Mefou National Park, Cameroon (Elma Burnham) Cover: New Mexico, USA (Zach Doleac)
GEOGRAPHIC Fall 2012
Nate Brown 5 Climbing Mountains to See Lowlands Taiwan Syd Schulz 9
A Rock of Penguins Punta Arenas, Chile
Levi Westerveld 13
Lines and Shadows British Columbia, Canada
Bronwyn Oatley 17
Ndakinna New England, USA and Quebec, Canada
Andrew Forsthoefel 23
Prisoners and the Desert North Carolina and California, USA
Maïa Venturini 29 My Parisian Streets Paris, France Carson Dietz Hartmann 32 Sights of Growth Réunion
Hannah McMeekin 38 Pelicans Take Flight Brittany Thomas New Hampshire, USA
EDITORS’ NOTE: The stories, reflections, landscapes, and intimate portraits within these pages come from various corners of the earth and are told from a diverse set of perspectives. But each relies, as any narrative about place and people must, on strangers. These strangers allowed these authors , and now us, a look into their lives and their homes. In turn, each author allows the reader a glimpse into his or her own. Stories rely on the kindness and generosity of others, and this magazine is a product of those virtues. We are grateful for the stories that were offered to our contributors — stories from as far as an island off the coast of Madagascar and as near as our own North Eastern back yard — and for the contributors’ willingness to share them with our community. These writers, photographers, artists, and the people they met along their journeys have entrusted the readers of this magazine with their stories, and we know that these pieces are in good hands. Sincerely, Ricky Chen and Kaveh Waddell
Waza National Park, Cameroon (Elma Burnham) Left: Rice paddies in Yuanyang, China (Gillian Lui)
came to Taiwan in search of the island life: slow, humid days with fans pattering against sheer curtains and sun-framed skies with a faint sea breeze. But this island is not that simple. Rather, it hangs in the South China Sea like a well-clipped collage: a landscape where overt juxtapositions combine into a refined, cohesive whole.
Climbing Mountains to See Lowlands
WRITING AND PHOTOS BY NATE BROWN
A MULTIFACETED METROPOLIS Taipei is a city far flung from the complacent drone of the tropics. Sitting somewhere between the neon-lined impressions of Wang Kar Wai’s Hong Kong and the hedonism of Hunter S. Thompson’s Puerto Rico, Taipei still crackles with the energy of a young city polished by modernity. Night markets hum with the chatter of food vendors while giggles of girls in designer clothes spill out onto the street from nearby nightclubs. And somehow, even despite modernization, Taipei still retains a strong cultural character, a character enhanced by the genuine friendliness of local residents, making the city of almost three million feel like it still has some sort of small town charm. Only Taipei’s architecture seems to suffer from a form of tropical suppression. Compact concrete-block complexes, built low out of fear of earthquakes, combine around the mazes of alleys that line the city’s interior. Shop fronts fill the first floor of back streets and expressways alike, shrouded by carved-out awnings that serve as shelter for the intermittent but inevitable rain. Although urban sprawl extends from 5
the mountains to the sea, the glowing flatlands of Taipei seem to be always wary of the will of the island. Like most who arrive in Taiwan, I began in Taipei. But although (or maybe because) the city has plenty to offer — food, sights, nightlife, etc. — its sheer density can feel somewhat suffocating. In Taipei I could gorge myself in indulgence, but I was looking for exploratory detachment. Ironically, detachment came through the one thing that seems to hold Taipei together, a Taiwanese staple: the motor scooter. Scooters represent Taiwan as much as locals rely on it: it’s compact and efficient, simple and versatile. With no frame to block one’s vision, but enough pace to go long distances, it is by far the best way to take in Taiwan. Unbound, a scooter turns every ride into a destination, a journey to be explored at its own pace.
