ADVENTUM A LITERARY MAGAZINE
ISSUE IV Sophie Nicholson - Nadine York Yelizaveta Renfro - Duncan McCallum Shelley Nolden - Willard Manus - Mac Greene Carolyn Gray - Samuel Smith - Terri Glass Emily Brisse - Sarah Morris - and more...
ADVENTUM A Literary Magazine
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF / CREATIVE DIRECTOR Naomi Farr EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Audrey Camp Matthew Greene Brendan Buzzard OPERATIONS ASSISTANT Tim Farr CONTRIBUTORS THIS ISSUE Emily Brisse, SuzAnne C. Cole, Gabrielle Deimeke, Thea Gavin, Carolyn Gray, Terri Glass , Mac Greene, Rebecca Lilly, Robert Macneil, Willard Manus, Duncan McCallum, Sarah Morris, Sophie Nicholson, Shelley Nolden, Yelizaveta Renfro, Samuel Smith, Alan Summers, Nadine York EDITORIAL INQUIRIES email@example.com ADVERTISING INQUIRIES firstname.lastname@example.org
ADVENTUM MAGAZINE Jeffersonville, VT 05464 Digital Issues: Issuu.com/Adventum Facebook: Facebook.com/AdventumMagazine WWW.ADVENTUMMAGAZINE.COM Right and Front Cover: by Sophie Nicholson (Iceland)
CONTENTS Essays 6
SHELLEY NOLDEN Exit
WILLARD MANUS The Sponge Divers of Kalymnos
YELIZAVETA RENFRO Pilgrimage
MAC GREENE Lost
SOPHIE NICHOLSON Powder, Guns, and Yoga
CAROLYN GRAY Open Water
DUNCAN McCALLUM Fire and Ice
SARAH MORRIS My Father Teaches Me to Fish
THEA GAVIN Barefoot, Rim to Rim
Photography EMILY BRISSE
SOPHIE NICHOLSON GABRIELLE DEIMEKE
42 & 57 55
This page by Emily Brisse ( Grindelwald, Switzerland)
NADINE YORK From the Seat of a Bicycle
Haiku SAMUEL SMITH
SUZANNE C. COLE
JESSICA BANE ROBERT
EDITOR’S NOTE As I write, billions of snowflakes are sinking through the blue winter air, sticking to my window for a moment before vanishing. I am warmed by their beauty, chilled by the thought of how they also can provoke our transience. Often, when I am out gliding my skis through fresh snow on a quiet trail or simply going for a walk, I find the small things have been piquing my interest. Dendrites, stamens, lichen fragments. Stop, look, enjoy. There is much to see out there – as there is in these essays, photos, and haiku. In this issue we bicycle through Wyoming and Montana with Nadine York, go sponge diving in Greece and learn of the culture that surrounds this little-known industry with Willard Manus, and battle
the rapids that life and rivers can throw at us with Shelley Nolden. Yelizaveta Renfro takes us on a pilgrimage to a very special tree in Connecticut, Sophie Nicholson and Duncan McCallum go skiing in Oregon and Iceland, we enter a watery world with Carolyn Gray, and explore fishing as a family tradition with Sarah Morris. We also experience hiking on a whole new footing as we follow Thea Gavin in to the Grand Canyon, barefoot. With each piece that finds its way into the pages of Adventum, my world transforms. I am reminded, as I read about new cultures, physical limits, and environmental challenges, that how we spend each minute of each day truly counts. – Naomi Mahala Farr
FROM THE SEAT OF A BICYCLE Nadine York
riday, July 9: I take one last look at our campsite, the grass, the tree in morning sun relief, horses grazing the plains and hills beyond. There is no sign of our having been here, no footprint. We are gathered up again, not only the tent, bed and belongings onto the bicycles, but our physical bodies and spirit have bundled something of the place—absorbed it into our cells, stored it in pockets of memory, bulked it into muscle mass— everything gathered to launch us into another day of pedaling. We leave this place but we take it with us, too. Pete and I have just spent the night at Wild Horse Hot Springs in the Rocky Mountain region of northwest Montana. We are beginning the fourth and last day of a loop that will end where we started at the Thompson Falls airfield. Pete’s Cessna is waiting for us there to fly us to another biking adventure in Canada. Just because we planned this as a warm up for the Canadian Rockies doesn’t mean it’s been a cruise, and there is still the matter of this last day. At the convenience store on the highway just outside of town, we slug down gulps of lemon-lime drink and stash a candy bar each into panniers. For now the drink and this brief
stop are enough. We are gearing ourselves mentally and physically for the fifteen hundred-foot climb that begins a quarter of a mile down the road. “How far you going?” a traveler and his wife ask us as they walk past to their car. “Up over the pass to Plains and then to Thompson Falls.” “That’s a lot of pedaling,” the man says, shaking his head. Forty-six miles of pedaling to be exact. Someone leaving in a car at the exact moment we leave, will arrive in Thompson Falls before we crest the pass here. With stops for rests and lunch and photos and whatever else, the ride will take a good part of the day for us. We deposit our trash, secure our helmets, and push off. The morning is early enough to warrant fleece and wind pants. I relish the coolness as we approach the long grade that rises up before us, curling out of sight at what we hope is a top. At the toes of the giant, we stop and strip down to t-shirts and shorts. Back onto the pavement, I shift into a middle range gear, put my mind into a long-range attitude.
From the Seat of a Bicycle “Okay, here we go.” I take one quick look up and pick a spot marked by an orange sign, then put my head down and pedal. I will not look up again until I reach that spot. My eyes stare blankly at the road beneath me or at the gravel and weed strewn shoulder. Perspiration beads up on my scalp and forehead. My breathing deepens. The muscles in my thighs adjust to just the right amount of tension to meet the demands of load and grade. I love the climb, love how strong I feel. The first time Pete asked me to go biking, we were at the beginning of our relationship. I was fifty-six and out of shape and I welcomed him and bicycling into my life. “It’s a gentle ride,” he told me describing one of many trails in the foothills north of Boise, “mostly level except for one short uphill pull.” Red faced and puffing, I walked that one short uphill, pushing my bike. Now sweat trickles small intermittent
and the anticipation of frequent nature surprises around the next bend offered some mind relief from the gnaw of discomfort. Tuesday, July 6: Biking today lovely—along the Thompson River. Gentle grade, through thickly wooded canyon, roadside wildflowers, sounds of waterspeed over rock and around corners of riverbed. An osprey screeches at our invasion and lifts out of the dense backdrop of trees. Wings pump against air to gain lift, move him upstream to temporary solitude We manage to eke out 25 miles the first day, end it camped in a grassy clearing under a tall Ponderosa pine on the bank of the river. A light rain after dinner sends us scurrying into the tent and though it is still light, both of us slip into sleep before nine o’clock. An occasional sprinkling on the taut rain fly is all that interrupts the night. In the morning we pack a dampish tent and press forward.
Back onto the pavement, I shift into a middle range gear, put my mind into a long-range attitude. streams along my spine, under my arms, down the side of my face. Heat rises from my body, sifted away by air stirred by my passing. I am on my bike, riding this Montana hill. Without even knowing how far it is, I know I will ride to this top. I pass the orange sign, look up for another landmark to spot—that lone pine tree. Three days ago I wouldn’t have loved this. Today’s climb would have reduced me to sobs then. *** The first day of bicycle touring is hard. After an hour, quadriceps begin to grumble. The shift from one sore spot of bottom flesh to another follows, accompanied by frequent shakeouts of numbed palms, kinked wrists, and aching forearms. The general absence of hills made our first day pedaling bearable
Settling into the seat at the start of day two hurts. My legs feel sluggish and heavy. The road crawls up and away from the river. Like the previous day all body parts fight for my attention. A voice whines a sub-audible mantra in my head. I’m tired. This hurts. I want to stop. I think of the voice as my baby self. I am hardwired to escape discomfort, to seek relief. Somehow that thought itself is comforting, and raises questions, something else to think about. What brings relief? What distracts from discomfort? It starts with noticing flowers. I search my memory for the names of wildflowers along the roadside: Lupine. Shooting star. Indian paintbrush. Oh, what’s that one called? I’ll look it up later. Then in the distance I catch sight of a building. As we get closer, I notice a growing anticipation: Will it give us an excuse to stop? I guess not. Dam-
mit! By now, the road through forest seems endless; its beauty has become boring. My tires roll over another flattened snake—those black ones with yellow stripes down their length. I don’t want to see a live one. A butterfly, elegant black with white racer stripes along wing tips, careens ahead as if challenging me to race. Bridge! Tires clatter over wood slats: I peer into the river and look for fishing holes, imagine casting. More forest and then a glimpse of a cow elk standing in the road ahead. She’s big! We zoom forward, stop where she disappeared, catch sight of her a second time, and watch her disappear into the thicket, before we resume our pedaling. Suddenly I realize I’m thinking about my grandfather and about the book I’m reading, The Meadow by James Galvin. It’s written in short disjointed chapters of non-consecutive events, yet it tells a story, a sort of true story, of people, a place, and a past. The telling brings me to tears. I dream … imagine writing a story about my grandparents, in which I would create the parts of their lives between the few facts I have, answer my own questions. Was there love between them ever? Was it loneliness or lust that brought my father into the world? I would write it in short disjointed chapters, non-consecutive, because life in retrospect, like thoughts on bicycle trips, can be in and out of sequence, slipping backward and forward. Discomfort interrupts my reverie. The river valley has opened up; the road rises and falls, demands more. The extra strain spins me into an angry pout blaming Pete. Stupid idea! Why can’t we do something normal? What am I doing here? But I do want to be here. Six years ago, before I ever met Pete, I sat in the kitchen of my Boise bungalow reading an article about 60- and 70-year-olds enjoying bicycle trips along the back roads of New England. I want to do that, I heard the excited whisper in me. I want to be like that. I was 54, divorced, a working woman supporting herself. It seemed the wanting would never be anything but a dream. Now here I am, living the dream—pedaling backcountry Montana—and what do I do? Blame my husband and count dead snakes to ignore the ache
in my quads. Bad attitude adds fifty pounds of extra weight, makes my legs slow and heavy with leaded blood. I decide to shift gears out of sulking. I begin to sing, “Dear friends, dear friends, let me tell you how I feel. . .you have given me such treasures. . .I love you so. . .” Over and over I sing the simple words to flowers, trees, butterflies, snakes— even, and especially, to Pete though he is ahead of me and unable to hear. Then for no apparent reason he slows to a stop. “I think I have a tire problem,” he observes as I pull up next to him. Yessirree oh boy. It is a tire problem. A big fat flat. Darn! I can’t help but wonder if my singing invoked some guardian angel to the rescue. Pete begins the repair. I unpack the tent’s rain fly and other items that were dampened in last night’s rain and spread them to dry, turning their moist faces to sun. All too soon the tire is fixed and the gear re-packed. We lift reluctant bottoms back onto bicycles and move on. At the intersection of the Thompson River Road and State Highway 2, we pause to rest before heading east. I park my bike, collapse onto the ground and eyeball the highway snaking up a hill and out of sight. I am tired; who knows how long that hill is. I lie still searching my body to find some hidden pocket of strength and energy to continue. A storm is building in the near western sky. “We need to get going,” Pete says with a hint of urgency. “Just over this pass, there’s a campground at McGregor Lake. It looks close.” He folds the map and returns it to his front pannier. Close on the map— another one of those distorted perspectives of years of car travel. “It’s just ten minutes up the road,” or “Yup, from there on the road’s flat as a pancake,” are lies to a bicyclist—car-talk lies that need to be translated to bicycle language. Ten minutes in a car could easily be an hour by bike and in northwestern Montana pancakes only come on a breakfast plate. Two hundred yards up the hill the storm sends heavy gusts blasting our backsides. Clouds begin spitting cold drops. We stop long enough to put on rain jackets. Thunder bellowing nearby tells me to pedal
faster, but uphill and fast do not go together in my 60-year-old body’s repertoire. Hail pings against my helmet like pelting pea gravel. I don’t like this, I think scanning the sky for lightning. Where is that lake? Not close enough. The hail turns to rain and soaks us thoroughly before it finally stops. We pedal along like trained bears, cars whooshing by and sending up sprays of mist. By the time we reach the MacGregor Lake turnoff we are slightly wind-dried and very chilled. The winds and clouds threaten a second storm as we pedal into a campsite, throw the tent together, and tumble our gear and ourselves into its thin protection. Later, after a warming meal and after I’ve put on all my warm clothes and slid into the warmth of a down bag, I write: Wednesday, July 7: Rain last night while we were snuggled in our tent. Today not so lucky. Rain and hail in the last four to five miles of the twenty-eight we covered today. Now we’re stopped, dried and warmed, bellies full of hot soup and mashed potatoes. Sprinkles of rain on the tent and predictions of more. We learned of some cabins down the road a few miles. Maybe we’ll winter over there tomorrow for a day and night of creature comfort... But the next day blooms sunny and the road beckons. Thursday, July 8: Day three, much better. In a pedaling rhythm, stronger. From our campsite, an early rise, pack up and leave without breakfast. Ride three miles down the highway to the MacGregor Lake Lodge. Breakfast, hale and hearty. Eggs poached to perfection with yolks like creamy yellow syrup, three strips of the tastiest bacon, and three pancakes on the side with butter and syrup. I cleaned my plate and downed several cups of coffee along with two carafes of water. Most satisfying. So quickly I had forgotten yesterday’s pain and suffering. Instead, today’s breakfast, the smile on the cook’s face when I tell her how perfect it was, the warmth of sun on my back as I bend over my bike and adjust the panniers readying for the ride—these get etched in my brain much deeper than the discomfort of the bike seat yesterday or the whining thoughts in
From the Seat of a Bicycle
my head. Day three is a thrill—what I love about touring. Half of the trip days are behind us and half ahead. The bike has become an extension of body, my legs just working parts of the whole machine. Shifting gears up or down is an intuitive communication between quadriceps and bicycle. After breakfast we ride another seven or eight miles on Highway 2 over gently rolling terrain. If we were to continue east we’d come to Kalispell and Glacier National Park. Bicycling on pavement is smooth and fast compared to dirt and gravel, but we are snails compared to the highway’s gas-powered vehicles. Cars whine past us and hum themselves right out of sight. Trucks growl and roar by, blowing us sideways with their huffs and puffs. Though we are not fast, the stretch goes quickly. We turn south on Hubbard Dam Road. We don’t know what to expect on this road since we’ve been unable to get clear information about it. But we are pleased to discover that its gravel and dirt surface is nicely maintained and very ridable. A runner we meet a few miles in confirms that the road does go through to Niarada where we can pick up the highway to Hot Springs. Now it’s only the journey. The back country route brings a welcomed quiet after the deafening zoom and frenzy of highway traffic. I can hear again: birds and wind in trees, crunching of gravel under tires, my own breathing. The road climbs numerous rises with short dips of downhill to give us a break. Growing a thin film of sweat we climb over a thousand feet in elevation—through forested hills and mountain meadows, through warm sun and cool air. Suddenly, unexpectedly we are descending, a long fast downhill steering our bikes to find the smoothest route. The road empties into a meadow at the bottom, then skirts the length of the meadow to a Y in the road. We bear left past a house and find ourselves descending more. I can’t believe that we can keep going down—cruising so fast that I need to stop and add a fleece layer for warmth—down through a narrow wooded creek valley. We are flying. When the descent finally stops we are in drier,
more open country. Tree-haired mountains to the west but prairie grass and wildflower slopes with an occasional lone pine to the east. The depth of the descent is paired with an equal and opposite ascent ahead. We breathe small groans at sight of the road snaking up around the soft contours of hillside. Climbing after such a long fast descent seems ever the more slow. The climb starts gradual, curving around and over, leaving the forested mountains behind and moving us deeper into the expanse of those open hills. Up a little and down a little but in balance, far more up, some steady and gradual, some short but steep. Three quarters into one long steady climb, we stop to replenish. Parking the bikes against a barbed wire fence, we pull out snacks and drinks, retire to the roadside bank and feast on Snickers, gorp, and grand, big-sky views. “Life doesn’t get any more perfect than this,” Pete says. “Mmm,” I answer.
