Adventum Issue 1

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ISSUE I kim kircher - tom leskiw kathleen saville - willard manus cheryl merrill - adrienne ross scanlan ed gutierrez - brandon hauser shea mack - and more...



CONTENTS Essays ADRIANNE ARON Fiction, The Hardway 1st Place, Ridge to River Contest


TREVIEN STANGER Glow Sticks, Fleshy Fins, and Takin’ the Piss 2nd Place, Ridge to River Contest


MANDA FREDERICK The Sawtooth 18 Finalist, Ridge to River Contest KIM KIRCHER How to Search for a Missing Friend 28 KATHLEEN SAVILLE Rowing in the Humbolt Current to the Galapagos Islands 38 WILLARD MANUS Hunter in the Sea 44 CHERYL MERRILL Backbone of the Night


TOM LESKIW Encounter at Snowslide Gulch 60

ED GUTIERREZ Running on Faith 68

Photography SHEA MACK


BRANDON HAUSER A Farewell to Dark Nights 32 JON OLIVER-HODGES 42 SHAUN BEVINS Adventures in Chrysalis 50 TIM FARR (cover)


Cover photograph by Tim Farr (Indian Himalaya) This page by Shea Mack (Denali, Alaska)



EDITOR’S NOTE Adventum has been a long time coming, and creating this first issue was an adventure in its own right. I am happy to say that this inaugural issue contains not only some of the best writing I’ve come across this year, but a diverse array of topics, from spearfishing in Greece and dodgy photography expeditions in the Sahel, to thunderous hikes and search and rescue efforts in the U.S. I started this literary magazine because I love this often overlooked genre, outdoor adventure

writing, and felt there was a need for a publication that devotes its space to great prose and not advertisements or gear reviews. Not that those reviews aren’t helpful at times, but when you enter the literary terrain of Adventum, you get to read. It’s not just quality writing that graces these pages. I am proud to say that there are also several haiku which cause reason for pause, and many photos that bring to the page what words might not fully capture. As this issue began to take form, I noticed a shared element among many of the pieces: light at

night. In Brandon Hauser’s photo essay A Farewell to Dark Nights, we see how bright the summer nights can be in the northern hemisphere, and in Cheryl Merrill’s book excerpt Backbone of the Night, we see how bright the night can be at the equator. Trevien Stanger’s piece on surfing under an Australian full moon also illuminates the night in a new way. I hope you enjoy this first issue as much as I have. I hope it inspires you to go out and experience your part of the world, be it day or night. — Naomi Mahala Judd

FICTION, THE HARD WAY 1st Place, Ridge to River Contest Adrianne Aron

SUNSHINE You never told me, Jack, when I pored through a collection of your stories after winning the London Prize, that I’d be thinking of you on a freezing sandbank, ass in the air, trying to get a spark out of dry sticks. “To Build a Fire” had held me spellbound. Now it held me hostage, under two pieces of lukewarm tinder that weren’t going to heat up no matter how hard I rubbed. Damn you, Jack, and Bradbury too, with his Fahrenheit 451. Thoreau, too: that thing about firewood warming you twice, first when you chop it, then when you burn it. Damn you all, and damn the memories fluttering through my addled mind like snippets from the guy in Tobias Wolff’s bank heist. All was literature now—stories, books, essays, and the novel I was writing, the worthless, dripping piece of junk on the sandbank behind me. For hours I’d scraped, climbed and ducked my way through tangled brush of the clogged stream that I thought was the South Fork of the Tuolumne River. Purple tote bag slung over shoulder, I’d left camp a happy writer, telling my friend Penny I’d be back at six, and I’d walked about a mile to a spot where I traipsed around with the butterflies and then went rock hopping up-river to look for a sunny rock where I could kick back and take out my red pencil for the fiftieth rewrite of the novel stuffed in the tote bag. The manuscript was supposed to get me to an agent, who would get me to a publisher, who would get me into print as a fiction writer and save me from anonymity. Ah, the literati’s illusions, the things they never taught you about the writer’s life. After a while, rock hopping became the only route because when I tried to go by land the thicket at the banks of the stream drew blood from my sleeveless arms and stuck branches and thorns into my uncovered legs. So I picked my way stone by river stone, until a huge tree lying dead in the water sprawled bank to bank, demanding a clamber over its massive trunk.

I’d left camp a happy writer, telling my friend Penny I’d be back at six...

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Using the stubs of its broken limbs as ladder rungs, I got to the top and gingerly reached down the other side to drop feet-first into a shallow stone-strewn pool. There, canvas bag aloft, I was able to wade for a time, manuscript safe in the air and feet steady in the water, moving along the river bed in quest of a shoreline writing spot—or at least a trail, any trail, to deliver me from the water. In front of me, the way was blocked by a forest of water plants growing from the cracks in river boulders. Probably, I figured, this was stage two of the chaotic wood-and-leaf mass that formed the dam I’d seen earlier, before the downstream trail veered inland and I lost sight of the river. It seemed that the chaos wasn’t a one-shot deal, but was more like an ongoing siege on the waterway. Enormous round leaves, one per stem, sat atop their long stalks like open umbrellas, stretching in clumps across the river, blocking my way, hiding what lay ahead. Dozens of them, hundreds of them: gangs of green umbrellas stealing my vision and defending their liquid turf. I pushed against them, through them, past them, only to find more and more of them, as my wet sneakers hunted on their liquid jungle floor for stones to support my feet, away from the rivulets of waterfall that made everything slippery. Only when I had a secure footing could I let go of the fistfuls of brittle plant stems I clutched for balance, and then I could move forward, rock to boulder to ankle-deep river, to more umbrella thugs and tree trunk barricades, to find a trail. It had to be here somewhere. My famously poor sense of direction was no handicap this time; I knew the difference between upstream and downstream, and the laws of nature said that going up would get me back. I’d followed a trail downstream, for a ways beyond where the path split off from the river, and I’d flitted with the butterflies through a field teeming with ladybugs, then fought through the jumble and started on this slow rock-hopping trek in what was obviously a very twisty river. Soon there had to be a trail, and beyond that, the camp. Between the two, if I was lucky, there would be a comfortable spot to work on the manuscript. Years

Fiction, The Hard Way

before, when I was writing introductions for essays by Martín-Baró, I’d discovered forests and riverbanks as the premier places to work without distraction. “Aren’t you scared?” people would say, “A woman going off by yourself like that?” Scared! It never crossed my mind. While Martín-Baró was writing those essays, the Salvadoran soldiers who later killed him prowled around outside his office window. That’s scary. Around the bend up ahead I could see an eroded hillside, sign of a trail for sure. But getting there would require some tricky bouldering and major battles with the umbrellas, and I’d already fallen three times, knocking bare knees and vulnerable elbows into the unforgiving walls of granite boulders. Occupied with thoughts of safety, I forgot to watch my feet. Before I knew what was happening, a fourth fall dumped me sideways into the river, washing the tops of my thighs through the water. No time to move the purple bag. Its lower edge turned black from the wet. Frantically I pulled the paper from the sack as soon as I got my footing. Dry! The manuscript was all dry except for the bottom margin. What luck! Never mind that everything not covered by my simple summer clothing was a scratchy mess of scraped and bleeding skin; eight-and-a-half by ten inches of my passport to the future was unharmed! The unexpected splash into the water brought home to me, though, how treacherous this country was; I’m not usually a faller. The eroded hillside up ahead did seem to have sunshine at the crest where a trail might cut through, so I beached again and thrashed through a tangle of blackberry vines to get to it. It was not easy going. Nearly an hour had to pass before I was close enough to the top to read the bad news that sometimes an escarpment is only an escarpment and not an advertisement for a road. But an acre of sweet berries in a California forest, I knew, is nearly always the garden setting for a bear’s outdoor café. I’d been helping myself to berries as I smashed through the heavy brush, sort of the way the bears break into our cars to help themselves to our lunch. Was some furry thing going to come after me for stealing? I beat it


Adrianne Aron down the hill. Sorry for all the time I’d lost, I plodded on upstream, though I gave more than a moment’s thought to reversing course and heading back the way I’d come, through the boulders, downed trees, slippery rocks, and umbrella monsters. My banged up arms and legs begged me not to put them through all that again. I yielded to their pleas. Onward! There were no recent signs of human life in this wilderness. None. I’d seen a rusty cable around a big lodgepole pine, left over from logging days some eighty years ago, and near it an old drum, same vintage, that once held Mark’s Chocolate Icing. I’d smiled at that, Mark being my favorite man and chocolate my favorite flavor, but these old relics also brought on a lonely awareness of how far I’d traveled from phone reception, roads, trails, anything to connect me to the people I cared about. What if I were to die out here? Nobody would ever find me. What if my birthday, coming in a few days, were to wind up being my death day? No, that was absurd. I wasn’t going to die out here. Up ahead I was going to find a trail to take me straight to the edge of the camp. I probably wouldn’t get much writing in today, I’d been out here so long. All these obstructions and detours had kept me trekking through this meandering river for a good five or six hours. The next bend exposed a beautiful granite cliff over a chunk of solid rock as big as a flat-roofed house. Early on I’d been seeing boulders as smooth as ducks, as big as elephants, as round as a turtle or flat as a whale’s back; but ever since that feeling of loneliness had draped itself over me, my metaphors, as if traumatized by the absence of humanity, shied away from nature and led my searching eyes to things that people use—refrigerators, Volkswagons, coffee tables, houses. Once, I saw what looked like a bright yellow flashlight that someone had lost in a pile of rocks under a dead tree. I grew so excited at the prospect of a careless hiker being close by, that I almost wept when I got near enough to see it was a colorful shelf fungus. A dented beer can would have been a joy. I contemplated going up to visit that gorgeous hunk of granite shaped like a house, but it required

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a technical climb of the sort I hadn’t done in more than thirty years, and never without ropes and a belay. Caution said no. The river, though, had other ideas; there was no way to continue forward unless I went up there. A dam of clogged boulders and branches in the water had formed a pool so deep that I’d have to swim it, and a swim would soak the manuscript; I had to go for a land traverse. On the huge ridge, reached by arduous maneuvers of pressure holds and finger grips, I was rewarded by a true sign of human life. So what if it was a thousand years old? This Native American metate used for grinding edible plants told a story of a time when the river flowed clear and a friend from long ago sat as I was sitting, safe, warm, happy, in love with the view. I ate a piece of French toast I’d set aside from breakfast, saving the other for later, and I washed down half my ounce-and-a-half box of raisins with the river water I’d been drinking all day from a plastic bottle. There were warnings back at camp about parasites in the water, but parasites are curable, I figured; death isn’t. The woozy-headed stumble-footed jig of dehydration could be fatal in a situation like this. It was three o’clock. I had traveled for miles, for hours, a cartoon version of the Haitian proverb: Beyond the mountains, more mountains. Where was I? Penny was expecting me back at six. If I turned back to struggle through the morass that brought me here, I’d never get there in time. If I pushed on upstream, I was bound to get to the camp, and it couldn’t be much farther. After a rest on the happy ridge I pushed on through the water, dodging umbrellas, crossing logs, climbing boulders, and falling—falling on slippery rocks, falling from algae-coated sloping banks, falling from ledges and logs, falling in the umbrella leaves, in the rivulets, in the river, in shallow trickles and deep pools, falling completely submerged, manuscript and all, in the never-ending, never clearing stream which I later learned was not the Tuolumne River, but something called Soldier Creek, taking me deeper and deeper into this impenetrable wilderness. Way back by the butterflies there’d been a confluence of streams, but I hadn’t known that. I’d seen water flowing, and

followed it upstream. At six-thirty I spotted a sandbank and climbed out. I had another hour of daylight, but I had fallen twenty-one times. I looked around, thankful for a stretch of land without brambles. That’s fresh bear tracks, said the intellectual in my head. Bears don’t want to hurt you, said the writer. You stole the berries. Bears don’t know from stealing. Think claws. Think Goldilocks. The voices in my head argued over the risks of camping so close to what might be a bear’s lair, and finally came to a TINA truce: There Is No Alternative. The terrain hadn’t changed over the last couple of hours, but I had. I was depleted of energy and sore all over. My judgment was shot. If a fall into a boulder knocked me out, that could be the end of me. Footprints or no, I would have to spend the night in this desolate place. I rubbed my sticks and cursed the writers. Hanging my stash of bread and raisins in a tree as an offering to the animals, I gathered long branches for a shelter. Enough to break the wind if it came up, and hold in a little body heat, the three-sided wood structure wasn’t much good for anything else except as a message to the bear: This isn’t a bear kind of thing, Please don’t disturb. You think that makes sense? You don’t? I thatched the roof with those wicked umbrella plants, though that meant having to wade back into the river to fetch them, and it was already getting cold. I’d decided those umbrella thugs weren’t killers after all, just accomplices—the guys who hid the body when the homicidal boulders finished you off. DUSK Cold and wet, I sat down in the sand next to my house of sticks to review my assets. No serious injuries: that

Fiction, The Hard Way

was a plus. A face-first crash into a boulder hadn’t broken my nose, hadn’t cause a nosebleed, didn’t even hurt. My game leg was holding up, and the wounds on my lacerated arms and legs weren’t dirty; no sign of infection. Add to all that the wristwatch that hadn’t stopped running despite total submersion over and over, and the sum was good news. Food? I glanced at the tree in my front yard, its cache hanging down like a clump of bananas. Bears are messy, there might be a few leftover raisins after a raid. And I had water galore. I wasn’t going to go looney from dehydration. What’d you say? Nothing, forget it. Healthy and in good shape, I wasn’t going to die of exposure from a single night in the woods, even if all I had covering me was a sleeveless tee shirt and a pair of shorts. I had a toy flashlight half the size of my thumb; I knew how to signal an SOS in case an airplane flew over. I had a friend who would start to miss me pretty soon, and maybe tell somebody. I had a pocket knife. Aron Ralston. Oh God. Jack London himself could not have thought up Between a Rock and a Hard Place, Ralston’s true story of a solo climb in Utah, where he got trapped by a falling boulder that hopelessly wedged his arm in the rock. Ralston saved his own life by cutting off the arm—with a dull pocket knife. But he got out alive, I said to myself; take heart! A moment later a song started up in my head, a corny show tune from the ‘fifties that I’d never liked, never sung, never realized was on deposit in my memory bank—“In the cool cool cool of the evening, tell ‘em I’ll be there…” The infernal tune had been taking over my brain for the last few hours, exactly the way an equally obnoxious song took over Ralston’s while he was prisoner to the boulder. Why were we haunted by these horrid sounds? Oliver Sacks: didn’t I remember something about one of his patients who couldn’t get rid of “Easter Parade” blaring through the radio in her head? She was stuck too, as I recalled—in a convalescent home. Was audio punishment the fate of people who were trapped? Sacks had talked about


Adrianne Aron musical epilepsy, seizures in the frontal lobes. I should pay attention to this queer symptom, try to document it for science. But that was not possible, because all I was able to think when I tried to focus on science, was “In the cool cool cool of the evening, better bring a chair.” Bring a chair? Not likely. Probably “save a chair.” Yes, “save a chair.” Or was it “grab a chair”? Was I really out here in the setting sun, sitting next to a house of sticks on a piece of property owned by a bear, debating the lyrics of a stupid song? Was I losing it? I forced myself to get back to basics: how to make it through the coming night when I was already shivering. No jacket. No cover for my battered arms and legs. Wet shorts, wet tee-shirt, wet manuscript in a wet canvas bag. Using my raw elbows as anchors, I scooted into my three-sided shelter and worked out a plan: no looking at watch, that would be too depressing; no peeing in bed, despite the wet; too gross. At the crack of dawn get up and go back—the only sure way to reach civilization. Meanwhile, keep flashlight at the ready in case an airplane flies by. Here, just outside Yosemite National Park, wildfires had been raging all summer. If only I’d had matches, I could have safely built a fire and a smoke spotter would have seen it, and sent people right away. Possibly they were patrolling right now, content that in my neck of the woods the red dragon was asleep; unaware of a stranded writer who would not sleep at all, who would stare into the ghostly night thinking she’d gladly trade a lifetime of royalties for the touch of a human hand, the sound of a human voice. Mailer had called his book on writing The Spooky Art. Little did he know. The bear’s fresh paw prints were only steps away from my shaking body. Having recently read Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation, I asked myself, How does a bear feel? How does he think? Grandin’s deep sensitivity to our animal cousins brought comfort to my troubled mind. It showed me how to think of the bear as my friend, as someone who would understand that I meant no harm, as one of the benevolent forest creatures like the ones in the fairy tales who had helped Hansel and Gretel. If there were eyes upon me in these dark woods, they were most likely

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friendly eyes. You believe that? I believe it. On what grounds? Logic was toughing out another round against Faith when the referee stopped the fight to make way for a quartet coming through from Tin Pan Alley, tickling the needles of the overhanging conifers and rattling my tired brain with yet another soppy crooning of “In the cool cool cool of the evening, tell ‘em I’ll be there...” In my windy shelter I lay shaking in the frigid night, cold to the bone, more alone than I’d ever imagined possible. If morning would ever come it would be September first, an eerie date, a strange coincidence, as Auden had a 1939 poem by that name, with lines so uncanny that my freezing, bloodstained arms lurched with violent spasms as I recalled them: The music must always play… Lost in a haunted wood… Defenseless under the night… Auden was writing of one war; I, awake and shivering, began thinking of another one. Isolation, sleep deprivation, and miserably low temperatures were three forms of torture my country was using in its war on terrorism, at Guantánamo Bay, at Baghram and Abu Ghraib, and in black sites all over the earth—against prisoners defenseless under the night. My suffering, I knew, was no match to theirs. My wet from a high Sierra stream was not the same as the piss of a prison guard on your face. The drowning of my novel was not the same as having to watch your holy scriptures flushed down a filthy toilet. I, blinking my pathetic SOS at the gloomy sky, knew that if my signal was seen, people would come to help me. The prisoners, in the jaws of cruelty, believed what their torturers screamed during hours of interrogation: Nobody can hear you, nobody knows where you are, you’ll never get out of here alive. For me, there was every confidence in the world that once people knew I was lost, they would mount a rescue. Auden again: We must love one another or die. So I might survive. And the novel? I contemplated the inky words dripping down the pages of my ravaged manuscript. There were other writers

who knew the sorrow I was feeling. Not too many years ago Maxine Hong Kingston lost an entire book in the Oakland Hills fire; she was left with mere ashes. The protagonist in an Isaac Singer story, a writer, lost his manuscript somewhere in Buenos Aires and was left with nothing at all. And me? What did I have? I had three hundred waterlogged pages in a soaking wet canvas bag. Shit. Get real, said the intellectual. What matters here is your survival, period. But all that work, said the writer: All those drowned phrases, gone. Suddenly a light switched on in my house of sticks. Those pages! They weren’t burned to a crisp. They weren’t disappeared in a strange city. They were right here, in the bag, tangible—maybe not salvageable the way a terrible first draft is salvageable, but weren’t they good for something? Paper! Orwell had covered himself with paper to keep warm when he was down and out in Paris and London. Bettelheim had written about prisoners slipping somebody a piece of newspaper in the concentration camp, to put under a threadbare jacket. Paper! Was it like goose down, losing its insulating properties when it got wet? Or was it like wool, continuing to give protection even when drenched with water? The canvas bag was under my head, being used as a pillow. With fingers stiff from the cold I removed the bag of sodden manuscript from its pillow position. I set it over my heart, an eight-and-a-half by eleven-inch trial blanket. I was shaking and shuddering from the cold, but I held it in place. I waited, and… it was almost unbelievable! In the cool cool cool of the evening I felt the chill leaving my left breast. It was working! I moved the tepid cover to my right shoulder for a while, and later to my hip, and to my battered right leg. Left leg. Right arm below the gash. Left arm above the lacerated elbow. It was the Yosemite Hokey Pokey, danced all through the night, warming up each and every part of my poor, lonesome, freezing self, eight-and-a-half by eleven inches at a time, choreographed by my precious, ravaged, illegible manuscript. I trembled through the long and sleepless night, finding comfort in the blurry words that lay so close to my