DULCET BLUES; STEADFAST GREENS I scribble our route across a napkin-sketch of the island: a shallow hook across the mountains and down Taiwan’s otherwise inaccessible east coast, from Taipei to Hualien, eight hours across almost every dynamic of the local landscape. The instant you get out of Taipei you can feel it. The sky opens up as mountains rear into the foreground; a handful of traffic lights later and you’re ascending up sweeping switchbacks, looking back as grey fades to green. Glancing at a map, it’s easy to be misled into imagining Taiwan as a low-lying beachfront. In actuality, Taiwan is an alpine island, its center curving up like a spine of raw jade before falling into the sea. Driving on the highland path between Taipei and Yilan, a coastal city 50 kilometers to the southeast, I’m flanked by trucks, bikers and even a couple intrepid hikers making a Saturday morning pilgrimage across the set of rolling peaks. Because of the mountains’ proximity to most major cities, a quick escape is always possible, even if just for the day. Brick-row hillside plots are woven alongside scattered beetle nut palms. In this area famous for tea, especially Iron Buddha Oolong, small villages sink seamlessly into each ridge, the slopes dotted with teahouses and mountaintop cafes serving as outposts for those bold enough to cycle here. But skidding up switchback upon switchback to a numbingly beautiful slew of panoramic vistas, there is more than enough adrenaline in the landscape to keep me going. Arriving at the east coast is spectacular. Seafoam and teal patchwork fields beats up against the ocean as soon as you dive down into an expanse of coastal plains. Most cities in Eastern Taiwan lie on this strip of interrupted flatland squeezed in between the mountains and the sea. Passing through them in half hour inter-
vals on the central highway, they move by in a blur of mocked-up grey from small-city shopfronts speckled with burnt-orange and ochre from the intricately decorated temples and roadside ancestral graveyards. Here, religion is still prominent in the local culture — as it is in the rest of Taiwan — but the neon crosses of Taipei have been replaced with Daoist dragons and Buddhist lotuses. Temples usually tucked down alleyways in the city now crest proud as guardians over this expanse of ethereal pastures. Just beyond the port city of Suao, the road rises again. This time it spins up onto the Qingshui cliffs, where sheer drops into azure ocean are cut by a twisting two-lane highway. Here, and all throughout the edge of the Taiwan’s eastern seaboard, ominous road signs and rockslide netting nod to the latent danger this coastline actually holds; road closures and even deaths are not uncommon during typhoon season where these towering slopes of stone slip into the sea. It is both the prettiest and most harrowing part of the drive, a duality stark enough to offset any hesitation on the road: the scenery beckons, but fear propels. 6
THE CITY BY THE SEA When I arrive in Hualien it is already dark, but I can smell salt off the ocean. Hualien is a mystical, slow-paced town nestled in the crescent curve coast next to the mountains. Far from Taipei, the metropolitan hustle has been replaced with a subtropical swoon. While chatting about the swell forecast over crab dumplings and fresh passion fruit with local surfers, it becomes apparent how tied this place is to the simple pace of the sea. Relaxed and unassuming, Hualien most embodies the island life I had imagined in Taiwan, albeit with charcoal grey rock instead of white sand beaches. Unfortunately, most tourists here are just passing by; the city itself is not a prominent destination on the list Taiwan’s sights. This is no fault of Hualien’s; it’s merely an indication of how much the nearby landscape has to offer. By mid-morning the next day, we head towards Jici, a black sand beach thirty minutes south of the city. The road down, Highway 11, is often compared to the US’s Highway 1 or Australia’s Great Ocean Road, but after coming all the way from Taipei it almost feels like another layer on a wedding cake. It’s not that the drive isn’t scenic — it’s gorgeous: a subtle coastline tumbling into windswept long grass — at this point, though, it’s just an extra indulgence after an already satisfying drive the day before. At Jici, the water moves from a cyan towards a darker cerulean as it crashes in a shallow break onto the pepper grey shore. The surfers I’m with note how rocky the beach is; apparently the sand here can either get swept away or dumped back in almost overnight. After racking the boards back on the motorcycles, we head up the beach to the hills. Following a freshwater stream from the point it fades into the ocean, we clamber over a set of boulders to a nearby waterfall. A short swim under a crumbling outcropping, and we enter an inlet hollowed wide like a cathedral. As the water tumbles down the cliffs, I float in the eddies that pool up around the edges of the cave. 7