Thursday, July 8: Wild Horse Hot Springs Resort—looking east out over wetlands of grasses, reeds and cattails. Red-winged blackbirds sing a chorus of evening household chores. Soft old tan mountains beyond, shaded dark green in the deep creases that crawl up their faces. Flotillas of clouds overhead. To the southwest, a pond with beached red canoe and horses grazing in the wide plain reaching toward far-wooded mountains.
* * *
* * *
Stopping is delicious when biking. Stopping for a snack, stopping to take a picture, stopping to check the map, to talk, to fix, to pee, to readjust, to rest. It balances the constancy of movement. The stop at the end of a biking day is especially delicious. First it’s body delicious. Legs stretch out to touch the earth, muscles tentative about supporting weight. Torso straightens cautiously to upright, hands pressing the small of back forward. Helmet comes off. Arms hang loose. Everything lengthens. Movements are slow. I stretch, breathe deep, ah yes. Inside my head the whirring sound of motion slows. Like a spinning top it loses momentum, rocks more and more out of its orbit to finally, a dead stop. Perhaps it is a quieting of the blood flow in my head or the absence of wind in my ears. Suddenly I am aware of stillness. We’re home. Temporarily home. With a clarity that comes with life so simple, we know what to do next. Unpack tent and sleeping gear. Build our home and make the bed. Set up the kitchen. All the while we take in the surroundings.
Now on this last day, this long climb, here I am passing the lone pine tree marker. I look up. The road seems like it might level out around the bend past that rock escarpment. I look back to make sure Pete is still pedaling behind and glimpse the valley stretching below. I am surprised by how much we have climbed. When we turn that bend ahead, the valley will be out of sight. The winsome feeling leaving our campsite this morning returns. Somehow I want to hang on to these moments, this time, the rhythm we’ve achieved. It’s life reduced to a simpler formula. We carry all we need in compact little bundles on our bikes. At night we unleash the bundles and grow them into home. Next morning we break it all down, re-fold and compress into panniers. Our life fits into the space of a cardboard box measuring two feet square. During the day we pedal, onward and forward, to that new destination thirty, forty, fifty miles or more down the road until we stop and establish home again. But I can’t hold on; time and pedaling are moving me forward. Just below the escarpment the road grade steepens radically. I drop into my lowest
We move through the familiar routine, thoughts and images from the day rolling in our heads like marbles in a hopper. We take them all into the hot water pools to simmer. The sweat and grime of three days, of numerous climbs, of a hundred miles of road, of various moods, of thoughts remembered and forgotten, of people and conversation, all go into the steamy, sulphury hot water. I come out softened. Sleep is deep and heavy in the night.
gear. My body rocks forward with each downward stroke of the pedal as if to urge the bike upward. The muscles in my thighs grow a slow burn. I listen to breathing so loud in my head that it squeezes all thought into silence. When I look up again I can see a stretch of level around the bend and the escarpment is retreating behind me. I am surprised that I love the climb—how strong I feel, how we groan at the sight of still another and another climb as we move through this mountain pass. I love how we just gear down at sight of them, pedal steady, and chew our way to another top. “You can climb any hill if you do it slow enough,” I learned early on from Pete. The payoff comes after the last rise: the road sign indicates a steep grade, warns trucks to use low gears. Here we go! An eight-mile scream downhill. Twenty minutes of wind blowing me dry, of nothing to do but keep the bike on the road and take in the scenery. A fullness squeezes up out of my chest through my throat and yahoos into the sky. At the bottom of the hill—Plains, Montana. We stop for lunch before the last twenty some miles along the Clarkfork River back to Thompson Falls. They are grueling miles in hot valley sun and a healthy share of ups and downs. But we’re riding to the finish
From the Seat of a Bicycle
now. Friday evening, July 9: Finished our ride today, forty-six miles. Lots of hill climb, lots of pedaling. Then it ends so suddenly and throws us back into what now? What do we do now? As if suddenly too many options... Go to town? Pack the plane? Take a shower? Get a milkshake? Get some groceries? See a movie? Call flight service for weather? Where to next? That’s what I mean; life is simple on tour. You always know what’s next, just pedal. But after a visit in town and a milkshake and laundry and a stop at the grocery store, we cook dinner and spend the night in the pilot’s lounge, spreading sleeping mats and bags on the floor. Saturday, July 10: I wake this morning glad we’re not biking, glad for a day off. Weather looks bad up in Canada, so postponing the flight up there for a day, waiting for storms to clear. Look forward to a day of rest and reading. Clouds in the sky and cool this morning. I sit on the couch, legs covered with sleeping bag, write, look out at mountains all around, sip coffee. Slow start today, not the efficient pack up and roll out on bikes like yesterday. Shifting different gears today. Ah well, pleasure in both.
Nadine York has been writing and riding bicycles since age seven and will continue to do both indefinitely. She lives in Boise, Idaho.
Photo by Emily Brisse (Grindelwald, Switzerland)
EXIT Shelley Nolden
he cold water strikes me like a hammer, with such force that I can hear it pounding. The hydraulic hole at the bottom of Nantahala Falls must’ve flipped me over upon impact. I botched the run down the rapids, but that disappointment will become irrelevant if I fail to free myself from this kayak. I yearn to scream, yet I must hold my breath. Even if I were to open my eyes, I would see nothing. I’m suspended in a vortex that overpowers my senses. I don’t know which way is up. I have 45, maybe 60 seconds to figure it out, or I will die. *** Dr. Green is standing at the foot of my hospital bed. I try to focus on his words, despite the opiate that has numbed me. He’s talking to my husband, Ryan, and my mother—not me. I don’t understand the medical terminology, but I comprehend: “She may die within the week.” Yesterday morning, my husband dropped me off at the Emergency Room entrance, and I gave my 18-month-old daughter, secured in her car seat, only a peck on the cheek. It hadn’t occurred to me that the cause of the pain in my left side might prevent me
Adventum 1414 Adventum
from ever seeing her again. *** Four days before capsizing in the basin of the waterfall, I received my first kayaking lesson on Fanta Lake in Bryson City, North Carolina. The flat water mirrored the emerald green pine and deciduous trees that blanket the Great Smokey Mountains. The other young adults and I, outfitted in red waterproof jackets, purple life vests, and aqua blue helmets, huddled around the First Descents staff and local guides. We embodied the energy and spirit that flowed through the wilderness around us. *** Ten days before meeting Dr. Green, I arrived at a routine, 20-week prenatal ultrasound appointment excited to see the tiny limbs that had begun poking me. The technician slid her wand over my gel-coated belly and squinted at the computer screen that faced away from me. She said that she could see the baby well enough; I could visit the restroom to relieve my bladder.
I returned to the examining room, and gastric acid surged up my throat. It had been a trick. The technician had summoned Dr. Lancaster, who was frantically flipping through my chart. Her long, black hair hid her face. She wouldn’t answer my questions. There must be a defect, I thought. A missing chamber of the heart, Down syndrome. Whatever it is, we’ll cherish this baby. “Tell me what’s wrong.” *** On the shore of Fanta Lake, 50-something guides nicknamed Greystoke, wearing only a black Speedo that showcased his muscular abdomen, and silverhaired Big Papa, in a faded T-shirt and swim trunks, explained the “wet exit,” a critical survival skill. During the following days of our week-long camp, we would be kayaking the Little Tennessee River, Tuckasegee River, and Nantahala River and Falls. As the first volunteer to try the maneuver, I climbed into my orange Remix, and tucked in the elastic hem of the spray skirt, its waist snug around my torso, along the rim of the kayak. Connected to my vessel, I scooted off the gravel beach and paddled over to Big Papa who stood in waist-deep water. “One, two,” he said. I took a deep breath. “Three.” He rolled me over into the stillness. The silent darkness allowed me to focus on my weightless body, upside down in the cool water. I estimated that I had sufficient oxygen to remain attached to my boat for another 10-15 seconds. In control of the situation, I prolonged the experience before pulling the grab loop on my spray skirt that would release its hem, and me, from the kayak. *** “Shelley, the baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.” Dr. Lancaster gripped my hand. No. Not possible. I was a healthy 31-year-old, who power-walked with hand weights, and ate lots of organic vegetables. And most importantly: “You’re wrong. I felt our baby kicking yesterday. I emailed Ryan. Ask him.” The technician turned off the ultrasound machine, and with it, my hopes. On the examining table,
I attempted to curl into the fetal position but was thwarted by my pregnant figure. Dr. Lancaster asked for Ryan’s whereabouts. Late, caught in traffic, and I’d told him the wrong time. How could we have known this would be the one appointment where late was not better than never? *** An hour before capsizing, from the walkway above the rocky border of the river, I listened to Greystoke outline the best routes through the boulders, drop-offs, and log jams that precede Nantahala Falls. This final course for the camp would test our skills and grit. He concluded his lecture, and my new friends walked back to our kayaks upstream. I remained against the railing, the water thrashing below me. I unzipped a pocket of my waterproof jacket and removed a small rock. The day before, our counselor had instructed each of us to write with a Sharpie on a stone from the riverbed and throw it into the stream. I’d saved mine for today. From the walkway, I hurled it into the violent rapids. *** Our baby should’ve been born in a delivery room; not been ripped from me during a dilation and curettage procedure at an abortion clinic. When I’d asked Dr. Lancaster about the extraction, which her practice wouldn’t perform, she’d told me not to research it on the Internet. I haven’t. The clinic’s hidden within a nondescript, brown brick building along a downtown street. No activists had gathered for the Friday afternoon pre-op appointments. We’d been warned that Saturday morning, the day of the abortions, they would crowd the sidewalk. Ryan opened the door, and my parents, who’d flown in from Wisconsin, each put an arm around me. A man behind bullet-proof glass, with bicep muscles that bulged beneath his taut black skin, directed us up a steep flight of linoleum stairs to the waiting room. After registering, a technician drew blood
from my arm. He pricked my finger and timed how long it took my blood to clot the pinhole. Two minutes. I’d failed the test. I met with Dr. Koznik for a final ultrasound. He confirmed that the baby was deceased and checked my lab results. “Your platelet count is low, probably from the baby altering your blood composition, though I’ve never seen it happen this quickly.” He rubbed one temple, stretching and smoothing the nearby wrinkles. “This could be a problem. We’ll
The waiting room was packed, like a Saturday morning at the DMV. A technician drew a vial of blood from my arm and instructed me to go down to the basement, change into a gown, and put my clothes in a locker. I sat with the other women dressed in blue surgical garb and waited. My mother had stayed home with Katelyn. Most likely, they were making scrambled eggs, my daughter unaware that she’d lost someone who might’ve been her best friend. I yearned
I should’ve kept my bow perpendicular to the drop-off. Instead, I veered right and reached the ledge parallel to it—the worst possible position. check your levels again in the morning.” *** To summon my courage for this final challenge, and to enjoy the moment, I paused in my kayak at the edge of the concrete ramp. Across the calm channel, white blossoms of mountain laurel, against a backdrop of vibrant green foliage, bobbed in a gentle breeze. I drew in the pure smell. A stick floating on the water met the small waves that signaled the beginning of the rapids. I leaned forward, shifting my weight toward the bow of my vessel, and slid into the river. *** The morning of the procedure, Ryan dropped my dad and me off at the entrance to the brown brick building, so that I wouldn’t have to pass the chanting protestors and their posters with images of discarded fetuses. Before I could reach the door, a woman my age thrust a leaflet at me. “My baby’s already dead.” The security guard motioned for us to climb the stairs. “Why did you say that to her?” my dad asked.“You didn’t have to tell her anything.” “Yes, Dad, I did.”
