Gearing Up for the 20th Annual FisherPoets!

We’re less than a week away from Oregon’s annual FisherPoets Gathering, friends! The highlight of our winter, FisherPoets is always special – this one especially so, as we celebrate the 20th year of commercial fishing women and men from across the country (and one from Belgium!) uniting to share stories, poems, and songs celebrating our industry.

I usually try to share something about FisherPoets here, wanting to convey the magic, wanting to lure you to join us. This year, fellow FisherPoet (and gifted writer, mentor, and beloved friend) Pat Dixon has written such a perfect explanation, I’d rather just send you to straight to his words. If you’ve been undecided about making the trip or wonder what this “FisherPoet” business is, anyway, please read Pat’s personal invitation.

What I’ll say is this: those of you able to join us in person in Astoria this Friday – Sunday, February 24 – 26, please do say hi if we’re in the same venue. But if you can’t make the trip? Some of us will come to you! Make a date to enjoy readings from the comfort of your home, thanks to Coast Community Radio’s generous support.

Coast Community Radio will broadcast from the Astoria Events Center on both nights, Friday and Saturday, Feb 24-25, from 6:00-10:00pm PST. Tune in to live-stream the following FisherPoets’ performances:

Astoria Event Center, Friday, February 24
MCs Jon Broderick and Jay Speakman

5 Curt Olson and Abigail Martin, Broadus MT
Danny Keyser, Astoria OR
Annie Howell-Adams, Friday Harbor WA

6 Ryan and Kyle Lutz, Portland OR
Pat Dixon, Olympia WA
Phil Lansing, Boise ID

7 John Palmes, Juneau AK
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Kirk Lombard, San Francisco CA

8 Jon Broderick, Cannon Beach OR and Jay Speakman, Gearhart OR
Wilfred Wilson, Delta BC
RK and Cherry Rice, Long Beach WA

9 The Brownsmead Flats, Astoria OR
Tom Hilton, Astoria OR
Don Pugh, Snohomish WA
Erin Fristad, Port Townsend WA

Astoria Event Center, Saturday, February 25
MCs Rob Seitz and Tele Aadsen

5 Toby Sullivan, Kodiak AK
Mary Jacobs, Ophir OR
Moe Bowstern, Portland OR

6 Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Geno Leech, Chinook WA
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

7 Rob Seitz, Los Osos CA
Vicki Horton, Port Townsend WA
Alana Kansaka-Sarmiento, Portland OR

8 Doug Rhodes, Craig AK
Mary Garvey, Seaview WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK

9 Mariah Warren, Sitka AK
Rich King, Kilauea HI
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
John Haggerty, Seaside OR

 

Hope to see you there, friends.

 

 

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Making Change

 

I was fourteen years old when a man grabbed me by the pussy.

We were in the checkout line of our Pacific Northwest town’s Payless drugstore. It was early evening, one week before Valentine’s Day, and I was buying a cassette tape as a gift for my best friend. (The Thelma & Louise soundtrack. Seriously.) My parents were waiting in the car. I’d stepped up to the cashier when a hand squeezed my ass.

I was not raised to fight for myself or others. My family consisted of three isolated people who neatly sidestepped not only conflict but engagement of any kind. I knew neither fight nor flight; I knew only to cringe into my body like a potato bug. To make myself disappear.

The man circled me. He cupped the front of my jeans, slid his fingers against my vulva, and squeezed. We were alone in the checkout lines – alone with the two women working the cash registers, alone with my frozen feet and pounding heart. No one spoke. I remained paralyzed. He released his hold on his own time, sauntering out of the store on his own terms. Change broke the silence. Coins clattered against the counter as I paid for the tape, never making eye contact with the cashier. I forced numb legs to step through the sliding doors, into the darkness where he might be waiting, and slid silently into the backseat of the Datsun. I didn’t say anything to my parents.

At fourteen, my ugly duckling childhood was barely a year behind me. The transition happened so unexpectedly and without warning, I didn’t yet understand the distinction between attraction and abuse. I didn’t understand unwanted advances weren’t about me, but power and predation – the flexing of rape culture’s muscle. I thought it was my fault that grown men suddenly evaluated me in a way they hadn’t before, openly, as their right. Some I’d known as family friends: the elder fisherman having coffee with my mom on our boat, who, when I described having “worked my ass off,” was quick to correct me, “It’s still there – I noticed!” Others, like the man in the drugstore, were strangers.