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heart. DAWN It’s light out. Now what? During a fierce argument with myself about turning back versus plodding on, interrupted by more refrains of the idiotic song, I calculated that, subtracting the climb up to the granite house and the thrash up the escarpment, six hours should get me to the ladybugs, and the ladybugs meant certain safety, whereas the upstream direction could go on for a thousand miles, all the way to the Continental Divide. I would go back, but I would have to be very, very careful, lest a fall knock me unconscious and sink me in a watery grave under the umbrellas. Those umbrella thugs mustered in green camouflage across the river scared me more than the elusive bear who never showed himself. They were the wilderness contingent of the CIA’s rendition squads, ready to strike, to turn me into one of the disappeared and make me equal after all to the prisoners rotting incognito in undisclosed locations. If the umbrella thugs had their way, the people who cared about me, like the ones who cared about the languishing detainees, would be left in a morbid limbo, never knowing if I was alive or dead. It was for those loved ones, my family and friends, that I staggered, climbed, swam, and swayed my way through the crooked stream, ignoring the raw scrapes on my knees and elbows, the dozens of cuts and scratches all over my thighs, shins, and arms, and the pain a bruised tailbone inserted into every uncertain step. I was in worse shape than the evening before, weak from lack of sleep and too little food. This was going to be a longer trip back than I thought. Seven hours into the bouldering, climbing, and stumbling, when falling had become a way of life and survival an iffy proposition, I rested on a sundrenched rock wedged in the riverbank, and took a drink of water. Up ahead, one of yesterday’s most difficult boulders, easy to swim around but treacherous to ascend, glistened in the sunlight. I remembered reaching its peak and having to straddle a wide gap to get to a place where I could work my way down


Adrianne Aron without the manuscript getting wet. Suddenly that challenge struck me as hilarious. I started laughing at the folly of it—all those river gymnastics, those daring leaps and heart-stopping slips, to protect a piece of fiction! Fiction! Could anything be more ridiculous? And it got saturated anyway! Who cares if the novel is ever finished? What difference does it make if it’s published? Fiction! A treatise on the insulating properties of paper, or a passionate reflection on the courage of Martín-Baró, or the nastiness of umbrella gangs—those would be worth risking your life for! But fiction? I was giddy with surprise at my own silliness. I sat on the rock, staring at my past and my future, laughing, laughing, laughing at the absurdity of it all. I was still laughing when I heard the gritty thunks of the chopper. Without a thought to falling, I leaped from the rock to the middle of the river and waved my red hat as a flag, ferociously, like a patriot gone mad. Laughing still, I put the flag on the end of a long stick so the helicopter would see me for sure if it came back. I laughed at my own absurdity and at the joy of being found, as the helicopter circled above me three times, four times, leaving no doubt that I’d been seen. I sat and waited, and after a time—how long? I couldn’t say. Time had ceased to exist. I heard my name being called. Saved! All the way back to camp, wrist-to-wrist with the members of the volunteer search party who had come from all over the state to hunt for me, I berated myself for my folly. They had thrashed through the cruel brush and stumbled on the slippery rocks to get me, a foolish fiction writer. They had talked to my son on the phone, and been in radio contact with the

helicopter, and had told all the people at camp that they could relax and call off their ad hoc search teams. They had notified the sheriff at Rescue Central to say that the ultra-violet night flights wouldn’t be needed, and promised Mark he did not have to organize a memorial for a dead girlfriend. Through the trek out of the forest, and all during the highway ride to the camp, my mind was fixed on the foolishness of my sacrifice. All that…for fiction? At camp they examined me and fed me and brought little children to look at me, a real live survivor. They brought a chair, and I sat there in the cool cool cool of the evening, half stunned, still berating myself for getting myself practically killed for the sake of fiction. Slowly my sluggish brain cells began to absorb how extensive the mobilization had been and how many people were celebrating my rescue, how many had worried, and how they had cheered when they learned I’d been spotted. Only then did my grudge against fiction begin its retreat back to the lunatic place it had come from. I was able to collect my thoughts. Jack London, I declared when the fog finally cleared, this survivor is going back to work on that book, that novel, that work of…yes, fiction. To finish it, even if she has to start all over and scratch it out on sheets of tree bark. The manuscript had saved me from hypothermia. But there was more to it than that: literature is worth more than the paper it is written on. It’s about life, and what people mean to each other and do for each other. No wonder I’d been thinking of Auden. The poet got it right: We must love one another or die.

Adrianne Aron has finished the novel and is at work on another one, but until her fiction finds a publisher, her rescue from anonymity still depends on her non-fiction. A psychologist working in human rights, she has written on trauma and torture, and is co-editor of Writings for a Liberation Psychology, a collection of essays by Ignacio Martín-Baró (Harvard University Press, 1994, 1996). Pedro and the Captain, her English translation (with Introduction) of the acclaimed play by Uruguayan author Mario Benedetti, was published by Cadmus Editions in 2009.

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Dennis Maulsby

Ocean’s high tide mark, seashells in blue, pink, and green, lost game board tokens

Gulf winds fill sails. Bows cut the sea’s reflection of frosted cloud cakes.

Dennis Maulsby’s poetry and short stories have appeared in print and online literary journals. His first book of poetry, Remembering Willie, and all the others has won Silver Medal Awards from the Military Writers Society of America and the Branson Stars & Flags Organization. A U.S. Army veteran, he served with the 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam. His poem “6 June, Omaha Beach” was featured with a musical background on National Public Radio’s Themes & Variations in memory of the Sixtieth anniversary of the WWII Normandy landings. Dennis is currently First Vice President of the Iowa Poetry Association.

Photo by Naomi M. Judd


GLOW STICKS, FLESHY FINS, AND TAKIN’ THE PISS A Tale of Full Moon Surfing 2nd Place, Ridge to River Contest Trevien Stanger

“We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return, prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again – if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man – then you are ready for a walk.” -Thoreau,Walking

“You buying these glow sticks to go surfin’ mates?” “Well, actually, yes. We aim to go for a full moon surf tonight.” “Huh.” A long pause: the whole hardware store seems to pause along with this ancient, salty fellow behind the counter. He brushes away a long, curly strand of grey hair, looks down at the glow sticks in our hands, glances over at our surfboards leaned against the open door of the shop. He lifts his old ocean eyes into my friend’s beside me, then swims them over to me; they hold decades of tides and a thousand Australian full moons. His weathered, rock-cracked face reveals no expression. Just his eyes staring into mine. No movement in the shop – everyone is waiting. “Sharks come out at night.”

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And that is the scene I keep replaying in my mind, as I sit here beside my surfboard in the stillwarm sand of this night-darkened, full moon illuminated beach. All day my two buddies, Lane and Dave, and I, have been replaying that thirty seconds in the hardware store, trying desperately to decide if we’d received a fair warning against surfing at night, or in fact he was “just takin’ the piss out of us,” as they say Down Under. All day we’ve retold and reshot the scene, comparing it to others over the last couple months of our time here in Australia in which local Aussie’s had encouraged us, nay admonished us, to undertake the magical experience of surfing during the full moon. “Ah yeh, surfin’ the full moon’s choice mate.” But, perhaps, they were just messing with us? Were we far too excited by the prospect of such an

adventure that we weren’t catching subtle hints that in fact surfing at full moon is dangerous? Were we being hazed? Duped? Were they taking the piss out of us? If so, then, in the hardware store today, were we finally, truly warned against such a foolish stunt? Or... are we being cowards, afraid of a little water and moonlight? I don’t recall who said it thus an hour ago that convinced us to go, but one of us or all of us finally agreed: “Well, either way, it’s going to make one helluva good story someday,” and that sealed it. We finished our dinner, waxed our boards, and strolled out into the warm, calm-clear night. We walked the mile to the beach, and we’ve been sitting here for a few minutes now, just watching the waves, not saying anything. Finally Lane stands up: “Well boys, we didn’t get dressed up for nothin’,” and begins to make his way down to the peeling tide line. Lane is of old explorer stock, with a large quarter-back build and the bloodline of Ernest Shackleton coursing through his veins. Dave, a slighter and more wiry fellow, more like myself, is a fearless climber, and he is fresh back from a trip to Thailand and is gun-ho about everything. He starts trotting to catch up to Lane, but I linger a little longer, swallowing my last few breaths of fear and taking a moment to take stock on what it is I’m doing. I’ve been here in Australia for almost two months now: my first extended journey off my home and native continent of Turtle Island (more recently called North America). I am here studying with a small crew of aspiring naturalists and ecologists and conservationists, as well as blossoming surfers and adventurers, as is the case of we three strapping young Americans. We’ve been learning to surf ever since we arrived, and it continues to be a humbling and gratifying, though at times frustrating experience for all of us. To learn the push and pull of tides, the filling and swelling of currents, the spitting and sucking and crashing and ducking and turning and surging of waves is to learn that no great thing in life is done well without being in constant contact with the ebbs and flows of the world within us and around us. We’ve been getting up silly early all the time lately, trying to turn this difficult and awkward task of riding a board

Glow Sticks, Fleshy Fins, and Takin’ the Piss across breaking waves into something graceful, into something artistic, something worthwhile. And now tonight, we’re hoping all of our work will pay off, and that we might get in some very enlightening, very beautiful moon-lit rides. “Oh ha wait up!” I holler, “We forgot our glow sticks!” and they come back. Three young men in the moonlight, ripping open plastic pouches with our teeth, removing the glow sticks, and breaking them to illumination. Lane’s grows quickly to a fiery red, Dave’s blooms into a midnight blue, and mine sparks and glows in my hand the bright and eerie green of kryptonite. Holding them in the bright white

Were we being hazed? Duped? Were they taking the piss out of us? moonlight, we loop the lanyards through the provided guy holes and pull them over our bare chests, amused. We stand in the moonlight beside our surfboards, our faces aglow from beneath, grinning. We make for the water. Byron Bay, the name of this bay and this super cool beach community, boasts a most marvelous beach break. Beach breaks are areas where the waves slide in toward shore and break reliably and predictably right onto the beach (as opposed to point breaks or reef breaks, which break further out and require more time paddling one’s board across stretches of deeper ocean.) The water here is always warm, and the shape of the great headland of Cape Byron extending out to sea to our right reliably protects this bay from wave-chopping winds, while its hulking contours usually serve to smooth out and mollify even the most aggressive of Pacific swells. In short; Byron Bay is one of the best places to learn to surf in the world. As is common with beach breaks, we first


Trevien Stanger wade out for a hundred yards of ankle to knee-deep water through an area of calmer water, with just little lines and lips of mini-waves traversing and coursing around us. The splash-sounds of steps and the seawash rounds of the water: enter now into the world of waves. The moon beams brilliantly, and the water is clear, clear, clear as water windows, revealing faintly gold-glowing sands of fine white light. I see my feet touch down onto the soft small dunes of the sandscape, see my toes and feel them dance nervously and excitedly from step to step. Finally the water draws shallow again, just an advancing and then receding glaze of shimmering bubbled lines, greeting us to this precipice of these great waves and the depths beyond. Here the ocean seems truly before us, stretching out and beckoning us, welcoming us into the night. We take a moment to look back to the beach, see our little pile of belongings on the edge where sand meets trees meets a small parking lot. We glance at one another and our glow sticks, stretch our arms a little and shift our feet from side to side. And finally, without a word, we slip into the great beyond, with that old man’s wording now ringing loudly in my head; “Sharks come out at night.” The paddle out is a challenge as always, and the sudden adrenaline rush consumes me past description; the moon-lit world immediately becomes wet and loud and frothy, as each incoming wave arrives and crests and quick-crashes down upon us as we frantically paddle straight into their advances. I still feel far from graceful on my board while paddling out to sea, and my arm strokes grow weaker and a little sloppier, though I remind myself to not look like a seal in distress. Eventually we all glide past and beyond the breaking six-foot waves and arrive into the vastness of calmer, deeper water that stretches from here to Chile. Out of breath, we float with our legs dangling in the warm-night water, glance at one another’s eyes and glow stick lines, and we do some more grinning. The moon hangs like a round glow stick orb from the nape of the sky. It hovers not far above the horizon due east, out over the great expanse of watery light. The waves, created over thousands of miles of winds fetching into the wide prairies of water, march

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toward us now and are seen as steady, unbroken bands of darkened shadow running horizontally through moon-glittered waters. And here we sit, bobbing gently, and as the dark band approaches, it eclipses the horizon for one moment, then slides beneath us, picks us up to its crest, giving us a long, wide view, then drops us back down gently into the next trough. There is a see-sawing rhythm to this, and the ocean as playground enlivens the children within us. Sets of waves come in with this slow, steady, quiet rhythm, and we slow ourselves as well, listening for their tune as a musician bends his ear to a jazz number and tries to find where he may fit. My surfboard, my instrument, my words, my song; come, come, come on along. Lane is the first to narrow his gaze and choose a wave to ride. He sees that the third wave of this incoming set looms broader and taller, and after the first two pass under us, he wheels himself around and points the nose of his board toward the shore, with the little lights of the village glittering through distant trees. I feel the breeze as this larger wave passes under me, and turn to see Lane paddling fervently toward shore, his glow stick clothing the water around him with a rich, red shimmer; then we see the wave swallow him from view. Dave and I hear the wave begin peeling and breaking, and just when we think Lane must’ve fallen off, we see a glorious sight darting away from us, already forty meters away: a fastmoving, floating red glow stick, quickly cruising its way down the beach and toward the shore. And just before it disappears, we hear the most joyous, eloquent cry such an ocean may ever hear, and it makes us smile as wide as the Pacific from which it sprung. “Ahhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” And ah now oh go yes it’s Dave’s turn! Things in quick trick slick speed of water and whoosh and rush now, as Dave turns to catch a wave of his own. As he glides across the surface of the water toward shore, I see the wave behind the one he is hunting looks perfect for me, the timing and the musicality of the water acoustics beckoning me. With nary a hesitation, and with the strength and timing I’ve been learning for these past two months, I suddenly find myself paddling percussively toward shore, with the wave bearing

down on me from behind. I feel its great curve catch up to me, pick me upon its smooth-groove face, and begin pushing me mightily toward shore. And as the pitch increases, the wave nearing its breaking point, the angle begins to throw me down the hill, like sledding face-first. So I push down hard with my hands on the rails of the board and pop! I pop up, find my feet

Glow Sticks, Fleshy Fins, and Takin’ the Piss

I climb quickly back on my board and begin to paddle back out, duck-diving the next two breaking waves and casting eyes about for my two glow stick friends. What of that shape beneath? the voice asks again. Sharks come out at night, states another. After I clear the last of the breakers, I begin to regain my breath and feel the adrenaline and the excitement of

I’m knocked off balance by a gentle curve to the wave I couldn’t quite see, and did I just see some other shape there in the water [...]? beneath me flexed and splayed on the board, and away I go! No film, photo, song, or story may ever capture the whoosh and splash, the rush and roar, the glide and glance, the speed and spray of spending a moment of your day riding a wave – at this, like many aspects of the immersive, adventure sports, I can only hint. All I can tell you is that the moon hung in space beyond me in a star-splashed sky, the Australian continent beside me hummed in an ancient, sandy light, and that the wave I am riding right now is curling itself into the space and shape of the ultimate and eternal yin-yang, with wave and sky holding one another in a fluidic harmony that includes and embraces my wild-crying smiling eyes and my green glow stick, flying by. I have a few moments at great corporeal speed and of great transcendent thought, where I am truly covering fifteen feet of wave a second, where I am looking into the water and seeing my glow stick reflected there and following me through the balmy, oceanic air, and where I am beyond, so far beyond, anything that could ever be described as worry. And just as suddenly as it begins, I’m knocked off balance by a gentle curve to the wave I couldn’t quite see, and did I just see some other shape there in the water, just beyond me there? a small, timid voice asks. I fall off my board and splash myself into the warm night’s watery embrace, surely a massive grin upon my salty face.

my full moon wave-ride surge through me. I paddle myself an extra fifty meters, just to be sure I am well beyond breaking waves, and I finally pull up to a sitting position, wipe my beaming face with shaking wet hands, and have a look about me. A glance behind reveals my two friends making their way out toward me as well, though the blue light quickly changes direction and can be seen tacking along and away toward shore once again, as Dave catches his second wave of the night. See his blue light flying through the moonlight? And a quiet descends upon me. The night is marvelously still. Apart from the headland of Cape Byron perched into the spit of sea to my right, with its little lighthouse twinkling there, my eyes consume nothing but sea, moon, and stars. The moon has climbed a little higher, so that I crane my neck up slightly to study it, feeling its white-splayed rays bursting out toward me and tickling the water world around me with washes and winks of that cool white light. It is a great rock flower, bursting in the cosmos of night. It is enchanting me, hypnotizing me. I slide my gaze down, and see the moon again there in the calm water not ten feet from me. And I drift further down into its sensuous spell. But now see this, and see this well. The nose of my board extending out from me, with little elongated pools of water forming and falling as I rise and


Trevien Stanger bob, each mini-puddle catching flame with blue-white moonlight and extinguishing itself when the board dips back down. Beyond the nose, starting right there, so close I could touch it, shine a line of stars that is this hemisphere’s most treasured constellation, the Southern Cross, shimmering in the water as it does in the sky. Beyond that, the calm surface of the water holds and shines a thousand other stars, as I float and drift into the sky. And then there, as this wave bar heaves and passes beneath me and leaves behind a completely calm and flat stretch of water, I want you to see the full moon mirrored there perfectly, its edges clear and its contrast and details clearer. See the gold-white disc crisply drawn onto the liquid? Feel the depth of the ocean and sky supporting it? Feel the calmness, and the danger, of this deep water revelry? See the circle upon the flat of the water, and

The fin consumes the moon, displaces it with flesh and a shadow... see its watery edge begin to rip open – a dark triangle, just a single small corner, arises from the water, pierces the water-sky beside the moon, and continues to grow taller. The up thrusting shape extends, slides, and parts the moon; just the edge at first, and now, all of it. A great, horrific dark grey dorsal fin of aching flesh and tremendous weight has commandeered my liquid sky: I see the rough ridges of its crest and I hear the water part before it and drip and drain off its undulating sides. The fin consumes the moon, displaces it with flesh and a shadow so complete that its top pyramidal tip touches the nose of my board– it lingers there for an eternal quarter-second – and then just as suddenly withdraws, sinks, and disappears, the parted sea flooding back in, and the moon’s light turns back on, wavering in ripples of tri-angling lines.