to console her, even though it was me who needed comforting. A nurse handed me a paper cup with two round pills to induce labor. They would give me the chills and cause contractions, she said, but I’d be anesthetized before it got too bad. I shivered and cried uncontrollably. A nurse led me to a recovery area with cots and draped a blanket over me. She sat in a chair, gripped my fingers with her pale hand, and told me that she understood my loss; her 20-something son had been murdered, and the killer had been released from prison after a twoyear sentence. *** With the confidence of an Olympian, I paddled toward a series of waves, or “wave train,” that would lead me to rougher water. The current strengthened and swept me toward the start of the first rapid. I paddled toward Billboard Rock, a large flat boulder reaching into the river from the left bank. Flanking the obstruction allowed me to stay within the wave train that bypassed a hydraulic hole, the depression that follows a drop-off and acts as a swirling vortex. If caught in one, it’s nearly impossible for a beginner not to tip over. The first hydraulic hole that I’d missed would
not be the last before calm water. I continued digging my paddle into the waves and using my hips and abdominal muscles to maintain my kayak’s balance. I looked downriver to determine my next maneuver. *** In the basement of the abortion clinic, I waited for the results of the blood tests that would serve as clearance for my turn in the operating room. The contractions started. I couldn’t focus on the ultimate prize of a healthy baby to help me endure the tremors that shook my body. Dr. Koznik approached my cot. “Something’s not right in your blood. In all my years, I’ve never seen this before. We need to move you to the ER, where we can have a hematologist and blood transfusions on hand.” He leaned down to look me in the eyes. “There may be something else wrong with you.” *** I neared the final turn before the raging falls and tore with my paddle at the water on my left side, leaning into my effort. While on the walkway above, I’d determined that approaching the final, Class III rapid from the inside curve of the river provided my best chance of success. In case I couldn’t bank the turn, I’d also memorized the wave train that rippled through a slot between two large square boulders on the right and a triangular rock barely breaching the surface in the middle of the river. This would be my first descent, and I needed to nail it. *** In the lobby of the hospital, my dad explained my condition to the receptionist, who called a transport. A man, whistling an unrecognizable tune, pushed me in a wheelchair to the maternity ward. “No,” I told a woman who’d pinned stork buttons to the string of her I.D. badge. “My baby is dead.” A contraction ripped through me, and I gritted my teeth and stared at the nearest object—a poster espousing the benefits of breastfeeding. The chipper man moved me from the maternity ward back to the ER. I begged for an epidural, but a doctor said no, I might bleed out from the needle in-
sertion. If a needle could kill me, how would I survive the D&C? *** The stampeding current whipped me past the last bend, into the middle of the river instead of my coveted position nearer the left bank. I aimed for the slot between the triangular rock and pair of square boulders, but the surging water pushed me to the left of my target. I was paddling between the two easier routes through the falls, and directly toward the drop-off that finished in the massive hydraulic hole. *** When I woke from the procedure, my mother told me she loved me. Her grandchild had been a girl. I wondered if she’d had the beginnings of the full head of black hair with which I’d been born. I’ll never know. The doctors decided I should be kept overnight at the hospital for observation. A social worker visited my room and left three booklets on grieving a lost pregnancy, one of which was intended for the father. I read that first, wishing Ryan was beside me. During the night, I woke with pain in my left side. By morning, my face was swollen. Despite these ailments, the doctors discharged me. At home, my mom urged me to nap. Thoughts of our lost daughter were more sleep disrupting than a newborn’s demands. We named her Lily Elizabeth, and I clung to the white knit sweater that I’d intended for her to wear home from the hospital. Katelyn’s presence cheered me, but I felt guilt over having failed to give her a sister. Over the next four days, the physical pain in my left side and further swelling of my face hindered our efforts to mourn Lily. We visited a doctor, who referred us to another, who referred us to another, who didn’t have an answer. Four o’clock Thursday morning, I woke Ryan and told him that he needed to take me to the ER. *** The force of the current prevented me from back-paddling and resetting my course. It swept me toward the thundering falls on the left. I should’ve kept my bow perpendicular to the drop-off. Instead, I veered right
and reached the ledge parallel to it—the worst possible position. *** Ten hours after arriving at the ER, a hematologist introduced herself to Ryan and me. In a soft voice, with an Indian accent, she said, “You have acute promylecytic leukemia.” What does that mean? My lack of familiarity with the term softened the initial impact of the diagnosis. But once Dr. Singali had explained that it’s a type of blood cancer, I got it: leukemia had killed my daughter, and was trying to kill me. The doctors who’d been involved with the procedure to remove Lily had attributed my bad blood to the breakdown of her sweet, little body. The lily is a symbol of purity and beauty. We’d given her a fitting name, for she had been perfect. My body, however, was now far from perfect. How could this happen to me, to us? I couldn’t process the fear, as acute and debilitating as my disease, so I asked for more pain medicine that would help ease me into oblivion. *** The frigid, pummeling water slaps me in the face, a pronouncement that I’ve reached the basin of Nantahala Falls, upside down. My first descent had happened so fast that I’d missed it, but the froth, darkness, and lack of oxygen prolong the aftermath. Practicing the wet exit on a placid lake hadn’t prepared me for the disorientating forces that make this escape seem so impossible. The noise from the falls rattles my core. Only a 40-second supply of oxygen remains in my lungs. For the first time in my life, I fear water. *** Dr. Green is explaining to Ryan and my mother that the tumor bone marrow cells are producing white blood cells that aren’t maturing into normal adult cells. These immature cells are crowding out the other white blood cells, including the platelets. My blood cannot clot. It’s the day after my diagnosis. Given the severe nature of my disease and risk of internal bleeding, an ambulance had transported me to this more sophisticated cancer center that afternoon. “Are my chances better since I’m only 31?” This reminds everyone I’m still here, for now.
“I had a woman in here two years ago, about your age,” Dr. Green says. “She complained of a headache. Two hours later, she was dead. Try not to move, at all.” When I need to use the bathroom, he instructs, I should hit the call button, and a nurse will hold my arm during the walk across the room and help me sit down on the toilet. A nurse attaches a yellow “Slip Risk” bracelet around my wrist and slides yellow socks with thick rubber grip soles onto my feet. I stare at Dr. Green’s navy blue tie, avoiding the fear in Ryan’s and my mom’s blue eyes that would intensify my own. “I need to see Katelyn.” “Unfortunately, that’s not possible. If she bumps you, it could kill you.” The doctor taps his chin. “Let’s get you through the next week. Most of the patients who die from this disease do so in the first week. Once you’re no longer at risk of internal bleeding, she can visit before the chemo wipes out your immune system.” I cannot go seven days without being with my daughter. *** The churning of water around me keeps me disoriented. Every second that passes brings me closer to suffocating. I must find the grab loop that once pulled, will detach my skirt from the kayak, allowing me to reach the surface, and breathe again. Even if I could force my eyes open, it would be too dark to see. I must discern whether the pummeling from Nantahala Falls is coming from above or below me. *** At the end of the third day at the cancer center, I extend a shaking, bruise-mottled arm for a nurse to insert an I.V. needle for my first dose of chemotherapy. Each needle since the first prick preceding the removal of Lily has caused a two-inch welt from internal bleeding. Dana searches my arms for a clear spot, pricking me several times, and declares that she can’t find an undamaged vein. If the toxin enters my flesh through a hole in my vein, it’ll burn my arm. The staff concludes that the intentional poisoning will be delayed until tomorrow. I’m too rattled to sleep. Morning creeps in, and a veteran doctor instructs me
to roll onto my belly. He finds an untouched vein on the underside of my arm. A nurse enters wearing a purple hazmat suit. She attaches a brilliant, redorange vial to the needle and pushes the plunger in miniscule increments. The Anthracycline sears its way into my bloodstream, and the pumping of my heart disburses it throughout my body. I’ll receive three more doses, and will progressively weaken as the drug destroys my bone marrow, and hopefully with it the cancer. In about three weeks, once my blood cell counts have been reduced to zero, my bone marrow should begin to rebuild itself, reproducing my immune system in the process. I look out the window, searching for a distraction from the burning sensation. Soon the buds will return to the tree branches. I won’t smell spring this year. It’ll pass while I’m confined to this sterile hospital wing. *** I wave my hand through the water in an arc above my head, and touch nothing. I must be head down, surrounded by invisible dangers. My hand might catch in a crevice, or a surge might smack my head into a rock. Folding my body towards my legs within the kayak will bring me to the grab loop, but my instincts scream to move away from the boat. Twenty seconds left. My lungs sizzle. *** I log into Skype to watch my baby girl, who’s too young to pay attention to me on the screen. Katelyn toddles between her play kitchen and bead maze table. Her disinterest in me is a blessing, for my face remains swollen and my right eye has hemorrhaged, coating my cornea and vision in a haze of blood. Books, drawing pads, even the television remote control sit untouched by my bedside. I spend hours staring at the get-well cards and 8”x10” photographs of Katelyn taped to the walls. My parents and Ryan come often. Sometimes we talk, other times we rest. One afternoon, my dad manages to choke out a request: If I die, could I please be buried near their home, rather than on the East coast, so that he can visit me?
on a balanced rock I stand with hard-pulsing limbs looking at the ledge
Samuel Miracle Smith was born in rural Oklahoma. He has traveled around, visited every state, and lived in Vermont for a while. Now, he is living back in Oklahoma, writing and studying chemical engineering.
Yes, dad, that’s fine. I’ve made no arrangements to the contrary. I don’t have discussions like this with my mother. We’re both Scrabble players. Life had become so busy in recent years, we hadn’t played each other much. The bedside hours present the perfect opportunity, but I can’t muster the energy required for the trial-and-error process of reordering tiles on a tray. To pass the time, she plays Words with Friends on her iPad with my younger brother. I miss the clicking of the tiles, and wish I could be stronger for her. My parents shouldn’t have to watch my decline. *** The oxygen deprivation is causing a tingling sensation, threatening to dull my wits, but I strain to concentrate. Since my head is below my body in the water, my movements to find the grab loop need to be counterintuitive. Instead of reaching down, toward the rocks at the bottom of the plunge basin, I reach up. Like a boxing opponent, the force of the waterfall counters my effort. *** Eight days after my diagnosis, Dr. Green delivers the news: “Your daughter may visit tomorrow.” The minutes tick past in slow motion. Will she still treat me like her Mommy? Finally, Ryan calls me from the parking garage. Katelyn’s so close I hear her babbling of simple phrases in my head. Using my I.V. pole as a walking aid, I inch down the hall to the family visiting room and collapse into a chair to wait. My husband and daughter enter as a unit. Ryan’s role as single parent has increased her attachment to him. I hold out my arms, but Katelyn doesn’t run to me. It’s only been nine days since I saw her last, but it’s too long, or the hospital setting is too foreign. For Ryan’s sake, I pretend her rejection doesn’t hurt. He knows it does, so he sets a pile of blocks on my lap, which draws Katelyn to me. She leans against me to play, and I relish her accidental touch. We need these minutes together, yet they’re almost unbearable. My next stretch of isolation, as my body continues to degrade, will be longer, and I’ll become even less relevant to her daily life. Thirty minutes pass, and
I return to my room and shut the door. I cry a waterfall of tears. *** I fight back against the pummeling, for I must survive. My hand connects with the fabric spray skirt around my waist, and I smack along it, feeling for the nylon ribbon. I can’t have more than 10 seconds of oxygen left. I can’t find the loop. I will die. I can’t move fast enough. *** Six days after Katelyn’s visit, acute pain in my right side wakes me during the night. I ask for intravenous Dilaudid for immediate relief, but the narcotic fails. The physical pain intensifies my anguish over losing Lily and missing Katelyn. My daughter’s growing up without me. What new words has she learned? Does she still ask for me? I don’t want her to feel my absence, yet selfishly, I worry that she’ll forget me. Morning takes a month to arrive. Dr. Monroe conducts the daily assessment, and I describe the pain. He loosens his tie and tells the nurse to schedule a CT scan at 2:00 p.m. He looks at his chart and at my face, twisted in agony. “Let’s make that noon.” He returns in the late afternoon, during Ryan’s visit. The scan showed clotting in my liver, and blood in my lungs—two opposing complications that are hard to resolve concurrently. The doctor continues talking, and I watch my husband consume jelly beans from a two pound bag that had been in an Easter basket from my mom. Today is Good Friday, but not good for me. They wheel me down to an operating room to perform a bronchoscopy. A probe is shoved down my esophagus. I gag, but no one cares; my failing lungs are more important than my discomfort. The scope is removed, and a doctor announces that my vital signs are dropping. I’m whisked to the Intensive Care Unit. An oxygen tube is inserted into my nose. Ryan holds my hand. In his other hand, he’s gripping the bag of jelly beans. Dr. Monroe debriefs the I.C.U. staff on my condition. “Since we can’t treat both her lungs and her liver at the same time, we’ll focus on saving her lungs.”
The group disburses, and Dr. Monroe joins us. I might not make it through the night, he says to Ryan, not to me. I’m mesmerized by how any individual can devour jelly beans at such a swift pace. Ryan may eat the entire bag before dawn. A nurse introduces herself, and I ask, “Am I going to die?” Instead of offering reassurance, she begins to cry and steps away to compose herself. I try to think about jelly beans. Red, yellow, green, I’m terrified. I ask for more pain medicine; my side really is throbbing. Ryan unfolds a blanket and lays down on a recliner next to me. I love you, I say. He doesn’t repeat the phrase, but I know he’s thinking it, even if he’s too afraid that saying it might mean good-bye. The elderly patients around us gasp with each breath. The place feels like a waiting room for death. I try to console myself that if I die this night, I’ll be with Lily, in heaven. Ryan will take care of Katelyn, and I’ll take care of Lily. The blood in my lungs, threatening to suffocate me, causes me to cough. God, please let me live. I’m scared to fall asleep, in case He doesn’t answer. *** In the cold dark, I find the loop and yank the spray skirt from the rim of the kayak. The river rips the boat off of me, freeing my legs. My life vest pulls me to the surface. Light hits my eyes before air hits my lungs. The first intake isn’t enough. I gasp for another, and another. Like an angel, a hand grabs my lifejacket from above, and I bump against Big Papa’s yellow kayak. He and two other professionals, who’d been waiting along the edge of the water basin, focused on my safety, had sprinted toward me as soon as I’d capsized. “Breathe, it’s okay, breathe.” He keeps my body positioned so that my face points at the sky. *** Bright light fills my vision. I blink to adjust to the glare. Sunlight shines through the window. I gasp from the realization that I made it through the night. I push the call button for the nurse. “Am I okay?” “Yes, sweetie, you’ve stabilized. We’re moving you back up to the eighth floor, though we need to
keep you on oxygen and blood thinners.” Consumed by relief, I cannot manage a response. As the trembling subsides, I whisper, Thank you, God. The following morning, Easter Sunday, I log into Skype. Ryan and my mom help Katelyn hunt for eggs in our backyard. The view bounces around as Ryan, carrying the laptop, follows her to the stone wall across our lawn. She opens a pink plastic egg and pops the Cheddar Bunny into her cute mouth. It’s a beautiful morning. The grass must smell sweet; the open sky must look limitless; my daughter’s embrace must feel warm. I will recover, and see her again. I survived the first week. I survived my I.C.U. encounter. I miss Lily, but I’ll be with her again, much later. She died so that her sister could have a mother, for her passing resulted in the doctors diagnosing me in time to save me. We owe it to her to live full lives. The 8 x 10 photographs on my walls show only the beginnings of the happy times our family will have together until we’re reunited with Lily. *** Big Papa holds my lifejacket to keep me next to his kayak, and we’re swept down the river. Gasping for more oxygen, I keep my feet at the surface, pointed downstream, as we’d been taught. He releases me near a rubber raft that’s been intentionally stranded on a rock outcropping. A counselor grabs both shoulders of my vest and hauls me over the side. Like a fish, I flop into the bottom. Three weeks earlier, on the one-year anniversary of my first test result that showed I’d achieved remission status, my boss sat down across from my desk. “You should go on one of these First Descents trips for young adult cancer survivors.” After spending 40 nights in the hospital during the onset and initial treatment of my disease, I never wanted to be apart from Katelyn again. The fear of my daughter losing me was keeping me in a constant state of risk aversion. I signed up for the camp with trepidation. In the bottom of the raft, my breathing re-
turns to its regular cadence. I remove my helmet and feel the sun on my cold, wet face. My first descent may have been flawed, but it proved my ability to really live. It took Katelyn two weeks post my return from the hospital to resume her old rhythm with me. I’m sure she’s missing me now, but I’ll be home soon.
In my jacket pocket is a second rock. Whereas the first rock had been jagged, covered with cruel cancer words, this rock is heart-shaped. It bears the initials of my family members in purple permanent ink. This one I’m keeping. I start laughing, and can’t stop. Finally, I say, “I want to tackle those rapids again.” *Some names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.
