This Is Us

How a pre-pandemic whale swim brought me eye to eye with a humpback — and my own mortality

Photos courtesy of the author.

The whales are playing hard to get. It’s a sunny day off the coast of Vava’u island group, and my father, sister, and I have set off in search of humpbacks. The Tongan archipelago is known for a migrating population of over 2,000 whales who calve and mate in its subtropical waters during the winter — after gorging in the krill-rich Antarctic all summer. We scan the cobalt blue swells for everything from blowhole plumage to full-body breaching. …

A temple elephant sheds tears at a festival in Kerala.

In the 2016 documentary Gods in Shackles, filmmaker Sangita Iyer shines a light on the brutal treatment of temple elephants in her native Kerala, India. Poached from the wild at a young age, these elephants are forced to live out their lives abused and neglected by a system that uses religion to justify their enslavement. The temples earn millions of rupees by exploiting elephants for profit during cultural festivals, treating them more as commodities than sentient, sapient beings.

As of 2018, there were more than 500 captive elephants in Kerala. Most are male tuskers, a practice that threatens the genetic…

The eternal struggle between curiosity and apathy.

If there were a soundtrack to “Stretch and Snuggle,” a Saturday morning yoga class held alongside residents of the Brooklyn Cat Cafe, it would be sustained, high-pitched giggling. The cafe is really a shelter that opened a year ago on Atlantic Avenue — with a few cozy couches to sit on and snacks you can purchase while playing with adoptable cats for a modest fee of $5. Or you can shell out $25 like I did for a good hour-long stretch among friends.

Given the age-old problem of living in New York and never being home, I currently don’t have…

Darwin’s Galapagos Finches

A profile of me—by me.

When I go to interview little-known writer Sarah Kasbeer, it appears as if she hasn’t left the house in days. Her cascading hair catches the October sunlight a third of the way down, revealing a buildup of natural oils forming dark streaks around the crown of her head. Smudges obscure her glasses, and a long black coat hides the clothes I imagine hanging lifelessly from her body underneath. A pair of nearly threadbare charcoal pajama pants peek out from below her dark cocoon.

We’d planned to meet for lunch at her favorite “bagel spot,” which…

Image: Franz Marangolo, Campari corre con il tempo, 1960

A Campari and soda after a hard day’s work is like a perfectly timed punch in the tongue. At first sip it offers the promise of something sweet, followed by hints of orange peel slathered in quinine, and finishes on a note of unflinching bitterness. A not-so-subtle awakening of the senses, the beverage serves as a reminder that while you may spend half of your life embittered by the daily drudgery, there is still hope for the rest, if only in the form of a few effervescent happy-hour bubbles.

If you are partial to the acquired taste, as I am…

Sarah Kasbeer

Author of the essay collection A WOMAN, A PLAN, AN OUTLINE OF A MAN, forthcoming 10/1/20. More at

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