Several weeks later, my mom reeled back when I came downstairs one morning. “What happened to you?” she gasped, grabbing my chin and forcing my face up. “Who did this to you?”

I didn’t want to tell her. To acknowledge the long red wounds where I’d dug my fingernails into flesh and pulled, as if in opening skin I could open a door to step back in time, back to a time when I hadn’t felt men’s roaming eyes and hands… That was an exchange too intimate for our family. But she persisted. Finally I confessed, “I didn’t want to be pretty anymore.”

Twenty-five years later, I still see her face crumpling, falling under the weight of grief she didn’t have words for, outrage she’d never been allowed to express.

 

 

My mom.

My mom and I exist at arm’s length. We subsist on three-minute phone calls and occasional visits where stilted conversation clings to such banal topics as the weather and her friends’ health woes. Avoidance of anything more substantial is by mutual, unspoken agreement. I broke that agreement only once, when, exasperated, I named the tension between us, saying the time we spent together couldn’t be fun for her.

“This is fun for me,” she insisted. She just wanted to show me her gardens and have tea together, she said. “I’m not going to talk to you about politics or sex or religion! You don’t have any idea who I am.”

She wasn’t wrong. But she wasn’t entirely right, either. I know pieces of my mom, pieces I carry like coins in my pocket.

Born in 1942, she was her parents’ first child. When her brother was born four years later, her mother told her how relieved she was to have had a son. Boys were better than girls, she explained.

While all boys were better than any girl, my mom learned over the course of her childhood that individual girls merited varying degrees of value. She learned that she, a studious, quiet type, was the wrong kind of girl. Her mother told her so, wondering aloud why she couldn’t be more like the pretty, vivacious girl next door.

My mom didn’t pass that cruel measuring stick on to her only child. Instead my inheritance consists of stories and observations jangling against each other. She was one of three women in her veterinary program at Cornell University. One of few female skippers in Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon fishery, and the only one with a teenaged daughter as her crew. She spent her sixties as the only woman on her team at an oil refinery. Though she refused to apply a feminist frame to her achievements, that was how I viewed her. My pockets sag with gold, a coin for every powerful memory.

They aren’t all gold. Other memories are pennies, pitted and green with corrosion.

One. We stand side-by-side, inspecting make-up in a drugstore. It’s the same Payless that will soon teach me the dangers of my femaleness, but today’s only lesson is a 50-year old woman turning to her 13-year old daughter, asking if a particular shade of eye shadow will help her look pretty.

Two. I am working at a truck shop across from her house. I am the only female on the shop floor, other than those spread-eagled across the walls. When I come home broken from a particularly hard day – when the n-word is used to describe Dr. King; when a staff meeting includes blasting a left-leaning local woman as an anti-war cunt; when my boss gestures to one of the posters and says he’d like to see me in that little black number – she waves a hand in discomfiture. “Oh, well…” She changes the subject.

Three. I perch on the edge of a chair at her dining room table. She’s urged me to come for dinner – “Won’t that be fun?” I’m watching her offer to cut a man’s steak. He’s had a seat at her table for the past twenty years, whenever the mood suits him, and is accustomed to being the center of her attention. Tonight he makes loud observations about the slice of cake on her plate and which parts of her body the calories will settle upon. I counter that she’s an adult and can eat whatever she chooses, but the defense is lost beneath the sound of my mom laughing at his “joke,” the sound of my mom agreeing, “I know, Bud, you’re right.”

Four, five, six. I watch my first and most defining female role model, the most capable and strongest woman I’ve known, bow to men unworthy of her, unavailable and withholding. I watch her opinions take on the shape of those of the men around her. I watch her make pieces of herself disappear.

 

 

This September, I returned from five months at sea. My mom was eager for me to visit, to see the improvements she’d made around her place. “I think you’ll be really pleased!” She yearns for my approval. In this way, I have been no better than the men she’s surrounded herself with: unable or unwilling to give what she seeks.

Driving into her rural neighborhood, I wasn’t surprised to see my old employer had erected a Trump sign in front of the truck shop, just rolled my eyes. But the mirror image reflected across the street stunned me. I’d never known my mom to reveal her political preferences; she avoids at all cost conversation that might be controversial.