Shelley Nolden is a financial analyst and a writer. In April 2011, Shelley was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), subtype 3 (APL). Shelley is currently in remission and receiving treatments to maintain that status. Like the rest of the Cancer Club, Shelley is trying to adjust to her new reality by keeping a positive mindset and living life to the fullest. Read more at www.shelleynolden.blogspot.com. First Descents, a non-profit organization founded by professional kayaker, Brad Ludden, offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors a free outdoor adventure experience designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same. Learn more about First Descents at www.firstdescents.org.
overhead thrum of rubber bands wings of Canada geese house sparrow landing on the plum tree’s brown leaves which is which?
Terri Glass served as Program Director for California Poets in the Schools from 2008-2011 and recently returned to school to study non-fiction through the Stonecoast MFA Program. Her poems are upcoming in Fault Lines, a new west coast journal, and have appeared recently in California Quarterly, Fourth River, ViVace, Ginosko and in the anthologies Shadow and Light, What the World Hears, Mountains & In Between and Drumvoices. She is the author of a book of nature poetry, The Song of Yes available on amazon.com. Meadow: Odes to Nature, is available from Berkshire Media Arts (BMA).
Moroccan Musician in Rabat strums the day away.
Luke Maguire Armstrong (TravelWriteSing.com) was a baby, who became a boy, who became a man. Once he fought a bear and almost died. Haters later claimed it was “only a raccoon” and that he was “acting like a little girl.” He is the author of How We Are Human. Follow @lukespartacus.
THE SPONGE DIVERS OF KALYMNOS Words and Photos by
O poor Kalymnos! Poor Kalymnos! Sea of mine, you have darkened her mountains Blow following wind, blow They have gone, the strong ones, the brave ones They have gone, the fresh, the blooming ones O my sea lover, for you I am sleepless!
he young girls of Kalymnos sing their song of farewell, the wives and mothers weep as the diving boats exit the harbor in slow formation, flags flapping in the breeze, newly painted gunwales gleaming in the bright Aegean sunlight. And the whole of the ancient harbor resounds with the peal of church bells and with shouts, cries and sobs: “Goodby...goodby.” “Kalo taxidi...good journey!” It is six days after Easter. Fifteen caiques are putting out to sea, bound for the far corners of the Aegean. Each boat carries from 12 to 20 men--the famed sphoungarades (sponge-divers) of Kalymnos.
They will stay away until November, risking death or paralysis to tear sponges from the bottom of the sea. The story of Kalymnos, a small rocky Greek island of 20,000 inhabitants began before Troy fell and has persisted till this very day. Kalymnians have dived for sponges for as long as man can remember. Generations have come and gone, empires have been won and lost, the world has known revolutions and wars—and through it all the Kalymnian has taken his boats out. Unheralded and unpublicized, the story of the island has persisted down through some fifty centuries.
The Sponge Divers of Kalymnos
Diver collecting and returning to the surface with a dive bag full of newly picked sponges.
Diver just surfacing from his dive. The man sitting with one leg slung over the side is the next diver. Once a diver returns from the depths, his helmet is rinsed out and clamped onto the next manâ€™s dive suit.
In ancient times, the divers dived naked. Such writers as Oppian, Aristotle and Pliny described them at work. A diver first put drops of olive oil in his ears and an oil-soaked sponge in his mouth. Then he tied a rope around his middle and went down with only two tools in his hands: a knife and a heavy stone. As he plummeted down his ears began to pain. He hit bottom and spat out the oil, which rose up all around him, lighting up the waters. Then he knifed a sponge from the rocks, squeezed out its spores (to insure future growth), and released the stone (which was attached to a line) and powered back up to the surface with bursting lungs. The sponge-divers continued diving naked until the 1870s, when a French scientific diving expedition under Dr. Alphonse Gal arrived and recruited a group of Kalymnians to test a diving suit called the Aerophore, invented by Roquayrol and Denayrouze.
The diver wore an air reservoir strapped to his back which received air that was forced down through a pipe. On the reservoir was a regulator that allowed air to pass through a rubber tube into a mouthpiece, and the air came out at the correct hydrostatic pressure for every depth. Moreover, the diver could detach the pump line and walk about freely for a short while. The Aerophore was so advanced that the development of all modern diving gear can be traced back directly to it. The introduction of the Aerophore not only revolutionized the sponge industry but nearly started a civil war on Kalymnos. The men who first used the new equipment returned with such huge harvests of sponges that the other divers erupted into violence. Luddite-type riots ensued in which traditionalists smashed all the diving equipment they could and beat up the men who used it. Nonetheless, within a short
The Sponge Divers of Kalymnos
Most divers commonly thought that if you didn’t reach immediately for a cigarette once you were safely back on board, it was a sign that you might have nitrogen poisoning (the bends).
time, hundreds of sponge-divers were using diving apparatuses of one kind or another. Unfortunately, much of the equipment used in subsequent years was either technically inferior to the Aerophore or was utilized by men without sufficient training and instruction. As a result, many of the divers were stricken with decompression sickness, better known as the bends. The nitrogen bubbles that remained in their system, usually because they had remained below too long or ascended too rapidly, struck with devastating effect. Dozens of divers died and many more were paralyzed. More riots broke out, most of them led by the divers’ wives and mothers, but the men still kept going to sea, spurred by the promise of high pay offered by the sponge merchants. “The safest way of diving is with air bottles on your back,” said one of the divers I met on Kalymnos. “It’s also good to have a depth-gauge so that you can
control your ascent yourself. But all that equipment is expensive in Greece. Few sponge-divers can afford it. Also, it’s preferable to work in a full suit and lead shoes because of the strong currents in the Aegean.” Kalymnos no longer lives solely on sponges; the twin onslaughts of synthetic sponges and mass tourism have changed all that. The former reduced the world-wide demand for natural sponges; the latter made it unnecessary for most of the islanders to continue diving for a living. Kalymnos is not a major Aegean tourist destination, but it draws sufficient numbers to keep most of its inhabitants landbound. Even so, a few hardy captains and crew still follow the traditional Kalymnian way, if only because diving for sponges is in their blood. It also helps that certain industrial processes require natural sponges, and that many people realize that no synthetic sponge can come close to matching the strength and resiliency
Above: Bag full of cleaned and trimmed sponges. These bags are eventually returned to the home island (Kalymnos) and further bleached and processed. Below: Preparing to dive.
The Sponge Divers of Kalymnos
Above: Islander youth in native costume during a ceremony marking the departure of the sponge boats right after Easter. The kids sing and dance and a priest will bless the boats and men. Below: Completing the final processing of the sponges. They are sorted by size and quality. (These two photos courtesy of the The Greek National Tourist Organization)
Willard Manus of the real thing. In previous years, the sponge fleet traveled as far as Libya to hunt for sponges. Today the divers are restricted to Greek waters. They leave their beautiful island with its cube-like, quilt-colored houses dug precariously into the bare flanks of the hills ringing the harbor and head toward Rhodes and Crete, Santorini and Tilos. For seven months it will be the same. The day will begin at 5.30 a.m., before sunrise, when the air is cool, the light dust-grey. Someone on the deposito, mother ship of the fleet of diving boats, gets breakfast ready: coffee and a hunk of paximade (hardtack). Then the boats head out to sea, fanning out to different areas. The captain, who has advanced each diver about five thousand dollars and paid for the provisions and licenses, stands at the softly-rocking prow, checking his marine charts, looking down into the sea through a glass-bottomed bucket called a yalass. When he spots a promising bed, the first diver suits up and goes over the side, signal rope and air line trailing. The boat moves in a slow, tight circle under
the morning sun. While one diver is down, another begins suiting up. The boy on the air line methodically calls out the diver’s depth, and the colazaris, the sailor in charge of the signal rope, relays the information down to the diver (the newer dive helmets come equipped with a walkie-talkie). Each diver makes three or four dives a day, staying down from 20 minutes to an hour each time. After ascending, the diver empties his bag of sponges on the deck. The coral-encrusted black blobs are then trampled on with bare feet and rinsed in sea water. After being pierced with a thick steel needle, threaded on a length of rope and tossed over the side to be washed further by the sea, they are scrubbed and trimmed, and ultimately put in sacks to be delivered by the deposito to Kalymnos. And so it goes. Monotony, exhaustion, frayed tempers, loneliness—this is what the divers endure at sea. “No ordeal is more terrifying than that of the sponge-divers and no labor more arduous for men,” wrote Oppian back in the third century A.D. It is no different today.
Willard Manus is a novelist and playwright as well as a journalist. His new play, Maxwell Street, just had its world premiere run in Los Angeles. His best known book is Mott the Hoople, the novel from which the 70s British rock band took its name. He lived for many years on the island of Rhodes and has written a memoir about that experience, This Way to Paradise – Dancing on the Tables. His young-adult novel about the adventures of an American lad sailing ‘round the Greek islands, A Dog Called Leka was a 2007 Eric Hoffer Award winner. Manus’s latest novel, Love Under Agean Skies, was recently published as an E-book (Kindle only) by Amazon. The author can be reached at email@example.com.
Robert MacNeil is a Canadian born, Toronto based professional photographer. Robert has had a lifelong love of the photograph, ever since his first camera at age 5. The desire and passion has only grown over the years to create images that make people think and wonder. Originally Robert shot only as a hobby until last year when he was asked to submit a photo to a New York gallery. Robert has made up for lost time as he has appeared in almost 2 dozen magazines around the world. He is a favorite in the New York and London photography scenes. To see more of Robertâ€™s work please visit www.robmacneil.com
PILGRIMAGE Yelizaveta P. Renfro
set out with my son to visit a friend in late spring. Though I could make the walk myself in five minutes, we spend a quarter of an hour getting there, meandering along the pathway that cuts across a small college campus, loitering by the pond to see ducks, collecting stones and dandelions. My son, who is three, sets the pace and the agenda. We’ll get where we’re going eventually. But first, we need to investigate a clump of bluets and select an appropriate stick for poking the damp earth. We need to do a fair amount of prodding and study a beetle traversing the sidewalk before we finally cross the busy street and head out across the campus’s parking lot. We’re nearly there. The location is not especially promising, at least not as it appears now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It’s near the intersection of two busy roads, one of them four lanes across; the traffic is nearly constant. We cross the parking lot, paved and flat, unrolling gracelessly all around us. On the far edge of the lot, in a small belt of greenery stands our friend: a white oak. There are facts that can be known about this
Photo by author
tree. For example: it has a circumference of 23.5 feet with a diameter of nearly 7.5 feet, is 78 feet tall, and has an average spread of 115 feet. A local tree expert told me the tree is probably more than 300 years old. It’s the Connecticut state co-champion white oak, meaning it’s one of the two largest white oaks currently growing in the state. But these facts speak little to the majesty of this tree, its massive, bulbous trunk, its broad, lush crown. These facts say nothing about the way in which the tree has unfurled one of its gnarled limbs downward, the way in which the limb forks just above my head, sending two branches to the ground, where they seem to repose as if they had become too heavy for the tree to hold aloft. We are grateful to have discovered such a friend, and so close to our house. It gives us a destination we don’t have to get into a car in order to reach. This tree lives with us, in our neighborhood. We have visited it many times, and each visit is different. This time, my son collects sticks and makes circuits around the tree’s trunk. He sits on a root to eat his apple. He straddles one of the branches that rests on the ground
Yelizaveta P. Renfro and looks up at the canopy above him. Sometimes, we do nothing more than sit with this tree, and then we turn around and head back. Sometimes we talk about the tree, and other times, like today, we say little. Last fall, we took one of the tree’s acorns home and planted it in a pot where it sprouted. In The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, Gary Paul Nabhan writes, “I’ve come to realize that a few intimate places mean more to my children, and to others, than all the glorious panoramas I could ever show them.” In the past year, since we moved here, this tree has become an intimate
begin to suspect that the trees themselves have forgotten how to reproduce, or perhaps we’ve forgotten how they do it, or we simply can’t quite have faith in any process that has not been mediated by human beings. “Yes, it’s amazing,” I finally said, but I knew we weren’t talking about the same thing at all. Our seedling truly was amazing, but not because it was so far-fetched that it belonged in a book of fairy tales or world records. It was amazing because every time an oak sprouts from an acorn, we should be amazed. This is not the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not kind of amazing, but the giving birth to a child kind of amazing: com-
For a moment, I felt the ground give under me, as though suddenly finding myself in a world where oak trees no longer sprouted from acorns place—for my son, for my six-year-old daughter, and for me. An acquaintance saw our oak seedling growing in a pot on our windowsill and asked about it. I told her that it was the offspring of a 300-year-old tree, that we brought an acorn home and simply stuck it in a pot. “But isn’t that amazing?” she gasped. “Yes,” I agreed. “I mean, isn’t that something you only read about in a book? Growing a tree from an acorn?” continued my college-educated acquaintance. And I simply didn’t know what to say. For a moment, I felt the ground give under me, as though suddenly finding myself in a world where oak trees no longer sprouted from acorns—and yet sometimes it seems that very nearly, we do live in such a world. We are so removed from nature that our foods are genetically modified and processed until they resemble no part of a plant or an animal, seeds are patented by corporations, and trees come from nurseries where they have been bred for certain characteristics or where budstock has been grafted to rootstock, two trees joined into one. It’s no wonder, then, that we might
mon, expected, but amazing nonetheless. This is the kind of amazing I’m talking about: back in the early fall, my son, not yet three, scooped up the first crimson leaf he found on the ground— the very first leaf of fall—and ran to me, holding it out, crying, “Mom, we must be on an autumn walk!” The proof was right there, in his hand. He couldn’t remember the previous fall—when he was not even two—but he knew about autumn walks from the stories I told him and the books we read, and now he was experiencing it for what felt to him like the first time. And he was amazed. Or my daughter, running to me in rapture, crying, “Mom, the ducks are back!” after spotting the male and female mallard pair in our backyard: that kind of amazing. “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” writes Rachel Carson, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.” And yet the relationship is reciprocal, too; my children teach me. I wouldn’t be growing a seedling in a pot or paying regular visits to a tree if I didn’t have children. As an adult, I find I need the companionship of my children to rediscover
this sense of wonder. For a decade I spent so much time inside of classrooms and offices that I very nearly forgot how to be amazed. In Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv writes of the critical importance of nature in children’s lives. “In our bones we need the natural curves of hills, the scent of chaparral, the whisper of pines, the possibility of wildness,” he writes. “We require these patches of nature for our mental health and our spiritual resilience.” At the Institute for Child and Adolescent Development’s Therapeutic Garden in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Louv writes, traumatized children are given the opportunity to work through their problems in a natural setting. “We have a small hill, a mound—and for one kid at a certain point in therapy it was a grave; for another, it was the belly of a pregnant woman,” says Sebastiano Santostefano, director of the institute. “The point is obvious: children interpret and give meaning to a piece of landscape, and the same piece can be interpreted differently.” I grew up in the shadow of the Box Springs Mountains in Riverside, California. They are not especially impressive as mountains go, the highest peak just over 3,000 feet, but they were my own, practically in my backyard. The trailhead to my favorite peak, Sugarloaf, was a five-minute walk from my house. I climbed it countless times, and I also gazed at it from my elementary school playground, day after day, year after year. Even today, its graceful silhouette against the sky seems a reflection, somehow, of me, of my mental landscape, and of all the different people I ever was. Those mountains are still a part of who I am, even separated by time and geography. It was the depth of my experience in that one place, not breadth of experience over vast panoramas, that had a profound effect on me. And so, instead of driving countless hours to look at a million trees, we visit just one. Getting to know this one tree is our project, for now. My children, I believe, will remember this tree. It will mean something to them. D.H. Lawrence writes, “Poor creatures that we are, we crave for experience, yet we are like flies that crawl on the pure and transparent mucous-paper in which the world like a bon-bon is wrapped so carefully
bamboo in the rain the garcinia man cuts deep into my dreaming
apple genome I decode into petals
Alan Summers has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University; and is a Japan Times award-winning writer, where his work is translated into 15 languages. A Children?s Christmas story, and The Kigo Lab (Western season words into fullblown kigo as eco-critical writing) take up most of his time.
