ever know. But it matters — homeowners’ insurance and flood insurance are each separate policies — at any given time, you are only eligible to file a claim with one or the other, not both. If your homeowners’ insurance determines that the damage sustained was first caused by a flood, they have no obligation to you. The compensation you are entitled to also differs, depending on the policy that applies: Homeowners’ insurance pays the costs necessary to repair your house and temporarily relocate you, but FEMA’s flood insurance policy does not. It is only intended to reimburse you for the loss of your contents and the home’s damages. When it comes to finding someplace to live if your house is left uninhabitable, you are more or less on your own.

Angela Trahan: Well see FEMA right here, we ain’t get no money from ’em. They denied me because they said I was supposed to carry flood insurance. It’s a camper. You can’t carry flood insurance on a camper. So it didn’t matter that I was supposed to carry flood insurance from receiving assistance in a previous hurricane. And they denied me because of flood. It was a natural disaster. It was tidal water driven by hurricane force winds. And then I said, talk to the weatherman; I’m not a weatherman. But before the tidal wave got here, before the water even got here, there is no way mine was sitting here through the winds.

One million dollars

When the government doesn’t pay attention, people run around undeterred with their scams. I discovered one by accident while interviewing Rob Gaudet, who runs the Cajun Relief Foundation nonprofit. He listed at least four different groups that collect their own money separately from one another under variations of the Cajun Navy name, like gangs at war with one another. They each have their sovereign territory — when they cross into one another’s, one runs the other right back off.

He bragged to me that he raised a million dollars to provide aid and essential resources after Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the ice storm, and the flood. I was genuinely impressed by this. I drove out there to do more or less the same thing — pass out food and water and supplies to everybody — and could only gather a little over $1,000. The need was so great we had to turn people away. It’s the power of social media, he tells me. People love their brand.

He bragged to me that he raised a million dollars to provide aid and essential resources after Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the ice storm, and the flood…It’s the power of social media, he tells me. People love their brand.

And yes, they know that name. It is a funny inside joke. The “Cajun Navy” is a colloquialism that describes our neighbors who rescue one another in boats. I noticed something strange start to happen: When I called him for help, his group never showed up. He claims they did do work out there — they passed out thousands of meals, helped with muck and gut, tarped roofs, and hauled debris, which is what neighbors do for one another. He’s posted videos all year on Facebook, I guess, to prove it — to himself, to everybody else, and now, I assume, to me.

But I had doubts. He let it slip that he spent $200,000 of that one million dollars on real estate and between $60,000 and $70,000 fixing up the house he bought so that it’s something that he can eventually flip. The home was substantially damaged, he said; its previous owners just wanted out of it. His volunteers lived in it as they disaster-tourismed their way in and out of town while collecting a stipend. Meanwhile, the demand for livable housing after Hurricanes Laura and Delta was so great during Christmas of 2020 that a small tent community was set up by the lake. Of that one million dollars, he donated $10,000 to a different mutual aid group organizing housing relief five months after the first storm hit.

Gaudet then proceeds to sell me an elevator pitch of the disaster relief startup he wants to turn his nonprofit into so he can eventually sell it to the feds. I looked up his IRS records with his EIN. It turns out he failed to file the last few years, and in 2020, when the IRS revoked his tax-exempt status, he filed for 2016 four years late. So they reinstated it. I have the property records for the home.

In an attempt, I assume, to intimidate me, he mentions his friendship with Jeff Landry, Louisiana’s Attorney General — he says he calls him anytime anyone tries to accuse him of doing something wrong. He mentions his paranoia; that at one point he started to carry a gun.

I recorded him:

What have y’all been doing with donations that you have received?

Rob Gaudet: Donations are going to … we do pay some of our volunteers. They become team members to stay. Marissa has been there since December; she has her own life. Robin was there for three months. They’re away; they’re coming back. So, we pay our team members. I bought a house for these guys to live in. We bought some equipment, like a skid-steer. We bought a trailer for the skid-steer. We bought a tool trailer for all the tools we have. We bought tools. So, we’re building up our infrastructure with the donations that we have. And then we put people in hotel rooms. I gave $10,000 to Dominique and Roischetta during the ice storm for the people in the hotels.

For the Vessel Project. Yeah.

Rob Gaudet: Yeah. We bought heaters. We bought blankets. We buy stuff for people and we give it to them. We don’t really donate money directly to people usually. We will provide supplies to them, pick them up, and move them around. We’re just using it to cover our expenses while we’re in town.

Gotcha.

Rob Gaudet: And I will tell you, I raised a million dollars.

Wow. And that is specifically targeted towards Laura relief?

Rob Gaudet: Towards Laura, but some of it was for the ice storm. But mostly Laura and Delta.

