“We Have Fire Everywhere”

For eight hours last fall, Paradise, California, became a zone at the limits of the American imagination—and a preview of the American future.

Published: Jul 31, 2019
Length: 43 minutes (10,800 words)

The Senseless Logic of the Wild

It was just a kayaking trip. Until it upended three men’s lives.

Published: Mar 21, 2019
Length: 40 minutes (10,000 words)

One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die

A profile of Dr. B.J. Miller, a triple amputee whose own near-death experience in college–and his return to life afterward–inform his approach to palliative care.

Published: Jan 3, 2017
Length: 33 minutes (8,250 words)

You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?

Mooallem follows two ex-convicts who pick up inmates the day they are released and help then navigate through their first day of freedom.

Published: Jul 16, 2015
Length: 26 minutes (6,606 words)

Death, Redesigned

A global design firm makes an attempt to change the way we prepare for death.

Published: Mar 20, 2015
Length: 26 minutes (6,607 words)

Larry Ellison Bought an Island in Hawaii. Now What?

Larry Ellison, the billionaire co-founder of the Oracle Corporation, bought 97 percent of the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Ellison wants to make Lanai a premier tourist destination and “the first economically viable, 100 percent green community,” but things haven’t gone as planned.

Published: Sep 23, 2014
Length: 32 minutes (8,099 words)

‘He Has Baptized 66 Umpires, Calling Them Safe in the Only Way that Matters’

Jon Mooallem meets Pastor Dean, who uses religion to help baseball umpires deal with what can be an emotionally difficult job:

Every day is Judgment Day for an umpire. In the early days of organized baseball, team owners actually encouraged fans to harass umps who made questionable, or just unpopular, calls – throw beer bottles at them, or even the occasional brick. The sadism of Orioles fans was especially well-known, according to the 2008 book Death at the Ballpark. “They broke the spirits of some fine men,” one ump later remembered. By the end of the 1920s, at least 10 umpires had been killed or mortally wounded on the field – in one case, an umpire was punched so hard in the face that a fragment of his jaw ripped through his brain like a spear. In 1911, a semipro player in Georgia got so tired of insisting that the umpire had the score wrong that he walked off the bench with a pistol and shot the man.

Source: ESPN
Published: Jun 20, 2014
Length: 20 minutes (5,120 words)

A Journey to the Center of the World

Jacques-André Istel and his wife Felicia built the tiny town of Felicity, Calif. in the middle of a desert. Istel convinced a county board to recognize Felclity as “the center of the world” and has been at work building monuments depicting the “History of Humanity”:

The afternoon that Istel walked me through the monuments, six or seven other people were ambling around, too. This was high season for tourists. Istel does not advertise and almost never approaches the media. His attitude is: There will be plenty of time for humanity to appreciate what he built. But every winter, retirees from frigid places like Edmonton and Idaho take up residence on tracts of nearby land and sometimes wander in. From the highway, you can see their white R.V.s clustered in the emptiness, like desert blooms.

Istel was glad to have guests. “Welcome to Felicity,” he said, bowing and clasping the ladies’ hands to pantomime a kiss. “What do you think of this?” he kept asking. Their responses did not seem very satisfying — nearly everyone said, “It’s very interesting” — but Istel seemed genuinely touched. “What do you think of this?” Istel asked a large man from Missouri in jean shorts. The man was wheezing a little — it was hot. After a beat of silence, his wife said, “A lot of engraving!”

Published: Feb 19, 2014
Length: 18 minutes (4,727 words)

There’s a Reason They Call Them ‘Crazy Ants’

A species of ant is discovered in Texas, and their giant swarms have wreaked havoc on those who discover them on their land and inside their homes:

Soon ants were spiraling up the tongues of my sneakers, onto my sock. I tried to shake them off, but nothing I did disturbed them. Before long, I was sweeping them off my own calves. I kept instinctively taking a step back from some distressing concentration of ants, only to remember that I was standing in the center of an exponentially larger concentration of ants. There was nowhere to go. The ants were horrifying — as in, they inspired horror. Eventually, I scribbled in my notebook: “Holy [expletive] I can’t concentrate on what anyone’s saying. Ants all over me. Phantom itches. Scratching hands, ankles, now my left eye.” Then I got in my car and left.

Published: Dec 7, 2013
Length: 18 minutes (4,567 words)

The Woman Who Counted Fish: Conservation, Domestication and the Future of the Animal Kingdom

From the opening chapter of Jon Mooallem’s book Wild Ones, as recommended by Maria Popova, a look at the lengths we go to preserve the animal kingdom:

“At the furthest, most mundane reaches of this almost incomprehensibly sprawling program to protect the fish, the government has even hired ordinary Americans—retirees, housewives, at least one moonlighting concert clarinetist—to work as census takers in a cramped office inside the dam, several stories down, staring through an underwater window to count each and every fish that swims past the glass, an average of 4.5 million fish every year. On the morning I visited, a rail-thin woman named Janet was sitting at an old-fashioned metal desk, six hours into her eight-hour shift, scrunching her eyes with unshakable concentration as fish dribbled by the window one at a time, or swarmed through in rapid-fire mobs. Janet frequently dreams about counting fish, she told me. Once, she sat straight up in bed next to her husband and screamed, ‘Did you see the size of that one?'”

Published: Sep 3, 2013
Length: 10 minutes (2,605 words)