Yelizaveta P. Renfro that we can never get at it, though we see it there all the time as we move about it, apparently in contact, but actually as far removed as if it were the moon.” He continues: “On the superficies, horizontally, we’ve been everywhere and done everything, we know all about it. Yet the more we know, superficially, the less we penetrate, vertically. It’s all very well skimming across the surface of the ocean and saying you know all about the sea.” It’s precisely this vertical penetration of one place—rather than the skimming across many surfaces—that I am seeking. I could show my children stunning wildlife programs, I could take them to an IMAX, I could offer them brilliant color photographs in books, I could drive them hundreds of miles, but none of that is the same as sitting with your back against a tree, as collecting acorns, as climbing and feeling the rough bark against your skin, as holding up your hand to compare it to the lobed leaf of an oak. Right here—this tree—tears through the transparent mucous-paper. Or at least that is my hope. I don’t want the knowledge of what it means for a tree to grow from an acorn to be something my children glean from a book. I want my son to perceive a tree as a companion, as a living being worth knowing and worth spending time with. I want nature to infuse and to inform how my daughter thinks about and lives in the world. I want them both to read this tree—not the word on a page, but the living being. In his recent essay, “Wonderlust,” Tony Hiss writes of an experience he calls deep travel: “In an instant, our sense of the here and now that we’re a part of expands exponentially, and everything around us is so vivid and intensely experienced that it’s like waking up while already awake.” Deep travel, he adds, is “an ancient though underappreciated human ability built into all of us, one of the bedrock components of human intelligence.” The point of deep travel is not to cover great geographic distances but to travel deeply into a single experience, wherever we are, even in our own backyard or neighborhood. “Deep travel is not so much the enemy of the ordinary as it is an understanding that when you start to look closely there is no ordinary,” he writes. He describes experiencing
a moment of deep travel on a New York City street when he glimpsed a peregrine falcon and was mentally transported to the peregrines’ arrival in New York over 10,000 years ago. In my own deep travel narrative, I see the busy streets, the parking lot, the nearby basketball court and baseball field, the college campus, the rows of colonial houses disappear, and suddenly I am standing in a clearing in the wild; I see a squirrel, fleeing from a hawk, dropping an acorn, and I see the acorn sprouting, unfurling its three lobed leaves, a twin of its child now growing on our windowsill; I watch its patient reaching upward, and I see the sun racing across the sky, the moon waxing and waning and scuttling past, the gallop of the seasons, and the tree’s slow, deep progress, a yearning for life that is unceasing, its adherence to its mission to be a tree unwavering. I tell my children the story I have imagined. “Once there was a squirrel scampering across a meadow,” I begin. They sit with me, at the base of the tree, and they listen. I hold my son up to peer into the hole in the tree’s trunk so he can see its hollow center. I wonder at his own deep travel, largely incommunicable, as he gazes warily into the great dark depth of the tree. Perhaps today for him the tree is a mute matron who holds secrets in her deep apron pocket. And to my daughter, as she climbs high up in the branches, the tree is something else: a challenge to her body, a way to be high in the world. And maybe in the crooked curve of a branch from a vantage point I cannot share she sees something of herself, the contour of the limb against sky, the perfect expression of what it means to be a six-year-old girl alive on the earth on this day. Yes, we are guilty of anthropomorphizing. But at least we are paying attention; we are trying to know this other life. The only way we know anything is through the lens of ourselves, especially when we are children. And if we are to maintain a lifelong interest in the fate of the earth, we must forge these emotional connections as children. So when I say to my daughter, “Tell me a story,” and she begins, “Once upon a time there was a tree that grew all by itself, and it was lonely,” I don’t stop to question whether a tree can feel
loneliness. Instead, I let her lose herself in her narrative—or rather, find herself. “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel,” writes Rachel Carson. “If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and
the article, “studies show multitasking on the Internet can make you forget how to read human emotions.” Online multitaskers shown pictures of faces found it difficult to identify the emotions expressed by those faces. When those multitaskers heard stories read to them, they had difficulty identifying the emotions of
The only way we know anything is through the lens of ourselves, especially when we are children. wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.” Our deep travel is a quest for feeling, for connecting with the earth. We tell stories about the tree, about its origins and about what it might have witnessed in three centuries of living. We draw a map of our neighborhood, our house in one corner and the tree in the opposite corner, marking the places that matter, creating a narrative as we go: school bus stop, Dad’s bus stop, pond, birches, Shannon’s house, the place we saw a crane, the place we saw a frog, the place we met a greyhound, the place we played in the snow. We bring the camera and take many photographs of the tree. Then we bring paper and pens, and we sketch the tree. These are all paths to deep travel. These are all ways of knowing the tree. One day, my daughter sits high up in the branches, working on a drawing. “The tree is like a friend, isn’t it?” I say to her. It’s the first time I’ve voiced this thought out loud. She doesn’t even look up from her work. “Mom,” she says. “It is a friend. There’s no like about it.” In a CNN article, I learn about a phenomenon termed popcorn brain: “The worry is that life online is giving us what researcher, David Levy, calls ‘popcorn brain’— a brain so accustomed to the constant stimulation of electronic multitasking that we’re unfit for life offline, where things pop at a much slower pace.” According to
the people in the stories and also struggled to identify what they would do to make the people feel better. I have popcorn brain on my mind one day when I take my daughter to visit the tree. We bring a flashlight with us because we’ve been planning to get a better look at the tree’s hollow core. It just so happens that I have something else on my mind as well. My sister’s longtime boyfriend has been hospitalized in California with a serious heart condition. As we walk, I explain to my daughter that Keith is in the hospital with a sick heart; I tell her that the doctors are trying to make him well. The discussion makes both of us anxious. As we approach the tree across the parking lot, I feel relief. It helps to see our old friend standing there. My daughter takes the flashlight and for a long time peers into the tree’s heart. I watch her, and I look at the tree, and I understand that many terrible things have happened in the world in the last three centuries, but many wonderful things have happened, too—like this tree. This tree keeps happening, every day. It is an occurrence in the world—one that we tend to overlook because it is too common or its countless daily transformations too imperceptible. We walk back, not talking much. I wonder what connections—if any—my daughter has made between looking into the tree’s heart and Keith’s heart, but I don’t ask. I am eager to get home, back to my computer. Ironically, I am getting most of my information about Keith’s condition from Facebook. I hope this fact doesn’t make me care less—or make me forget what to feel. Visiting the tree is my antidote to my
Yelizaveta P. Renfro online life. There’s no news on Facebook. We don’t yet know the outcome of all this, Keith’s long-term prognosis, the condition of his heart. We don’t yet know how the story will end, but it has now become part of our ever-deepening narrative about the tree. “Let’s go see our old friend,” says my daughter. Her brother climbs into his wagon and we set out. We take turns pulling him. We collect leaves. We press them and draw them and trace them, and now we make rubbings, using the side of a crayon to bring out the leaf ’s veins on a sheet of paper. My son is particularly entranced with this project. From up in the tree, eight feet above my head, my daughter lets loose a stream of meditations. “Do you think this tree knows who we are? Maybe it does. Who can say what a tree knows?” “It’s a hollowed-out tree, which means two things: it’s very old, and it’s a fairy world. Fairies can fly in but humans can’t.” “Trees are like people. Sometimes they get sick or they get injured and die, but sometimes they just get old and die for no reason except that they’re old.” We have come here in winter when the tree was barricaded behind a mountain of dirty snow left by the snowplows that cleared the parking lot. We have come in the rain and felt the spongy dampness of wet bark, wondering at the tree’s capacity to endure wetness and dryness, heat and cold. We have studied the lichens that suddenly bloomed in lurid greens on the damp bark. Sometimes the children go to the tree with their father, who introduces them to different ways of seeing. We have plans to return many times. We will go at sunset and at dawn, and maybe once under a full moon to see the slippery light trails on the greenblack leaves, our only task to pay attention to this one experience, trying to achieve the opposite of popcorn brain—a process more akin to a long, slow rising or a fermentation. Back at home, we take on the project of transplanting our seedling to our backyard. My son and I
spend a whole morning digging and exploring the soil. He finds hosts of earthworms, slugs, and even a spider with an egg sack. Our progress is so slow it will take us another morning or two to get the seedling in the ground. My son reminds me that living is always the journey, not the arrival. Where are we going anyway? Just back to this earth. If the seedling grows, it will have meaning for as long as we are here, and we will remember it when we leave. And if the seedling dies, there will be meaning in that, too. Hermann Hesse writes that from trees he’s learned that “home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.” We have lived here, near this white oak, for only a year. We were all born elsewhere, my children half a country away, I in Europe, their father in Asia. And we need this tree. We need it because it hasn’t gone anywhere for three centuries. We need this tree because my daughter has lived in four different cities in her six years, and my son has lived in three cities in as many years. We need this tree because in our former city we left behind two trees, a silver maple and a pin oak, that we loved very much. We need this tree because we have already left so much of ourselves behind. We have already loved and left so many trees. This oak shows us, by standing here for so long, that wherever we find ourselves is home, or should be. “One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” writes Rachel Carson, urging us, in her own words, to engage in deep travel. Maybe, finally, seeking home is the most profound form of deep travel. It is a seeking of connections, of the native, the familiar and the familial. Approaching our friend across the parking lot, my heart quickens, and my daughter’s pace picks up. I have to remind her to watch for cars, or else she would rush heedlessly to the tree, as though to a lover’s arms, launching herself into its branches. I am reminded of Hesse’s words: “Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.” We
find ourselves in the presence of something great. In The Geography of Childhood, Stephen Trimble writes, “In creating a stage for our children’s stories, we make choices. We stake out the geographies of their childhoods in home landscapes, consciously or unconsciously. To do so attentively begins by thinking as a native of a region. We become part of a particular world of earth and plants and animals and humans.” And I hope that my children, recently transplanted,
Pilgrimage are becoming natives—to this place, and to every place they will ever live. Heading homeward, we look back at the tree one last time, etched darkly against the gloaming sky. Goodbye, friend. We look upon you as though for the first time, and the last. And each time we come may it be like the first and the last. And in coming to you, may we always come home.
Yelizaveta P. Renfro is the author of a collection of short stories, A Catalogue of Everything in the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2010), winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, North American Review, Colorado Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, South Dakota Review, Witness, Reader’s Digest, Blue Mesa Review, Parcel, Adanna, Fourth River, Bayou Magazine, Untamed Ink, So to Speak, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from George Mason University and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska. Born in the former Soviet Union, she has lived in California, Virginia, Nebraska, and Connecticut. Her virtual home is: chasingsamaras.blogspot.com.
LOST Mac Greene
fter 50 years of hiking the Appalachians, you would think that I had seen everything: Overlooks hanging in the sky over green valleys, thunderstorms rolling in from the west like freight trains, a raven flying from mountain to mountain with slow echoing croaks, copperheads, a black bear emaciated in the spring ripping my backpack out of a tree, eating peanut butter and Triscuits. But now my gimpy leg is gimpier and my knees are getting rusty. So the kids leave me behind, farther and farther. We used to have a rule, that at every trail intersection the impetuous youth would wait for the doddering elders, but teenagers and rules are an uncertain combination. Last fall, I got to an intersection and no one was there, but the white diamond trail was well-trodden and wide, leading west. I worked my way up the side of a mountain for a mile or so, past a burbling stream, a rock like a great cruise ship jutting into the ocean of air above the valley, birds peeping, trees whooshing in their ponderous dances. Suddenly there was a crescendo of silence behind the restless semi-quietude of the forest. I shivered in a cool pocket of loneliness.
all around nowhere to be seen rising trill of the parula I turned back, down where I had so laboriously gone up, past the creek and the rock formation, hurrying but careful not to twist my ankle or slip in the muddy patches. At the intersection, I saw the white diamonds heading east on a slimmer trail partially hidden by tall grass. Soon enough the teenagers were ribbing the old man. On these hikes I never get to rest, because I show up after they have been waiting for 10 or 15 minutes, and they take off as soon as I get there. But little resentments and discomforts were drowned this day in the immense relief that I could feel my family again. The heart connection was back in range. I took my place at the back of the pack, and it was good. talking as if nothing has changed when everything has
Mac Greene started hitchhiking west from the DC suburbs to the Appalachian Trail at the age of 14, and later took his sons for a month in Dolly Sods, WV every summer. Now itâ€™s Red River Gorge in east Kentucky every fall. In his day job he is a clinical psychologist, specializing in teenagers and gender issues. He hopes to become an â€œemerging writer.â€?
sand dollar in hand she asks me who painted this? how do I answer?
maple seed pods twin propellers twirling silent landing
day grayed with rain cardinal alights in pine scarlet flash
SuzAnne C. Cole has had haiku published in Potpourri, Piedmont Literary Review, Bear Creek Haiku, Heron Quarterly, USA Today, Texas Poetry Calendar, Sol, Nite-Writers International Literary Journal, Point Judith Light, and Cicada and tanka and haibun in Lynx. Her work has been anthologized in Prairie Sunset: An International Haiku Anthology. Her haiku was also a winner in the Suruga-Baika Literary Festival in Japan.
POWDER, GUNS, and YOGA Words and Photos by Sophie Nicholson
t was obvious from the moment that we woke that we were in for something memorable: after days of calm and temperate conditions we were right in the middle of a huge storm and it was blowing dogs off chains to say the least. I awoke several times during the night, pulled the blinds apart, decided that it was far too scary and resolved that I would be going nowhere in the morning. Three hours later and having undergone a dramatic U-
turn in policy of which a politician would be proud, I found myself sitting having breakfast, fully kitted up in my skiwear. The glint in the guidesâ€™ eyes suggested that they were expecting a bomber day out in the powder. You could smell the anticipation in the air, or maybe it was the giant cups of coffee and huge plates of eggs, pancakes, bacon, waffles and sausageâ€Śwhatever it was, it was good stuff.