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The imagination may be our greatest sense: for in this one, heart-crashing moment, I can imagine and nearly comprehend the weight and the stature of the creature that is connected to that fin. Like a fighter sizing up his opponent, I surmise that this beast beneath me must stretch the length of a canoe and displace the water of a small submarine. I take my first breath since seeing it. My glow stick glows, my feet twirl the water beneath me, and somewhere far away, a bird bursts a short song that may well herald an impending doom. Little waves from the fin’s wake still lap against my board, and the stars drool and coagulate in between each. Nothing else stirs. And GO! Fight or flight fight or flight fight or flight fight or flight we are animals we are ancient we are brains and wires and electric fliers of flight and fight and flight I go! With not a second to think, even before I could, I am going, paddling like mad, quickdash-splashing my way to shore, suppressing screams and cries and I’m flying through the water in run-on sentences of horrific and painful thoughts of serrated teeth separating my flesh from my bones and I haven’t called home in a while and I’m sorry mom, I’m so sorry and sharks come out at night and fuckin’ Thoreau! And last year a great white killed a man on his honey-moon right near here while his wife watched and paddle faster you child! and if I survive I promise to write more and dedicate my life to all things worthy and good and ok I’m going faster, oh my god I’m in a wave, ride it ride it ride it and there’s Lane and Dave “Go to shore! Go to shore!” and save yourselves and I wonder if it’s just a dolphin and that looked a lot like the monster that eats R2D2 in Empire! And in the old man’s gravelly, salty voice “you using these glow sticks to go surfin? Sharks come out at night.” Not until I’m in ankle deep water do I allow myself to stand up and realize I’ve made it. Staggering at last onto the beach, nearly collapsing from exhaustion, I walk up to Lane and Dave who are already out of the water. They are calmly but very curiously staring at me, and eagerly and both at once: “What dude? Did you see something? We heard you yelling!” All I see for a moment is that moon, and it getting ripped apart like a wet film of soap in the starry bath of the night.

I’m checking to see if I’m in shock, or dreaming, or both. “I saw a fin. It was just a fin. Probably a dolphin. Alright?” After a few minutes of discussion, Lane and Dave convince me it must’ve been a dolphin– “you said the back of the fin was curved, right? Dolphin, definitely a dolphin.” And with no further debate, we grab our things and head for home. I imagine the beer in the fridge, the chair outside our place, and that moon that I know will be staring at me all night. Starting to walk across the dirt beach parking lot, the water and roar and the rush softening behind me, I begin to convince myself that wow, yes that surely was just a dolphin. But what a scare, and maybe, what a story. “Ahoy mates! How you goin’ boys?!” Another salty old voice is calling to us from a rusted and roughbolted moon-blue van parked over in the shadows. “I gotta ask you something ay!” We walk over, fatigued and wet in our bare feet. At first I think it’s going to be the guy from the hardware store, ready to laugh at us or slice me with a shark tooth or some such ridiculousness; I feel drunk with this fatigue. “Where’d you boys get those glow sticks?” A little surprised, we remember we’re even

Glow Sticks, Fleshy Fins, and Takin’ the Piss

wearing the stupid things, a group of walking lights. Dave grasps his blue cylinder of light like one holds a fistful of sacred prayer beads. “Well, we got ‘em at the hardware store. Why?” I gaze down at the green of my glow stick, feeling sick. The man in the van leans over his steering wheel, a bottle between his legs and the sounds of someone stirring in sleep in the back of the van behind him. Loose scree of shells, stones, feathers, teeth, and other ocean debris covers the flat dash. Two large, deep-sea fishing reels and rods rest on the floor, their lines and hooks extending out the other window. “Well mates, I ask ‘cause I buy a lot of those, and I reckon I wanna find a cheap way to get ‘em.” “Oh, well, yeah just the hardware store for these, man. Good luck though,” I say, turning to go, taking off my green glow stick and preparing to chuck it at the moon. “You know why I like them?” Sigh. “Um, no, why?” “You see around here, we use them glow sticks for fishing.” I stop. We stop. The night stops. “Fishin’ for sharks. They love ‘em. Especially the green ones.”

Trevien Stanger is a poet, writer, adventurer, and tree-planter. His twenties have found him pursuing all manner of adventures through the wilds of land and thought, and he is currently writing a book encouraging other young folks to pursue their own wild-inspired dreams. His home-base is the northeast US, splitting time between his childhood home of New Boston, New Hampshire and his artistic home of Burlington, Vermont. When not traveling or planting trees, he runs poetry nights in Burlington, works at the famous/notorious Outdoor Gear Exchange, and daily pursues earthly beauty with his partner, Whitney. He still cannot decide if the fin belonged to a shark or dolphin.


THE SAWTOOTH Finalist, Ridge to River Contest Manda Frederick

Afternoon thunderheads had descended on our summit promptly at noon like clockwork. Storm clouds produced sparks of lightning and grinding thunder—we had ascended the Sawtooth, reaching our hands into sky and thunderheads that churned above us like great factory gears. David and I clutched each other’s sodden bodies, shuddering under my emergency-red, hail-covered poncho as we lay in the stony avalanche chute. We had these foolish notions that if we were small, if we were good, lightning wouldn’t strike us. But we were the tallest of anything at that point on the mountain—there were no trees or boulders larger than we. We may as well have been two dumb summits piercing the Colorado skyline. We should have split up, I scolded myself—during a lightning storm, hikers should always separate at least six meters; if one hiker is struck, then the survivor of the storm can revive the victim. But David and I were much too romantic—too scared, really—for all of that. We had run together, frightened, hand in hand, through a boulder field down the slope of the Saw Tooth, taking refuge in the avalanche chute. Later, we would read in a Boulder newspaper that seven soaked and tattered hikers, all knotted together around a tree like frayed rope, were hit by lightning in our same storm, huddled together as we were. As we lay there, I considered how our own headline would read after our bodies were found. I imagined it would report two stupid out-of-state hikers who were “Breaking All the Rules.” The article would reveal that we hadn’t split up. We had lain flat instead of taking the crouching hands-on-head, elbows-on-knees, lighting-safe position that would allow fierce electricity to go through our limbs, circumventing our vital organs. The readers wouldn’t understand why we had taken refuge next to a waterfall in that chute only 400 yards beneath a

As we lay there, I considered how our own headline would read after our bodies were found.

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summit. They would shake their heads over morning coffee, murmuring smugly to each other that climbers should always be off summits by noon. They wouldn’t know that we had simply run out of time. A craze of thunder as sudden as a rockslide wrenched me from my thoughts. It seemed impossible that just the night before, David and I sleepily arrived in Colorado from Illinois after a cross-country road trip reminiscent of an over-extended Sunday drive. We drove through Gaunella Pass out of Georgetown, Colorado, night tumbling down on us from surrounding summits like falling rock. We dallied through northcentral Colorado into the Arapaho-Roosevelt National Forest as we drove upward through the mountain wilderness. David was quiet with exhaustion, tapping out rhythms on the steering wheel with his left hand, gripping the demanding clutch with his right. I thumbed through a book of Colorado’s 14ers, the tallest mountains in state at over 14,000 feet above sea level—there are 54 official 14ers in Colorado. When David had initially suggested that we take a road trip to the Rockies to camp and hike, I immediately began researching and planning. I pressed my nose into books as I had always done in order to learn of things I didn’t know much about; I had never been hiking or camping. David had groaned at all of the catchpenny activities I had planned for us: Garden of the Gods, Cave of the Winds, and Pike’s Peak Train Ride. He thought it best for me to leave the planning up to him. He’d at least been to Colorado, had summitted 14ers. The dim dome light flickered as I paraphrased for David what I was reading: We should look for storms in the West and descend summits by noon. We should not deviate from established paths. We should make noise in thick brush to let bears know we are coming. Really, I was committing the information to memory with every intention of following the books; David poked fun at me for being a “square,” even in the wilderness. The unlit mountain roads were teeming with coniferous trees—lodge pole pines and pinon junipers. Those shadowy wooden figures were left behind as we breeched the timberline at around 11,000 feet above sea level. Pulling into a make-shift gravel parking lot, we resigned ourselves to sleeping in the back of David’s hatchback; it was too dark to set up camp or

The Sawtooth

venture from the car to seek out the trailhead that we had travel so far to find. We rose at 6:00 AM, shivering. David packed our gear—water bottles, sunscreen, sandwiches. The air was heavy, and sensing it was threatening to rain, he put our ponchos into our packs. I put water on to boil over our modest propane camp stove. We sat together in the dark morning, discussing where the trailhead might be somewhere off in the dim, dewy meadow. Warming ourselves with oatmeal and Lapsang tea, we awaited our first Colorado sunrise. Then, off in the distance, like a fleshy palm gripping a rock, the palest shade of pink embraced the mountain peaks before us. Looking west, I let my eyes wander eastward, admiring the lines of land three miles away. The landscape rose as softly as features on a face: Mt. Bierstadt (14,060 ft. elevation) slouched before us. Gazing eastward past Bierstadt, across the saddle-shaped ridge that connected the two mountains, I came upon the second peak we planned to summit that day: The Sawtooth (13, 700 ft elevation). It rose so sharply out of the earth that I thought it might puncture the sky. David’s plan was simple enough. We would leave at dawn from the trailhead (11,660 ft. elevation). Our seven-mile hike would form a tremendous “O”. We would trek south west through alpine meadow and marsh up the trail that snaked west of Bierstadt. After gaining 2,850 feet elevation and summiting the mountain, we would descend the eastern face of Bierstadt. We would not be able to back-track up Bierstadt and return the way we had come because the terrain would be too difficult and steep. After crossing westward over the one-mile long, trailess, saddle-shaped ridge that connected the two peaks, we would summit the steep western face of the Sawtooth. We would descend the Sawtooth’s eastern face, which slumped easily onto a ridge. Our trail would wind down the long ridge that closed in the gulch at the base of the Sawtooth like a parenthesis, bringing us full circle to the gravel parking lot. And, so, after locating the trailhead at around 6:30 AM, we began our long hike. The path led up the mountain through an incredible maze of flowers and wildlife. Out of the tufts of jade Bog Sedge, Green Gentian grew up two


Manda Frederick feet like leafy Grecian pillars. Sage Thrashers flew about, pursuing each other over the marsh. We took our time, stopping to drink water often and to take photos. Mountain Chickadees hopped about purple Monkshood that blossomed as impromptu and formless as an expressionist painting. Catchfly Asters bent lazily over our path like bulbous faces whose mouths were stuffed with petals. Small, tawny mountain rodents, called Pica, chirped shrill choruses of warnings—bee! bee!—to each other as we made our way up the trail. Vegetation became sparse as we gained elevation. David and I stopped to admire our everincreasing panoramic view. With one last look back at the disappearing meadow and the Poppy Mallow, like fuchsia hands waving goodbye to us, we picked up our pace. Occasionally, we came upon man-made piles of rocks called cairns—they have been used to mark graves, historical sites, and summits; here, they were simply marking the trail. The trail became steeper at the ridge. We pushed ourselves up through a boulder field leading up to the unseen summit, still 250 feet beyond the ridge. There were a few residual patches of snow locked in the shadow of the north side of the peak. Even though it was a long and cumbersome hike, the ascent of Bierstadt was as simple as expected. David and I sat on the summit, sharing a sandwich and water, looking across the vast expanse of rock, meadow, and marsh. Distant summits faded away into paler shades of grey. There were enormous splotches of darkness, cloud shadows, everywhere over the landscape. I was tired, but pleased with myself. I had ascended a mountain. I was at the surface of everything. At around 10:30 AM, we began our hike across the saddle to the Sawtooth. We wanted to be off the Sawtooth by noon to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms that frequented the mountains. Our skies looked clear, so we continued to hike slowly as we made our way down the north-eastern face of Bierstadt. My expectation was that the hike would proceed simply as it had before: I was wrong. Descending Bierstadt’s summit was a difficult process. The face of the mountain was steep and gravel-ridden. We could barely climb down the windswept gulley—much of what we grabbed or stepped upon slid down the slope

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with our weight. Our motions were slow and deliberate as we descended about five-hundred feet onto the saddle. David inched his way onto the saddle, but I was reluctant. I stood for a long while, evaluating whether or not I was capable of such a climb. The trail leading up Bierstadt was only a class 1—the easiest level in evaluating the difficulty of climbing a 14er. The climbs can range from 1 (walking trail) to 5.14 (roped climbs). The saddle before us was a level three scramble (trailess, un-roped climb). It was a narrow, rocky jigsaw puzzle made of overhangs and cliffs that could only be solved with intense mental concentration, as well as deft feet and hands. To the south of the saddle was a thousand-foot drop off. To the north of the saddle was a deep gully, entrenched with glacial basins, called cirques. A glacial lake, Abyss Lake (12,650 ft. elevation), gleamed at the base of the mountain like a shiny quarter. We could not back-track the incline we had just descended. I had no choice but to follow David westward across the saddle to the Sawtooth. Crossing the difficult bridge was painstaking. Our bodies and minds were exhausted; if we, for even a moment, rested either, we could have faced tumbling over the drop off or sliding down into the gully like so many of the rocks we were stepping upon. Our process would be so careful, it would take us two full hours to cross that mile-long, rock-laden segue. While we quietly concentrated on our hands and feet gripping the slant gravel, something unknown to us was happening off in the distance. As we climbed, the sun warmed the cool morning air low in the meadows and marshes. A humid afternoon front pursued the lines of the land, pushing upward to meet the cold sky that hung about the summits. In these stormy designs, the fronts were courting. Updrafts and downdrafts condensed, turning over each other, creating frantic static charges between them. Hail grew heavy in the clouds coming out of the west. The grey anvil-shaped thunderhead swung slowly down toward our mountain like a cloudy pendulum—lightning flashed. Those electric bolts warmed the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit— hotter than the surface of the sun—with such force that thunder grumbled explosive murmurs.

By the time David and I realized that the storm was moving in, it was too late. We hadn’t even ascended the Sawtooth yet. We needed that summit; it blocked our access to the trail beyond the ridge, to safety. I looked to David, frightened. We couldn’t stay on the saddle, couldn’t back track, couldn’t descend into the gulch on our left or gully on our right. We couldn’t go anywhere but up into the torrid sky toward that tooth. We started to climb as quickly as possible, our footing unstable as we traversed the narrow, unsound saddle. The last thirty yards of the scramble angled sharply upward. We scurried up the slant, rocks tumbling behind us over the edge of the drop off. We were forced to our knees, surveying the face, so smooth and pitched; we stretched, pulling out the few rocks that speckled the slant. I paused, not knowing how to go forward, sick to my stomach with fear.

The Sawtooth

rain. We traversed the Tooth, and the eastern face of the mountain sloped down into a boulder field, which we could navigate quickly. We shuddered as lightning struck peaks and valleys in the distance. We stopped briefly to put on our ponchos. David was trying to decide if we should stay on the easy path high on the ridge or descend into the steep rocky gulch, when the hair on my head rose from the electrical charge—a sign that a storm is about to throw a fit of lightning. We were trying to make our way on the ridge, to the path, to the protection of our car three miles away; we had to abandon our plan. David grabbed my hand, and we crumbled together like sandstone into the rocky plain. Bolts struck closer still. We dashed down the peak as quickly as possible. Descending was almost pointless—lightning can generate miles away from the

A mountain waterfall seethed next to us. Lightning bolts as twisted and angry as bristlecone pines hit the valley below and the ridges around us. It was like one of those nightmares when I struggled to call out for help but couldn’t speak, when I desperately swam upward, running out of air, toward a surface I could never breech. The sound of falling rock hitting rock blended into thunder. I considered, for the first time, that we may actually fall, may actually die. None of the hiking books told me what to do when there was nothing to climb, no where to go. It had simply stated: Look for storms in the West and descend summits by noon. I had read about climbers falling, about hikers being struck by lightning, about people going off into the wilderness never to return. I had always wondered critically: Isn’t there something they could have done? How does that happen? This, I realized, is how it happens. We inched our way to the summit, the storm pressing down on us. Everything grayed as it started to

point it chooses to strike, and we were still very close to the summit. We had no choice but to take refuge in the avalanche chute carved out like a stony wedge on the face of the Sawtooth. Leaving the boulder field, we slid again on the slanting gravel face. We made it only 400 yards from the summit—no great distance. A mountain water fall seethed next to us. Lightning bolts as twisted and angry as bristlecone pines hit the valley below and the ridges around us. Knowing that the lightning, which can deliver between one hundred and one billion volts of electricity, would be attracted to the metal in our gear, David demanded that I give him my pack. He took both our bags and scrambled up the chute, throwing the packs toward the ridge. He slid back down to me, grabbed my hand, and told me to run. But we could only slide


Manda Frederick on the gravel, the abrasive slope tearing at our skin. We found a boulder about two feet tall and shrunk next to it. The clouds released hail in a terrible plenty. I took off my poncho and spread it over both of us. This action was partly altruistic on my part; I didn’t want David’s legs exposed. The action was also partly selfish; I didn’t want to be alone in this storm under my own poncho. I thought of how many times I must have awakened in the past, frightened of thunder that bellowed over my rooftop. But, three miles from anything, as I shoved my face into the sky twelve- thousand feet above sea level, the clouds hung so heavy and low that I could have plucked them like over-ripe fruit splitting open as they hung from branches; it was the difference between being on the end of a gun and inside the barrel. David prayed aloud, his prayers scattering down the chute like kicked gravel. How good those words must have felt on his mouth. I could say nothing, crying quietly, shivering in my jealous silence. I buried my face into his arm. I could hear his heart, like a muffled voice, struggling under the weight of my head. When the storm condensed, the grey anvil clouds had crushed any warmth from the air. David’s lips purpled. He had given me his sweatshirt and only wore a tee shirt under his poncho. I hadn’t covered my own legs wearing only thin yoga pants, which were soaking-wet. For forty-five minutes, hail fell upon our ponchos. I was certain we would die there freezing in the chute with our foolish notions. We exchanged a series of It’s time to go and Not yet. It had been almost an hour and was still thundering. David looked very seriously at me for a long while. I could tell he was trying to say something just right, but I already knew what he would say: If we don’t leave, we could die here. A worse storm could be moving in. We could get hypothermia. Lightning could strike us as we lay here. We both knew what had to be done. With sudden deftness and certainty, we rose. I threw on my poncho, and David scrambled back up the mountain, putting on both our packs. So began our quick and abrasive slide down into the valley at the base of the avalanche chute.