Stomach to the sky, I begin to understand how the aboriginal inhabitants of this area (who now make up a quarter of the population) found this land sacred. The daydreams come to an abrupt end as a group of monkeys begin to throw sticks at us from the canopy above. TA-RO-KO: MAGNIFICENT AND BEAUTIFUL Despite its coastal setting, the reason most people visit Hualien is to visit the nearby mountains, especially Taroko Gorge. As my friend and I rumble around the corner to the entrance to the gorge, it’s easy to see why. Torn from the mountains in rows of blue-grey marble streaked with black and khaki, Takoro stands in defiant dominance of the landscape around it. Here the ascent is swift but sublime; careening around sharp ridgelines, it’s liberating to finally be able to cut straight through the mountains instead of swaying around them. On the less-frequented trails, the gorge hums with a primordial chatter. I feel almost like an invader crouching through low hanging vines
as the tattooed faces of natives glare at me from National Park placards. At times I even feel helpless. The whole canyon has an undercurrent of risk, a dormant force made even more apparent by how comically vulnerable the busloads of tourists seem as they shimmy along the railing wearing matching white hard hats. Off the bike and on to Shakadang Trail, the gorge begins to envelop us. While the actual canyon at this point isn’t very deep, the crystalline turquoise water is hypnotic. Unperturbed by the hikers stumbling along its banks, it’s hard to believe that this stream is a tributary of the same Liwu river that carved out all of Taroko. We temporarily disregard signs marked “no swimming” as we’re summoned to the water like sailors to sirens. In fact, the only area where you can get truly close to the river is at the hot springs. Naturally carved out of the cliff ’s marble face, the hot spring water pools on a momentary overhang
before it spills into the winter grey rapids. With the water temperature at about 48°C, enjoying the springs is a dance around extremes: first sliding into the scolding sulfur bath and then grasping to river stones and silent under the shallow whitewater. • Each drive I have taken down Taiwan’s east coast has only perpetuated my captivation with it. An amalgamation of iterated contrasts in landscape and culture, Taiwan spins and fractures like a kaleidoscope: as its facets twist together into a brilliant whole, each section only becomes clear in terms of what’s next to it. Although there is beauty to be found in its parts — the piecemeal decay of urban concrete, the untamed vigor of thick mountain jungle — Taiwan is defined by not by each part, but by the points where these parts meet. This what distinguishes Taiwan: the raw power of the primeval rounded off in halcyon overtones.
his is a story about penguins, but it is also a story about wind. Wind in Patagonia is unlike wind in other places. It is a wall of impenetrable air moving across the steppes at mach speed. It crushes the grass flat in its path and whips the poplar trees to and fro like spring-loaded jack-in-the-boxes. My boyfriend Macky and I arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, in late January: summer for the southern hemisphere, although you wouldn’t know it down there. Punta Arenas is at the bottom of the American continent; all that stands between it and Antarctica are the Magellan Strait, the island of Tierra del Fuego and 700-some
miles of icy ocean. Here, summer brings not warmth but wind. Warm air from the north descends tentatively only to collide with cold gusts from Antarctica. It is a battle of wills that gathers speed over the long, flat, prairie-like landscape of the Patagonian steppe. We came to Punta Arenas after two weeks of driving through wind. Argentina’s gravelly and desolate Ruta 40 — known as the loneliest road in the world — left us drained, dry-skinned, and with an irreparably flat tire on our rental car. Driving Ruta 40 had been a beautiful adventure, a test of the vastness of space, but now, at the bottom of the world, we were facing the realization that our destination was just as barren and windswept as where we had come through. And soon, presuming of course that we could fix our car, we would pack up and do it again. This time, it would be without the novelty, just another 2,000 kilometers of dry throat and dusty hair, teeth-chattering gravel, and large gaps of wild nothingness. We hadn’t planned on going as far south as Punta Arenas. We got the flat a ways outside of Rio Gallegos, a grey, ugly port town in Southern Argentina. Chile and Argentina, despite their proximity, are incompatible in a variety of ways, one of which is apparently tire size. After a hasty patch job, we scrambled for the border as Macky clinged to a twitching steering wheel and the car drifted dangerously to the left.
A ROCK OF PENGUINS WRITING AND PHOTOS BY
SYD SCHULZ 9
And so it was that we came to the end of the Earth in search of a 155/70 R13 tire. But if you’re going to be marooned on the southernmost tip of the American continent with a punctured tire and a rapidly draining bank account, you might as well see penguins. Back in Rio Gallegos, we had picked up a map from the tourist office. This map turned out to be pretty much worthless. Of the three campgrounds listed, only one existed and it looked like it had been locked up and closed for at least five years. The map did, however, mark the coastlines with little graphics of penguins, sea lions, and whales, and there was a fat little penguin right over Punta Arenas.