Staring at the sign jabbed in my mom’s yard, I felt the way I imagine she once did, seeing her fourteen-year old daughter’s self-hate etched into her skin. Horrified, helpless. Heartbroken. Both of us so far beyond each other’s reach.

What happened to you? Who did this to you?

 

 

If I could, this is what I would do. I would pull out my pockets, gather those gold coins and melt them down. One woman’s value: absolute, unmistakable. I’d draw back a fist to hurl the corroded pennies away – down a wishing well, maybe, drowning those images of subjugation – but would stay my hand at the last second, understanding just in time that pain is its own kind of protection. Into the flames the pennies would go.

After the smoke cleared, I’d place a breathtaking swirl of metal, a shield of unique sturdiness and heft, into my mom’s hands. No one would ever reduce it to “pretty.” With that shield I would give her anger and grief, the certainty to refute anyone’s assessments of her body, her mind, her self-worth. I’d give her emotions we have never known how to exchange – confidence, joy. Trust. I would pass on to her every survival tool she wasn’t able to give me. I’d give her everything she never received herself.

But that’s a kind of change I don’t know how to make.

So I draw upon what I have: my vote. I vote as if my ballot might take back every time we laughed at our own expense, held ourselves responsible for a man’s behavior, blamed our bodies as the offender, changed the subject rather than the narrative. Every time we made ourselves small. My mom and I may never learn how to be whole and visible to each other. Still, even if we just cancel each other out, I vote as if we might yet share a safer, more equitable world.

 

 

[Gratitude to Dawn Quyle Landau for originally publishing this essay as a guest post on her blog, Tales From the Motherland, on November 6, 2016. It bears re-posting here, today, as an oath to refuse to normalize what is decidedly not. I’ll see you in the streets tomorrow, dear ones, and over the days to follow. May we resist and rise together.)

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Coming Up: 19th Annual FisherPoets Gathering!

It’s almost time, friends! Oregon’s nineteenth annual FisherPoets Gathering is less than two weeks away, with storytellers, musicians, and poets readying to flood Astoria this February 26-28. It’s an immersion into the authentic, captains and crew of diverse fisheries and eras reflecting on the single moments and entire careers that have both nourished and devoured us. It’s an exercise in expressing what has often seemed beyond expression, and the belief that the effort matters. That belief pulls us back, a flood tide, every February.

 

FisherPoets has been the highlight of our off-season ever since we made our first trip in 2012. (I was the only one of us debuting on the program that year, but who can forget this moment, Cap’n J’s rock star emergence at the on-site poetry contest?) Joel’s been practicing his material for months. With the final (final?) revisions of my book due the day we hit the road for a pre-FPG Portland gig (Salvage Works, 7 pm on the 24th!) I may not be as polished as my partner, but I’ll be no less joyful for this annual fisher-artist reunion. Our people.

 

Meezie and Cap'n J

Meezie Hermansen & Cap’n J

 

 

Our people come from all over. A record ninety-five are scheduled this year, hailing from Alaska to Florida, Massachusetts to California. A couple British Columbians. One made the trip from Finland last year. The BBC came in 2014. Just as distance is no match for passionate FisherPoets, neither can it hinder the draw of stories. Our audience members come from just as far, and are just as eager.

 

Fifteen bucks buys you an entry button for the whole weekend. That’s a $15 buffet of two days’ access to six venues of performances, as well as all the special events: workshops, films, photography exhibits, conservation and advocacy discussions, a silent auction, a dance party, Saturday night’s annual poetry contest.

 

Ray Troll & Ratfish Wranglers 2015

Ray Troll & the Ratfish Wranglers, 2015

 

And if you can’t join us in person? Enjoy a private show in the comfort of your own home, curled up on the couch in your pajamas, for FREE. Thanks to KMUN, Astoria’s Coast Community Radio, listeners can livestream the Events Center performances, Friday and Saturday nights, 6 to 10 pm PST. Check the schedule to be sure not to miss your favorites.

 

(One of the first-time acts I’m most delighted to see is Belly Meat from Sitka. I like imagining a giant house party in Sitka – maybe at the Larkspur – of the home crowd tuned in to cheer these guys. They should be streaming about 9:00 on Friday night.)