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Everything was covered in hail. Our difficult descent increased tenfold. We must have fallen thirty times, raking my fingers behind me as I slid on my bottom, trying to grip rocks and icy weeds firmly rooted in the pitched ground. Ice and rain piled up in the chute, in that rocky siphon behind us. David kept looking over his shoulder for flash floods. The farther we descended from that awful tooth, the more optimistic we felt. We were freezing, wet, and badly cut up, but we could see our parking lot far off in the distance. But when we descended below the timberline, what had looked like grass from the summit were actually chest-high thickets of willow that we could not break through. Every time David saw a clearing and led us to it, the clearing was a frigid creek or an impossible marsh. I would see a break in the thickets over a hill and lead us to it; the path would lead to a cusp, and we would have to backtrack. We looked vainly for cairns. There were no markings; we were not supposed to be there. We struggled in the labyrinth of boulders and thicket for two hours. Even though another storm was moving in, we had to abandon the gulch, head for the ridge, and hope for a path. We’d been in this position before—scrambling up while the anvils were falling down. We came back to the same boulder field that extended across the slope of the ridge. There was no sign of a path. We jogged, heaving heavily forward with cold exhaustion, not exactly sure where we were going. Lichen and alpine vegetation tore from the rocks beneath our tired feet. I recalled that if lichen, or any of the primitive mountain plant life, was stepped upon and crushed, it could take dozens of years to recover; it may never recover at all. We should not deviate from established paths. I didn’t care. I was angry at the mountain and had a secret satisfaction knowing part of it would die in our survival. We saw a cluster of trees some distance away down the ridge. We felt hopeful of this shelter as it was starting to rain again. But when we arrived in the forest, it looked as though it had been selected for slash and burn agriculture. Over half of the trees were charred, burnt from being struck by lightning. We could hear a storm grumbling in the west and knew

we couldn’t linger in the forest. Nothing seemed real as we jogged again—the sloshing sounds of our shoes as they hit the icy ground, the burning sensation of my cut-up legs, David’s tight purple mouth usually so flush and full. There was nothing but mountain and storm wrapped tightly around us, constricting our efforts. A mountain, we had learned the hard way, is crafty. They don’t tell you this in books: a mountain has an unforgiving multitude of ways to defeat a hiker; more importantly, if it can triumph, it will—this is how it happens; this is how people go off into the wilderness and never return. We had been struggling, growing exhausted, in the wet embrace of this storm for almost four hours. We joked about surrendering, giving up to this seemingly unending hike—halfjoked, really. Then, the most wonderful thing happened. A cairn. I had never been so happy to see a stupid stack of rocks. A trodden and flat path appeared like a beautiful epiphany. We surrendered to the path, which didn’t demand of us to know where we were going. We estimated that we were still about 45 minutes to an hour from the car. The trodden trail diminished into a deer path, cutting through the marsh. We pushed through, knee-deep in cold mountain water.

The Sawtooth

Cat tails and reeds batted our faces. The same thorny thicket that pushed us up onto the ridge scraped our faces and arms. I’d never before been so wet, cold, tired. David and I said almost nothing for an hour as we trudged our determined procession, pushing forward. When the marsh relented, it seemed surreal how simply our trek ended, our path quietly greeting the gravel road. My face was wind-burnt. David shivered. The wind tried to push us back toward the marsh, but we leaned into it, aching, cut up, and bruised. When we arrived back to the car, neither one of us could say anything. I turned around and saw that tooth, that mountain ridge, grinning at us. I saw where we had come from. I saw the senseless maze behind us. It looked like one of the circles of hell written by Dante himself; our sin was our arrogant assent. We had disregarded, underestimated those dreadful mountains—the simple slump of Bierstadt and the Sawtooth striking out of the timberline into the stormy Colorado sky like a spear of yucca. We stripped off our clothes and climbed into the car. We closed the doors and let the dry, still silence take us over.

Manda Frederick holds an M.F.A in Creative Nonfiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers, where she served as the nonfiction editor for Willow Springs literary magazine. She is nearing completion of an MA in Literary Studies from Western Washington University, where she teaches writing and serves as the poetry editor for The Bellingham Review under Brenda Miller. She also currently teaches creative writing to young adults for a nonprofit organization called “Young Writers Studio.” She has published nonfiction, poetry, and fiction in Four Paper Letters, Switchback, Brew City Magazine, White Whale Review, Stirring, and Whisper and Scream. She has a profile-interview with poet Robert Wrigley forthcoming in The Bellingham Review.


DENALI 2010 Words and Photos by Shea Mack This Denali trip was part of the UAS Outdoor Studies Capstone trip in May 2010, with a special permit from the National Park Service.

This page: It lasted only for a brief moment, but an ice cloud overtook us as we snaked our way along the West Buttress, obscuring an otherwise blue bird sky. I switched my camera to a b&w setting to capture the contrast and a few moments later the clouds and the brief snowstorm, silently passed by. Shea Mack has lived all over the western United States, until eventually deciding that Alaska was the only place where he could find the solitude and adventure that he seeks. Through his travels, guiding and teaching over the last 14 years, he has always tried to document his adventures so that others could experience, at least through his photos, what it was like to be there. His pictures reflect a love and respect for the land that he explores, whether it is in the mountains, on the rivers or out on the sea. He hopes that his photos will inspire others to get out and explore, wherever they may be.

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Above / Contents Page Background: The Autobahn - Waking up early at High Camp, we were worried about winds during our summit attempt. The air seemed calm, the sun was out and so we prepared for a summit push. The Autobahn can have variable conditions - on this day, it was downright cold, but with great snow and safe conditions. We roped up and worked our way to Denali Pass, where it was quite blustery. One in our group had cold feet. Another had even colder hands. Not wanting to risk frostbite, both went down. The rest continued on and successfully summited almost 8 hours later.

Lower Right: Yosuke Sano following Freddie Munoz and Forest Wagner on the West Buttress of Denali. This was my favorite part of the route along the West Buttress Route, climbing along the exposed ridge of Denali. There were four of us, roped up, protected from a fall by pickets and natural protection, laboring our way up to high camp at 17,200’. The views along the route were spectacular.

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Above: This basecamp shot features Acacia Edmiston, Sammy Becker and Kevin Krein. After a restless night at Kahiltna Base, we left with heavy packs and sleds towards Camp 1. Soon the sun gave way to clouds and near whiteout conditions, but we arrived at camp with hearty appetites and sore bodies, anxious for the days to come...



Paul Melby had already been missing for three days when I dreamt that I found him, his skis poking out of the tree well that engulfed him wholly. In dreamspeak, my voice thick and slow, I spoke into my radio, informing the rest of the ski patrol that our missing friend was found. “Crystal Base,” I said. “I think I found Melby.” In dreams we can be heroic, and in the moment just before waking, our minds still caught in sticky strands, we can even go back and bolster our deeds, reforming the vision to bring us exactly what we want in our waking lives. As I lay there in my Alaskan hotel bed, a thousand miles from the search for my missing cohort at Crystal Mountain, I replayed my dreamy radio transmission. “I found Melby,” I said, veering away from the uncertainty of my earlier posit. I wanted to make it true. I wanted even to save him, believing that he could somehow survive upside down in a tree well,

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or wherever he was, for three days. I wasn’t ready to give up hope. Even now, weeks later, his body still lost under the accumulating snow, his mother still unleashed from her grown son, I cringe when someone—a skier on a chairlift perhaps—says the inevitable, “well at least he died doing what he loved.” I am a ski patroller, charged with saving lives, and Paul Melby was one of us; easy platitudes simply aren’t working for me. How do you search for a missing friend? How, when the man that disappeared while skiing alone was once a ski patroller, standing shoulder to shoulder with any one of us, can I let those words soothe the dry dust caught in my lungs? Like inhaled chalk, the knowledge that he’s still out there, somewhere under the snow, in a tree well perhaps or head first in a creek bed, burns my throat and settles beneath my sternum, a tangible pain.

I will probe around trees, the likely places where my friend used to ski, the hidden pockets of fresh powder still smooth after 2:30 pm, the exact time he was last seen. I wonder where he went after skiing Rabbit Ears Chute, when Andrew, another patroller, saw Paul turn effortlessly through the powder, his body arcing from one side of the chute to the other, his skis parting the snow, throwing it overhead in a blast spray that settled quietly behind him and filled in his tracks. No one saw him after that; it could have been his last run. Days later, when I finally return from my trip to Alaska, where I writhed in my hotel room, waiting for word on the search, I take up my own efforts. Our ski area is in the midst of a storm cycle—four feet of snow has fallen since Paul disappeared, and I follow the rope line to K2 face, the site of my dream rescue. I ski to the exact tree in my vision, imagining

Photo by Shea Mack

How to Search for a Missing Friend

what I might say in real life, how the certainty of my find would come across the radio, my voice clear, my intention sharp—to bring Paul home. Is it okay to die doing what you love? Is it enough that Paul had forty years? His winters were spent skiing, yearning after that nirvana-esque moment of pure joy, that rush of adrenaline following the deep promise of another storm. Some—perhaps those still untouched by death, the ones that haven’t yet felt its permanence or its dank breath hovering like fog— might say it was enough. They may consider Paul one of the lucky ones, dying on the mountain rather than driving to work or crossing a rainy street while bits of city detritus skitter into the gutter. But I don’t buy it. I just can’t. A few days before I left for Alaska, I spoke to Paul as we stood at the summit of the ski area and clicked into our bindings. Mt. Rainier hid behind


Kim Kircher him, a layer of clouds smothered across its flanks as if by a dessert chef ’s spatula. We were still waiting for snow; the long dry spell would soon be quenched, bringing sparkling triumph and deep loss. I asked him how he was, and he scrunched his lips a little and told me his new job cut into his ski time. He could only ski four days a week now, and on powder days, he might not make it at all. Paul had been sleeping in a friend’s trailer in the parking lot for years, amassing ski days like the patroller he had once been. He’d given up patrolling for a spot on the cat crew—since working the night shift would keep his days open for skiing. Now he had a job in town as a scuba instructor, and he admitted the money was better. I reminded him that four days a week was still good by any standard. He lowered his goggles over his eyes and shrugged. Then he told me he had to go; he wanted to make the most of his day on the slopes. The snow started falling that night, filling in all the old turns, obscuring the places where we had pressed hard into the snow, arcing away from danger and propelling us into the next turn. I have always loved that about snow, the way it covers over our failures and our victories, obliterating our past and smoothing it over, reminding us of our impermanence. But now, as I poke around the trees on K2 Face, expecting at any moment to meet the telltale resistance that only a body can create, I wish I had followed Paul the day I last saw him. I wish I knew just exactly the places he would go, so late in the day, to find that one last fresh line before heading down to the trailer or back to the city to his new job. I wish I could have been here the day he skied Rabbit Ears

and watched those last graceful turns, marveling as the parted snow fell back to earth like a wake curling in on itself until it eventually disappeared. His turns would have been there for an hour, maybe longer, before the heavy snow, accumulating quick and deep the way he loved it, would fill them in, obscuring them forever. I don’t find Paul on K2 Face, and as I get to the bottom of the run, where the trees thicken and close in around me, I realize my hubris. Too much snow has fallen, and dog teams, along with hundreds of volunteer rescuers, have already been over this ground, each tree carefully probed and sniffed, every cell leaning towards recovery, every person hoping for a miracle. Somehow, the man has simply disappeared, and, like his graceful turns, has been covered by fresh snow, both wind-blown pellets and perfect stellars. A winter’s snowpack builds layer upon layer, each one concealing the last, and Paul is down there somewhere, waiting to be found. I fear now, two weeks hence, the snow still piling up outside my mountain apartment, the shadowed chunks having fallen from the roof against the back windows until all I can see are the cloudy swipes of a distant chef, that we won’t find him until spring. I worry that the animals or, worse, an unsuspecting skier, will discover him, and that isn’t the man I want to return to his mother. That won’t be Paul. It will only be his body, the quirky smile having left him, the looseness in his joints that revealed both ease and a slight goofiness, having disappeared. I think back to other mountain tragedies, and wonder if Paul ever felt the sharp sense of loss—that mixture of sadness tainted with an unwillingness to let one’s self feel it

Kim Kircher has logged over 600 hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure Magazine, Couloir Magazine and Off-Piste Magazine. Her memoir, The Next Fifteen Minutes, is forthcoming from Behler Publications in November 2011. She blogs at, about her upcoming memoir, and, about her job as a ski patroller.

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too deeply—when the rescue fails. As patrollers, in order to do our job, we have to remain objective, a little aloof even, in order, when the gruesome task arrives, to extract a dead body from its frozen casket. But it’s different with Paul. We once shared a locker space—his was covered in Brittney Spears stickers and mine in ski area logos of every resort I’d ever visited. Paul, at 6’6” could reach my boots atop my locker for me, shrugging when I thanked him. I ski around today, still casting my gaze in every shadow, continuing to hope for a ski tip or the dark cast of his ski pants silhouetted against the snow. Persistent in my search, and my promise to his mother,

Sidney Bending

I will not stop looking for Paul. The snow will eventually melt, and a tragic certainty will replace the mystery. I wonder if it will help, knowing where Paul took his last few turns. I want to lean against something, a stiff wind that will hold me up, and I’m curious if I, too, will find it comforting. Will I cast my eyes uphill, envisioning the long ago turns that led to his end? Will I find any comfort if we find him below a sweet line— one that must have offered the deep hush of whispered heavens, hovering too close by? Will I, like the skiers on the chairlift that never knew him, and so could shrug away his loss, be consoled in knowing he died doing what he loved?

prayers for rain

beside the threshold dusty sandals

burning sky cormorant wings s p r e a d w i d e parasols tilt

Sidney Bending is a retired graphic artist living on the west coast of Canada. Her work will appear in 5 anthologies for the Canadian Federation of Poets. She is a member of the Victoria Writer’s Society and the Heron’s Quill poetry group.


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A FAREWELL TO DARK NIGHTS Words and Photos by Brandon Hauser

The sun sustains life on Earth and is considered to be the star that is the basis of our solar system. When this sphere of plasma hides its heat beyond the mountain horizons of Juneau, Alaska, night creeps in quick, but not always. Juneau is part of the most intact temperate rainforest in the world and rarely sees clear skies. During winter, nights are dark and long. The summer nights in Southeast Alaska never get too dark; the sky will ultimately turn a heavy shade of blue before beginning to brighten again. Summer is upon us and the nights fade quickly. In June Southeast will have about 40 more minutes of daylight than it does in May. These next few pictures are a celebration of those winter nights and how bright they can actually be.


Sun Shouts Toward Earth The Aurora Borealis, or northern lights, originates from the surface of the sun. It begins with solar activity that shoots out a cloud of gas and, depending upon its intensity, takes one to two days to reach the earth’s magnetic field. Upon impact the cloud of gas collides with oxygen and nitrogen atoms creating the astounding colors that the Aurora is known for. Oral legends of these enchanting experiences have been passed down for generations in northern cultures. On this particular night, the first thing that I noticed was the moon lowering behind the Chilkat Mountains and illuminating the land and sea with a shade of orange. Then, like an abrupt reminder of my night’s purpose, the northern lights jolted off the horizon and intensified, striking fluid flames of greens and reds towards the moon. It was an unforgettable evening.

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“The act of photographing wild things and wild places has rekindled my childhood sense of fascination with the outside world. An image has the power to evoke emotion beyond the simple content of what was photographed. As a photographer my intention is to present an audience with an image that provokes something compelling within, an inspiration that would be empowering to hold onto. It’s an adventure every day.� - Brandon Hauser

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Rowing in the Humboldt Current to the Galapagos Islands is an excerpt from an account of my 1984 - 85 rowing expedition across the South Pacific Ocean. My late husband, Curt Saville and I began the South Pacific row from the Peruvian coastal city of Callao and rowed north to our first port of call in the Galapagos Islands. After a week, we continued across the South Pacific with stops in the Marquesas Islands, Samoa Islands, Vanuatu and Cairns, Australia where we completed the row a year later.

Peruvian coast, July 26, 1984: Today makes three weeks at sea. It is 5:45 am and we are both exhausted and hungry. Our diet is not adequate. I think a lack of protein is doing it. I’ve taken to watching Callao [our Peruvian chicken] closely while rowing and visualizing her legs in a frying pan, her breasts, back and wings in a pot of chicken stew. That’s horrible. Callao is such a nice bird. I wish she could at least produce eggs. Curt puts our position at five degrees south, 87 degrees west with only 290 miles to the Galapagos. He targets our ETA at San Cristobal Island next Thursday, a week from today. That’s encouraging. It also means Callao’s end is near. We can’t take foreign livestock into the Galapagos and we are starved for fresh food. Still, it is too bad. We’ve grown somewhat attached to her.