[Was the house you purchased] damaged or was it in okay shape?

Rob Gaudet: It was damaged, it was damaged. The back side of the roof was lifted off.

So did y’all repair that home?

Rob Gaudet: Yes. It’s not fully repaired. It didn’t flood. Lake Street in front of our house flooded pretty badly, but it didn’t flood.

And how much did you buy it for?

Rob Gaudet: $200,000. The individuals wanted out of it. And the roof was really badly damaged so we had to have the roof repaired, put in new rafters, decking, re-roof the whole thing, re-shingle it, and then do the inside repairs. We’re pretty close to being done. It’s not quite done yet though.

After you’re finished with repairs, what is your plan for the house?

Rob Gaudet: We’re gonna sell it. Yeah, we’re gonna sell it. We’re pretty close to getting it on the market, actually.

How much will you sell it for?

Rob Gaudet: I think we’re going to ask $340,000. We’ve put some money into it. We’ve probably put $60,000 or $70,000 in repairs into it. Obviously you want to get as much for a house as you can. And that money goes back … it’s bought in the Cajun Navy nonprofit name and it all goes back to the nonprofit.

Habitat

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration suspended pollution monitoring and reporting mandates that companies were previously obligated to disclose to the agency. As a result, we won’t ever know the immediate environmental impact of Hurricane Laura because this order expired only a few days after the storm hit. The data just isn’t there. And there are so many parties with vested interests in covering up leaks and spills in that area: The Lake Charles economy is deeply dependent upon chemical refineries and oil rigs in the Gulf. But they could not hide the chlorine spill at BioLab after Hurricane Laura when it clouded I-10 West for several hours and forced it to shut down. Those who hadn’t evacuated were advised to shelter in place. There is a national chlorine shortage as a direct result.

The only reason industry rebuilds is to continue to produce rice, plastic, bleach, and oil. Lake Charles and Cameron are sacrificial land for these industries. I thought those towers and bright lights sparkling in the distance were New York growing up. That’s how many there are: Little cities pumping poison into the water we swallow, into the air we breathe. By the numbers, Southwest Louisiana hosts the majority of the state’s oil and gas refineries. The CITGO plant in Lake Charles processes 425,000 barrels of crude oil a day alone. The others manufacture a medley of harm: plastics, the chemical byproducts in shampoos, detergents, soaps, and bleach. It leaches into our waterways — there is so much.

There is no place left to swim. Warning signs are posted prominently at every lake and beach around the Gulf; when people ignore them, they get staph infections. The tap water in the town of Sulphur runs out the faucet brown.

Mr. Doxey: If it wasn’t for Venture Global I would not be down there right now. They would have shut the lights out of Cameron. That I can promise.

Oh yeah, the only reason they’re rebuilding Lake Charles is because of the plants. That’s the only reason they get any money.

Mr. Doxey: But if it wasn’t for them, I’m telling you, if this storm would’ve come two years before they started this plant.

Oh y’all would be gone.

Mr. Doxey: We wouldn’t even have electricity.

This environmental neglect is not new or unheard of — take, for example, the Chicot Aquifer and the Condea Vista spill in the 90s. I can’t believe how well it’s been covered up. The company came in, poisoned the region’s main drinking aquifer with ethylene dichloride in one of the largest and longest-running chemical spills in our nation’s history, and just never disclosed it to those of us who live there. Between 19 and 47 million pounds of carcinogenic chemicals were siphoned into Lake Charles and its surrounding waterways through faulty pipelines. I drank the water from the tap growing up. There was no class action lawsuit or city-wide settlement. They poisoned us forever, and they never bothered to finish cleaning it up.

So tell me what happens when a hurricane comes and stirs all that muck and water up. What happens next when the same town is hit by a major disaster again? The water has to flood somewhere. And that’s just old chemical waste polluting our waterways through to the ground. There is no telling what else spilled in the Gulf afterwards that they won’t ever talk about. I’ve made my peace with the fact that we won’t ever know the chemical cocktail of waste they burned off into Lake Charles beforehand.

Just the other day, there was another industry explosion: Ethylene dichloride was implicated yet again.

Home

Why do we stay? I can’t give up on it. It is the birthplace of my culture and my home. We are the Cajuns, some of the last few left — first exiled from Acadia only a few hundred years ago in Le Grand Dérangement, when we refused colonization by the British. This is what brought us to Louisiana, this beautiful godforsaken wasteland. Y’all break my heart with this trying to run us off once again.

So y’all told me a little bit about how y’all’s neighbors are leaving and y’all’s plan is to stay no matter what.

Angela Trahan Doxey: Keep comin’ back.

Tell me how you make that decision?