 

Nineteen years… The FPG’s success is the proof of heroic volunteer efforts. Organizers, MCs, performers: we’re all volunteers. We foot our own travel, lodging, and food. When the weekend’s over and the bills all paid (event buttons, publicity, sound/lighting tech, occasional venue rentals), the committee divvies up what remains and recognizes each FisherPoet a small travel stipend, based on how far they came from.

 

Not to get too NPR-annual-drive on you, but because we have such a full boat this year, I’m making a special request:

 

If you tune in to KMUN’s livestream to enjoy the show from home, consider contributing the $15 that would have been your entry fee. If you’d like to see your business listed on the FPG website as a supporter, consider a $250 readership. If you value this event and are in a position to make a donation, please do. Tax-deductible donations can be made directly through the FPG website, or mailed c/o Tillicum Foundation, PO Box 269, Astoria OR, 97103. We’re grateful for your support in all its forms.

 

All this said, FisherPoets is ten days away, but my book deadline is seven. If you’re planning to make it to Astoria, please do let me know – I’d love to see you. For now, I’m off to work, with love and best wishes until reaching the other side.

 

Astoria Street Musicians, FPG 2015

Photo by Tia Jensen

 

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The “Me” Within “We”: Soliciting Stories

Last June, my editor’s response to Draft #2 arrived on our doorstep just as we were preparing to head north. If there can be a good time or place to face the fact that your book needs major revisions, I found mine in the Nerka’s pilot seat, alone on my wheel watches while Joel slept, the promise of Alaska ahead. My manuscript was heavy in my lap as, removed from the world within this pocket of suspended time, I read it from beginning to end. All 323 pages, many of the margins dark with penciled edits. Then I read it again. Comments that stung the first time through merited contemplation on the second. By the third read, I agreed with most of them.

When we arrived in Sitka, I reunited with my friend Mary. She, like too many people in my transient life, is someone I’d like to share more time with. I suspect we’d uncover much common ground, given the opportunity, but abbreviated shore leave has limited us to Facebook exchanges and parking lot huddles. And to this moment, two women stepping out of a cluster of male captains to nurture a seasonal connection on a bustling dock.

She asked how my book was going. I told her what I’d just realized, seeing through my editor’s eyes: I’d lost my hold on the story.

“I wandered over here,” I flapped my right hand toward the breakwater, “into issues of sex and monogamy and fidelity. But that wasn’t the core narrative.

“It’s here,” palms together, heart-center, “in the tension of being together and separate. The struggle to maintain your identity as a strong, independent person, while in partnership with someone else. Being dependent on each other while staying true to the person you want to be, all within the confines of a boat. What that looks like.”

Bobbing her head, Mary’s eyes grew shiny. “Yes, yes – oh my god, yes!”

That affirmative response was a gift. She was the first person I shared this renewed direction with, and her enthusiasm helped me trust I was on the right track. That I could wrestle the narrative back to where it needed to be, and that this tension between self and couple was the point of connection between author and reader. It was the place where my story could become bigger than myself.

 

IMG_2747

 

I don’t write on the boat. I’m on deck working eighteen, seventeen, fifteen hours a day, for weeks at a time. In the cabin, Joel and I are always within six feet of each other. Our town time is chore-focused, rushing through tasks to get back out as soon as possible. If bad weather grants us an unexpected day off, I just want to sleep. (I am so, so fortunate that Riverhead gets this. In gracious deadlines and tolerance for an author who’s incommunicado for months, my editor has demonstrated her value of my fishing life and this book.)

I don’t write on the boat, but I do think about writing. My friend Andrea says this counts. She calls this mulling over character development, metaphor, and just-right sentences “composting,” and says it’s an essential part of the writing process. I agree. I spent a lot of time composting this summer, thinking about that dockside conversation. Surely Mary and I couldn’t be alone in our experience of doing work we loved, with the person we loved, knowing the wondrous fortune of our lives – and still nursing a quiet fear that we sacrificed some essential part of our self along the way.

Were there more of us?

I put a card in the mail to a woman I love and respect, someone who was once in the same boat as my friend and me, having gone to sea with her male partner many years earlier. Joni began fishing in the 1960s. I asked how it had been for her, what she recalled of that experience, what it meant to her now.

