Weekend Reading: Invasion!

In this weekly roundup, we scour the Web for our favorite long-form articles, collecting them here and on Longreads and Twitter. This installment focuses on furry pests, the dangers of hitchhiking, and the power of geography.


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I hope you remember your duck-and-cover training from grade school because our nation is currently under attack. From what? Deer. Lovable, Disney-eyed whitetail deer. In a new Atlantic piece, Tim Heffernan outlines the current state of U.S./Deer relations and it is not pretty. Up to 30 million of them roam the American landscape, spreading ticks, overturning trash cans, rearranging the front of your car with their heads, and stripping the forests of greenery like a plague of adorable locusts.

The problem, according to Heffernan, is not just a decline in hunting as an American pastime, but the way we use land. Deer have thrived in our sprawling suburbs where there’s enough forestry for them to live comfortably, but not so much they can safely be hunted by traditional means. Deer can now join the pigeon, the squirrel, and the noble cockroach in that class of creatures fortunate enough to find a hiding place in the nooks and crannies of the onrushing, belching, and foul human machine.

At this point, barring a full-scale inter-species war, it seems like a resurgence of traditional hunting still wouldn’t solve the problem. Time then to turn to science. Researchers have recently begun experimenting with the idea of introducing birth control to the food supply of particularly troublesome species like squirrels. There’s no reason to think the approach wouldn’t work for deer as well. Is that geo-engineering? Sure. But we’ve already meddled with the natural order to the point that we created this problem. At least further tampering would be done so knowingly.

Anyway, without further wild speculation, here’s your Weekend Reading!

Explore the history of the Arkansas delta, a once vibrant farming community torn apart by industrial farming, the march of time, and intolerance. Charles Bowden, National Geographic.

“There was gunfire at the sharecropper meeting, and when it ended, a deputy sheriff was wounded and a railroad security officer was dead. For days afterward mobs of whites roamed with guns and hunted blacks in the thickets. U.S. Army troops were called in and may also have done some killing. Whites called it a black insurrection; blacks called it a massacre by whites. No one agrees on the tallies. Perhaps five whites were killed. Estimates run from 20 into the hundreds of black men, women, and children dead. The bottom line: This is one of the largest race killings of blacks in U.S. history, but most people today have never heard of it. I stand in a field where Hoop Spur used to be. There are only plowed ground and rows of plants. Nothing in the fringe of trees tells tales of those days. Maybe that is best. Things move on. Or maybe the past can be forgotten but not erased.”

In 1985, a man was murdering girls hitchhiking through the Eastern United States. One girl got in the car with him and lived to tell the tale. Vanessa Veselka, GQ.

“Several days later, though, heading south on I-95 through the Carolinas, I got picked up by another trucker who was not fine. I don’t remember much about him except that he was taller and leaner than most truckers and didn’t wear jeans or t-shirts. He wore a cotton button-down with the sleeves rolled neatly up over his biceps and had the cleanest cab I ever saw. He must have seemed okay or I wouldn’t have gotten in the truck with him. Once out on the road, though, he changed. He stopped responding to my questions. His bearing shifted. He grew taller in his seat, and his face muscles relaxed into something both arrogant and blank. Then he started talking about the dead girl in the Dumpster and asked me if I’d ever heard of the Laughing Death Society. ‘We laugh at death,’ he told me. “

What influences history more: People or places? Adam Gopnik dissects the science of geographic history. The New Yorker.

“The ‘heartland’ of Europe, he insisted, was not Western Europe, even though it dominated the world; the heartland was the Eurasian flatland. Across those horse-welcoming plains, all the real shapers of history, from Attila’s Huns to Genghis’ hordes, had marched. History was what happened when Italians fled horsemen. Western Europe had largely resisted the Mongol hordes, and had prospered; Russia had been conquered and hadn’t. Eventually, whoever survived this struggle would control what Mackinder called the World Island, by which he meant Eurasia and Africa (true Victorian that he was, he regarded the United States as peripheral).”

Whitetail deer are everywhere and there are too few hunters left to shoot them. Tim Heffernan, The Atlantic.

“After decades of decline, fewer than 14 million Americans are active hunters today. In 1991, about one in 13 adults hunted; today, just one in 18 do. Hunters are also getting older: their average age is about 46 and keeps inching up. Like the deer, they have spread far beyond their traditional habitat. More than half of hunting-license holders now live in suburbs and cities, where they face a new challenge: gaining access to hunting land. As Lindsay Thomas Jr., the director of communications at the Quality Deer Management Association, put it, ‘The average non-hunting citizen does not think of deer hunting as being an activity that is compatible with their subdivision.’”

The obstacle racing craze is unstoppable, but behind the scenes, a heated legal battle is raging between the sport’s Big Three players. Scott Keneally, Outside.

“In the spring of 2009, Dean entered his concept for a national mud-run series into Harvard’s business-plan competition. Every professor told him it was a bad idea. Still, the proposal was a semifinalist, and a few months after graduating Dean convinced Livingstone, his mate from boarding school, to ditch a corporate lawyer job and be his COO. In February 2010, they launched the Tough Mudder website and bought about $8,000 worth of Facebook ads promoting their first event, held a few months later at a small ski area near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Then: boom!”

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