It was March, the middle of Europe’s most epic ski season in generations, and I was in Southern Oregon to cat ski Mt Bailey. When telling this story to a European audience, what normally happens at this point is that someone will interject. It usually goes like this … “the snow was amazing in Europe, why on earth did you want to go to the States?” which is very often promptly followed up with “wait - where? Mt Bailey? Never heard of it…” and finally “where the hell is Oregon anyway?” We Europeans may have done a fine job in carving ourselves an international reputation for being supremely clever, chic and worldly but apparently there are still a few things that remain a mystery to us. The list includes the following: decent customer service, cheap petrol, rearing a Wimbledon Champion, and as it would appear, anything to do with the State of Oregon. So how was it that a single girl from Scotland happened to find herself here, thousands of miles from home, about to ski a mountain no one outside of the US seems to have heard of, and in a state most Europeans would
struggle to even put on the map? You may well ask and as you may well imagine, there’s a wee bit of a story…… The truth is, as is the case with much in my life, my relationship with Oregon didn’t grow out of anything normal or average. Whereas most people might choose a destination based on word of mouth recommendation or an inspiring article stumbled upon in a travel magazine, my introduction to Oregon was based on far more drama than that. In 2009, my life was in some kind of stereotypical mid-30’s crisis, so at the end of a turbulent year the well-paid job was binned, the lease on the beautiful country cottage terminated, and the long-term dysfunctional relationship finally kicked into touch. It was time for a change and as I had already decided that I would save buying a motorbike for my midlife crisis, I bought a plane ticket to the States instead. Caution was thrown to the wind and as Portland was where my best chatting and drinking buddy lived, it seemed like the obvious first stop on the life change express.
Powder, Guns, and Yoga
I came to Oregon with no agenda, yet left astounded. It is truly an exceptional place and the landscape itself is as varied as the people who live there. The forests of the south are home to real rednecks complete with guns and gums, the mountains around Bend attract outdoor junkies who look like they’ve just abseiled straight out of a Patagonia catalogue, and the hip, trendy and impossibly cool folks that inhabit Portland are so notoriously creative and bohemian that an entire TV series has been created to simultaneously celebrate and mock the city’s cutting edge culture. For someone who came looking to experience new things, I had inadvertently stumbled upon the perfect location from which to start my own adventure. I honestly think Portland has it all and particularly from an outdoor perspective: I mean honestly, challenge you to tell me where else in the world you can ski, mountain bike and surf in one day? Admittedly even in Oregon, this is geographically not exactly easy to accomplish, but the committed hardcore outdoor enthusiasts of Oregon do it. This is why they choose to live here – variety such as this offers opportunity, and where opportunity exists, great things can be achieved. This was certainly the case in terms of the way my life ended up playing itself out in 2010. This was a year of achieving great things indeed, the most memorable of which included living in a mountain hut in the Canadian Rockies and falling in lust with a mountain guide, hiking through the Himalayas in Nepal as the sole female on an aid-giving trek, climbing high peaks in Chamonix with the next generation of French Alpine stars, and finally and most significantly finding true love and moving to the French Alps to live with my bearded mountain man. This was also the year that I started writing and it was writing that brought me back to Oregon. 2010 was a stop gap, a taster if you will, and I had left determined to return. Earlier this year that goal became a reality as I found myself on my way back in an adventure sports/travel journalist capacity with a plan in hand: to experience as much as Oregon could offer during 18 days in the month of March. The time of year of my visit dictated that summer activities of any kind were strictly off the menu but thankfully skiing, backcountry skiing, snowmobiling
Powder, Guns, and Yoga
and cat skiing were not. Playing in the snow and the mountains are by far my favourite things in life and I was keen to experience what it would be like to ski the Cascades. Whilst they are not exactly huge in global standards, they are in fact pretty unique as they are volcanoes. This is something we really do not have in Europe and as you may have realised by now, I like to do things a little differently so the appeal was considerable. After a couple of days ripping up the pistes on Mt. Hood, we headed south to Bend and Mt. Bachelor and ladies and gentlemen, if ever I’ve been to a place that felt like home then this was truly it. It wasn’t just the mountains or the awesome powder snow that did it for me. Nor was it just the amazing brew pubs, cool coffee shops and trendy yet hugely welcoming restaurants found in Downtown Bend that floated my boat. It wasn’t even the reports of 300-plus days of sunshine a year in this neck of the woods. It goes without saying that all of this went a long way to making Bend my version of Shangri La but the key and most important ingredient of all was the people. Living in the French Alps can mean that my day-to-day existence generally involves being ignored, tolerated or misunderstood at best. Not exactly an atmosphere conducive to invoking a sense of belonging I have to say, so on our second night in Bend when I found myself sitting around a table of about a dozen local climbers, backcountry skiers, mountain bikers, and rafters I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Over fantastic pints of locally brewed beer, mutual friends were discussed, plans for games in the mountains made, and friendships consolidated forever. Jobs were irrelevant, a passion for the outdoors compulsory – sometimes relationships really can be that simple. The thing is, it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, it is the people that make a place and it is those characters you encounter who will dictate your memories of an experience. The birds and blokes of Bend were what are often amusingly referred to in the UK as PLU’s (People Like Us) and as such will always have a special place in my heart. Life-punctuating moments however are very often born out of experiencing things that are completely different to what you are
used to. Coming across places, people or attitudes and ideas that are new to your radar forces you to grow – it’s all about that diversity thing again and how rewarding it is to mix it up. When we moved southwards from Bend we had no idea that we were about to experience one of those days that can define your existence on this planet. If diversity is one of Oregon’s most wonderful traits then it was here in abundance, and the group that we cat skied with at Mt Bailey truly encapsulated this in all its glorious craziness! As bountiful breakfasts were shovelled down stomachs that had yet to adapt to the eye-reddeningly early hour, it became pretty clear from the off that we were with an “eclectic” group. Two guys, one girl and a girl that looked like a guy. The first girl was from Portland as it turned out - a mother of two, yoga fanatic and closet Metallica fan whose classic comment after the first run was… “I think of myself as a snowboarder first, and a human being second.” Really??!! The first guy was an ex-Special Forces soldier with biceps the size of his ego who now ran a gym in Portland and described himself
as “about to become very famous” due to some innovative fitness fad he had invented with kettlebells. At this point my Scottish bloke asked him what kind of music he played on his kettlebells – let’s just say, different worlds… The other girl as it turned out was one of kettlebell boy’s fitness instructors at the gym. The last guy to make up this fantastic four was perhaps the most random of the lot. Describing himself as a “big mountain rider” (as it turned out later he had never boarded anywhere other than on the pistes of Mount Hood), his most endearing quality was his love of semi-automatic weapons - and using them. With an international arms dealer for a father, he probably didn’t have much of a chance so he fulfilled his genetic destiny and now runs a Blackwater-esque operation in the Middle East and had just returned from a holiday to the Amazon where he had been hunting jaguars. At this point one of the ski guides piped up that he had also recently been in the Amazon. The difference being that he had been there visiting a jaguar preserve…oh the hilarity. But wait, there’s more…by far the most simultaneously amusing
and disturbing revelation of the day was what Blackwater boy was packing in his backpack: Water? Check. Snacks? Check. Spare gloves? Check. Handgun? check. HANDGUN??!! Yes, apparently so. One can only presume that should a snowflake have turned bad-ass, I’d have been thankful to have him onboard. As it was, I wasn’t sure how I felt – so I just laughed, skied waistdeep powder then drank beer. Oh America, God bless you for all your wonderful weirdness. And Oregon bless you for encapsulating this all-in-one state so that I didn’t have to murder
Powder, Guns, and Yoga
thousands of polar bears by flying all over the place to experience this range of diversity. The trip, and in particular, this day, will stay in my memory forever so to all of those who rode the cat in Southern Oregon that day in March 2012, thank you for being the most bizarre, fun, and hilarious group to share what was the best snow I have ever skied. And to Oregon itself: I’m not done with you yet and hope next time to return in summertime so don’t go changing, or as they say in Portland, ‘Keep it Weird.’ A la prochaine…
Sophie Nicholson is an adventure sports/travel journalist based in the Haute Savoie region of the French Alps. She is passionate about ski touring, rock climbing, mountaineering, hiking, road biking and trail running - basically anything that involves being in the outdoors. When she is not being active or writing she is either planning the next trip or indulging her other great loves - Cadbury’s Creme Eggs, party food and Prosecco.
OPEN WATER Carolyn Gray
t was our first day of open-water SCUBA certification off the coast of Key Largo. We had practiced in the hotel’s pool for two days, but it was different looking to the horizon and seeing nothing but ocean, entrusting my life to a machine. My partner and I were the first pair in the water because I didn’t need to be carried. I took my prosthetic arm off and left it in the boat. I set it on a bench out of the sunlight to avoid tanning and melting. I zipped my wetsuit and tightened my BCD. Once Kristina, my dive partner and our hospital’s physical therapist, had secured the tank on my back, I slid off the edge and into the water with a scissor kick. I bobbed next to her. The waves splashed against my face. I choked on the water, swallowing some and spitting out the rest. It tasted like pickles. We waited for the other divers to join us. Hannah, from Chicago, was paralyzed in a car accident. Jeff, from Colorado, was paralyzed after a dangerous dive into shallow water. Dan, from North Dakota, never had a left leg. I never had a right arm. Kelly was a paraplegic, too, but didn’t want to talk about it.
On that first dive there were no certification tests to complete in the open water. No checking for malfunctioning equipment, no early surfacing nor intentional flooding of a dive mask. Our group would check these tasks off our list later, during dives two through five. Now our only job was to get comfortable underwater, comfortable with the landscape that was hidden under the blanket of metallic gray at sea level. On land, our thirty-pound tanks were cumbersome. We had to attach them to our backs while seated because of the weight. But when submerged, they became weightless. They became the thing that would sustain us, keep us alive. I still have my first prosthetic arm. It’s about the length of a can of Coke and its lacquered wood is slippery. I was fitted for it when I was one. It’s not like my newer arms. It was made strictly for function, with a metal hook. It was to make life easier in the first few years; to get used to how the doctors said my life would be: “different, a challenge.” My mom remembers trying to get me to wear that first arm. It was a chore, she tells
me. I can’t remember using it. I see pictures but this isn’t the same. I wish I could remember what it was like, wearing it every day. I wonder if it was helpful. The water was 85 degrees but still refreshing as it spilled over my face. My hands, cheeks, and feet were the only parts of my body exposed, but the cool moisture permeated the wetsuit, dampening my skin. The water became calm as I fell from the waves. Specks of microorganisms floated around us. They glittered in the sunlight that cut through the water in diagonal bands. The oxygen filtering through my regulator made me sound – and even feel – like Darth Vader, part machine, alive only because of the heavy breathing of the tank. Each breath required assistance. Forty feet below sea level we kneeled on the cool, spongy sand. I got used to hearing my own breath, hearing others’. It was the only thing I could hear underwater aside from the hiss of oxygen escaping from my tank in a stream of tiny bubbles that marched toward the surface. Even with the weights
Formed by Water
we wanted to explore the reef first. Dan and I, along with our buddies, moved faster than the other pairs because we could use flippers instead of paddling with our arms only. The four of us stayed a foot above the coral and kept our arms at our sides so we wouldn’t disturb the fish. The coral was bright shades of yellow, orange, red, purple, and green. Sponges and anemones had broken up some sections, and the anemones’ thin arms swayed with the current. Butterflyfish, Spadefish and Spanish Hogfish swam around us. There were other fish that I couldn’t identify. Some of them had stripes of electric blue and fuchsia across their bodies and were as thin as pencils. My favorite fish were the Queen Angelfish. They swam alone, but the neon blue vertical stripes on the canvas of neon navy captured your gaze instantly. They were as big as an outstretched hand, and their fins shone even brighter when they swam through pockets of light. The parrotfish kept close to the reefs, and their bodies looked like missiles. Some were lime green with yellow dots the size of pin pricks, while others were neon blues with green
Mark wrote on his waterproof clipboard: Explore! – Back here one hour. Do not leave your buddy. around my waist, I had to let more air out of my BCD to stay grounded. Mark, our dive instructor, gave us an “okay” sign for congratulations and motioned to the patchwork of coral surrounding our small bit of sand that was clear of seaweed. Some of the coral around us was smooth and brightly colored. Others were taupe and textured like a bouquet of pine needles. Mark wrote on his waterproof clipboard: “Explore! – Back here one hour. Do not leave your buddy.” Aside from signing, the clipboard was the only way for us to communicate. In signs, thumbs up meant you wanted to ascend, and an okay sign meant “good.” Knowing your signs is one of the most important parts of SCUBA training. Kristina and I had agreed before we dived that
streaks. Other parrotfish had blotches of lavender fading into crimson and back to lavender. They were the tie-dyed fish of the gulf. It was difficult controlling my body to avoid the coral. We were taught to inhale completely to lift ourselves and to exhale completely to sink. This helped when the anemones’ arms reached out to us. Many of the fish blended into the coral they swam near, like the Four-Eyed Butterflyfish whose thin, black stripes on a background of gray camouflaged it as it swam between the slate corals. Past the reef, a few members of our group were gathered near a boulder and looking around. Mark was leading the trek, and when we came by he put his finger to his mouth and motioned that we keep away. We lay suspended in the water and
waited. An eel slithered out from between the rocks and its body moved like a ribbon in the wind. Later we saw a nurse shark lying in the sand. It was still and unflinching as we passed, and the only evidence that it was alive was the flutter of its gills, like the opening and shutting of Venetian blinds. The next day we went back out to take our test and to explore a wreck site. We would be tested on how to check our tanks for pressure. After everyone completed their tests we spent the rest of our time surveying the wreck. The wrecked boat was still, untouched. By no means haunting. I was expecting the grandeur of the Titanic and instead got metal covered in large, consuming barnacles and plains of algae. It was hard to tell where the boat began. Fish came and went, disappearing between the barnacles. “It’s machinery failed and it capsized,” Mark said before we dove. That’s why you’ve got to know what you’re doing underwater, because you can never rely completely on your gauges. Underwater, it took more effort to wave at friends or to untangle the tubes attaching your tank to your regulator. The water was heavy, pushing against your moving arms and legs. After I learned how to use my flippers, swimming was effortless, and the current could no longer keep me down. Long, up and down kicks were the key. Don’t use your arms. This worked to my advantage. My second arm was body powered, with a harness coursing over my shoulder blades and under my left arm. When I extended my arm the cables would stretch, forcing what I affectionately called the claw to open. When I recoiled it would close. I was Captain Hook. If only it was metal and a little sharper. My parents’ house is full of gadgets. They are just there for me, even though no one admits it. I wonder how much money we’ve spent on them: “Leftie” scissors when the “righties” work just fine. The lefties are for me, by default. Leftie rulers. Leftie measuring cups. Leftie notebooks. Electric can openers that jam and inevitably smell like the Bumblebee Tuna water that has seeped into the motor and rusted the blades. We have three different models. Mixing bowls with non-slip bottoms that get stuck on the countertops.