We purchased two tickets on a 7 am tour boat to Isla Magdalena and set off looking for somewhere to sleep. We had spent the night at a campground about half an hour outside Punta Arenas, trying not to freeze to death. We reckoned it would be cheap but the wind foiled attempt after attempt to light a decent fire and left us eating half cooked pasta in the tent at midnight. When we woke up, we realized the car was out of gas. Luckily, the park ranger was willing to siphon some combustible from his ATV to get us back on the road.
2,000 kilometers of dry throats and dusty hair, teeth-chattering gravel, and large gaps of wild nothingness.
After a couple trips through downtown Punta Arenas I began to think that the city had only two industries: penguins and extravagantly colored alpaca wool sweaters. (I was wrong, because Punta Arenas is also known for its chocolate.) I had never seen so many tour companies in one place. You have to congratulate a place that capitalizes on tourism despite having approximately two days of sunshine each year.
We found a hostel up on the hill, a ways out of downtown. The “free camping” sign out front had attracted a crowd. Every inch of the yard was occupied with a tent, a bicycle, or someone sporting dreadlocks. We ducked under several lines of drying laundry and eventually found the front door. The owner was a short, bouncy man with a thick mop of hair. He welcomed us with enthusiastic handshakes and led us through the kitchen where his elderly parents sat, warming themselves by a wood-burning cook stove. Over the course of our stay, the old man almost never stirred from where he sat silently by the stove. But when I hung some laun-
dry on the low-hanging electricity cable out back behind the kitchen, he hopped up with surprising agility to remonstrate me in rapidfire, toothless Spanish. We spent an evening mingling with the other hostel guests in the crowded kitchen. We met a couple of American cyclists, one of whom had ridden all the way from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. He was now less than a week from his destination: Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost town in the world. The other was a skinny New York artist with thinning hair who was working his way by bicycle across Argentina. He told us about a llama skeleton he had photographed on the side of the road. “I had to lie down next to it,” he said, “and shoot up. It looked like a landscape.”
the island of Tierra del Fuego from the rest of the American continent. It is not known for being kindly to small boats; it is known for gigantic waves and humpback whales. Today was a “calm day,” but I still sloshed burning coffee over my lips several times before giving up and succumbing to a caffeine headache.
And it became clear that what we had taken for rocks were actually penguins. Thousands and thousands of penguins.
After the previous night it was wonderful to sleep inside and listen to the roar of the wind with several layers of wood and glass separating us from its piercing touch. The next morning, the storm had died down some and the streets were calm and empty as we rolled out to the dock. Chile sleeps in. We boarded the boat, a large zeppelin with wooden seats and a bright yellow exterior, donned our requisite life jackets, and helped ourselves to boiling coffee and crackers. Drinking the coffee proved a challenge as the zeppelin pushed off into the strait. The Magellan Strait is the small body of water that separates
The boat ride was about an hour long, and when we weren’t staring fixedly at the horizon trying to fight off the nausea, we entertained ourselves by observing our fellow passengers: a group of gangly Germans wearing top of the line outdoor gear and toting 800 dollar cameras, an awkward bearded schoolteacher from Atlanta, and several elderly Argentines. They were a happy bunch, united by the simple desire to see some penguins. We gathered around the prow of the boat, clinging to the railing, salty spray frosting our faces. Isla Magdalena appeared in the distance, a brown blob dotted with dark rocky outcrops. Or, perhaps, just lots of awkwardly placed black rocks. Or, oh wait — the boat slowed and followed the shoreline for a few hundred meters and it became clear that what we had taken for rocks were actually penguins. Thousands and thousands of penguins. My only previous experience with “exotic” wildlife (Southern Ohio’s healthy white-tailed deer population does not count) was a whalewatching trip in Maine when I was eleven. It was a five-hour ordeal in which we battled twenty-foot swells, I yakked into my mother’s favorite hat, and we saw only the tail of one evasive whale. This gave me the impression that seeing wildlife in the wild was difficult. Not so with penguins. 120,000 penguins on one small, treeless island changes the odds a bit. Let me tell you about penguins. They are funny little creatures. On land, they wobble and tod-
dle like awkward children, flapping their wings and shaking their feathered tails. With their beaks thrust forward and their butts in the air, they achieve a strange sort of comic dignity, like little people in black feathered suits. They run and slide in the dirt like 120,000 toddlers playing on Slip ‘N Slides, wobbling on their feet until the speed becomes too much and then flopping down on their white bellies. The penguins on Isla Magdalena are Magellanic Penguins, short and stocky with pinkrimmed eyes—they don’t have the tall, sophisticated, grandeur of Empire or King penguins and they lack the characteristic yellow markings of these larger species. However, they have a comical grace of their own. They are energetic, social, and completely unfussed by the steady stream of tourists who visit their rock. The island is partitioned off with walkways to prevent anyone from stepping on a penguin nest, but the birds happily crisscross the paths and hobnob with the tourists. One particularly brave little guy took a great interest in my pant leg and followed me for some time, pecking at my shoe. We paused for a while and convinced him to nibble on our fingers. We dubbed him “The Simple
They achieve a strange sort of comic dignity.