Angela Trahan Doxey: I’m from here. Family land.

Victoria Trahan: My husband says that if daddy comes back, he comes back. And he always said if there’s a fence post on the property, I’m stayin’. So that’s what my husband goes by. And see this was my first time losing everything. When Rita hit, I was little. We went on vacation to Tennessee and all that. So I thought it was fun and when we came back things were having to be repaired. We didn’t know no better. Yeah we learned through it … you’re in school. But then this hit and we moved our camper out and a tornado got … and it still took … and we had to go pick up everything. And then my daughter is saying, [starts crying] “Mama, there’s my house.” The rest of it wasn’t coming back. I said it wasn’t. But I moved here four years ago and I made this a home, my kid’s home. So I came back. And I say if hurricane season hits again, I’m not coming back, but I know I’ll come back.

Angela Trahan Doxey: Born and raised here.

Carl James Trahan: We die here.

Victoria Trahan: And I say to my husband … when we first got together, I had a trailer in Lake Charles. He helped me move into it. It was gonna be mine. But I asked him, “Do you want to move in with me?” when we got serious and he [said], “You can’t take Cameron Parish outta me, baby, you just can’t.”

None of us own the earth. We just belong to it. This land is what makes us who we are.

None of us own the earth. We just belong to it. This land is what makes us who we are.

The light fades in Cameron, so I thank Angela and Carl and grab my things to go. I drive off into sunset with my left hand hanging out the driver-side window. I mean, what else can you say? We are losing all of this to the Gulf, to hurricanes, to pollution, to the government, to refineries, to climate change, to ignorance, and to willful neglect. I know it won’t look like this when I come back again. I drive off, and it’s as if I’m out of Sodom and Gomorrah. I look back and cry to salt.

So yeah, it is hell, and also, it is beautiful. I have never loved anything else like I love it. I watch the sky and its violent sunsets, when the chemicals bind together to make Technicolor gradients that dye the whole sky pink and red and white and yellow and blue and orange.

To visit Southwest Louisiana over the past year-and-a-half is to descend into hellish depths of human suffering. I do not know how else to put it. I have told everyone I know, tried to make them care, tried to hold those in positions of authority responsible for doing something about it, and had to reconcile the impossibility of manufacturing any grace for a part of the world that people do not regard kindly for whatever reason that they do. I don’t know why this is. It is a sociocultural landmine. The pirate Jean Lafitte buried treasure there. Except for Abbeville, I would never eat crawfish served anyplace else.

I am of that bit of earth. So I will not let it go. I show up in the small ways I can, which is talking to people, which is why I tell this to you.

***

Lauren Stroh is a writer from Louisiana. Other essays on hurricanes appear in Oxford American and n+1. Her criticism has been published by Art in AmericaBookforumHyperallergicThe Nation, and many others.


***

Editor: Krista Stevens

Copy Editor: Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Fact checker: Julie Schwietert Collazo

 


This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett Fund for Women Journalists.

 

 

 

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

A chocolate bar, lying on a wrapper on a wooden table.
Photo by Emilija Manevska (Getty Images)

Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. Endless Exile: The Tangled Politics Keeping a Uyghur Man in Limbo

Annie Hylton | The Walrus | February 28th, 2022 | 8,160 words

While trying to flee persecution in China, Ayoob Mohammed, an Uyghur man, found himself in Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded the country in response to 9/11. Mohammed was among more than a dozen Uyghur men who were caught and sold to the U.S. for bounty as an alleged terrorist, held for four years at Guantánamo Bay, and finally exonerated. Still, 16 years after being released, he is still trying to prove he’s innocent. This story is exceptionally reported and told with nuance and empathy by Hylton, who traces Mohammed’s journey from his Uyghur homeland in northwest China to Guantánamo to Albania, where he has since resettled — and continues to be a victim “of politics among nations, a sacrifice to their interests.” Hylton examines the “invisible geopolitical forces” that “have bent his story to their will” and have kept him from reuniting with his wife Mailikaimu and their kids in Canada, and also shows the challenges of long-term family separation through their story. —CLR