During our fourth dive, we learned about how to deal with gear malfunctions. A leaking tank, a lost mask. As our time underwater was coming to an end, we were learning how to handle ourselves in the event of an emergency or a situation that might otherwise cause us to panic. Mark explained that our test would be to flood our masks and then to expel the water. He said that it’s always possible, though, to dive without a mask. As we hovered above that familiar patch of sand, we pulled our masks off. The water pressed chillingly against my eyelids, like a cool shower after days in a dry heat. The tightness in my face relaxed for those few moments without the plastic pushing into my skin. I wrinkled my forehead and rubbed at my eyelids. I set the mask at my side for a few seconds and then again secured it to my head in the narrow valleys that marked its previous placement. I had to resist the urge to open my eyes before the water had been expelled. I pressed the top of the mask with the heel of my hand and blew air through my nose, causing the water to rush back into the ocean. I released my hand. I opened my left eye first, keeping the right closed just in case all the water hadn’t escaped. There were a few salt spots and lingering droplets near the nose, but enough of the water was gone. The haze of dryness returned, and we surfaced. “How’s the new arm working?” Kristina asked as we waited to return to our boat. On the horizon, the waves caressed the sky with slow dips and rolls like lovers dancing to a soft melody. “I should have brought it with me.” Unlike the one I had taken on the boat, the new arm weighed 13 pounds and it was supported by only three inches of my own limb. It rubbed the skin around my elbow until it was blistered and bruised and it made my arm smell like plastic. My elbow swelled after a few hours of wear and I could barely lift the arm to my shoulder. It buzzed like a gnat when I turned it on. The battery charger died two days after I got it, and it was too expensive to get the replacement from the German manufacturer. Before the charger failed I worked with my new extremity extensively. I tried squeezing Coke cans with the right pressure so that
they wouldn’t explode. But after I went through a 24pack of unopened but damaged cans I was too tired to continue – I could just take my arm off and switch hands. Last year, I left my cosmetic arm at home during our family’s vacation. We spent most of the time in Beaufort, North Carolina, at the coast. I was eating dinner with my sister, Katie, at a restaurant along the dock and a woman came up to us, giddy. Her name was Susan. She was chubby and held a pen and napkin in front of me, staring. I took it, confused. “You’re that surfer aren’t you?” she said, after what seemed like minutes. Oh. I knew who she was talking about. That girl had long blonde hair. She was thirteen compared to my twenty and she lived in Hawaii. Her left arm had been amputated after a shark attack. My right arm “amputation” was congenital. I can understand the confusion. “Umm.” I really wanted to sign that napkin.
Formed by Water
The children don’t bother me; how could I fault them for curiosity? But the adults need not stare when they could just as easily ask a question. I love answering questions, and am (usually) honest in my answers. Our last dive was to a statue of Mary that lay just off the coast of Key Largo. No one in our group knew how it had gotten there. She was peaceful, and fish swam in and out of her arms, which were lifted in welcome. Painful fire coral grew at the base of the statue, keeping visitors from approaching. After the descent, I couldn’t equalize the pressure in my head and pain coursed between my ears like a bad sinus infection. I waved to Kristina that something was wrong and I gave the thumbs up to surface. It wasn’t a big deal. Our last test was on the surface anyway and I wasn’t in the mood to be burned by Mary’s hostile coral. When we surfaced, the sky had turned overcast and it began to rain. The fat raindrops dented the armor of the sea. Underwater we were protected and
... the current could no longer keep me down. Long, up and down kicks were the key. Don’t use your arms. This worked to my advantage. Katie laughed and kicked me under the table. “Yes, I am,” I said. I scribbled something and the woman bounced next to us. “Actually, I think you might be thinking of someone else.” I couldn’t let her think she was right about me, about that other girl. “Oh?” “I did lose my arm to a great white, but I’m a diver, not a surfer.” The woman lost her bounce, shrugged, and walked away. She wasn’t the first person to say something like this, nor was she the last. Most of the time it’s children running up to me, saying “mommy, look at that girl’s arm!” while the mother yanks the child away and whispers loudly “don’t say things like that.”
never knew the weather was changing. The current, stronger than when we arrived, pulled us further from our boat. I couldn’t hear much until Kristina came up next to me. I could feel the blood beating against my skull. When the others returned it was time for our last test. There was only one more obstacle between me and my certification: taking off my gear in the water. “All you need to do is take off your BCD,” Mark said, smiling. “Then you’ll be a diver.” He bobbed next to us to record my success. Kristina unclipped my tank and it fell out easily. It rocked like a buoy next to her. I was almost there. The pain continued, now between my eyes. The
waves grew stronger and fell over me. The air in the vest kept me buoyant, but it made it harder to peel the BCD from my body because it wouldn’t sink away from me. I pulled at the broad Velcro cummerbund across my abdomen but it wouldn’t budge. Old men could undo Velcro-banded shoes but I couldn’t take off a Velcro vest. I would laugh about it later. In the water I wasn’t thinking about the Velcro. I wanted the pounding to stop. I wanted to hear what Mark was saying and I wanted to drown out the noise of water sloshing in my ears. As more time passed, I didn’t want to take the vest off because I was too tired to tread water on my own. I needed it to stay afloat. I had taken too long and Mark held me up. I couldn’t shed my equipment. I couldn’t complete my final task. “Are you alright?” he asked. “It’s my head. I can’t hear you very well.” I leaned my head backward and sank into a float. Mark pulled off my vest and Kristina supported me. We were the first team back onto the boat. I escaped the heat under a shaded space next to Kristina and we watched the others complete their certifications. I was glad that everyone else was able to finish their dives. Later that evening, our nurse Charlotte told me that I had dived with a minor cold that I didn’t know I had had. Rule number one on a dive was the same as rule number one at the hospital: don’t go while sick. The throbbing in my head didn’t fade for days and I bothered everyone with my whats and huhs as we made the trip back to Chicago. I could still hear the whir of the tank in my ears and the deep in and out rhythm of my breath.
After our trip, I wasn’t upset that I hadn’t gotten what I had come for. I proved that I could dive even if I couldn’t take off an inflated vest when stricken with perhaps the most painful of head colds. I didn’t need that piece of paper to make myself a diver. The other kids came away with their certifications and Dan tells me that he dives every chance he gets. I haven’t tried to get my certification yet; my dives from Key Largo are too old to count towards a new certification and I don’t know that I would dive on my own even if I was certified. Only one task stood between me and the certification, but I didn’t go on that trip just to become a certified diver – the memory of that week underwater made the failure worth just as much as the success. Diving was a challenge. It was hard to let go of the control; hard turning my life over to the tank. I didn’t like that I couldn’t take an independent breath even if I had wanted to. I didn’t have a choice. I wanted to breathe on my own and taste the salty water; instead I only tasted the dry rubber of the mouthpiece. It stretched my lips until they tingled and was meant for a man twice my size. The trip to the Keys was the last time I can remember really wearing my arm. Now I keep all of them in a drawer in my bedroom. I pull out the ones that fit and occasionally put them back on for a few minutes. I feel the weight tug on my shoulder and the plastic pinch my bone. I lift my arm and let it fall when it won’t go any higher, when my arm starts shaking. I put it back and close the drawer. I’ll repeat the process just about once every year. Sometimes I’ll wear them for two minutes, other times two days, but they’ll always end up back in the drawer. *Some names have been changed to protect individuals’ identities.
Carolyn Anne Gray studied Journalism and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can now be found writing fiction and nonfiction out of her home in Durham, NC.
Nature’s symmetry: lake-sky reflections— subtle flaws of reed
Jessica Bane Robert is primarily a poet but writes across the genres. Her chapbook of poems, entitled Scarred Seasons, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in various journals including Ecotone, Naugatuck River Review, and Cider Press Review. It has been anthologized by Outrider Press and has won awards such as the WriteCorner Press Editor’s Prize. She enjoys reading and lecturing in the Northeast and has made it a goal to travel more this year and finish two books—one poetry, the other creative nonfiction—that are well underway. Photo by Gabrielle Deimeke
FIRE AND ICE Words by Duncan McCallum Photos by Sophie Nicholson
arch signified the beginning of the end of the epic European ski season of 2012. We had revelled in the relentless deep powder, had more memories in the bank than income but when sun and moon began to shift, the birds began to sing, and the warm rock started to call out, I was ready for the change. The prospect of wrapping up in layers again and pulling on well-used snowboard boots left me feeling cold: I was ready to embrace the spring like a mountain crocus pushing up through the melt and into the warm welcoming sun. As a result, the upcoming touring trip to the Troll Peninsula in Iceland sort of felt like an interruption to the necessary transition into the balmy days of summer. Geneva airport compounded the confusion: the place was peppered with the last few seasonnaire stragglers making their way out of resort hibernation and back to the realities of a British damp spring. As the skinny jeans and baggy jackets exchanged their last post coital kisses, we were heading in an altogether different direction and back to a colder mentality. After a one night stopover in Reykjavik, we continued north and boarded a flight to Akureyri that was re-
markable in so much that it was so simple. In an era where we are collectively paranoid about security and terrorism, it was both surprising and refreshing to get on a plane where bags werenâ€™t tagged, hand luggage not searched, and water bottles not dumped into a huge landfill of waste. Flying within Iceland is probably simpler than getting on a bus in London these days. Such directness of experience pervades at all levels in Iceland: the general ambience is of a better, simpler existence, uncomplicated by the pressures of an increasingly fractioned outside world. The Troll peninsula in northern Iceland is a remarkable place. Hundreds of approachable 3,500-5,000m peaks with steep ridges and couloirs lie up long glacial U shaped valleys fanning out into dark foreboding seas. The contrast between snow and sea is made even more dramatic by the constant backdrop of snow falling in long columns onto the arctic seaâ€™s swell. Itâ€™s a beautiful haunting monochromatic vision, a subtle layering of tone from the black ash earth, to the cold burnt browns of the heathers and grasses, upwards to the greys and whites of the spring snows. When the sky breaks here, the land is bathed in a milky
Fire and Ice
blue light of such softness and clarity that the ice cold air literally tugs at the back of your throat. In a land almost devoid of native ground mammals moving over snow-covered baked rock, you sense its solitude. Ancient and mysterious it may feel but in geological time, the land is young and still suffering the growing pains of its youthful beginnings. Although the Troll Peninsula is one of the oldest and most stable of the Icelandic regions, its explosive and turbulent youthful beginnings are only too evident. Its soft, horizontally banded basalts are frost shattered and tell a story of thousands of eruptions leaving the land blanketed in gigantic ash falls and lava flows. For the snow traveller this is a unique playground in many ways, a land of immense potential yet critically, an accessible environment. Hundreds of peaks can be reached with a few hours of skinning over a remarkably stable snowpack. The terrain is reminiscent of some of the Scottish West Coast Hills with rounded, steep sides and open glaciated corries. Whilst the mountains here may seem like smaller cousins to the soaring European Alps, the Troll Peninsula does demand a fair degree of mountain sense,
vertical skills and an open-minded approach. Every day â€œMr Chompâ€? crampons were needed as some of the skinning was steep and exposed. Boot packing was de rigueur to reach the narrower tops and good layering strategy is definitely required. The mountains lie just a few kilometres south of the Arctic Circle and can transform from clam and benign to fierce and cold in the passing of a cloud. But this is about adventure and as with real adventures, the rewards are great indeed. From 50-degree faces to open powder filled couloirs and gentle descents of over 7 miles, the land of Fire and Ice more than delivered for us happy wanderers. Unlike the tests thrown up by great mountaineering traverses in the Alps, the Icelandic days have different challenges and achievements. Here you are exploring and not one of many. Often this is about being the first to climb or descend a mountain or line offering up a truly life punctuating opportunity. Whilst there is no altitude or little apparent objective danger, this sub-arctic environment is icy and often windy, so the weather challenges with its rapid changes. If you want lift-accessed powder fields with short
Fire and Ice
hikes, forget touring in Iceland. It feels like a frontier adventure - albeit with micro-breweries and hot tubs. Adventure tourism is a recent and growing industry here but for many years this part of Iceland was the preserve of a few tough fishing communities, often cut off from each other for many winter weeks by storms and raging seas. The people here are resilient and welcoming, self-contained and open-minded, and justifiably fiercely proud of their country. To ski and board in Iceland is a remarkable privilege. For me it was an all too short glimpse into a land laden with folklore and tradition and I strongly plan to return to take more steep turns in this landscape of rare purity and freshness. The Icelandic people live in a place that con-
stantly changes and challenges, and in the short blink of a human life, it can rupture and explode many times. This close connection to the power of the earth’s extreme forces of heat and freezing cold has fostered an adaptability which we all could learn from. To enjoy the Icelandic mountains you must move with the conditions and change and adapt accordingly. Days on the hill here require you to engage with what nature is presenting, rather than struggling against the transitions of weather, equipment and plans. Forcing or resisting will frustrate and defeat you. Going with it, embracing the adventure and the opportunity will ensure you experience an adventure like no other. It works for line hunting in the mountains of the Trolls so it just might work for day-to-day life too.
For more information on splitboarding the Troll Peninsula in Northern Iceland, contact JB at Bergmenn Mountain Guides: www.bergmenn.com (Jökull Bergmann: firstname.lastname@example.org) For general information on travelling to Iceland, go to www.inspiredbyiceland.com
Duncan McCallum started climbing in the 70’s when he was 13. After a degree in photography, mastering in film, he spent 8 years working as a focus puller on many adventure documentaries for The BBC and C4 including expeditions to Svalbard, Mali, Panama, Colombia etc. In 2004 he switched to the front of the lens and has been co-presenting BBC Scotland’s monthly adventure sports magazine program, The Adventure Show.
Fire and Ice
MY FATHER TEACHES ME TO FISH Sarah L. Morris
am two and a half years old, standing beside a rocky stream in the wintertime, parka buttoned up to my chin, fur hood framing my small, flushed face. My father kneels beside me. He is thirty two, his unlined face clean shaven, a baseball cap pulled down behind his ears. He is holding a fish for my inspection. It is a rainbow trout, glossy brown at its back and belly, with gold, green, blue, and red stripes arching down its sides. It is huge, twenty four inches, nearly as large as I am. It moves jerkily, its powerful body straining for life in the chilly air, and I squeal in excitement, delighted by its size and its strength. When I have looked, lightly touched, been fully introduced to this new being, my father returns it gently to the icy water. *** I am eight. It is a summer Sunday afternoon. The sun beats down on my tanned arms and face, and a soft breeze blows across the still, green water. My father is thirty seven. His glossy black hair is long on the sides, covering his ears, sweeping over the top of his head to cover the spot where it is beginning to thin. Black sunglasses, police style, rest across his face above his dark beard. His skin is tanned, too, darker than mine, but
pale under the band of his watch. We sit at the edge of a small pond sunk in a green hill. He puts earthworms on my hook, teaches me to cast: “Keep your thumb on the line until your hand is at one o’clock, then release as you bring the pole forward in front of your body. Follow through, and then reel in a bit to tighten your line.” I watch as the red and white bobber floats along in the ripples. I stare at the fluffy, lazy clouds. He notices when I am not paying attention: “Keep your rod up and your line tight. Watch your bobber!” The bobber dips. “Jerk your pole up!” and I yank the rod back a few inches, hooking into a bright sunfish, which retreats deep into the water. It fights for its life, jerking back and forth, and my small arms strain with the struggle of reeling it in, but I do it by myself. When I have brought my catch to the grassy edge of the pond, my father leans over the water, grips the line, and lifts the fish. This fish is small, about four inches from its mouth to the tip of its tail. It is grayish green with vertical dark stripes on its sides. Its belly is bright orange. Fins at the top of its body and by its gills are sharp, can cut through skin if handled carelessly.