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She is amusing when she suns herself on the oar handles; her eyelids rolling upward. Right now she is helping Curt dispose of last night’s dinner scraps of potato and carrot peelings. She eats most anything, even barnacles from a piece of drift wood we found floating two days ago. Kathleen’s Log, 6:30 pm: It’s a gorgeous evening as the sun’s dwindling light spreads a golden shimmer over the seas. Curt and I are nicely settled on our boat cushions on deck while we enjoy cocktail hour with Peruvian rum, lime juice and maple syrup. A great invention. A little while ago, a large school of sleek black and white sided Pacific dolphins swam up to Excalibur Pacific and have been with us ever since. The sound of loud splashes of water caught my attention as I sat looking out of the cabin

Rowing the Humbolt Current to the Galapagos Islands

hatch door, waiting for Curt to find the rum tucked under deck in the back cabin. I called to him and as he turned to look, a dolphin shot out of the water trailing a veil of liquid pearls and dove back down ever so neatly beside the boat’s gunnel. With our drinks in hand, we’ve settled down to watch their graceful acrobatics as they jump in and out of the water, their backs glistening in the sun’s golden glow. We’ve decided to name the rum cocktail in honor of these visitors: Pacific Dolphins. There are hundreds of them, all heading north in the direction of the Galapagos. It’s as though they’ve decided to be our companions for a short time on this invisible lane of an oceanic highway. All throughout cocktail hour they stayed and even now as we get ready to crawl into the forward cabin to get away from the chill of the night, I can hear them clicking and squeaking through the boat hull. July 29, late afternoon: Today was the time to have chicken for dinner. I didn’t want to have anything to do with the slaughter so I went in the cabin and turned up the music nice and loud on the tape player. Curt wanted to be merciful so he gave Callao’s neck a quick snap but unfortunately he pulled too hard and the head twisted off making a disgusting mess. He managed to skin and clean it before handing it in to me to start dinner. Callao turned out to be one of the best meals we ever had because we were so starved for fresh vitamins. Later in the afternoon, I baited a hook with the chicken guts and rowed while trolling the line off the aft deck. When the fishing pole bent over, I grabbed it and pulled in a beautiful blue and silver Dorado, our first fish of the expedition. Today we had a second meal of fresh food: raw fish with lime juice cooked to perfection like the Peruvian ceviche. July 31, late evening: The early dawn sky was clear when Curt went to the aft deck so he could get the morning star sights with the sextant. It’s important to know exactly where we are as the islands draw closer. In the Galapagos archipela-

go, a group of over 20 islands spread out over 17,000 square miles, the currents diverge south of the southernmost islands. One branch flows north and east of the islands towards South America and the other flows west and merges with the great South Equatorial Current system. To reach our destination of San Cristobal Island just right, we have to be right in the middle of the two currents where there will be the least resistance to rowing north. Every day is a team effort to work out the celestial navigation. Curt shoots the stars with the sextant and calls out the altitude measure, that is, the height of the stars or sun above the horizon, while I record the numbers and degrees. This morning of the 31st, we had recorded four stars when the sky began to lighten up. Curt turned to pass the sextant into the bow cabin when he saw land off the bow of the boat. “Kathleen! Come look! It’s land!” It was Espanola Island, the southernmost island in the Galapagos. Being this close to land meant we didn’t need to work out the sights, we thought. All we needed to do was row to land. It has turned out that the sights should have been worked out because the calculations would have shown that we were already in the South Equatorial Current and slipping westward much faster than we knew. It would have been better to neglect the extra cups of coffee we were celebrating with and jump right on the oars. While we sat on deck congratulating ourselves, I suddenly noticed the angle of the Espanola Island to Excalibur was gradually changing. “Hey! I think we’re passing by Espanola! ” I said. Curt took a quick look and yelled that we needed to get rowing so we tossed the dregs of our coffees overboard and hurriedly sat down at the oars. We both pulled hard on the port side to point the bow east of Espanola so we could counteract the effect of the west flowing current. We rowed for hours and at one point, a huge black and white frigate bird swooped down and nearly dug its talons into Curt’s scalp though he managed to duck in time and avoid a nasty encounter. Espanola was only twelve miles away now but


Kathleen Saville

after rowing all day and into the evening, we’ve only gained four and half miles and are slipping west all the time in the notoriously fickle currents of the Galapagos Islands. Our rowboat Excalibur Pacific is especially susceptible to them because of her lack of engine and amount of freeboard above the waterline. Tonight, exhausted from the rowing, we’ve let the boat drag along on a canvas sea anchor and will start rowing again at dawn. August 1, morning: By midmorning it’s become apparent that we can’t reach San Cristobal which is only a few miles north of Espanola. The current is just too strong. However, by 5 pm with the boat on a northwest course, we’ve decided to row for Santa Cruz Island by slipping between Espanola and Floreana islands. Our chances are good that with constant pressure on the oars, we can reach Academy Bay at Santa Cruz soon. August 3, early morning: Late last evening, in the darkness of an endless rowing session, we heard an ominous tinkling sound beneath the boat. Neither of us had ever heard this breaking glass-like sound before but we instinctively stopped rowing to listen more closely. Then to our horror, there was a loud boom as an enormous wave broke somewhere close to the side of the boat. This time we didn’t hesitate and without a word, Curt and I began to pull frantically at the oars when we realized the Excalibur Pacific was probably on a coral reef and the next wave was going to break directly over us. Like a well-oiled rowing machine, we rowed hard at a right angle to the breaking wave for a good twenty minutes before either of us felt safe enough to stop and figure out where we were. Later in the night, the Southern Cross transited the dark skies and then slipped gracefully over the horizon while a huge fragmented meteor briefly lit the sky over Santa Cruz Island. A thin white sliver of a quarter moon reflected on the waves and the glow of green bioluminescence outlined the shape of our

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[...] in the darkness of an endless rowing session, we heard an ominous tinkling sound beneath the boat. oars; reminiscent of our dangerous night in the Huaras rocks off the Peruvian coast. This time, however, the seas were breaking gently and our final approach to Academy Bay was straightforward until without warning, the navigation lights leading into the bay went out. We later learned that port officials all over the Galapagos turn off their international navigation lights at midnight. We stared into the blackness of Santa Cruz Island when finally I spied a dim light that was in the same direction as Academy Bay. We took up our oars and rowed towards it. The light turned out to be the Ecuadorian supply ship Iguana which was anchored at the entrance. We rowed up to it and Curt called out in rusty Spanish, “We don’t know this port, where can we anchor?” The crewmen on deck didn’t know what to make of this odd-looking orange rowboat arriving in the middle of the night. They thought we didn’t know where we were so they told us that we had come to Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos and then offered to show us a good spot to anchor for the night. Twenty-nine days after leaving Callao, Peru, we had arrived in the Galapagos at 2:30 am on August 3rd. While I rowed the Excalibur over to our anchorage, Curt rummaged in the aft cabin for the small fluke anchor. When he dropped the anchor into the silence of the surrounding and comforting arms of the port breakwater, its splash reminded us of our fel-

Rowing the Humbolt Current to the Galapagos Islands

low travelers on the pelagic highway of the Humboldt Current. Curt got out the rum and maple syrup while I scrounged around for the remaining Peruvian limes. We toasted our success at reaching the first island of the rowing expedition with Pacific Dolphins. All around the boat was a strange silence. Gone were the constant whooshing sounds of breaking waves and whistling winds that varied their pitch according to the weather system. Gone was the cool, almost cold surface air carried north from the frigid Southern Ocean. We shed our sweaters and hats we hadn’t taken off in days and breathed in the salty smells of a marine port and the lovely herbal scents of the nearby land. For the first time in nearly a month, Excalibur Pacific was still.


when the lights turn off, what will anchor us here? The stars are blotted out.

Julia Goodman is a poet living in Los Angeles. Her poems have appeared in Pan Paniscus and other journals. She attends the Oakwood School.

Kathleen Saville has lived and worked in Cairo, Egypt since 1997. She teaches writing in the Department of Rhetoric and Composition at the American University in Cairo. Recently, she began work on a MFA in Creative Nonfiction at the Stonecoast low-residency MFA program (University of Southern Maine). Before joining the AUC faculty, she taught ESL in Kuwait and Pakistan. In another life, she and her late husband were full time adventurers; rowing their homemade rowboat across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, along the northern Labrador coast, down the Mississippi River and on various other bodies of water on the East and West coasts of the USA. Though the academic year is spent in Egypt, she still finds time to paddle her Folboat Cooper at her home in northern Vermont in the summers.


John Oliver Hodges

Chicken on a houseboat, Juneau, Alaska, 2006: “Brian built the houseboat on the Douglass shore, then floated it over to Juneau. On Brian’s boat lived 2 chickens, 5 large dogs, and a short girl with very short hair.”

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Chicken on a Houseboat / Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach, Juneau, Alaska, 2005: “You go to the beach and there’s just nobody around. You and your darling are alone in the world. Seals call from the waters.”

John Oliver Hodges attended the Southeast Center for Photographic Studies in Daytona Beach, Florida. Over the years he has worked primarily in black and white, using a variety of cameras and techniques. His zine-style picture books are available from Hamburger Eyes, and can be viewed online at The Writing Disorder:



Many are the marvels of Greece, but to my thinking none is more sublime than spearfishing in the Aegean. There are few days, even in winter, when the sun doesn’t dominate the scene, constantly changing the color and texture of the water. The pelagic depths act like stained glass on the shafts of light which penetrate it, breaking them up into gently shimmering spangles of gold. On these days, the Aegean becomes transformed, turned into a cathedral, a holy place of silence, awe and luminescence. Sometimes it almost seems a blasphemy to be hunting for fish down here. I had never even heard of spearfishing before going to Greece in the early 1960s. My wife and I went to the island of Rhodes on our honeymoon, expecting to stay three days. Instead we ended up living there for thirty-five years. It was love at first sight when we encountered the village of Lindos, whose white houses were scattered like confetti on the flanks of a towering acropolis and overlooked a turquoise bay guarded by two tiny islands. On one side of the bay fishing boats bobbed at anchor; on the other was a spit of land with a windmill at its tip. Beyond the bay was a vast expanse of sea stretching out to where the mountains of Turkey loomed some twenty miles away. The juxtaposition of sea and sky, landscape and acropolis, was deeply pleasing--a feeling that was further reinforced when we began to investigate the village, whose houses were a revelation. They had walled-in courtyards and gardens, pebbled mosaic floors, high-arched rooms with painted ceilings, hand-carved sleeping platforms and cupboards. They were spacious and airy with an upstairs “Captain’s” bedroom which looked out over the rooftops to the sea beyond. The average rental? Ten dollars a month.

The pelagic depths act like stained glass on the shafts of light which penetrate it, breaking them up into gently shimmering spangles of gold.

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There was no running water or electricity. On the other hand, a small colony of foreigners was living here, about two dozen writers and painters who nicely complemented the five hundred native Greeks. Among the foreigners was an American couple, Dick and Margaret Lethen. Margaret was from Delaware, a straightforward, soft-spoken, even-tempered woman who had come to Greece as an archaeologist. After meeting Dick she gave up that discipline and turned to painting village scenes with a delicate, loving hand. Dick was tall, lanky and boyish, from Rye, New York. He painted abstracts; just a few strokes or blobs of color: simple, direct, bold. He was also an accomplished spear fisherman. Dick invited me to come out with him. Div-

Hunter in the Sea

rock (where it thought it was safe), press your mask against the crevice and peer in. When your eyes adjusted to the darkness and located where the fish was hiding, you’d fire a spear at it, trying for a killing shot. If the shot were errant it became difficult to extricate the fish. Groupers in particular would jam themselves into a corner, opening their gills and spines as a further defensive move, like a man using elbows and knees to brace himself in a doorway. That’s what happened to Dick on that first day. He shot a sizable grouper but couldn’t dislodge it. He made one dive after another, expending vast amounts of energy while tugging and pulling 30 feet down. An hour went by. The sea began to darken

Lying on the surface, I watched as he dove deep, eased the gaff into the crevice, and snagged the fish. Then, bracing his knees against the boulder, he gave a mighty yank. ing without scuba tanks, using held breath only, he managed to reach depths of 30 and 40 feet, where the bigger fish lurked. His gun was a simple thing with rubber bands, like a glorified slingshot. It was thrilling to lay on the surface and watch him as he flippered down through the depths, one hand pinching his nose to compensate against the pressure of the sea, the other proffering his gun, ready to fire. The fish were plentiful around Lindos. The prize game was grouper, which ran from a pound or two all the way up to 25 pounds in weight. Other smaller but worthwhile targets included grey and red mullet, various species of bream, parrot fish, octopus, spineless lobster and germanos (German; so named because if you didn’t handle it with care it’d jab you with a hidden, poisonous barb). It was difficult for a free diver to shoot a fish in the open water. The trick was to chase it under a

and grow colder. We were both shivering; Dick’s wrists had been scraped and bloodied by the tussle. We had to leave the grouper there and return to Lindos, where Dick conferred with his neighbor, an elderly fisherman named Iacomis, who loaned him a long wooden gaff which Dick wielded at sea the next morning. Lying on the surface, I watched as he dove deep, eased the gaff into the crevice, and snagged the fish. Then, bracing his knees against the boulder, he gave a mighty yank. Out came the grouper, over two feet long, solid and thick as a torpedo, and still alive. As it thrashed around, tail whipping up the sandy bottom, Dick – still holding his breath – grabbed it by the eyes to numb it and started his ascent, legs flailing away, gun, spear and gaff trailing behind him. That night three families feasted on delicious portions of fish soup and steaks. The next morning, I took the early bus to


Willard Manus Rhodes city, bought a speargun, knife and weight belt, and set out to become a hunter in the sea. It wasn’t easy. It’s one thing to be able to dive, to handle the pressure on your eardrums and torso, another to have the breath and presence of mind to operate in the sea’s shadowy depths. Let me put it another way. To be a good spear fisherman, you must overcome your ingrained fear of the sea. It’s a fear that’s common to all human beings and understandable as well. The basic laws of life no longer have any relevance in the sea. You have entered a new world, a beautiful but potentially dangerous world. You are part of the food chain down here. A shark might appear and bite your foot off; a sting ray might lash you with its venomous tail. Fortunately, the waters around Lindos contained few predators. In all the years I dived there, only once did I have a close encounter with a shark. It happened in the 1970s, when I was out fishing with another American friend, Jerry Schiller (more on him later). We were free diving under the thousand-foothigh cliffs overlooking nearby St. Nicholas Bay. The cliffs had been featured in the film The Guns of Navarone when it was shot on Rhodes in the late 50s. As I watched from the surface, Jerry made a deep dive in search of a grouper. While he was nosing around on the bottom, peeking under one rock after another, a tubular greyish-white shape appeared from the open sea. It was a shark, about two feet long. It slowly approached the unsuspecting Jerry and then halted and eyed him. I gripped my gun tightly, trying to decide what to do. Would my emergency dive chase the shark away or startle him into attacking? The problem was solved a second later, when Jerry looked up and saw the shark. Shocked, he dropped his gun and shot up to the surface as fast as he could. Equally frightened, the shark turned tail and shot off into the waters from which it had come. But it’s not only the fear of predators one must overcome in the sea. There is another deeper, more profound fear. This I learned early on as a hunter, when I was paddling around in the shallows around Lindos, chasing after the small fish that lived here.

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Unexpectedly, I caught sight of a caravida, a spineless lobster, crawling up the side of a large boulder. It happened in broad daylight, in only five feet of water! With its brown-plated body and curled, purple-tipped claws, the fat ten-inch-long crustacean was mine for the taking. All I had to do was duck down and grab it, the way I had seen Dick do many times. But as I made my move, fear rose up in me – a sudden, sour fear that took my breath away, made my hands shake. Afraid to touch the lobster, I pulled back – way back! – and aimed my spear gun at it. My distant, shaky shot glanced off the lobster’s hard carapace. Stunned, the caravida spun downwards, then recovered its equilibrium and jetted off into the safety of the depths. It was years before I could claim victory over this deep-rooted flaw in me. The battle I fought was a long, hard one. But eventually I became truly fearless in the sea, able to grab a lobster and hold tight even as its claws dug into me, squeezing hard. Neither did I have any qualms about peering into narrow, dark caves or shooting things like moray eels and sting rays. Fearlessness builds confidence; with confidence comes improved hunting skills. My marksmanship got better, my instincts became honed. I learned what to look for while hunting: a pile of freshly broken shells signaled the presence of an octopus; a school of tiny black fish (bouboulitsa in Greek) hovering at the mouth of a cave was the sure sign of a concealed grouper. The more accomplished I became as a spearfisherman, the more I came to love the sport; it became a kind of addiction: blue opium. I went diving almost every afternoon, even in winter. The more I dove, the better I felt. The deep breathing and physical exertion did wonders for my health. I lost my beer-belly, felt fit and lean, ready for anything life hurled at me. I bought a boat, a second-hand skiff called Maritsa, and an outboard engine. I equipped myself with a plethora of wetsuits and spear guns, an underwater flashlight, gloves, spare masks and flippers. I began diving with a knife strapped to each leg; one was a standard safety blade, lightweight but sharp; the other

was thick and heavy, strong enough to be used as an oyster chisel. The oysters were a personal discovery. The Lindians knew they grew locally, but since few of them did any diving, the oysters had pretty much gone untouched. They were wild oysters, of course: big, solid, spiky things that grew, here and there, on the sides of rocks and reefs. Once I learned to identify them, I made it a point to take several every time I went out. It took work--and often numerous dives--to crack them loose, but the effort was worth it. Thanks to the salinity of the Aegean, the oysters had a briny, bracing taste, one that makes every other oyster I’ve ever sampled seem like mush. By the early 70s, after a decade of diving, seafood became my family’s regular fare. We would typically start off dinner with a dozen oysters on the half shell, followed by delicacies like pickled eel, fish soup, baked grouper or sea bream. My wife Mavis, a skilled cook to begin with, became a master at preparing these Greek dishes, not to speak of stewed or grilled octopus, lobster salad and deep-fried kalamari. We sometimes bartered seafood with the local butcher for choice cuts of meat. We also regularly invited foreign and Greek friends to share in our feasts, all of which were washed down with jugs of Rhodian red, white and retsina wine. It was a good life, an idyllic life really: rising early to write, then heading out to sea in the Maritsa, often accompanied by Jerry Schiller. A Harvard grad who was teaching at Washington University (in St. Louis), Jerry and his wife Wendy spent their summers in Lindos. Jerry was scholarly, quiet, even a touch depressive at times. Despite weak eyes that required special lenses in his diving mask, he was a world-class free diver, the most graceful and powerful I had ever seen. Having been a competitive swimmer in high school and college gave him exceptional lungpower and stamina. He wasn’t so skilled at hunting, but once a fish had been speared, he could be counted on to make one deep dive after another to wrestle it out of its lair. Jerry’s academic specialty was ancient Greek

Hunter in the Sea

philosophy, which he often expounded on as we chugged across St. Nicholas Bay in the noontime heat. I believe I’m the only spear fisherman in the world who has prepared for a day’s dive by listening to a 40-minute lecture on Plato or Aristotle! The fishing in Lindos stayed fruitful right into the mid-80s, when mass tourism took root in the village, led by package “holidaymakers” from Britain. To accommodate them, the Lindians chopped up their noble Crusader villas into tiny “studio” apartments. They also opened up bars, restaurants and shops whose signs assaulted the eye: Happy Hour Drinks Half Price, Sizzling Hot Crepes, English Breakfast Served All Day. The plateia (main square) became jammed with pullman buses, taxis and hordes of sweaty, redfaced tourists, some coming, others going. Klaxons rent the air, exhaust pipes billowed diesel smoke. By the 90s, Lindos had become one of the official beauty spots of the Aegean. In season something like 15,000 visitors clogged its narrow streets, day and night. The village could boast of 45 bars and three discoteques, all of which pumped out loud, competitive, non-stop music. Everything the Lindians did was centered around the tourist, his care and feeding, entertainment and titillation. Lindos became a giant machine with one basic function: to separate the visitor from his money. The money brought prosperity; the Lindians were soon able to enjoy the highest per capita income in all of Greece. They could afford better food and medical care, enjoy improved public services (postal, banking, communications, etc.), send their children to be educated abroad, buy cars and computers, build hotels, condos and even swimming pools. The affluence changed everything about village life, in both good and bad ways. On the negative side was the damage inflicted on the sea. The combination of pollution (from raw sewage) and the introduction of mile-long, fine-mesh nets (and illegal dynamiting) began to affect the fish population. I went weeks without spearing a decentsized fish. By the mid-90s, I stopped catching fish


Willard Manus

altogether. There simply weren’t any to be found by a free diver. To be a good hunter in the sea, you must have something to hunt. Without a target, impatience and frustration begin to build. I began to lose my skills, my cunning and confidence. In their place came an old bugaboo. Fear. After almost forty years of diving, I suddenly discovered that I had lost my nerve. It happened one day while I was out alone, diving under The Guns of Navarone cliffs. There, in about 35 feet of water, I spotted a large caravida sitting upside down under a rock, practically begging to be taken. In my prime, I would have streaked down and grabbed it with a flourish. But I was no longer in my prime. I was a man in his 70s with slight cramps in both legs – the result of impaired circulation – and a

thumping heart. This was exactly how I had felt that day when I came upon my very first caravida – short of breath, trembling, hesitant. I had closed a circle, become a neophyte diver again, a timorous one at that. Instead of grabbing the lobster, I backed off and tried to shoot it with a shy hand. Naturally, I missed. As the caravida scuttled off, I couldn’t help but think of the Inuits who, when one of their hunters became old and ineffective, put him on an ice floe and let him drift out to sea to die a solitary, honorable death. I’m not an Inuit, of course, and nobody even thinks of me in that regard. To the world, I’m a man who is still ambulatory, still functioning. But deep inside I know that I’m reclining on an ice floe, drifting slowly and imperturbably toward the horizon.