2. A brilliant scientist was mysteriously fired from a Winnipeg virus lab. No one knows why.

Justin Ling | Maclean’s | February 15th, 2022 | 3,959 words

Ten years ago, Winnipeg microbiologist Dr. Xiangguo Qiu discovered a way to combine three monoclonal antibodies in a cocktail that saved people near death after contracting Ebola. What’s more? The therapy had promise far beyond Ebola: “Others have also built on the breakthrough. Monoclonal antibodies used to treat COVID-19 have cut the risk of death by as much as 70 per cent, while the first monoclonal antibody therapy was recently approved to treat and prevent HIV infection. The possibilities are endless.” Mysteriously, in July 2019, Dr. Qiu was removed from her lab and put under investigation by her employer and the RCMP. CSIS, Canada’s national security intelligence agency, was said to be involved too. She was finally fired in January, 2021. But why? Some allege there was a paperwork issue that would prevent Canada from claiming credit for breakthroughs from research done on the virus samples she shared with China. Some say that paperwork was deemed unnecessary. Did she hand over Canadian intellectual property to China as some claim? Nearly three years after being removed from her lab — one in which she made scientific breakthroughs that will save countless lives — Dr. Qiu has yet to be formally charged. However, as Justin Ling reports at Maclean’s: “It remains an open question: what happened to Dr. Qiu?” —KS

3. Does My Son Know You?

Jonathan Tjarks | The Ringer | March 3rd, 2022 | 2,738 words

The Ringer has always refused to stick to sports; its spiritual predecessor, Grantland, was the same way. But Tjarks, one of the site’s most prolific basketball journalists, rarely veers from his usual beat. In May of last year, he did so to write about his cancer diagnosis; now, he does so again to reckon with how the disease has changed his experience as a young father, and what he learned from his own father’s struggle with Parkinson’s. “I don’t want Jackson to have the same childhood that I did,” he writes. I want him to wonder why his dad’s friends always come over and shoot hoops with him. Why they always invite him to their houses. Why there are so many of them at his games. I hope that he gets sick of them.” It’s an unblinking and plainspoken piece, no less affecting for its lack of affect — and yet another reminder that regardless of where one’s passions or expertise or faith may lie, the messiness of being human has a way of spilling over any edges that may otherwise divide us. —PR

4. How to Apply Makeup

Nicole Shawan Junior | Guernica | February 24th, 2022 | 6,300 words

I had never heard of dermatillomania, an obsessive disorder in which the afflicted person picks at their skin so often and so hard that it leaves permanent damage, until I read this wrenching essay. Yet it somehow felt familiar. Nicole Shawan Junior’s words will resonate with anyone who’s struggled with — or loves someone who’s struggled with — OCD, cutting, an eating disorder, or another physical manifestation of mental illness. Organized around instructions for applying foundation, concealer, and other parts of a makeup regimen, this piece is about the harm we do to ourselves and the ways we try to hide our scars. It is as raw and honest as essays come. —SD

5. Getaway Driver

Lauren Hough | Texas Highways | March 1st, 2022 | 3,135 words

Initially, I thought this beautiful essay would be about Bonnie and Clyde, but it turns out they are just a side note. Hough resists any temptation to glamorize her story with the famous crime gang — instead, it is the small yet compelling details about her grandpa and the community of Shamrock that drew me in. I could envision the scene as Hough describes chatting to her grandpa on the porch, smelling his pipe tobacco as he blew “smoke rings for me to slap apart before they floated to the ceiling.” The stories her grandpa relays are pulled from the haze of the Alzheimer’s that is gradually consuming his thoughts. He is particularly animated telling his childhood tale of Bonnie and Clyde hiding in the family barn and giving him a box of chocolate bars. It could be true. Hough visits the scene in Shamrock and finds out the gang was indeed there at one point. Hough vividly paints the characters she meets in the community, who question her doubting her grandpa’s story: “‘Why wouldn’t it be true?’ Hazel responds. ‘It’s his story.’” And so is this essay — it is a touching homage to her grandpa, no one else. —CW

Perilous Passage

illustration of man and boat along the sea
Illustration by R. Fresson and courtesy of The Atavist Magazine

Bill Donahue | The Atavist Magazine | February 2022 | 7 minutes (2,029 words)

This is an excerpt from The Atavist‘s issue no. 124, “The Voyagers.”

 

The Atavist, our sister publication, publishes one deeply reported, elegantly designed story each month. Support The Atavist by becoming a member.

At 4 a.m. on June 23, 1945, beneath the bright Arctic sun, Valeri Minakov picked his way down to a beach on the cold, treeless coast of Chukotka, near the easternmost point of Russian Siberia. There, near the Cape Chaplino military weather station, Valeri climbed into a motorized kayak that he’d built himself, using walrus hide, a section of bicycle frame, and a small three-horsepower engine. The seawater in which his kayak bobbed was about 34 degrees Fahrenheit that morning, and clotted with blocks of ice the size of school buses. In the kayak’s bow, Valeri had a few five-liter cans of gasoline, some tinned food, a milk jug filled with drinking water, and a single passenger—a little boy.

