Fear, Art, and Love in the Canadian Rockies

Head down, I watch my snow boots creep across the lake, one shuffle-step at a time. Joel doesn’t shuf­fle. He hus­tles, hunched beneath his cam­era bag as he rushes for a dis­tant spot of blue. Ice wiped clean by the wind: the per­fect frame to lead into the fast-approaching sun­set. It’s neg­a­tive three degrees. As I mur­mur into the scarf swathing my face, words form frosty pel­lets in the fibers. I can do this. I can do this. A chant intended for my ears only, the lake responds. Bu-BUM. A deep drum beat, issued from some­where far below. A heart­beat, so much stead­ier than my own.

A half-mile east, tents and propane heaters dot the lake as ice fish­er­men jig for trout. Two of them, John and Ymir, assured me the ice is safe – eleven inches thick. My fear isn’t ratio­nal, yet it’s real. Every step ter­ri­fies me. I fol­low every step with another.

 

We’re end­ing 2014 with a five day road trip in the Cana­dian Rock­ies. Joel comes up here every win­ter. It’s a sacred place for him; he sang Hozier’s Take Me to Church as we drove the Ice­fields Park­way. This is the first time I’ve joined him. There’s always been some rea­son not to: busy writ­ing Hooked’s pro­posal, busy writ­ing the first draft, busy. I’ve always sent him off with a kiss and wishes to be safe, get some good shots.

Now that I’m finally here with him, I’m learn­ing that “be safe” and “get some good shots” aren’t nec­es­sar­ily com­pat­i­ble goals, and we have dif­fer­ing per­cep­tions of risk. We spent our first after­noon scout­ing sun­set in a mountain-bordered meadow out­side of Jasper. Joel crashed through tes­sel­la­tions of creeks with­out hes­i­ta­tion. I cringed at every crack.

That night, I didn’t keep walk­ing. I dug my heels into a tuffet of trust­wor­thy earth, unwill­ing to go any far­ther, and waved him on. The tree-line on the far side of the field wel­comed him with boughs extended, hold­ing the day’s remain­ing light in green arms full of snow. Back­lit, he appeared dark, an impres­sion of imper­me­abil­ity that was as mis­lead­ing as the sun dog we’d seen ear­lier in the day. Joel is trans­par­ent. He’d wanted so much to share his beloved moun­tains with me, secretly hop­ing their spirit would move me as it does him, that won­der and joy would sur­pass anx­i­ety and dis­com­fort. That I would make his faith my own. Instead we watched the sun­set from sep­a­rate view­points – Joel crouched behind his cam­era at his cho­sen com­po­si­tion, me pac­ing a labyrinth of uncom­fort­able ques­tions. Where are the lines between being there for the per­son you love, and being there for your­self? Expand­ing your com­fort zones, and hon­or­ing your bound­aries? By the time the last embers of color had faded from the peaks above, I’d stomped a hol­low of answers into the snow. I couldn’t read any of them.

Back in Jasper, we talked about our dif­fer­ing reac­tions to the out­ing. It wasn’t any­thing out of the ordi­nary for Joel. The land­scape pho­tog­ra­phers he most admires all work alone in remote set­tings, explor­ing the fringes of the day by head­lamp. My fear baf­fled him. “They were just lit­tle streams; the worst that could hap­pen is you’d get a wet foot.” He won­dered aloud if there’s any­thing I love that scares him. If there’s any­thing I chase the way he chases pho­tos – charg­ing onward to a des­ti­na­tion known only to me, unfazed, while he won­ders why I would pos­si­bly choose to do such a thing. Why I would need to.

Three days later, I am still hear­ing my response, a steady­ing echo behind this lake’s heart­beat and my own. Writ­ing. I believe in sto­ries like Joel believes in moun­tains: lean­ing on them, grate­ful to have found one thing solid enough to hold me up. It wasn’t a sur­pris­ing answer, nor was it what Joel had meant. He’d been look­ing for a phys­i­cal par­al­lel, like the way he delights in scam­per­ing steep ridges and I defin­i­tively do not. But it was a true answer, and like a bone glint­ing in a wound, the true­ness of it mes­mer­ized me. It has dogged my heels through every pre-dawn hike and hill­side scram­ble in the days since, and now, shuffle-stepping my way across this eleven inch ice on a med­i­ta­tion of art, fear, and love.

