Read of the week: Fire and Water in the Believer

The best thing I read this week, among many options, was the entire summer 2021 issue of The Believer, especially these two beautifully contrasting pieces:

In “How to swim in open water,” Hannah Kingsley-Ma finds that open water swimming in New York City (!) with the Coney Island Brighton Beach Open Water Swimmers (CIBBOWS) is easier, in some ways, than navigating social relationships during the pandemic summer of 2020. It reminded me of my June 2020, when I longed for Cayuga Lake to warm up enough to allow a swim with my own group, the COWS (Cayuga Open Water Swimmers) during a season of closed pools.  

In “Objects of Fire: Oral histories from the California Wildfires,” Tessa Love interviews several people who lived through but lost things to the recent Glass Fire, Tubbs Fire, Bear Fire, Camp Fire and others. The magazine cover ingeniously truncates the title to “object histories.” I find objects especially telling, and this piece taps into an ocean of energy given off by items lost in these wildfires: a collection of poems, a set of silverware, a set of bagpipes. A tub, a barn, a photograph. The lost object most remarkable to me is silver belt buckle, hand-made by the grandfather of an artist. “There’s no wonder after a fire,” the artist said. “It’s just complete.”

Fire and water: Both Love and Ma tell compelling true stories focused on these opposite elements, and the ways they’ve shaped specific lives recently, with grace and passion.