Valeri’s son, Oleg, was six years old, black haired, and scrawny, with tentative brown eyes. He’d already been through much in his short life. When Oleg was three, his infant sister died of starvation, one of the Soviet Union’s 25 million war-era casualties. Oleg watched as his father placed the baby’s corpse on the metal kitchen table before it was taken away for burial. Soon after, in 1942, Oleg’s mother, Anna Yakovlev Kireyeva, ran off with a Red Army officer. For the next three years, Oleg was raised by his father, a naval mechanic, on a succession of military bases. Eventually, they wound up in the spartan reaches of Chukotka.

It was a lonely existence. Oleg didn’t have friends with whom he could play fox and geese—a game of chase—out in the snow. His father, Oleg later said, was “like a shadow. He was there, and then he wasn’t.” At 35, Valeri was erratic. He’d been traumatized, certainly, and was possibly mentally ill. When he went out at night to drink in bars, he left Oleg alone in the barracks where they lived. Valeri often got into fistfights while drunk. He was a muscular slice of a man—six-foot-one and 164 pounds—and Oleg was in awe of his physical prowess. Once, when a car jack wasn’t working, Valeri lifted the vehicle up by the bumper, slid the jack underneath, and continued his labors. Valeri’s strength, however, was tightly coiled. He was anxious, a chain smoker. He paced. He habitually clenched his jaw, grinding his teeth, and at times he raged at Oleg. When the boy caused a stir in a military dining hall by catapulting a spoonful of borscht into the face of a high-ranking officer, Valeri beat him.

But while Valeri was far from a model father, he and Oleg were a team out on the tundra. Oleg’s favorite moment each week came when his father got paid—Valeri would entrust the boy with a few kopecks and send him out on an errand. In a blacksmith’s forge where Valeri sometimes worked, he had Oleg work the bellows to keep the fire going. If father and son were outside and the wind got strong, Oleg would clench Valeri’s hand and curl in toward his dad’s long sealskin coat, lest he “get blown away to nowhere.”

Now Oleg sat in a 14-foot-long homemade kayak as his father prepared to row it into the Bering Strait, one of the earth’s most dangerous sea passages. The strait’s shallow floor, just 150 feet or so beneath the surface of the Bering Sea, is prone to kicking up monstrous waves. When the strait freezes, usually in October, it becomes a heaving jumble of ice floes that groan in the cold and crash into one another with immense force. The ice begins melting in June, which is why Valeri chose that month for their crossing.

Valeri began oaring away from the beach, hewing to the ice shelves along the cliff-lined shore. He kept the engine off. Valeri headed north, toward a group of islands where naval officers liked to hunt. If it came to it, he could always claim that he was taking his son out to shoot ducks.

Once they were far enough away from their launch point and hidden behind high blocks of ice, Valeri pulled the starter cord on the engine. It didn’t turn over. Valeri panicked. For three minutes he kept pulling. Then Oleg pointed out that the spark plug wasn’t connected. Valeri fixed it. The engine rumbled.

“Where are we going?” Oleg asked.

“America,” Valeri said. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. Ikea’s Race for the Last of Europe’s Old-Growth Forest

Alexander Sammon | The New Republic | February 16th, 2022 | 7,137 words

Sure, your baby’s new SUNDVIK crib is cute and modern, but do you have any idea where the wood came from? Romania has one of the largest old-growth forests left in the world, home to ancient and rare spruce, beech, and oak trees. Joining the European Union in 2007 opened Romania up to a massive market for this prized cheap timber, which fuels the fast furniture industry. IKEA, which makes big sustainability claims, is the largest individual consumer of wood on the planet; in 2015, it started to buy forestland in Romania in bulk and is now the country’s largest private landowner. But more than half of Romania’s wood is illegally harvested and, as Alexander Sammon intrepidly reports, what’s actually happening on the ground is not always legit and, in some cases, has turned violent. “Tracing any individual tree from forest floor to showroom presents a near impossible challenge,” writes Sammon. “As wood moves through the supply chain, it becomes increasingly difficult to pin down.” This is a dismal but gripping and important read. —CLR

2. Driving While Baked? Inside the High-Tech Quest to Find Out*

Amanda Chicago Lewis | Wired | February 15th, 2022 | 5,932 words

Getting intoxicated drivers off the road is an inarguable good. Exactly what “intoxicated” means for cannabis users, though, is a touch more arguable. THC’s fat-soluble nature means that a person can exceed the legal limit in multiple states a day after consuming, despite feeling absolutely nothing. Lewis, one of the most prominent journalists to have carved out a beat in this particular branch of botany, takes readers inside the struggle to reach a smarter standard, and the result is as thought-provoking and entertaining as you’d hope. Whether detailing the intricacies of a promising cognitive test or playing out the comedy of a stoney testing session, she’s able to capture both the science and the spectacle: “Without the usual context of a possible arrest,” she writes about the subjects and the supervising cops, “the vibe … veers from surreal to downright chummy, as if Tom and Jerry took a break from the endless chase to discuss the finer points of mousetrap methodology.” So sure, keep telling your friends you drive better when you’re high — maybe just read the piece first. —PR

*Subscription required. (The vast majority of the pieces we recommend are free to read online. Occasionally, we will share a piece that requires a subscription when we strongly believe that piece is worth your time.)