When her response arrived a month later, I didn’t read it. I wanted to wait for a quiet, solitary space, a time when I could give her words my full attention. Space and time: the two things that don’t exist on the boat. It was only within the past few days that I finally opened her email. I’m still trying to pick myself up off the floor, so moved by the generosity with which she gave her story.

Joni’s story is not mine to share – and yet, her story is mine. You know how the cliché goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Together, we span six decades in fishing. I think about how the harbors have changed – more female deckhands, more couples running boats together, more women running their own boats – and then I hear a voice in my head, whispering questions of identity, belonging, invisibility. And I can’t tell whether it’s Joni’s voice speaking, or my own.

 

Sunset Through Hawsehole

 

This is why I read and write memoir: because I want to light these places we don’t often reveal to each other. Vulnerabilities we mask, doubts we’re not supposed to acknowledge. In placing a higher virtue on silence than on trust, we commit to our own alienation. We build our walls higher, failing to see that the experiences that leave us feeling isolated are the very ones with the power to bring us together. I tell my story because I want to know yours.

My hunch is that this issue isn’t only a women-on-boats struggle. For many of us, the challenge to preserve some sense of “me” amongst a “we” is simply an effect of growing up as a girl-child in America, socialized from Day One to put ourselves second. So I wonder if this speaks to you, and if it does, how you’ve navigated the tension between self-identity and partnership. What the rewards and sacrifices have been. If your definitions of “reward” and “sacrifice” have changed over time.

And I wonder, too, what these questions bring up for Hooked’s male-identified readers. Many of you originally started following this blog for the fish stories; that you’ve stayed through meditations on gender and self-identity means a lot to me. You’re infused with cultural expectations different from those I grew up with  – different; no less powerful. I wonder what you identify as the leading messages of your life, how you internalized them, and how those messages have impacted your life and relationships.

While I searched for the right thought to close this post, yet another inspiring woman from the fleet provided the words I was looking for. Thank you, Erin, for sharing this quote right when I needed to hear it.

“What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . . “

— Frederick Buechner (Telling Secrets)

 

I’m asking big questions at a busy time, friends. Hooked’s FINAL final manuscript is due this December. Between revisions and managing all our own fish marketing for the first time, I’m out-of-my-head swamped. Forgive my belated response to the conversation. Trust that I’m reading – I hear you – and I’m grateful to know you. Love and appreciation to all. 

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Live from the FisherPoets Gathering!

It’s a magical day in Astoria, Oregon: sun on the sidewalks, festive chop on the Columbia. I’m tucked in the Blue Scorcher Bakery (try the cardamom rolls), an introvert on glorious overload, trying to steal an hour of quiet time to recharge. Red lapel pins reveal the kindred spirits surrounding me – the $15 buttons our entry into all seven venues – and we exchange knowing smiles and eager reviews of last night’s favorite performances, recommendations of who we’ll catch tonight. We’re two days in the 18th Annual FisherPoets Gathering, and I’m in love with everyone and everything.

Join us tonight from the comfort of your home, thanks to KMUN Coast Community Radio’s live-stream from the Astoria Events Center. The show runs 5:00 to 10:00 PST. (Review the full schedule below; you can catch Joel and me in the 7:00 hour.) Click on “Listen to KMUN/KTCB.” You’ll have a good time, I think.

 

Saturday, February 28 at the Astoria Event Center
(with translation by ASL interpreters)
MC  Dave Densmore

5  p.m.
Dave Densmore, Astoria OR
Sean Talbot, Portland OR
Wayne Chimenti, Port Townsend WA

6  p.m.
Hobe Kytr, Astoria OR
Will Hornyak, Portland OR
Lorrie Haight, Long Beach WA

7  p.m.
Brian Robertson, Powell River BC
Tele Aadsen, Bellingham WA
Joel Brady-Power, Bellingham WA

8  p.m.
Paul Holmberg, Palmer AK
Don Pepper, Alert Bay BC
Jen Pickett, Jyväskylä, Suomi

9  p.m.
Billie Delaney, Port Townsend WA
Steve Schoonmaker, Kasilof AK
Lou Beaudry, McCall ID

10  p.m.
Dave Densmore, Astoria OR
On-site Poem Contest follows at 10:30
(2015 rules announced by MCs at venues)

 

 

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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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