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

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Wayne Lee

chorus of starlings in the Douglas fir - then they take flight and - silence.

shadows from the old Ponderosa pine move across the Mule deer tracks.

Wayne Lee ( lives in Santa Fe, NM, where he teaches at the Institute of American Indian Arts. His collections include Doggerel & Caterwauls: Poems Inspired by Cats & Dogs, and Twenty Poems from the Blue House (with his wife, Alice Lee), published by Whistle Lake Press, and Vortex, forthcoming from Red Mountain Press.

Photo by Naomi M. Judd


Shaun Bevins

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Adventures in Chrysalis

ADVENTURES IN CHRYSALIS Words and Photos by Shaun Bevins

Modest milkweed plants were covered in Monarch caterpillars. So many, that we lliterally ran out of milkweed about halfway through their developmental cycle. After several visits to our local arboretum, we succeeded in obtaining more milkweed and most of the caterpillars would go on to form their chrysalis. The key stages in a butterfly’s transformation happen quickly, yet due to the sheer numbers, we were able to digitally capture these events with a Nikon D90.

Shaun Bevins is a work-at-home mom of four who received a BS in Nutrition followed by a MPT in Physical Therapy. Residing on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, she enjoys writing, drawing, and photography. She currently writes for her personal blog, Fitness for Smart People, and is an active member of the Broadneck Writer’s Workshop located in Annapolis, MD.


BACKBONE OF THE NIGHT Words and Photos by Cheryl Merrill

{An excerpt from Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants} I squat, rock back and forth, toe to heel, toward the fire and away from it. Giant looming shadows shift and dance in firelight. Leaning in, I show the palms of my hands to the eyes of the fire. Tongues of flame lick blackened lips of wood as if the fire wants to open its mouth and tell my fortune with hot, strange words. Just at the edge of the shadows a dry, shallow lagoon waits for water. Last year, two days after it filled, a hippo moved in. Along its shoreline brittle stalks of grass bleached by the full moon click together in a short breeze and make the sounds of tiny bamboo chimes. Rumor has it, Doug tells me, the river is two weeks away. The fire spits a small ember beyond the stone ring; it lands near the toes of my boots and dies. My eyes follow as another ember is tossed into the shadows where it also flares and dies in the sands of the Kalahari Desert. In my atlas at home, on the other side of the world, there’s a satellite photograph of a giant bird footprint pressed into the southern part of Africa, an inland river delta the size of Massachusetts. Swollen by November rains in Angola, the Okavango River floods south, crosses into Botswana in May or possibly June, fans out and smacks straight into a fault line that stops the river in its tracks. Most of its water evapo-

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rates or sinks into the Kalahari sands. But as the river dies, it leaves behind orphans: ponds no bigger than puddles, abandoned lakes that shrink into ponds, and three main sluggish channels - the bird’s footprint. I’ve just landed between two of the bird toes, invited by an email from Doug and Sandi Groves ... Hi Cheryl, We are excited to hear of your book project about our three elephants...It is possible that you could stay in our camp for a week and it would definitely involve roughing it a bit...Roughing it turned out to be five canvas tents on a rise of high ground, an island in the midst of a grassy floodplain. Earlier this morning Sandi found me in the scrum of passengers disembarking from a Johannesburg flight to Maun. Maun is an outpost, the last town before venturing into the Delta. Sandi introduced me to the pilot who would drop me at Stanley’s Camp, several miles distant from the Groves’ compound. She spoke very few words; her body half-turned away in a mannerism I always attribute to someone who is shy. She was in Maun to pick up supplies. Tomorrow she will drive three hours through the Delta, back to camp, by herself. The pilot let me sit up front. As his chattering Cessna lifted north I saw many haphazard dirt streets crossed by only a few thin, barely-paved roads. Dusty paths lead to round bomas fenced by thorn-


Cheryl Merrill bush. Shaded by an occasional acacia or mopane tree, each boma contained a tiny hut plastered with mud. Some corralled a cow or a goat. As we flew higher, Maun’s taller, three-story buildings flattened and disappeared. The town melted into the desert. Meandering rutted tracks lost their way and vanished. A waterhole appeared, left behind by last year’s flood. Another came into sight and then another. Soon a thousand or more blue eyes hypnotized me, stared upward, unblinking, as the shadow of our Cessna crossed them. Etched in the sand by countless hooves, game trails meandered through the dry landscape, all headed to pockets of water stained cornflower blue by the sky. We dropped lower. A thousand mirrors signaled the sun. Lower still, and the mirrors turned blue, became waterholes again, puddling the Okavango Delta as far as I could see. Right before we landed on a strip of dirt near Stanley’s Camp, the pilot and I glimpsed a cheetah sprinting for cover. With that single spotted blur, my life divided between home and Africa.

Moisture thickened as plants exhaled. Shadows deepened and tree silhouettes changed hue from green to dark blue to green-black to black. Near the porch of the lodge a small flock of birds settled into a tree and hunched beneath a hood of leaves, claws clutching twigs. Emerging from the threshold of darkness, bats looped and caught insects in the webs of their hands, returning at dawn to hang upside down under the rafters of the lodge, folded in the chrysalis of their wings. Above my head a brilliant swath of the Milky Way spanned a vault of sky already thick with whitehot stars. Arching from one edge of the horizon to the other, it seemed nearly as bright as the moon. Palm trees fanned dark silhouettes against its stars. Doug arrived in his battered yellow Toyota 3F, a stripped-down International version, c. 1979, dented, sturdy and popular in the bush. Mid-jounce on the way to their compound he asked, “Would you like to meet the Trio tonight?” We walked out to the elephant’s enclosure under the lidless eye of a full moon. Puffs of dust stirred around my feet, pale little clouds that settled to

As I walked, shifting slabs of moon glow kept rearranging trees as if they were pieces on a giant pearled chessboard, their trunks whitewashed the color of ash. Stanley’s Camp is a luxurious tented lodge with its own private airstrip. One of their vehicles met us at the strip and its driver gave me a lift to the lodge. Offloaded from the belly of the Cessna, large cartons of supplies filled the Land Rover. A case of Tusker beer bounced on the seat beside me. The manager of Stanley’s told me Doug was out walking with the elephants, and had arranged to pick me up after dark. This close to the equator, there are twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness. The earth rolls into night at 1,000 miles a minute - thirty minutes from sundown to dark. No long sunsets technicolored by particles of pollution, no lingering light due to the earth’s tilt, no instant barrage of street lamps. Light drained quickly from the entire sky.

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the ground. Inhaling the scent of sand and dung produced a gritty, farmyard taste at the back of my throat. I heard soft rustles in the waist-high grass that Doug reassured me were unseen snakes or mice or birds. Moist as a swamp cooler, musty and bacterial, the night air condensed into cold pools and sent my fingers into my pockets. Warm air under the trees brought them back out again. My vision was elemental, full of shapes without fine details. As I walked, shifting slabs of moon glow kept rearranging trees as if they were pieces on a giant pearled chessboard, their trunks whitewashed the color of ash. The elephant’s enclosure is hidden in the bush, around a few bends in the road and down a

Backbone of the Night


Cheryl Merrill

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dusty path, out of view for guests at Stanley’s Camp. The enclosure consists of two heavy cables strung high and low through seven-foot wooden posts set in concrete. A second, lighter wire - festooned with cowbells - is suspended outside the periphery as an early-warning system. Granted, an elephant could bust out of (or into) this enclosure in less than a minute. It’s more of a security blanket for the Trio, a protected space for eating and sleeping. Just ahead a huge smudge of charcoal broadened. Elephant. Hushed and gaping, tugged like a blank comet into an immense gravitational presence, I orbited a little to the left in a cautious arc. With a low throaty rumble MmmmRRRRRrrrrrr, his own elephant greeting, Doug slipped under her jaw and stood by her side. Glasses on his face were two mirrored moons. He reached up and stroked the skin just in front of her ear. “Steady, Thembi,” he said, “you’re a pretty

As if the night air had muscle, it flexed, then strengthened, when a bulky umber apparition condensed out of darkness. girl, aren’t you Thembi?” He pronounced her name “Tem-bee.” She nodded Yes. Later I will learn Thembi always nods Yes at the word “pretty.” But she was a beautiful elephant, all her proportions flawless. And Thembi knew she was pretty. She held herself perfectly still in half-profile, the way beautiful women do all over the world when under regard by an admiring eye. But her pose did not last long. She turned her

Backbone of the Night

attention to a pile of mopane branches. She picked up a single branch, stripped its bark and stuffed the curled peelings into her mouth. Thembi was after the sweet, green inner bark of the smaller branches. Dessert first, the main course later. I found a shred of bark to try. It tasted lightly sugared, nearly spearmint in flavor, but was too tough for my puny teeth to chew. Butterfly-shaped leaves from mopane branches littered the ground around Thembi’s feet. In the daylight the leaves are autumnal, reddish-colored, and striped with green. But tonight they were bleached to the color of tinsel by the moon, a hundred silver butterflies. As if the night air had muscle, it flexed, then strengthened, when a bulky umber apparition condensed out of darkness. Doug moved away from Thembi as another elephant backed blindly toward us, lifting first the sole of one foot and then another for our inspection, carefully feeling her way. It was an oblong moment, stretched by suspense. “No, no, Morula,” Doug said, and then turned to me. “It’s the way elephants greet each other, but I’m trying to get her to greet us face-to-face.” Enchanted by the thought Morula might consider me a fellow elephant, I had no qualms about putting the flat of my palm against her trunk. Her skin contracted like a giant slinky under my hand. I gently rubbed up and down, up and down. The nerves at the tips of my fingers tingled. Astonishing warmth. Crumbles of mud. Bristling hair. She exhaled. A gentle rumble flowed past my fingers and stirred the dust at my feet. The moon caught in a glint of white around the dark iris of her eye. In the distance a hyena slouched through its whoop. Then it was quiet again and the stars leaned in to listen to her breathing. I heard Doug murmur from behind me. “Sometimes when my hands are cold I warm them in her armpits. Put your hand in here.” I slid my palm into the space where Morula’s front leg met the bulk of her body. Protected by thick


Cheryl Merrill skin, she didn’t even twitch. I peered around her trunk at Doug’s grin, his teeth turned metallic by the moon. “Is it true that one night you slept curled up in Jabu’s trunk?” “Not very comfortably.” His grin broadened. “Hey, here comes Jabu. Here’s my boy.” It’s hard to believe an elephant weighing six tons with a huge, restless trunk could sneak up on us. But Jabu has. Like tires with low air pressure, his cushioned feet smothered twigs, branches and the sound of his own footfalls. He was amazingly silent as he stood before us, shifting his weight from one side to the other. As if it was a curious eye on the end of a long, snaking probe, the tip of his trunk hovered two inches from my nose. And I’d bet he was pleased he made me nervous. He sucked my scent out of the air as delicately as picking petals from a daisy. Trunk raised. Trunk dropped. Trunk raised. Trunk dropped. He loves me. He loves me not. His massive head was a continent, wrinkled by tectonic plates of life. Tufts of hair stuck out of his ears, an old man’s ears. Doug motioned me closer. Standing on night-cooled sand, I leaned my cheek against Jabu’s leg. The chalk of my bones softened. We warmed each other as the cold weight of night draped across our shoulders. I looked up at a sky filled with diamonds. An out-of-focus, opalescent moon stared over Jabu’s shoulder, a moon cratered with eons of impacts, its blemished face a mirror of what this world looked like when it was new. How did this part of my life happen so suddenly? Wobbly, erratic as a lost asteroid, I stumbled around the enclosure as Doug led Jabu to his own pile of mopane branches. Like Thembi, Jabu rolled a branch through his mouth and stripped its bark. I heard him smack his lips. He inhaled, exhaled, a slow corkscrew vibration with the comforting sound of a snore. Doug settled the elephants for the night,

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murmured his throaty rumble into their ears. On our way back to camp my feet barely touched the ground. I saw the curve of the world with each step. My heart swelled and contracted, swelled and contracted. The soles of my boots left exclamation points in the Kalahari sands. At home, most of my footsteps leave no trace. I walk on concrete paths, on floors of wood or linoleum or carpet. I live in the land where lights outshine the stars. The people of the Kalahari call the Milky Way “The Backbone of the Night.” They believe it keeps the sky from crashing down on their heads. In the cities of my culture I barely see any stars at all. Tonight the solid path of the Milky Way is almost as bright as the moon. It leads my eyes from one horizon of the sky across to the other. Each time I look up it births even more new stars. I squat under its backbone, rock back and forth, toe to heel, toward the fire and away from it. Smoky and suggestive, the fire whispers to its wood. I lean in. Sparks pop and launch tiny embers that flare and fade next to my boots. Above my head the stars wheel toward dawn, the second hand on a clock face, the only clock that measures eons of time. The beginning and the end are up there, somewhere. Most of our Old Stories must have originated like this, at night, around a hand-warming fire. Crickets sizzle a short, one-note chorus, subside into silence. A baboon barks, awakened perhaps from a bad dream. Out there, beyond the lagoon of dry grass, in a night the color of gunmetal, a lion coughs up hunger and loneliness from the depths of his belly. The fire burns down to single chips of orange. My hands make a small lid over the last of its heat. I walk out to my tent, exchange boots for bare feet. Under my soles the sand is warmer than the cool grass. In the dark I could follow the path to my tent just by its difference in temperature. It occurs to me elephants must do this all the time, trace footpaths in the dark by their warmth. I switch off the bubble of light from my flashlight. For a few long minutes I watch the moon, as round and cratered as an elephant’s footprint. Next

Backbone of the Night to my tent a single leaf dangles from the bare branches of a thornbush. Held by an invisible spider’s thread, basted silver by moonlight, it spins a slow half-circle, then spins back. The panicked hawing of a lone zebra cuts through silence. The Invisibles – hyenas, leopards, lions – are beginning their nightly rounds. If I squint hard enough, long enough, the Milky Way knits itself into what might look like pieces of solid bone. Along its spine and under its ribs whirling stars coalesce into constellations that take until dawn to slip below the horizon. Tracing the outlines of old gods in the night

sky, I see Orion doing a slow cartwheel, his left hand already touching the horizon. Leo naps on his back, the way most lions sleep. Buried deep in the Milky Way, a jewel box of stars contains the tiny, tilted Southern Cross. Scorpio is just rising, thrusting one claw into the leaves of a fan palm. Inside my tent moonlight rains through mesh openings, spatters my blanket with shifting, delicate squares. I lie on my cot and fall asleep, the small daily death I endure, trusting I will awaken, trusting God’s Backbone will always hold up the night.

Cheryl Merrill lives and works in Port Townsend, Washington. Her publications include poems in Paintbrush, Northwest Review, Willow Springs and others; poems anthologized in A Gift of Tongues: 25 Years of Poetry from Copper Canyon Press; a chapbook of poems, Cheat Grass from Copper Canyon Press in 1975; and publications of a photo-essay series about elephants in Iron Horse Literary Review and in The Drexel Online Journal. Excerpts from her book in progress were published in Fourth Genre, Pilgrimage, Brevity Seems, South Loop Review, Ghoti, Alaska Quarterly Review and Isotope. Her essay, “Singing Like Yma Sumac,” was selected for the Best of Brevity 2005, included in Creative Nonfiction #27 and was also included in the anthology Short Takes: Model Essays for Composition, 10th Edition. Her essay, “Trunk,” was chosen for Special Mention in Pushcart Prize XXXII Best of the Small Presses 2008 Anthology. She is currently working on a book about elephants: Larger than Life: Living in the Shadows of Elephants.