Joel and I are both artists. Whether by image or by words, we both have a need to cap­ture and share our expe­ri­ences of the world around us. But there’s a dif­fer­ence between his art and mine, and it’s as sig­nif­i­cant as the dif­fer­ence between eleven inches and one. Joel sug­gests I sit these mis­sions out. Know­ing where his next shoot will take him – know­ing how I’ll react – he says sleep in, stay in the motel, we’ll meet up in a cof­fee shop after. I shake my head, unwill­ing to accept kind­ness I can’t return. As a mem­oirist, I tread across ice far less sta­ble than this. I agree to be vul­ner­a­ble, risk­ing expo­sure, judg­ment, shame, for the relief of an hon­est, scary sen­tence – and in doing so, I yank my loved ones onto the ice with me. My art doesn’t include an opt-out. That’s why I’m still walk­ing. Know­ing the priv­i­lege of the option to turn back, I force myself to go on.

Drag­ging my gaze up from my boots, I study my sweet­heart. He’s a char­coal log in the dis­tance, shoot­ing low, lying on his belly to peer through the viewfinder. He can hold this posi­tion for hours. Never com­plain­ing about the cold, never los­ing patience. Fully engaged with his art and him­self. Leav­ing renewed, soul-fed, even if he doesn’t end up with a great shot. This is how I want to know my part­ner, even when I don’t under­stand what he does. Even when it scares me.

He’s spent the past few years teach­ing me how to know him this way. My writ­ing has scared him. He doesn’t always under­stand the places I’m will­ing to go – the places I feel I have to go. But he’s never sug­gested I not write. He’s stood by my art, know­ing my deci­sion to expose my life means expos­ing his.

 

The sun fiz­zles with­out any of the flam­boy­ance Joel had hoped for. He packs away his cam­era and folds up his tri­pod, and together we walk back to the shore. We talk about what a beau­ti­ful evening it was any­way, and how eager we are for din­ner at the brew­ery next to our motel. My body moves more agree­ably, head­ing towards land.

We’ve just got­ten back to the car when Joel notices a pur­ple edge scal­lop­ing the west­ern hori­zon. “Oh, shit. Is that going to spread?” He stares, wait­ing to see if the rib­bon will unfurl, and glances back to the ice.

Go.” I prod him. “You have to go.”

Curs­ing him­self for hav­ing left his spot too soon, he tears back down the snowy slope and across the lake. This time I stay on the bank, and I watch with a smile.

 

Joel Brady-Power, Vermillion Lakes

 

To see some of the shots Joel got from this trip, visit Joel Brady-Power/500px and Joel Brady-Power Pho­tog­ra­phy

 

 

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Night Wheelwatch on the Nerka

53⁰23.596’ N

129⁰52.095’ W

11:15 pm, Principe Chan­nel, British Columbia

 

Dusk tames the ocean. Dims it to liq­uid mer­cury, a sil­ver sheet with yel­low threads peek­ing from the folds. My favorite kind of ocean. The hill­sides brack­et­ing this two-mile wide chan­nel have retreated, sac­ri­fic­ing sub­stance for allu­sion. Joy and relief rush my veins, a flood tide. We’re less than three hours from Alaska now. I lean for­ward in the pilot seat, as if that will push us along any faster.

Charg­ing ‘round the clock to reach Sitka as quickly as pos­si­ble, we’ve bro­ken the watches up like this: me on the wheel 9 pm to mid­night, Joel mid­night to 3, me 3 to 6. Joel has the hard­est shift, the three hours where full dark­ness reigns. Day­time allows sleep with­out clocks. We rotate through our bunk. In 45 min­utes, I’ll tuck myself into his body’s still-warm inden­ta­tion. For now, though, it’s up to me to keep us on course. To keep us safe. In his absence, Joel’s trust is a pres­ence fill­ing the cabin.

The sun slipped past the hori­zon an hour ago. Lin­ger­ing echoes cast just enough light to deceive. Every wrin­kle in the water ahead is a log, a tele­phone pole about to slam fiber­glass, inches from my love’s sleep­ing head. I drop this pad to stand and stare, claim­ing reas­sur­ance through height. Then, now, still: it’s all water. I fall for the same ruse every sun­set, every sun­rise. Every season.