Penguin.” Of course, you’re not supposed to pet the penguins on Isla Magdalena — it’s a national park, after all — but it’s almost impossible to resist, especially once they have latched onto your pants. I don’t remember how long we spent wandering around, laughing and coercing the penguins to wobble past the camera. It felt good to be a giddy, camera-waving tourist. For the past weeks our lives had been all about the destination — the race to the south. We were driven by the allure of the end of the Earth and drawn here by some restless need to keep moving. We spent long days in the car, eating stale baguettes, and sleeping on the side of the road. We suffered and laughed and cried and pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did. Later, these sufferings would become great stories and fond memories, but for now, the penguins were a much-needed relief from the austere beauty of Ruta 40, and a chance to laugh that pure, rejuvenating laughter that only comes from watching cute animals do silly things. There was a Chilean flag flying at the highest point of the island. We stood beneath it for awhile, listening to it snap and crack in the wind and appreciating the beauty of this place, our rock full of penguins. 12
met Cicero, an elder of the Quw’ustun’ tribe of British Columbia, as he was carving a totem out of a cedar trunk. His totem, inspired by a tribal story, showed a colorful thunderbird with angular wings holding a killer whale in his claws. The black-and-white spotted killer whale holds a chinook salmon between his fins. As he was carving, Cicero told me the story of his totem.
opened his claws, and grabbed the killer whale out of the water to drop him on top the nearest mountain. Every summer since then, chinook salmon have found their way into the Cowichan valley. And every year Cicero goes spear fishing.
LINES AND SHADOWS QUW’UTSUN’ TRIBAL IDENTITY
One summer a very long time ago, chinook salmon stopped swimming up the Cowichan River. The chief of Quw’ustun’ clan, worried about the survival of his tribe, decided to send two of his bravest men to the mouth of the river to report back what had happened to the salmon. When the two men arrived after many days, they saw a gigantic killer whale eating all the salmon that were desperately trying to reach the fresh water of the Cowichan River. They returned to the village, still shaking from fear, and told their chief what they had witnessed. After meditating on the problem for several days, the chief decided that the tribe should invoke the Thunderbird for help. A three-day-long song-and-dance ceremony was organized, bodies were painted, and one could feel the soil of the Earth vibrating from the forceful dancing miles away. Through the clouds, the Thunderbird finally came down,
According to Hwiemtum, the tribe’s cultural representative, children should by the age of twelve be able to survive in the forest for five or six days on their own. But because of the modern world in which they grow up, children generally have no interest in cultivating those skills, which they often consider backwards. While there are more than 177 indigenous dialects in British Columbia, they are usually only spoken by the elders of the tribe. Out of the four
WRITING AND DRAWINGS BY
After finishing the story, Cicero paused and fell silent. I broke the silence by asking what he uses to paint the figures of his totem. He responded that his ancestors used to extract pigments from plants that would then be mixed with seal fat to create a resistant oil paint, but that today almost all carvers use acrylics, which are cheaper and easier to use. As for the wood for the totem, Cicero used to just cut down the appropriate tree in the forest, but now laws oblige him to buy each tree from a local company that sells them at five thousand dollars a piece.