Marble Mountain Wilderness Area. Siskiyou County, California. July 25, 1999: “Hazard, this is Leskiw with your 0530 radio check.” ... “Leskiw, Hazard. I copy you. Seen anything resembling a [Marbled] Murrelet?” I continued to scan the sky as I replied. “I had a silhouette of a bird streak past. I later located the bird... roosting on a platform limb! It was just a Red shafted Flicker, though.” “Alright. Keep me posted. Hazard, clear.”... “Affirmative. Leskiw, clear.” My three companions and I backpacked cross-country into this remote site in order to solve a mystery. Precisely why we’d undertaken such an arduous trek requires a bit of explanation. We’re here because a wildlife biologist may, repeat, may, have seen a Marbled Murrelet, an endangered, robin-sized seabird, at this unlikeliest of spots, 37 airline miles from the ocean. The bird’s habit of nesting in trees was suspected but not documented until a tree-climber found a chick in 1974, making it the last North American bird species to have its nest described. Gjon Hazard and I were project inspectors for Six Rivers National Forest, reviewing the work of Mad River Biologists (MRB), a consulting firm. Our expe-

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dition included MRB biologists Sean McAllister and Kerry Ross, key players in a contract that had been awarded to survey for Marbled Murrelets in what’s known as “Zone 2,” which is located 35-45 miles from the ocean. The distribution of Marbled Murrelets—MAMU in bird short-hand—is now fairly well understood in Zone 1, 0-34 miles from the ocean. As one might intuit, a seabird that carries a single small fish at a time back to its waiting nestling is likely to choose a nest site not far from the ocean. However, the enigmatic MAMU had been known in Washington State to nest up to 45 airline miles from the ocean and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service—a cooperator in our study—was eager to learn if they might do so in California as well. On June 18, Kerry reported that he had possibly detected two murrelets in the Marble Mountains, at the confluence of Bridge Creek and Snowslide Gulch. His look had been frustratingly brief— maybe three seconds—of two birds flying in tandem. They made a tight turn before disappearing behind trees. Gjon and I evaluated the details of the sighting, finally deciding that we couldn’t afford to dispatch two inspectors for several days each, thereby leaving the other 18 surveys per day unattended. Then, on July 22, Kerry reported another possible murrelet a scant 1000 feet from his initial sighting. Our contract team invited Kerry into our office so we might go over the

details of his sightings. During the interrogat… er, interview, he furnished us with copies of his field notes that included sketches of the birds’ silhouettes soaring above the treeline, written descriptions of what he saw, and his field forms. “What’s the access route into station 90 03 01?” we inquired. “It’s real remote,” came his reply. “A wilderness hike, the toughest one I’ve had. Part of the route is nearly straight up, with lots of loose rock. It’s beautiful, once you get there, though. Rocky cliffs with waterfalls and, in the valley, huge fir trees with mossy limbs large enough for MAMU nesting.” Gjon and I huddled up. “We have to check it out. It’s that simple. Forget the fact that MAMU have never been detected nesting anywhere close to this far inland in California. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will not be pleased if it finds out we’ve blown off two reports from essentially the same location, even if the surveyor was uncertain if the birds were MAMU.” So, two days later, with some trepidation, this 45-year-old field technician plunged down the steep, gravelly fill slope of the last road I’d see for awhile. Through lichen-cloaked forests of pine and fir, Kerry led the way, down, down…down from the ridgetop road. For years, I’d heard the stories of MAMU work in Zone 2—as chilling as they were captivating, especially considering that the remoteness of the sites made them ill-suited for employing a buddy system. The majority of the treks undertaken by MAMU surveyors were solo affairs: fording rushing streams; negotiating narrow, hogback ridges; or glissading down steep, leaf litter adorned slopes. Often, the hikes were done in darkness, or nearly so—the surveyors’ headlamps serving as the sole light penetrating the darkness. Stinging insects, snakes, impenetrable walls of huckleberry and manzanita, bouts of choking on tan oak dust, and being occasionally stalked by hungry cougars were all ingredients that added spice to their fieldwork. Several hours later, we reached Bridge Creek. Perhaps somewhere, sometime, the subject creek had a bridge, but not here. We crossed the stream on fallen logs, wrestling with our backpacks when they got hung-up on tree limbs. Resting for a time in the shade, the bedrock pools of the creek made me wish I’d brought a fishing pole. As we once again hefted

Encounter at Snowslide Gulch our packs, Kerry spoke. “Remember when I told you about the part of the hike that’s nearly straight up— with lots of loose rock?” “Yeah, we remember.” “Well, that’s next,” Kerry said, flashing a diabolical, I-told-you-so grin. I’ve always taken pride in my leg strength, arguably my body’s strong suit. I blew my knee out in the 6th grade, which required extensive rehab: sitting on a picnic table, repeatedly raising an iron shoe with attached barbell that was strapped to my foot. The end result was a sculpting of what some friends have opined are freakish calves. Hitting the steep slope, we grabbed hold of anything we could find for leverage to pull ourselves up: willows bent nearly prostate from the winter’s snowpack, boulders, fallen logs. When encountering sections of the slope that lacked handholds, we hunched low in a “simian stance,” slowly crawling our way upward. Try as we might, the loose rock underfoot conspired to create a “one step up, two steps back” scenario. Grunting, we inched our way up the slope, pausing every couple of feet to catch our breath. Doing battle with “loose marble mountainside” gave me ample time to consider just how insane science can be. Namely, our MAMU study required the services of statisticians to devise a study design that was statistically “airtight”—one that would detect murrelets if they were, in fact, there. Because of this, all our inventory sites—specific points on the landscape—had to be chosen at random, in order to avoid bias. The selection of these random points—nirvana to chair-bound statisticians—are not so universally embraced by us field technicians. You see, the planning for field work often begins with the premise of “How do we get crews into the site?” However, our MAMU inventory sites had been chosen without any regard for how, exactly, someone might actually get to said location. We wrestled with loose marble mountainside for what seemed like hours. During our frequent rest breaks, one of my panting, red-faced companions opined, “So this is how the Marble Mountains got their name!” Eventually, the hill slope grew flatter, the rocks less numerous.


Tom Leskiw That afternoon, we reached a wilderness trail—one that followed the topographic contours, rather than a MAMU surveyor’s chosen route that cut across them. Although we still had a ways to go before reaching camp, the trail seemed like an airport’s moving sidewalk compared to what we’d earlier negotiated. That night, the bird geeks that we are, we traded stories: of the rare birds we’d discovered and rarities found by others that we’d relocated… or narrowly missed. Of long-shot “dream birds” we’d yet to see, both close to home and on distant continents. Yarns were spun of field hardships and triumphs. Our single-minded devotion to the winged ones underscored a basic tenet, one not unique to wildlife biology: without passion, there is nothing. It is passion—the desire to delve into life’s great mysteries—that furnishes the fuel that leads to discoveries. Our devotion knows no bounds. To illustrate: the afternoon of my bachelor party, Gary Lester called to say that he’d be bringing some photos. I didn’t think that our group would be too receptive to the kind of photos or videos that such a gathering seems to engender, but I held my tongue. As it turned out, as a member of the California Bird Records Committee, he’d brought photos of rare birds that he and his colleagues were charged with vetting—determining if the bird’s finder had made the correct identification. Around the campfire, we fine-tuned our strategy for the following day. “Let’s position ourselves 1000 feet apart on the trail along Bridge Creek. Stay in radio contact. If you see something, let the others know about it, especially which direction the bird is heading… maybe someone else can get a look at these mystery birds, too.” Weary from the trek—and cognizant of our oh-dark-thirty wake-up—we crawled into our sleeping bags not long after darkness had fallen. Early the next morning, headlamps burning holes in the dark, we set out. My position was the northernmost of anyone in our party. I relocated the precise location where Kerry had stood when he’d seen his birds on June 18. The fir scented, smoky air served as a reminder of the nearby wildfires. As if the trek here wasn’t difficult enough, the recent rash of nearby lightning fires had added yet another ingredient to our logistical gumbo. Still scanning the sky, I reached down and placed my radio on a fallen log. The waters of Bridge

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Creek gurgled about 300 feet downslope of me, its water music penetrating the semi-darkness. I continued my vigil and tried to keep my focus, drowning out the internal voices that disturb one’s concentration. You’ve got to be ready. Both times, Kerry’s observation was for a mere second or three. Slowly, the sky lightened along the eastern horizon. Several swallows took to the air. I checked my watch: 5:40. Three Vaux’s Swifts came into view and were joined by a larger swift. I studied the bird... it was about 30% larger than the Vaux’s, with a long tail. Suddenly, it was joined by a second similar bird— their narrow, scimitar-like wings slicing through the air with little effort. They were both Black Swifts: a species detected in the county but a handful of times. I radioed my companions, but the birds had disappeared to the north and they never got to see them. A lengthy discussion with Kerry ensued as we weighed the evidence. Exhibit A: of particular interest to us was the fact that the surveyor’s sightings on June 18 and July 21 were remarkably consistent relative to sunrise: 3 and 5 minutes prior, respectively. My sighting of the Black Swifts occurred at almost the exact same time: 11 minutes before sunrise. Exhibit B: all three sightings were of birds seen for a very brief period—3 to 8 seconds—yet not seen again during the course of the 2-hour survey. Exhibit C: the low light conditions and brevity of the surveyor’s sightings made it difficult to estimate distance, the size of the birds, and wingbeat cadence. Exhibit D: the behavior of the Black Swifts when I viewed them was somewhat atypical. Namely, they were flapping their wings, rather than gliding, about 85% of the time, causing them to look more like murrelets than one might think. Finally, Exhibit E: at the time, Kerry had yet to see a Black Swift, which was understandable, since they are a declining species rarely detected away from their nesting haunts beneath the brink of towering waterfalls. Furthermore, they’d never previously been detected in the Marble Mountains. After weighing the evidence, we concluded that the birds he saw were, in all likelihood, Black Swifts. Mystery solved. Time to hike out. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the spastic dance atop loose marble mountainside was even tougher going downhill. A mere ankle sprain would likely result in a night or two bivouac on the hillslope, so we moved as

cautiously as we could. Our rest breaks came more and more frequently in the 90 degree-plus mid-day heat. I was red-faced, too, with exertion, but Gjon seemed to be having a particularly tough time of it. Sean and Kerry—youngsters that they were—had set a pace too fast for us to keep up, so it was just me and Gjon. Never has anyone had such an ardent cheerleader, although I remained silent for the most part. Keep going… You can do it…We’re nearly back to the truck. The rugged, densely forested terrain made a helicopter rescue impossible. I fought to keep dark thoughts at bay: Gjon’s a huge guy. Me packing him out just isn’t going to happen. Finally, we reached our truck, moaning and vow-wheezing to “eat better…gotta get into shape.” Later, after getting rehydrated, we settled in for the four-hour drive home. Our spirits were buoyed, for during the course of our little expedition, we’d made two contributions to science. One, we’d added to our knowledge of the nesting range of the Marbled Murrelet... by determining where they’re not. Two, because Black Swifts spend the night at their nest site and the project’s three sightings of them were shortly

Encounter at Snowslide Gulch after sunrise, there had to have been a nest close to our inventory station at Snowslide Gulch. It will have to fall to a future expedition to document the first Black Swift nest in Siskiyou County. However, owing to the species’ habit of building its nest beneath the brink of towering waterfalls, those seeking to confirm nesting will have to really bring it—rock-climbing skills, equipment, abundant stamina—for they’ll be heading into some really tough terrain. Epilogue: Those of us associated with the study applauded Kerry for reporting his possible sightings, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service might well have rejected the results of the study if we’d not conducted the follow-up search. Kerry’s myriad experiences in the field have served him well. During 2002, while conducting bird surveys while river rafting in Trinity County, he joined an elite fraternity of those who have detected Black Swifts away from their only known nesting location in the county: at the brink of Grizzly Falls in the Salmon-Trinity Alps Wilderness Area.

Tom Leskiw lives outside Eureka, California with his wife Sue and their dog, Gypsy. He retired in 2009 following a 31-year career as a hydrologic/biologic technician for Six Rivers National Forest. He co-authored A Guide to Birding in and Around Arcata [California] and his essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Birding, CrossRoads: A Southern Culture Annual, LBJ: Avian Life, Avian Arts, Pilgrimage, This Watery World: Humans and the Sea, Watershed, The Motherhood Muse, Living Lessons, forthcoming in Snowy Egret and Silent Spring at 50, and in various on-line publications. His monthly column appears at, and his website resides at


Wally Swist

the dry wind simmershigh-pitched songs of cicadas rattle in the trees

Wally Swist’s selected haiku, The Silence Between Us, was published by Brooks Books in their Goodrich Haiku Masters Series in 2005. He is also the author of several other books of poetry, including the forthcoming Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, that was chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa as a co-winner in the Crab Orchard Series Open Poetry Competition, and will be published by Southern Illinois University Press in the spring of 2012. His scholarly monograph, The Friendship of Two New England Poets: Robert Frost and Robert Francis, was published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2009.

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Photo by Naomi M. Judd

ORCAS IN PASSING Adrienne Ross Scanlan The killer whales kept their distance. I forced my kayak through chop and riptide as I chased my childhood dream of seeing wild orcas, awestruck at every glimpse of the ebony and white leviathans. Our group was traveling down San Juan Island’s west coast, a prime Puget Sound whale watching area, where ocean forests of swaying brown kelp snatched at my paddle and entangled my rudder. I was 35 but felt as if I were a child eager for another glimpse, and another, and another. The whales stayed ahead of us, always at the edge of sight. We reached calm water. Our guide signaled a stop. I flexed stiff fingers and massaged my palms. I dipped my hands into cold seawater and shook drops into a breeze that blew across my face. When I was a child, I had imagined diving off jetties into rough surf, or gliding through deep sea dives, only to be discovered by orcas who would recognize a kindred spirit, swim beside me, lift me onto their backs so that I could grasp a six-foot dorsal fin and ride among them, as brave and strong and

remarkable as they, and not the all-too-ordinary girl my parents, sibling, teachers and classmates laughed and swore I was. The usual childhood fantasies, I suppose, but stories of the orcas’ intelligence and gentle nature remained an inspiration as I grew into adulthood, became a naturalist, and now leaned back in my kayak, stretching stiff legs and scanning the horizon for whales. My kayak swayed gently on the quiet sea. I watched as silver-streaked harbor seals popped their heads above water to eye us from a distance. Then from behind our kayaks came a sound as if a dozen people exhaled at once. I twisted around so fast I nearly capsized. A flat sea shaded from sparkling turquoise to forest green. Our group exchanged puzzled looks. We’d all heard it. But now there was silence. I turned and faced towards where we had last seen whales. Again came that rush of air behind us. I looked backwards. There was nothing but water at rest. Then I heard my heart pounding.

Three orcas arose so swiftly the sea scarcely rippled. The whales plunged downward, seeming to disappear only to rise up and arc down dead behind me, straight on course to smash my kayak when they next surfaced. Sweat flowed down my chest. Trapped in the pink, fiberglass kayak, I felt a disorienting fear as I stared at the dark water. I hadn’t expected that all I could hope was that those childhood stories were true about the orcas’ disinterest in attacking people or boats. Two killer whales surfaced beside my kayak, one close enough to touch. It wasn’t just fear that held back my hand. The orcas took no more notice of me than I would of driftwood. They were in their element; I was far from mine and no longer a child. We could only meet on the border between our worlds, and only for a moment, before going our separate ways. The whales swam off almost as fast as they had appeared. We paddled after them as hard as we could. We never did catch up.

Adrienne Ross Scanlan’s nature writing and other essays have been published in Pilgrimage, Fourth River, Slow Trains, the American Nature Writing anthology series (1996, 1997, and 2000), and over 40 other print or online publications. She received a 1996 Seattle Arts Commission literary award, a 2001 Artist Trust Literature Fellowship, and is nearing completion of her manuscript, Turning Homeward: Restoring Nature in the Urban Wild.


Glass Calm Paddles: Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photography has always intrigued Tim Farr since he was first given a film camera in high school. Since then he has been capturing and documenting his adventures through the lens. Raised in Michigan camping and boating, Tim has spent several years in Alaska where he has been an expedition sea kayak guide/instructor and ice climber. Tim has participated

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Long Road Home: Indian Himalaya. in large expeditions in remote locations around the globe and has recently completed a NOLS Instructor Course with an emphasis on Mountaineering. When not in the mountains or on the water, he can be found finishing his degree in Adventure Education and Wilderness Leadership in northern Vermont.



I hear the vehicle getting louder, as if it’s going to ram right through our wall, stopping just outside of our bungalow, a sliver of light from the headlights shooting through the pulled curtains. It is 5:30 a.m. Garba is right on time today, and he wouldn’t dare be late after Alvaro’s short outburst yesterday evening. Instead of rushing out at the pre-arranged time to catch the quality light and beat the heat, Alvaro is still putting on his hiking boots and inspecting the same t-shirt he wears every day, as if recognizing for the first time sandals would have been better and dark blue blends into cities and urban landscapes well but not into villages made of mud rising from sun baked Sahel. Alvaro produces a fingernail clipper. He’s going to make Garba wait today. He yawns loudly several times, while scratching with the other hand deep inside his filthy parachute pants. Food we’ll need for today: packages of digestive cookies that can serve as breakfast or dessert; milk that you have to drain once the carton is open because it will quickly go bad with the heat or spill, thus imperiling the equipment; the tuna cans, our only source of protein, whose inner swirls heat up to baking by 10 a.m. even when left in the shade. I watch as Alvaro’s nails, one by one, drop and fly off to the floor. I want to say “Innocent until proven guilty” and repeat what the agency told us when we rented the car, the stuff about the gauges,

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but it’s his trip. Yesterday evening, when Garba dropped us off, Alvaro leaned over to check the dashboard dials, pointed at the main gauge needle and said “Petite benzene, no?” I was sitting behind so I couldn’t see Garba’s expression. “Pour quoi petite?” Garba didn’t answer. “Pour quoi?” Alvaro repeated. Garba shot back in French something I didn’t understand, Alvaro volleyed back, and Alvaro later interpreted the argument for me over dinner. “You hear Garba’s reaction?” Alvaro asked. I nodded. “He gets angry only if he is fooling us.” “Maybe because you accused him.” “No, no, no. Do you get angry so fast if you are not fooling?” I took another sip of beer. “They fool us each night, stealing a little each night so that we don’t notice. Well I notice now.” I hadn’t noticed the needles all trip. I was just glad the day had ended, the back of our pants, shirt and underwear were not soaked again in sweat, we did not have to watch out for mobs forming around us, we were alone, nobody watching us or shouting “Cadeau!” It seemed normal that the main tank’s needle at the end of the day indicated near zero, considering we’d been driving all day and the roads were very bad. I sipped more beer and was glad when Alvaro dropped the subject. He was the one who decided the vehicle should stay parked at the agency each night, rather than in front of the bungalow, since their parking lot

is watched over by high walls with curls of barbed wire at the top, in addition to a guard. The grumbling outside stops; the sliver of light across the room turns off. Al continues to inspect his stubby fingers. Using the room key, he scrapes out from underneath the newly cut nails desert gunk, several weeks’ build up. Nobody fools Alvaro. Though this is my first time to spend so much time with him, I’ve known him long enough to know he hates to be duped. I know the thought of anybody “fooling” him, as he says in his funny English, burns him up. And he confessed to me on this trip that, as a teenager, he used to be a petty criminal, stealing mopeds and things out of stores in Madrid, sniffing glue, throwing eggs and water balloons out of upper story windows, that kind of thing. In fact he confessed he got into photography by using a stolen camera.