3. How Much is a Dog’s Life Worth?

Hannah Smothers | Texas Monthly | January 11th, 2022 | 2,017 words

A few weeks ago, I got my first dog — a rag-tag collection of breeds, somehow muddled together to make something that I consider perfect. Perhaps it was because I was sitting with my scruffy mutt as I read, but Hannah Smothers’ essay about the loss of her dog had me holding back the tears. Augie, a mixed-breed rescue puppy, was only a part of her world for 36 hours before a dog attack brought his short life to an abrupt end. Smothers’ emotion is raw, seeping out of her words as she describes the gut-wrench of coming across his little toys around the house and the nightmares forcing her to relive the attack again and again. The grief led to her reaching out to a lawyer to see if she could vindicate her lost puppy. The answer was a resounding no. According to Texas law, the only possibility would be to sue for economic value: amounting to about $50 for Augie — a dog of indeterminate breed. In 2013, a case did argue that pets should have sentimental value, but, as Smothers explains, the big guys stepped in: “Among them were the American Pet Products Association, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Kennel Club. They argued that if pet owners could sue for sentimental value, veterinary malpractice insurance premiums would skyrocket, and pet product companies would be hit with class-action lawsuits every time someone’s cat got sick from a can of food.” This is a fascinating debate, but this essay does not delve into the technicalities too deeply — it is the human emotion that makes it such a powerful piece. —CW

4. This House Is Still Haunted

Adam Fales | Dilettante Army | February 15th, 2022 | 5,200 words

Here’s how fascinating this essay is: My husband read it and promptly went out to buy one of the books it mentions (Desperate Characters by Paula Fox), which I in turn, having read the essay while he was out, stole from him so that I can read it first. In seven sections — which he calls, appropriately, “gables” — Adam Fales considers the motif of the haunted house in American literature and film and what it can teach us about how we as a society have approached the wrongs of our collective history. With references to an impressive range of sources, from The Fall of the House of Usher to Paranormal Activity, Fales argues that, “Locating evil in a haunted place lets Americans concentrate the past’s wrongness. The haunted house is a place where we deal with how things have gone wrong.” —SD

5. On Winter

Matt Dinan | The Hedgehog Review | February 1st, 2020 | 1,771 words

I was born and have lived all my life in a place known for the harshest winters outside Siberia. When people in other places say it’s cold out, I try to stay quiet. (After all, cold is relative and it’s all about what you’re used to.) The radio announcer declared yesterday a beautiful day. (It was -20 Celsius / -4 Fahrenheit. It was a lovely day.) But at this point in February, when winter is well ensconced and spring is still a distant dream, we start to think of moving somewhere, anywhere warmer. Matt Dinan, in his piece at The Hedgehog Review, understands reality in a winter community and my thinking around this time of year: “But if we are being honest, it really is quite hard to sustain the illusion that there is anything good about winter after the hundredth day or so of temperatures below freezing.” This terrific essay looks at cold through the lens of poetry and literature, as Dinan collects winter reflections from Henry Miller, Emily Dickinson, and others, and of how the people of winter communities regularly faced with heavy snow and dangerous conditions help one another to get through it: “When a snowstorm is coming, we’re called on, in a relatively low-stakes way, to evaluate, deliberate, and decide—together…Schools, businesses, government offices, sports teams, choirs, volunteer groups, families, friends—every part of civil society needs to decide whether it’s worth staying open, going out, or hunkering down at home…The edifying character of winter, then, has less to do with heroic individualism than with its capacity to force us into something less common: community.” —KS

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

King Tut's Golden Mask
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Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. Into the Depths

Tara Roberts | National Geographic | February 7th, 2022 | 5,200 words

According to academic research, the transatlantic slave trade comprised at least 36,000 voyages — that’s how many trips it took to forcibly transport some 12.5 million Africans from freedom to bondage. But 1,000 or so of those ships likely sank, taking with them the bodies and stories of the people on board. A remarkable group of Black divers is now searching for these lost ships. When writer Tara Roberts joined them — quitting her job, giving up her apartment, and dipping into her savings to make it happen — she learned more than she ever thought possible about the power of history, including her own family’s roots. Roberts’ beautiful piece documenting her journey complements a six-part podcast about the slave trade and its shipwrecks. There’s a moment in the piece I won’t soon forget, when divers pour soil from the island where a group of slaves was captured over the waves near Cape Town where 212 of them perished in a capsized ship. “For the first time since 1794,” a diver tells Roberts, “[these] people can sleep in their own land.” —SD