My father takes it off the line for me, smoothing the fins back so they don’t prick his flesh. The slippery fish disappears in his large, rough, hand. He dips it in the water and it flashes away, a streak of orange receding into the depths of the pond. *** I am fifteen. The pier sways in the waves and the wind, but I am not afraid because I am not afraid of anything. The beach is deserted in the dusky evening, and men are chumming for sharks at the end of the pier. My father stands beside me, forty four. Silver streaks have begun to emerge in his beard, moving from the corners of his mouth to the space under his chin. He shows me how to slip shrimp on my hook, tighten the sinkers on my line, cast as far as I can out into the ocean: “Cast in and let your bait sink. Keep your line tight, reel it in slowly to take away the slack.” I am frustrated with his instruction, having heard the same spiel a hundred times before. I know he thinks I am stupid, inept, and incapable of doing things on my own. I have spent this vacation trying
My Father Teaches Me to Fish
Reminding me to avoid its sharp, barbed tail, Dad attempts to remove the hook from the toothy mouth. I am afraid of being bitten. I am amazed that I have caught this bizarre creature, an alien from another atmosphere, yet irritated that I need help from someone else to reel it in, free it. As my father grips the hook, the skate’s teeth slash into the pad of his thumb and blood blooms there. My father winces, jerks the hook the rest of the way out, then tosses the skate over the rail and back into the water. I watch it sail through the air and splash into the waves, gliding down into the deep until it is gone. *** I am twenty three; I have just finished my first semester of graduate school, training to be a teacher. My hair is pulled back from my face and my floppy fishing hat protects me from the sun. Although there is a strong breeze, I am sweating inside my neoprene waders and boots. My father is fifty two. His hair and beard are silver, his hat a larger version of mine. The Gunnison River in Colorado bends and twists around
I watch as the red and white bobber floats along in the ripples. I stare at the fluffy, lazy clouds. He notices when I am not paying attention: “Keep your rod up and your line tight. Watch your bobber!” to avoid my parents, frustrated with their rules, their seeming control over me. “Keep your line tight,” my father reminds, “and if you haven’t gotten a tug in ten or fifteen minutes, change the position of your hook.” I feel a drag on my line; pull hard to set the hook, struggle to bring in whatever aggressive creature tugs on the other end of my line, something huge from the feel of its fight. My father helps me; it’s too heavy for me to pull in alone. It emerges from the water, swinging and thrashing in the salty air below the weathered wood we stand on. It is a skate—a fish like a small stingray—its silvery gray body about a foot and a half across at its widest part. It flops on the splintery pier, its jaws gnashing.
us. I am awed by the beauty of this place, thankful that my parents have brought me here with them. Golden light sparkles off the weeds and the water; the river cuts loops and swirls through the tall, waving grasses, and the dark mountains loom at the edges of the plains all around us. The air is sweet with the smell of horehound, like licorice, and when I return home I will find that I cannot stand to eat licorice candy because I have learned to associate its smell with the handling of bait and worms. We have waded out into water up to my hips, and the current is strong. My father says, “Hold on to my left side as we cross the stream. Hang on to my vest; don’t slip.” I plant my feet in the pebbly bot-
Sarah L. Morris
tom of the river, cast out toward rocks jutting upward out of the watercourse: “Always fish upstream so the fish can’t see you, they face upstream when they feed. Trout like to lay in the edge of swift water, in a deep hole, in front of a large rock, out of the swift part of the stream. When your bait floats by, they will dart out of their resting place to snatch it up. They expend less energy this way.” He stands over me: “Keep your bait moving, so it doesn’t snag on the bottom of the stream. Keep the end of your rod up. Tighten the slack on your line.” We wait silently until I feel a tiny tug on my bait. I jerk to set the hook, and there is a devil on my line: “Reel faster, reel faster! Tug back your rod!” I struggle with the heft and strength of the fish, bending my knees to keep my footing. The fish emerges from the water, glints in the sun, flies through the air, splashes back into the water. My father is behind me; his hand is on my elbow. The fish is still struggling, but I am winning as it weakens. It comes toward us through the coppery green water, and my father scoops it up in the net. It is a sucker fish, pale and golden, and twenty-two inches long. Taking my forceps, I grip the hook and lift the fish: “Don’t touch its skin. Fish have a delicate slime layer that protects them from harm, like dust on a butterfly’s wings. Touching it can damage the fish.” With a twist of my wrist, the sucker is unhooked, a gold flash vanishing back into the rushing water.
*** I am thirty. My father is fifty nine, standing at the edge of a trout stream in a canyon somewhere in our home state, West Virginia. Trout jump from the water, emerging in the air and reentering the stream in sparkling splashes. We have hiked through white mountain laurels and pink rhododendrons down into this gorge, over stones and fallen trees to get to the river, Behind me, my father cautions, “Be careful of these rocks; they’re slippery. This is rattlesnake country— step on this log, not over it.” He is teaching me to fish, again. His voice echoes off the rocks, repeating the same words, spoken in the same deep, even tones I have heard every time I have ever been fishing. I can recite them from memory, like a script. This time, though, instead of hearing the instructions, I hear his voice behind the words: “This I have to give to you. This is what I know. I will show you my world.” Then understanding blossoms within me: there is a reason I chose to teach—it is genetic, a legacy—my father teaches me more than just fishing. I, like my father, catch and release ideas, like fish, pulling them from the stream of my mind, reeling them in to examine, releasing them out beyond myself and my mind. This wonder at life, this awareness of the world, a deep respect for life in the outdoors, the ability to hear, and see, and speak what I know: these things, more than fishing, these are the things my father has taught me.
Sarah Morris is a career educator who earned a BA in English and an MA in Education from West Virginia University and taught high school English in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. She is West Virginia’s Teacher of the Year 2007, a National Writing Project fellow and teacher consultant, and a National Board Certified Teacher. A runner and writer, Morris is currently pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Maryland, researching the lived experience of moving meditation for finding a flow in thinking and writing.
the breeze, curious to lift the moonâ€™s veil of mist, sets it on the cliffs
Rebecca Lilly has an M.F.A. from Cornell and works as a writer. Her haiku has been published in various magazines, most recently in Piedmont Virginian and Virginia Living. She has published two poetry collections, one of which is a letterpress book of haiku in limited edition with woodblock prints of Frank C. Eckmair: Shadwell Hills (Birch Brook Press). Learn more at RebeccaLilly.com
Photo by Naomi Farr
BAREFOOT, RIM TO RIM Thea Gavin
“How do you do that barefoot?” Soaked by rain, chilled by wind, and inebriated by puddles of canyon-red water, I answered: “With a lot of pleasure.” Conventional wisdom says you will sprain your ankle, puncture your tender soles, or step in poo if you hike barefoot. It’s dangerous and unnatural, and highly engineered hiking boots or lugged-sole running shoes are the only way to safely negotiate rocky trails. My recent Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim experience says that’s a load of mule dung. If a middle-aged grandma like me can make it safely and happily the 14 miles down North Kaibab Trail and the 9.8 miles up Bright Angel Trail wearing nothing on my feet, then conventional wisdom needs to join the 21st century and smell the flowering barefoot movement. For almost three years, I’d been educating myself about all things barefoot, getting outside several times a week to hike and trail-run shoelessly in the sage-scented hills outside my hometown of Orange, CA. Along the way, this crazy dream began to take shape: to run and/or hike across the Grand Canyon sans shoes. Three weeks at the North Rim in the summer of 2011 laid the groundwork. I got to know the trails
of the rim, and ventured into the canyon a few times. Unfortunately, my knee went south on the second day of my stay, as I was headed down the North Kaibab Trail to the Supai Tunnel. Disappointed but not discouraged, I returned to Orange, kept the Canyon in mind, and continued running, or hiking, depending on how my tricky knee was feeling. Then one day in October 2012, I woke up in the autumn dark, re-checked my little knapsack of supplies, kissed my husband goodbye, and started down the North Kaibab Trail at 6:30 a.m. Outside it was thirty-eight degrees, cloudy; there was rain and snow in the forecast. Though the warning on the package said, Do not apply directly to skin, I stuck a set of Grabber StickOn Toe Warmers to the tops of my bare feet. Within a mile, one fell off. Within two miles, I had descended to the Supai Tunnel, low enough that it was a warm 58 degrees. The needly initial stinging in my toes had long ceased, and I was eager to tackle the infamous switchbacks below the tunnel. Instead, the switchbacks tackled me. Within two steep turns, my left knee began complaining, something that would continue intermittently, in varying degrees of intensity, over the next 20 miles.
But my knee had acted up before, quite a bit since its initial ruining-of-a-race back in 2004. I was tired of letting an off-track patella dictate my mood. I smiled and kept on hiking. Down, down, down. As I splashed though the puddles barefoot, the newly collected rainwater seemed warmer than the air. Behind me I left lovely exit-prints of the miraculous human foot in the mud. I was smiling so much that one passing hiker even commented: “That’s the biggest smile I’ve seen all day.” Since mincing downhill with a sore knee doesn’t lend itself to speed records, mostly I was being passed. And most of the folks coming up from behind had something to say. “Where’s your shoes?” “Is that rough on your feet?” “I don’t think I could do that.” “You’re brave.” I was beginning to suspect that the word “brave” was code for “stupid.” When someone asked the ever-popular, “Why do you do this?” I could only answer, “It’s fun.” These two words really do sum it all up. It’s about enjoying the trail, even if I’m not able to run
Barefoot, Rim to Rim
every mile. I can walk. And I can feel what’s real: dirt and mud and rocks—my kin! I’m made of dust, too. One lady pointed at my feet and exclaimed, “Barefoot?!” I replied by pointing back at her feet and saying, “Shoes?!” We both laughed. Everyone’s a winner on the Bright Angel Trail. Even though my twingy knee was not altogether pleased, I had a wet-footed good time on the 14-mile downhill (5,800 feet of elevation loss) from the North Rim to Phantom Ranch, where it was a storm’s-end, rainbow-perfect 60 degrees at 2 p.m. After a nap and a few hours watching the river flow, it was time for a delicious all-you-can-eat dinner. I chose the vegetarian stew, a crispy salad, cornbread, and chocolate cake. Carbo-licious. The one time between rims that I put on my sandals was at dinner in the Phantom Ranch Canteen, where a sign said, Shoes and shirts required. Once full, I went to sleep in the women’s bunkhouse, where I discovered my husband is not the only snorer in the world. Saturday morning, a sickle moon in the cloudless dawn-dark sky, I was ready for an early start. The storm system had blown past—but not
before freezing the bejeebers out of my husband, who told me later how he had huddled through a snowy night in our VW station wagon at the North Rim before leaving early Saturday for the 220-mile drive to pick me up at the South Rim. We had agreed to meet at noon at the Bright Angel Lodge fireplace, not knowing how long it would take me to hike out, or whether I would be on the South Kaibab or Bright Angel Trail. Although the South Kaibab is two miles shorter, it’s much steeper, lacks water, and requires taking a shuttle back to the lodge. After discussion with some new Phantom Ranch friends, I decided on Bright Angel, with its several water/restroom stops and amazing river-and-creekside hiking up until about the half-way point at Indian Gardens. I crossed the suspension bridge over the swift and wide Colorado, where the metal grating was far harsher than any ancient canyon bedrock, and the next mile of trail soothed my soles with heavenly, soft, damp sand. October is prime hiking time. Though I was limping my way up the almost-ten-miles of Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim and all its extravagant touristiness, I was also surrounded by barefoot-hiking paradise: a green river frosted with rapids, sunrise cliffs of red-gold-and-shadow, and dreamy streamside vegetation smells. I began the 4,400-foot climb almost glad my knee was in no condition to run. Why would I want to rush away from the canyon’s deep peace? It took me four hours just to get to Indian Gardens. I loafed along, chatting with all the nice hikers, taking photos of cliffs and vistas, and enjoying the creek crossings by lingering a while with my feet in the water. Then I looked at my watch. It was already 10:00 a.m., and I was supposed to be five miles farther (and 3,000 feet higher) in two hours to meet Steve.
Could I do it? At this point, my left knee was misbehaving badly, with jolts of pain flashing through it as I maneuvered up the many, many, many wood and rock steps on the trail. My hiking poles had become crutches, my new best friends. I discovered that if I turned my left foot out about 30 degrees, I could step a little less painfully. As I concentrated on breath control up the steep switchbacks at altitudes approaching 7,000 feet, I forgot about my left knee. I fell in alongside John-from-Chicago, whose pace had matched mine for the last mile, and we chatted about our teaching jobs and whether he should hike to the river the following day. And then we were there: the Bright Angel Trailhead at the South Rim. My inner Walter Mitty had been imagining all kinds of cheering crowds and ticker-tape parades as I reached the top. In my even-better reality, Steve had found the trailhead half an hour earlier and had asked some hikers if they’d seen a lady hiking barefoot. You can probably guess what they told him. The next day I was sore. Okay, nearly crippled. But only when I changed from not-moving to moving. The soles of my feet felt pinkly fine; no punctures, no ripped skin, no residual mule dung. Just a few dark splotches of tree sap from the walk to the Bright Angel Lodge parking lot, and one faint bruise on the left arch. When did that happen? I felt pretty good. I’d just hiked across the Grand Canyon, barefoot. More than halfway in the rain, which is another bit of conventional wisdom blown to bits: I got my feet wet for seven happy hours and didn’t catch my death of cold. I did catch Rim-to-Rim fever, though, and can’t wait to try running it next time. Barefoot, of course.
Thea Gavin is a native of Orange, CA, where she shoelessly hikes and writes about the plants, creatures and dusty places of the nearby Santa Ana Mountain foothills. Other mountain lion habitats inspire her as well, including Grand Canyon National Park, where she was privileged to spend three weeks as Artist-in-Residence during June 2011. In her off-trail hours, she teaches writing at Concordia University Irvine.
ADVENTUM A Literary Magazine
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In this issue we bicycle through Wyoming and Montana with Nadine York, go sponge diving in Greece and learn of the culture that surrounds th...
Published on Jan 12, 2013
In this issue we bicycle through Wyoming and Montana with Nadine York, go sponge diving in Greece and learn of the culture that surrounds th...