Running on Faith

being a different dynamic, how you can never trust the driver until the last second, until you pay him his tip at the end. Alvaro told me then that if I had any doubts, any at all, about drivers or anything else, then was the time to discuss them, because once we arrived, once we were living the day-to-day routine, once the heat and stress started, there would be no more time, no more will, no margin for error, and I had to be clear about the rules from the beginning. I finally say “I’ll be outside.” I grab the equipment case and box of food supplies and step outside into the morning darkness. I can immediately sense it’s darker and cooler than usual, humidity in the air, the possibility of rain. The sky broods, an ominous bluish black sky that in Europe would be considered depressing and beaten-up but here it is a sign for rejoicing. Despite the preternatural darkness, it’s light enough

I remember [...] the last-minute advice about traveling in a such a place with a driver, the stuff about three being a different dynamic, how you can never trust the driver until the last second, until you pay him his tip at the end. I already have the equipment and food bags ready. I say nothing. It’s his trip. He’s paying for and organizing it; he paid my way. Al studies the scrap of paper with the figures he wrote down last night representing how many kilometers the vehicle should get on a full main and sub tank, and the kilometers between towns. Sure, I want to say, you upset Garba yesterday evening with your barely veiled accusation; he reports right on time for a change and here you are wasting time. But then I think, what’s it to me? I am just here for the ride, to assist. He’s paying for my trip; it is his time and money; he’s the one with all the experience; they are his photos for his prestigious competition and career; he has every right to take his time, suspect and cut his fingernails. I remember again what Alvaro warned me about back in Paris before we caught the plane, back when he gave me that speech about safety, the last-minute advice about traveling in a such a place with a driver, the stuff about three

to make out contours, and I can just see into the car. There does not appear to be any trace of Garba. For a moment I think he’s challenging Alvaro again and slipped off to smoke or chat with one of the front gate guards. The moment I pull the door handle, however, a shadow springs up in the driver’s seat. He reclined the seat below the level of the windows into a kind of one-man stretcher to catch more shut eye while waiting for us. I swing the stuff in and say “Bonjour,” sitting in my usual place in the back seat, directly behind him. We go through the programmed exchanges, the same every day; he doesn’t speak English and we don’t speak French, though Alvaro seems to understand more and doesn’t think twice about using the same ten words over and over in new and creative combinations. The still, heavy air vibrates with his replies, his voice deep from all those cigarettes he chain smokes. Al finally comes out, locks up, and substitutes a grunt


Ed Gutierrez for his standard greeting. Even under the best of circumstances, Alvaro believes Garba only chats with us so that he’ll receive free hand-outs and tips. While Garba fiddles with a handle to adjust his seat back, Al shines his penlight at the dashboard then quickly pulls out the map, acts like he’s looking at a destination for the first time. I stare out the front windshield at a silhouetted row of palm trees, their tops like row of black shredded wind socks, shivering in a dark blue breeze. I hear a tiny insistent whine of a mosquito. There are more in the morning and more when the humidity is high. I search for its nasty silhouette against the windows. When I see the insect against my window, I aim and clap. The clap goes off like a shot. Al puts down the map, applies more repellent to his arms and neck, a preventative action that Garba usually scoffs at playfully, but this morning he says nothing. I continue to listen for more tiny whines. Then I see a whitish shape, rising out of the murky depths, Garba’s palm, in a gesture of “Where to?” and his hand falls with a slap on his slacks. “Tillabury,” Al finally says, addressing the palm trees. “Tillabury,” confirms Garba. “Oui, oui.” As we pull out of the parking lot, Alvaro blatantly leans over and checks the gauges. This seems pointless since, if Garba or his company are in fact stealing gas, they would not be so bold to have done it again last night, after Alvaro accused them in so many words. From the back, however, I too sneak a peek. All I have to do is lean over a bit for a direct line of sight. Both fuel needles glow dull orange, dropped all the way down, registering empty, as they always do when the car is still not warmed up. Then, as we accelerate, the main tank gauge stays in place while the sub tank gauge wildly rises and dips, indicating refilling miracles and drainage disasters. I roll down my window partially like Garba does in the front. Once we are moving, there is no danger of mosquitoes flying in and for a change we don’t have to use the air-conditioning but the windows shouldn’t go all the way down to block the mini tornados of sand swarming out from under the tires.

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I look out the windows and yet again feel far away, inside an apparatus darkly framing, a bit like Al must feel when he shoots behind his lenses. Garba starts coughing again, coaxing up phlegm that forever pools in the recesses of his throat each morning, and he spits what percentage he can muster forth out the window, the greenish white gob falling like a huge radioactive drop, lit up by the bank of side lights, on for a change. I keep looking at the sky, and I hope the gloom keeps up all day. The coolness will obviate the need for a five hour siesta and the rain will help the country turn greener and therefore help the people become happier and suffer less, so go my idealistic thoughts. People stir everywhere. People in these countries awake very early. A group of men already kneel on their mats under aluminum roofing held up by forked sticks, a construction so unstable it looks like one push could collapse the sticks. The men are lined up like rows of magnetized needles, praying towards Mecca, one direction here that is always possible to determine. Normally Alvaro eagerly looks out the windows at this time, or he chats with Garba, but today he keeps staring forward or referring back to the open map in his lap. And there are so many great photos he’s missing. Some people still sleep out in the open. The people sleep anywhere: in front of stick constructions (either home or business), in the highway medians, next to sewage pools, under wooden benches that have become so worn you can practically hear the creaks, the benches made from anemic trees that are getting harder to find in the ravaged countryside. This sleeping out in the open makes the people look dead or passed-out or crazy or in an emergency situation. Indeed the whole country is in an emergency situation and that is why Alvaro chose to come here, since the competition relates to photo-journalism and values photos that depict the human condition. Some of them sleep huddled together for warmth. The desert is an eternally cruel joke, making people shiver uncontrollably at night and beg for the sun, and then, by late morning the next day, it becomes so hot that same people beg for a return of night. Toward the city centre the ride starts to be-

come smoother, the lack of potholes a sign we near ministry buildings, the richest section of town. Al glances over at the fuel gauges again. With his blatant monitoring Al might as well be freshly accusing Garba. Of course with enough paranoia this stealing gas theory will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, I want to tell him. Wasn’t he also worried about catching malaria and aren’t we just doing fine with the repellent and limb-covering clothes? Garba doesn’t seem to mind, or notice. His wrists are loose on the steering wheel. He leans forward like he is trying to see better through his tinted spectacles and the tinted dawn. The light is still struggling but I can see Garba’s slacks and shirt, made-for-the-desert, same ones he wears every day, somehow always wrinkle free and clean, going from grayish black to olive green. I can also see he got a haircut. The back of his head is right in front of me, smooth like an eight ball, all of his little white hairs that had been sticking out and curling have been shaved off, and he looks closer to our age. I wonder when he found the time to get a hair-cut between last evening when he dropped us off and this morning. And I can hear Alvaro thinking: if he can find time for a haircut, he can find time to pilfer gas. Garba slows down next to a lean-to weighted down by tires, tarp, and stones, the weight necessary when the sudden wind and rain storms come. This morning Garba takes the liberty to stop without asking “Nescafe?” first but since Garba doesn’t get out for five minutes and only projects his arm out of the window like he is at a drive-in, Al can’t justifiably get angry. A boy comes up to the open window. Garba speaks to the boy in dialect. I can see Garba’s teeth in the rearview mirror, and his tongue, Cool-Aid red like the dust, red from all those betel nuts or whatever he chews; it sounds like Garba is being gruff and impatient when he hands the boy a bill but the boy smiles big and runs off, disappears in the shack. Both Garba and Al resume looking out the front windshield, saying nothing, the sky above the shantytown bleak as the tires, cinder blocks and corrugated iron pressing down on lives and hopes. I see a red slash in the sky, a slash where the sunrise should be, an open, festering wound.

Running on Faith

“Haircut?” I ask, leaning forwards between their front seats. Garba rubs the dome of his head. “Oui, oui,” says Garba and chuckles. “Head cervelle froi maintenant?” I go on. Usually Al would add something, joke along with me, Alvaro being the more talkative and funny of us, but now he continues staring straight ahead. Neither of them is much for banter in the morning, even less after yesterday’s shouting match. The boy brings back half a baguette and a can of condensed milk. The boy holds the baguette around the middle with a piece of torn-off newspaper. This will be the only food Garba eats all day, unless he gets something from us, and Garba puts the can between his legs and tosses the baguette on the dashboard. Just yesterday Al picked up the baguette and tapped it against the dashboard a few times, joking how hard it was. We start again and I’m about to peer surreptitiously at the gauges when a shadowy figure crosses the street right in front of the vehicle. Garba jumps out of his slump, honks the horn, and at first I think Garba is angry at the guy for having almost gotten hit but then Garba shoves his hand out the window and waves wildly over the top of the roof. Just as quickly, he returns to his bent forward position. Wherever we go, even in the remotest villages, Garba knows people. Twenty years is a long time to be a driver. Now there’s enough light to see the patches of shine on his arms and his forearms are lean and smooth from decades of turning a non-powered steering wheel and gear shifting over terrain that is sometimes rugged even within the city. In the distance I can see the big green gas station that we stop at every other morning on our way out of the city. The station is the only thing that is as modern and well-equipped as its counterparts in Europe, the biggest, most expensive, most modern, brightest thing around, prices per liter displayed in huge numbers. For us to get in soldiers must lower their machine guns and then lower a chain strung out between two drum barrels. “Gazoil?” asks Garba as he usually does without turning towards Alvaro. Alvaro yet again inspects the gauges. The main gauge is at zero and the sub


Ed Gutierrez gauge registers half full. “No,” says Al. “Tillabury gran kilometer” Garba says, having learned by now how to mimic us so that we can understand him. “Petite tank plein,” says Alvaro. “Le gran tank avec petite gasoil plus le petite tank plein lo sufficient. No, no. Beaucoup gazoil. Beaucoup.” This is the first time we don’t gas up for a long trip. Garba shrugs. He drives right by the gas station. If Garba is stealing gas, he puts on a wonderful poker face, takes everything with the resigned grimness of a driver who will dutifully drive his passengers to Hell and back if they instruct him to. Yes, we should have just enough theoretically, but if it rains, mud will form, potholes will fill; roundabout ways will have to be taken and all of that requires more. You often need much more than you think. On the outskirts of the city, the horizon grows big and black. The sky is slashed in the East, the tear starting where a clear round sunrise is supposed to be. Long dirty rags for clouds run from the red smear to the other end of the sky, as if layer after layer of bandages were attempting to smother a gaping wound. Garba’s eight ball head bobs in front of me, blocking the dashboard’s readings. I have spoken with Garba a few times while Alvaro has been asleep or away. I enjoyed that one talk we had about his wanting to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. “Le Mek,” Garba said one day. “Oui. Oui. Gran Le Mek, beaucoup gran,” Garba said, rolling the sound deep in his throat, explaining his dream. Another time he told me about his family, his two sons and a daughter who is the best in her class. So what if he has a woman on the side (“La femme beaucoup problem. Problem, problem,” he joked), doesn’t regularly pray, and drinks in the evening if we buy him a beer? Everybody has their own problems. In the rearview mirror it is light enough so that I can see Garba’s eyes behind his glasses, which still haven’t started to tint yet, his eyes are wide open, the whites the dull white of a cue ball, almost yellow, scratched with red dots of exploded veins around the dark, intelligent pupils darting this way and that and for a second they meet mine. I quickly look away.

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Out in the countryside, the stunted dawn acts like a filter to heighten the colors. The earth looks Martian, flat and red with scattered rocks and bushes spaced far enough apart so that you can easily count them. The ugliness rips over the highway so that further West the clouds entirely disperse and there the light becomes bluish and pink. Up ahead, by the side of the road, a donkey pulls a cart with a boy on top, riding. Al leans forward, holds out his left hand to Garba, palm parallel to the dented dashboard molding, palm bobbing slowly up and down. Taking the cue, Garba slows down. Al likes to take photos outside of the city more than in it (much safer, he says) and I hope he is forgetting about the gauges at last. The emaciated donkey has stopped to take a drink from a shriveled stagnant puddle. The boy has a stick and strikes first the donkey’s back legs, then its protruding rib cage, trying to make the donkey trudge forwards and get the cart on its way. As we putt by, the boy stops his stick mid-swing and looks at us. Al stares back, not ten feet from the boy, studying the scene to see if it is worthy of him stopping to take a photo. He never can take a photo from a window; he must always stop and set up. The boy returns to beating the donkey. Finally Al turns towards the wind shield again, leans back in his seat, and flicks his index finger towards the infinity of the receding highway. Garba perfectly understands Alvaro’s hand signals by now and gets going again. After Garba gets up to cruising speed again, Al leans over to inspect the dials yet again. On the flat smooth highway out in the country is when the gauges give the best readings. I too lean over to check. The main tank’s reading is just above zero, better than where Al said it had been last night. The sub-tank gauge has steadied near 4/5th full, but it’s hard to tell exactly as the needle vibrates frantically within a narrow range and the dashboard ledge cast shadows and the needles are not glowing sharp orange sticks as they were earlier. Al suddenly holds out his hairy arm and pats Garba’s olive green shoulder. Al doesn’t have to say “Stop.” Garba turns, says something that sounds like “Huh?” his first real emotion all morning, still not slowing. I too am surprised because there are only millet fields on either side of the highway and Al never

takes nature photographs with nobody in them. Al says “Stop,” his thick hand with the freshly shortened nails now gripping Garba’s drab olive shoulder. Garba brakes, sliding me forward on the edge of the back seat as the vehicle pulls over to the side of the empty road. “Get out,” Al says. Since he says this in Spanish, it means me. I get out with the equipment I am supposed to lug around at all times. Again I get that small thrill of excitement every time I step out of the vehicle and a sudden gust of wind turns my slight push to the door into a slam. I follow Al diagonally over to the other side of the road and then plunge after him into a millet field. It seems impossible that any plant could be sprouting and finding nourishment out of such dry red earth. The tops of the millet look like elongated corn cobs that have been nibbled down and ravaged to the core by insects. He stops in a clearing and faces me. Dust swirls around us. “He fools us,” says Alvaro, looking up at me. I don’t say anything, just finger the tubular end of a millet sprout. Another gust of wind causes the leaves and stalks to rattle. The main shafts seem ready to snap they are so dry as they bob past their equilibrium points, bending like pole-vaulters just before they try to jump over the raised bar, and fine dust swirls about so that I have to squint. Garba is no saint, I know, but still, it seems to me, since we are spending so much time together, the vehicle should be our shared space, like a little round table in which we can slip into each other’s hearts, however briefly or superficially, and see each other as more than marauders merely acting out roles to maximize gains and minimize losses. “I’m sure he fools us,” Alvaro repeats. I don’t know what we can do about gas swindling in the middle of nowhere, don’t know why Al is bringing it up in the middle of dying millet fields when he could bring it up during our upcoming breakfast break, or during lunch or the siesta that follows, when Garba eats and sleeps apart from us. Or why doesn’t Alvaro wait until tonight to discuss it again, when we’ll both be more relaxed over beers? “But you know what they said,” I finally say.

Running on Faith

“Who?” “Niger Car.” “What do they say?” he asks, though he already knows the answer. “We agreed to the condition when we rented the car, you know.” “What condition?” Again he already knows. “The one about the sub gauge.” “They’re mechanics,” he says. ”Mechanics can fix anything. And the ones here even more. Tell me they can’t fix the benzene arrow? No me digas.” I want to laugh when he says the “benzene arrow” but he has insisted on this whole trip on speaking English even though I told him back in Madrid that I live in Madrid and want to improve my Spanish. His pupils in his blurry gray green eyes look like ancient insects caught in amber, a thousand years of entrapment. “We signed the contract,” I say again. “No me digas eso.” “One of the gauges could be broken like they say.” “Like Hell.” “That’s what they said at the beginning. You agreed to it.” “Things change.” “A little trust…” “What are you telling me?” he says. “Trust? Here?” “Sometimes.” “That’s how they fool tourists. We’re not tourists. We’re professionals.” “If they say the sub gauge is broken and you agreed when you signed the contract, when we signed….” “Tio. Gas is gold here. In the Sahel? More than gold. Believe me, benzene arrows here never favor. They always favor against you.” Alvaro’s eyes are unnerving and I involuntarily look back at the vehicle, through the shivering, ravaged millet. At first glance the vehicle seems to be on fire. But it’s the red dust swirling around it and Garba is already smoking his first cigarette, blowing smoke out a crack in the window, the smoke thick,


Ed Gutierrez slowly exiting, then rapidly dispersing; Garba’s staring down the empty highway like he’s waiting for a giant to appear, thinking whatever drivers think all day. The dust is swirling more as it always does before a storm, blowing around us, causing us both to squint and hold our palms over our eyebrows and shirt ends over our mouths. The situation just seems so ridiculous. Finally, I say, “Let him have it then.” It is out before I can take it back. “A little loss is not going to kill” instead of saying “you” I say “us.” He just looks at me with his gray green blurry eyes trapping the insects. It’s as if he were a street punk again, before he became a photographer, high on glue, holding a stranger at knifepoint, furious, ready to slash my throat, a complete stranger. Criminals and ex-cons hate to be duped; they demand absolute loyalty. “Do you think I’m Santa Teresa?” he sneers, looking up at me, still not blinking. I almost start to laugh again with “Santa.” He’s smaller than me, smaller than a lot of people, but people are scared of him, his convictions and drive. I can’t outstare him so I look away. The wind blows my hair so hard it hurts. I can see the rain coming, sweeping across the fields, preceding the eerie light, the dust flying up just before it gets tamped down. For the first time he refers to Garba as “the driver.” We are in that ungluing kind of situation he warned me about. One of us has to give. One of us has to be smarter, wiser, sacrifice, play his role better. I know it is not going to be him. There is still a lot of trip left. A plastic bag flies by; I remain silent, knowing how things will be different between us once we return to Madrid, once this trip is over, feeling a little bit of my soul burn to ash, get blown by the wind, tossed topsy-turvy.

“Ok,” I say. “Ok what?” “You’re right.” “Right what?” “I’m sorry.” I make sure to pause on “sorry” and not say it sarcastically. Al quickly outlines his draconian measures, repeats the stuff about not talking under any circumstances with “the driver,” not giving him food or water during the breaks. From now on “the driver” has to provide for his own food and water, no special one-day tips either. A rain drop, big and cold, hits my cheek, then another one lands on my scalp, so big it runs right through the hair down my neck. His head is shaved and drops are dripping down his forehead, damming at his knit eyebrows, the drops mixing with the red sand, making it look like diluted blood. Normally he’s more protective of his delicate, expensive equipment. Soon the sand will turn to mud and rivulets of red water will trickle through the land. Soon these rivulets will meet up to form wide shallow ponds, and, if there is a slight incline, raging red streams that will leave cut out banks and evaporate as quickly as they form. “Let’s go,” I say, holding up the camera case. We both hurry back. Garba has rolled up all the windows. Just after I pull the handle again, the wind begins to rock the vehicle and the rain falls in cold thick silver flashes, pots and pans beating on the roof, and it is as if we are in a car wash, none of us saying a word, visibility zero, all of us knowing we can go nowhere. I rub the steam off of my window and see the boy and donkey approaching the back of the car through the flashing blur, both heads bent forwards, both drenched, cart faster than car.

For a number of years Ed Gutierrez has worked as a freelance journalist and regional correspondent for The Japan Times. He has now lived an equal number of years overseas as in the U.S. His fiction and essays have been published in North Atlantic Review, 34th Parallel, Marco Polo Quarterly, Tryst3, The Rambler and a few others.

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Many thanks to Osprey and La Sportiva for donating items to the 1st Annual Ridge to River Contest.

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