Even in the sun’s absence, I keep this notepad braced against my knees, gaze con­stantly flick­ing between radar, com­puter chart, and black water, deter­mined to write blind even though I’ll be able to deci­pher less than half of this tomor­row. I’m think­ing of you, how long it’s been since we talked, and the dif­fer­ent sort of dark­ness I wrote from then. How to sum­ma­rize the months between that page and this? To chart the path between hol­low and peak, includ­ing Joel’s reunion with the ocean and our reunion with each other when we leased a per­mit to spend May trolling for king salmon off the Wash­ing­ton Coast, fac­ing a gaunt­let of threats – crab pots, bar cross­ings, drift­ing among big ship traf­fic – com­pletely beyond our Alaskan experience?

A daunt­ing task, and a tedious one at that. I’d rather think about friend­ship. About how, if a per­son is really lucky, they’ve got that one per­son who, no mat­ter how much time passes between vis­its, they can always pick up exactly where they left off, falling right back into each other’s com­pany with ease and com­fort. That’s the kind of friend I hope to be, and it’s the friend I imag­ine you as, too. Rather than apol­o­giz­ing for Hooked’s long silence or strug­gling to fill it, I just want to smile at you, reach across this dark ocean, and squeeze your hand. It’s so good to see you again.

There is, how­ever, one thing that needs to be said.

One week before we untied the lines to head north, I tapped the “send” but­ton. One full draft — 406 pages — off to my fear­less edi­tor Sarah. The last three chap­ters are sloppy, more ques­tion than solid nar­ra­tive. It needs a lot of help, but it’s some­thing, and Sarah gave me her bless­ing to go fish­ing and not think about it for the time being. (Actu­ally, she said, “Go do some­thing friv­o­lous to cel­e­brate!” Friv­o­lous doesn’t come easy to me, but a cel­e­bra­tory Martinelli’s with my writ­ing buddy Pam Hel­berg was pretty good.) I can’t tell you how much higher my shoul­ders are sit­ting, hav­ing handed the wheel over to Sarah. 

Writ­ing a book is often com­pared to preg­nancy. Car­ry­ing the story to term, the labor, strain­ing to birth this being that will live on inde­pen­dent of you. It’s an obvi­ous metaphor (and one my sub­con­scious fully embraced last win­ter, when this devoted non-breeder dreamed of a crown­ing baby that I didn’t know how to expel from my body.) Tonight, though, I’m think­ing that writ­ing a book is like dri­ving a boat up the Inside Pas­sage, trav­el­ing non-stop from Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton, to Sitka, Alaska, through dark water and twist­ing chan­nels, sleep depri­va­tion and unfore­seen haz­ards. A per­son can’t do it alone. I’m grate­ful to every­one who’s been here for the ride, includ­ing Joel, who fielded two full win­ters of solo boat work, too much time apart, and more pep talks than any­one should have to issue, and you. Thank you for under­stand­ing when I needed to step away from this site, for send­ing your cards of encour­age­ment, anony­mous choco­late, and best writ­ing wishes. As much of this jour­ney still lies ahead, I trust we’ll reach our des­ti­na­tion. Safely. Together.

Eleven fifty now, almost my bed­time. When you read this, I’ll be post­ing from Alaska. Alaskan trollers have a record king salmon quota this year – 325,000 fish, the largest quota since abundance-based man­age­ment began in the late 1990’s. Trans­lated, that means there’s a lot of king salmon around. Joel and I will be ghosts on the dock as soon as the sea­son starts on July 1, push­ing our­selves to make the most of this oppor­tu­nity, town time lim­ited to unload­ing, refu­el­ing, gro­cery­ing, rush­ing right back out. Turn and burns.

I’ve got a smart­phone that I’m far too tech-inept for, and while blog posts on that tiny key­pad are beyond the lim­its of my patience, swollen fin­gers, and rare ser­vice pock­ets, I’ll post pho­tos from our trips on Face­book and Twit­ter. No bound­aries on a pen, though. If you’d like to find an old-school enve­lope or Alaskan post­card smil­ing up from your mail­box, don’t hes­i­tate to send a note. I’ll be at this address through mid-September:

Tele Aad­sen

507 Katlian St

Sitka, AK  99835

Until next time, whether we reunite by screen or by page, I’m so glad to see you again. (Smile; squeeze.)

 

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FisherPoets Live on Kickstarter!

Fish­ing, sto­ries, cul­ture, com­mu­nity, authen­tic­ity… These are some of my favorite things, and they all come together in the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy, Anchored in Deep Water. My friends Pat Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have done a tremen­dous job cre­at­ing and edit­ing this project over the past year, and have just launched a Kick­starter cam­paign to fund print­ing. Thanks for read­ing their let­ter below and sup­port­ing this project in what­ever ways you’re able. 