2. Why King Tut is Still Fascinating

Casey Cep | The New Yorker | February 7th, 2022 | 3,545 words

Whenever I am back in London, I visit the British Museum. I love to gawk in wonder at gold coins retrieved from Viking treasure hordes or at an Anglo-Saxon helmet from 625 AD — a date that swirls in front of my eyes as I try to imagine it. However, it is rooms 62 and 63 that I am most drawn to, for these are the rooms that hold the exhibition Egyptian death and afterlife: mummies. I was there a couple of months ago, but this time found myself feeling uncomfortable as I stared at the small withered bodies, wrapped — but still exposed — in their sarcophagi. The immense care Egyptians took in arranging burials implies that a glass case steaming with the breath of thousands of tourists is not where they wanted their dead to end up. However dubious, these rooms are the most crowded — and here I was, part of that. So I was intrigued to come across Casey Cep’s article detailing our fascination with Egyptology — and in particular, the endless appeal of the pharaoh Tutankhamun, 3000 years after his death and 100 years since Howard Carter found his tomb. Cep reports on how a recent global tour of Tutankhamun’s treasures “attracted larger crowds than the Beatles did, breaking museum attendance records and generating tens of millions of dollars in ticket sales.” I enjoyed that this piece took a different perspective — not just the story of Tutankhamun, but about the “Tut glut” that followed. A glut I find myself contributing to with this blurb…and so it continues. —CW

3. The Race to Free Washington’s Last Orca in Captivity

Benjamin Cassidy | Seattle Met | February 8, 2022 | 5,447 words

“For nearly all of her almost 52 years in captivity, a whale weaned on voluminous Northwest waters has performed for gawking tourists in the country’s smallest orca tank.” For Seattle Met, Benjamin Cassidy reports on the Lummi Nation’s quest to bring Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut — Washington State’s last orca in captivity — home to the Salish Sea. Taken from her native waters in 1970, the orca was sold to Miami Seaquarium, renamed Lolita, and has lived there ever since. This is a somber read, but there’s also so much beauty in the way Cassidy describes the connection between the Lummi and the region’s orcas, whom they consider their spiritual relatives. (“Growing up, Tah-Mahs learned about the whales known as qwe’lhol’mechen, or, loosely, ‘our relations below the waves,’ through stories passed down by elders.”) The decades-long effort that’s called for Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut’s release is more urgent than ever, especially given the news this past week about her ill health. —CLR

4. The Visionary

David Alm | Runner’s World | February 3, 2022 | 5,748 words

Now that society’s thinking about cannabis finally seems to have changed permanently, it’s little wonder that athletes are being more outspoken about their use of the plant. NBA athletes and ultrarunners have already gone on the record; now, a profile of Thai Richards chronicles how the literal face of last year’s New York City Marathon is nurturing a similar attitudinal shift in the road-running community. Alm, who made our Best of 2021 list with his GQ feature about The Bronx’s community of elite Ethiopian runners, doesn’t recede entirely — as a runner and cannabis user who had never crossed the streams, he had to go gonzo in the name of journalistic immersion — but he tells Richards’ story with compassion and reserve, teasing out the fraught path so many Black and Brown athletes tread in the quest for wellness. Make no mistake, though: This isn’t about catching a buzz. It’s about connecting with your mind, being at ease in your body, and maintaining that inner balance even when the world at large does everything it can to knock you off your pivot. —PR

5. Suzanne Takes You Down to Her Place Near the River

Lacy Warner | Guernica | February 7th, 2022 | 5,082 words

Suzanne Verdal, the infamous muse and subject of the Leonard Cohen song that bears her name, is a real person. And unlike Cohen who passed away in 2016, she’s still alive. Because she’s a human being, we know that Suzanne is much more than simply a muse, but did she have artistic aspirations of her own? At Guernica, writer Lacy Warner is surprised by what she finds out about Suzanne’s true super power: “In Suzanne, I saw the possibility not only of reckoning with what muses might be owed, but the chance to strike a blow for all the women who have inspired men’s art while struggling to be recognized for their own.” —KS

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox.