thousand aboriginals that form the Quw’ustun’ tribe, only six percent can fluently speak the native tongue, Hul’qumi’num. Recently, some federal elementary schools have started to incorporate native language instruction into their curriculum for all students, asking elders to facilitate the instruction. The problem, however, is that these elders do not have formal training to teach. Furthermore, this spoken language has only recently been given a written form, with which not all elders are familiar. The Hul’qumi’num language is key for the culture to survive; it is used in most of the tribe’s ceremonies and it reflects the essence of the view with which the tribe members look at the world in which we live. They do not have a word for months to express a certain period of the year but instead use words that describe changing natural processes such as the upstream migration of the chinook salmon in the Cowichan River. They also use the Hul’qumi’num language when they interact with plants and animals of the forests. I remember Hwiemtun once presenting himself to a red cedar tree as we walked through the forest. He thanked the cedar for being there and told it he would take some of his bark to make a cedar hat. He then made an offering of tobacco and started to pull off some of the tree’s bark. He explained that it was better to do this in the morning at the end of spring when the tree can easily heal.
an elderly woman, an elder of the Quw’ustun’ tribe. She used to participate in those races, and proudly told me that her team had won 27 years in a row. They would practice every day throughout the year for this special occasion at which many of the aboriginal tribes from the North American West Coast get together and compete on the water. Each canoe is carved out of a single piece of red cedar trunk and painted according to the family’s colors. Her family’s canoe was decorated with a blue stripe on top of a white stripe. To my surprise, teams of 10-year-old children were enthusiastically participating in five-mile races in the cold and windy waters of the Salish Sea. I was invited to join the family for lunch and I learnt that three of the members had committed suicide over the last couple of months. Alcohol, drugs, and low employment rates are important factors in the very high suicide rates among the Quw’ustun’ tribe. Just as important is the destabilization process indigenous people are going through, and the loss of their cultural identity in an increasing modernized world. Not only are they forced daily into Western culture through education, employment,
Hwiemtun told harrowing stories of his school experience. He recalled a day when policemen and a priest, who also was his teacher, came to his grandmother’s house to threaten his entire family, forbidding them from using their native language. Hwiemtun attended day schools, but many of his older friends from the tribe attended boarding schools. Aboriginal students were taken away from their families for the whole academic year and forced to adopt Western culture and forget their own through an abusive education system. The last of these schools was closed in 1996. A week later, at the annual war canoe races that take place in the Cowichan Bay, I met with 14
and federal regulations, but they also face high levels of racism. The elderly woman I was talking to told me that she is often verbally abused by other customers as she was buys food with her handicapped mother. Each tribe has their own specific funeral ceremonies, depending on their stories and beliefs. In the Quw’ustun’ tribe, when a person dies, their favorite food and clothes are placed on a wooden table, which is then burned to ashes. The process gives an opportunity for the spirit of the person to prepare itself for their travels. The Shaker’s Church, a combination of American Indian, Catholic, and Protestant beliefs and practices, plays an important ceremonial and spiritual role for many aboriginal tribes in British Columbia. According to the elders, Shaker’s Church practices are slowly shifting away from Christianity and toward a stronger integration of native practices. As we watched the races taking place on the water, the woman introduced me to her ninety-year-old father. He works with a linguistics professor once a week at the University of Victoria. His voice is recorded to “save the language” of the Quw’utsun’, and he explains the meaning of certain words. This is a challenging project because the many layers of meaning that exist in certain words in the Hul’qumi’num language cannot easily be translated into English.
To understand the Hul’qumi’num language, one must understand the culture, the land, and the particular worldview of the people that use this language in their daily lives. I spent most of June listening and observing the elders and younger generations of aboriginals from the Quw’ustun’ tribe on Vancouver Island. Never had I felt so different and foreign as I felt on the reserve in the Cowichan Valley. During my interviews, I felt like an insect scratching the soil of a new planet. Some of the tribe members told me their stories, some let me draw them, and some remained silent, but all of them have fostered in me a respect for their unique understanding of the world. Throughout my stay, I used art as bridge to overcome the barriers that had grown between our two cultures. Europeans have been responsible in the extermination of aboriginal people ever since they first landed on the coast of North America, and the scars of the past have not yet healed. Studying in pastels how light reveals the curves of their faces while listening to their unique stories helped me understand a few facets of their identities. Wisdom. Wholeness. Strength. But I also observed the fragility and anxiety that have formed because of the traumatizing experiences they have undergone.
Never had I felt so different and foreign as I felt on the reserve in the Cowichan Valley.