 

Anchored in Deep Water, Gathering

Art­work by Chelsea Stephen

ANCHORED IN DEEP WATER:

The Fish­er­po­ets Anthology

Com­mer­cial fish­ing is an indus­try in the midst of extreme change. Many of the tra­di­tional fish­eries of the 20th cen­tury have already dis­ap­peared due to con­flicts over allo­ca­tion, the degra­da­tion of habi­tat and the advent of tech­nol­ogy. Many of the old tech­niques and meth­ods are gone or are fast drift­ing out with the tide. The Fish­er­Po­ets Gath­er­ing, an annual event at the end of each Feb­ru­ary in Asto­ria, Ore­gon for the past 17 years, has been a way for fish­er­men them­selves to chron­i­cle these changes and the attend­ing issues and the sto­ries they inspire. The Gath­er­ing brings together scores of writ­ers, poets and musi­cians each year to per­form their work cel­e­brat­ing the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try through­out the United States and abroad on the stages of Astoria’s tav­erns, restau­rants, muse­ums and art gal­leries. Cov­ered by such respected pub­li­ca­tions as the NY Times and Smith­son­ian mag­a­zine, the Gath­er­ing con­tin­ues to enter­tain and attract audi­ences because the world it describes is a myth­i­cal place for so many peo­ple. Cre­at­ing an anthol­ogy of the writ­ings of fish­er­men and women is to cre­ate a unique and sig­nif­i­cant record of com­mer­cial fishing’s his­tory and cul­ture. It is one impor­tant way to pre­serve their voices.

Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen have edited and designed Anchored in Deep Water: The Fish­er­po­ets Anthol­ogy, seven books of orig­i­nal poetry, songs and sto­ries writ­ten by com­mer­cial fish­er­men and women who have per­formed at the Fish­er­po­ets Gath­er­ing. This is the first com­pre­hen­sive col­lec­tion of fish­er­po­etry in over a decade. While this printed anthol­ogy can only pro­vide a glimpse of the spo­ken word per­for­mances at the event itself, the books cat­a­logue a rich his­tory of the event and of the com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try itself. The books are the­mat­i­cally orga­nized: Every Boat Has a Wave deals with risk and sur­vival at sea; Illu­sions of Sep­a­rate­ness deals with the pol­i­tics and envi­ron­ment of the fish­ing world; Mak­ing Waves is filled with sto­ries by and about women in the fish­ery; Gath­er­ing chron­i­cles the com­mu­nity and cama­raderie inher­ent in com­mer­cial fish­ing; Fam­ily Dynamic speaks to the fam­ily issues com­mer­cial fish­ing inspires; For the Love of Fish chron­i­cles the rea­sons fish­er­men go to sea; and the final book, Mend­ing Holes, which is still in the works, is about the his­tory of com­mer­cial fishing.

Nearly 40 writ­ers are rep­re­sented in the anthol­ogy, from Mass­a­chu­setts, Rhode Island and Maine on the east coast to Alaska, Wash­ing­ton, Ore­gon and Cal­i­for­nia in the west. One poet hails from Hawaii, another from Japan. Sev­eral of the writ­ers have work in mul­ti­ple books. (Visit In The Tote for a list of con­tribut­ing Fish­er­Po­ets.) Each book is 50+ pages long, with orig­i­nal cover designs cre­ated by Port­land, Ore­gon artist Chelsea Stephen and pho­tographs by fish­er­poet pho­tog­ra­pher Patrick Dixon. The books will be made avail­able singly or as a com­plete “boxed” (more like a sleeve) set.

We are seek­ing fund­ing for the print­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion costs of 300 copies of each book (that’s 2100 books) as well as 200 sleeves. We are offer­ing fine-art, archival prints as rewards with the books for larger donations.

We have until the end of April — that’s National Poetry Month — to reach our goal of $10,000. Whether you’re able to help by con­tribut­ing to the Anthol­ogy or by spread­ing the word among your com­mu­nity, we can’t do this with­out you. Please visit the Fish­er­Po­ets Anthol­ogy Kick­starter Cam­paign Page to enjoy our video (includ­ing appear­ances by sev­eral Anthol­ogy con­trib­u­tors.) Thanks so much for your help!

Sin­cerely,

Patrick Dixon and Chelsea Stephen

 

FisherPoets Gathering 2014

Thanks from all of us! (Photo by Pat Dixon)

 

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