1. The Betrayal

George Packer | The Atlantic | January 31st 2022 | 20,818 words

When the United States prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan last August — 20 years into its failed war — they fully expected Kabul to fall to the Taliban; they just didn’t expect it to happen so soon. At The Atlantic, George Packer reports on the hopelessly bureaucratic Special Immigrant Visa program and the Afghan allies that attempted to use it to flee their country, crushed in a sea of chaos and abject human suffering amid crowds desperate to flee Kabul at Hamid Karzai International Airport. This is a harrowing read; much is told through the eyes of those who fled and readers should be warned that some scenes will not be forgotten. The greatest tragedy, in addition to the many lives lost unnecessarily, is that it didn’t have to be this way: “No law required the U.S. government to save a single one—only a moral debt did,” writes Packer. Had the U.S. acted earlier and with much greater will and focus, they could have saved far far more than the 124 thousand they estimate to have evacuated: “Administration officials told me that no one could have anticipated how quickly Kabul would fall. This is true, and it goes for both Afghans and Americans. But the failure to plan for a worst-case scenario while there was time, during the spring and early summer, as Afghanistan began to collapse, led directly to the fatal chaos in August.” —KS

2. 10 Years Since Trayvon

Lindsay Peoples-Wagner, Morgan Jerkins | New York Magazine | January 31st, 2022 | 12,400 words

It’s been a decade since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a brutal incident that incited a social movement. Black Lives Matter has since transformed from a hashtag into, as editors Lindsay Peoples-Wagner and Morgan Jerkins put it, “a cultural force that has reshaped American politics, society, and daily life.” In a special issue of New York Magazine, Peoples-Wagner, Jerkins, and a collection of outstanding contributors tell the story of BLM’s first 10 years. The project is a literal timeline, pegged to specific events: the killing of Eric Garner, the mass murder of Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, the release of Get Out, and much more. At various points, contributors branch off into essays, telling deeper stories about the controversies, symbols, and individual lives that have molded BLM’s legacy. This is an essential historical document and a creative triumph. —SD

3. He Spent 25 Years Infiltrating Nazis, the Klan, and Biker Gangs*

Paul Solotaroff | Rolling Stone | January 30th, 2022 | 7,976 words

Of the tens of thousands of words you’ve read about white supremacist hate groups over the years, the vast majority have been written from the perspective of people on the outside of those groups: journalists, researchers, the unlucky souls the groups terrorized. That’s what makes this profile so breathtaking. Scott B. (his real name, if not his full one) spent years as an FBI undercover agent bringing down various violent organizations from the inside, and gave Solotaroff access to his field notes and transcripts — which, in conjunction with a raft of corroborating interviews, paint a heart-pounding, devastating picture of just some of what this country is up against. Is there some self-mythologizing going on here? It’s impossible to say no. But reading how Scott managed to gain entry to venal outfits like the Atomwaffen and The Base, and what he saw once he’d done so, you realize that sometimes an anecdote isn’t memorable because of the teller. Sometimes it’s because even the barest facts show you how many monsters are lurking under the bed. —PR

*The vast majority of the pieces we recommend are free to read online. Occasionally, we will share a piece that requires a subscription when we strongly believe that piece is worth your time.

4. When Turtles Fly

Lauren Owens Lambert | bioGraphic | January 25th, 2022 | 2,984 words

It was a joy to read this story about far-reaching efforts to help the humble sea turtle. It’s depressingly obvious that their plight is our fault in the first place — Lauren Owens Lambert writes of dwindling numbers due to “habitat loss, coastal development, ship strikes, plastic waste, and climate change” — but hundreds of people are doing their best to rectify at least some of the damage. At Cape Cod, volunteers search the beach twice a day from November through December, for stranded turtles who didn’t migrate as the water temperature plummets. The animals must then be transported to rehab facilities and flying is the least stressful way to get them there. Enter Turtles Fly Too and its team of volunteer pilots. One such pilot is a dentist from New York, and I loved that Lambert details that he “doesn’t hesitate to cancel dental appointments, because, he says, ‘the turtles can’t wait’ and the clients understand.” Saving a plane full of turtles involves around five vans, a thousand miles, and four organizations. So read this story to restore some faith in humanity — and to picture hundreds of turtles hitching a plane ride down the coast. —CW

5. What Was the TED Talk?

Oscar Schwartz | The Drift | January 31st, 2022 | 4,757 words

Even at the height of the TED era, I’d never bought into the idea of a TED Talk — I could never get past the ridiculousness of it all: the thought leader du jour under a spotlight, pacing back and forth on stage, taking each step, serving up each line, even delivering each pause with emotion and passion. Their aim? To disseminate knowledge about the future of our world with other hungry minds, but also to share their bold ideas for how to be better, superior humans. (“The TED philosophy encouraged boldness of vision, but also denial of reality,” writes Schwartz. “As such, it was a magnet for narcissistic, recognition-seeking characters and their Theranos-like projects.”) I enjoyed Schwartz’s exploration of TED’s history and approach, and the rise and fall of the TED Talk, which had a very distinct format fusing interestingness with storytelling to create “inspiresting” content. —CLR