Nouns do not exist on their own but are connected to specific aspects of the environment in which they are created. When someone says salmon I think of fish, food, and a pink‑ orange color, but an aboriginal person of the Quw’ustun’ tribe will relate this word to more complex meanings because of the particular importance of this animal in his life. Salmon has a composite spiritual significance, a specific artistic representation in totems, is personalized in stories, and refers to a specific time of year that is related to certain natural changes. 15
As I drew the final portraits for each person, two forces were interacting in my head and on paper. One was the essence of the person I was drawing. The other was my own identity. The colors I chose to use and the way I moved my hand as I drew were decisions born at the line where their identities join mine. Working on this line was a real balancing act. Too often I was drawn into emphasizing how I saw them and interpreted them rather then truly letting their essence freely influence the drawing that appeared on the paper. But even as I brought out the lines that separate them from us, I did not forget our similarities.
NDAKINNA driving the dawn land
n the beginning, I did it for a class. The conversations at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian museum in New Hampshire, the visit to the Abenaki reserve in Odenak, Quebec, and the miles logged driving along lake Champlain in the North, across the Dawn Land — it was all part of a journey, a haphazard adventure across Vermont, New Hampshire and Quebec for a writing course I was taking in my junior year at Middlebury College.
My classmates and I had been instructed by our professor to pick a location, to make a rough guess at an itinerary, and to, “just go.” Leaving our rural Vermont campus in the distance, one had gone to San Francisco to study the roots of the Beat Generation, another to upstate New York to learn what it meant to live off the grid, a third to Little Havana, Miami, looking to talk to folks about Santeria.
was governed by a latent apathy, a belief that some idea would “just hit me” before I had to decide upon a destination. Nothing did, until I fell into a zig-zagging trip across the land of the Abenaki people, some of modern-day New England’s earliest settlers. As I drove the highways of the northeast, shadowing the sprawling lakes and rugged mountains, I shaded in the boxes of a history I’d never been told, born of a curiosity that had begun much earlier. •
I stayed in the Green Mountain state.
I was thirteen, an awkward girl in a boy’s GAP t-shirt, forward-facing ball cap and cargo shorts. I sat in the back of my mom’s three-row Suburban, staring out the window during the familiar ride from our home in Midhurst, Ontario, to the site of our family’s summer house in Muskoka.
In part, this decision was born of a desire to stick close to home, having just returned from a semester abroad and abhorring the idea of packing again. The remainder of the decision
As we drove north, the terrain became more untamed. Mountainous deposits of sandstone lined the sides of the highway, jutting out from the long grass. Shin-high rock creatures sat
by Brownyn Oatley photos by Andrew Catomeris drawings by Marcella Houghton
high atop the massive stone cuts. They had thick legs, sturdy torsos, outstretched arms and large rectangular heads made of stone. “Mom, what are those things?” I asked from the backseat. “They’re Inuksuks, honey,” she said. In the Inuit language, Inuinnaqtun, the word “Inuksuk” means in the likeness of a human. In Northern Canada the Inuksuk is deeply tied to Inuit culture. Since the earliest settlements, indigenous people have built the creatures in order to provide points of reference for travelers navigating the vast swaths of hostile territory: they marked fishing holes, hunting grounds and campsites. In the decades since, travelers have erected the statues on the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, on the rolling hills of the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia and on the blasted sandstone in Georgian Bay, Ontario.
in New Hampshire. She was a middle-aged Abenaki woman with dark brown eyes and a reassuring smile. As I sat with her at a long white crafting table, she wove a history I had never been taught in grade school. “When I was young, my teacher told me that Native Americans didn’t exist in Vermont anymore,” she said, as she ran her fingers over the beads in front of her.
• I met Ronda on the second day of spring vacation at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian museum 18
“I put my hand up and told her that I was Abenaki — that we did exist,” she said. “My teacher told me that I was wrong.”
fall gathering of French settlers and native people at harvest time, and the traditions brought north by English settlers.
Ronda spoke of the Red Power Movement of the sixties and of her own struggle to reclaim her Native American identity.
In America, I later read, different traditions form the basis for the nation’s Thanksgiving holiday. Though often misrepresented, it was in 1621 that the English Pilgrims and Wampanoag Native Americans ate together for the first time. On this day there was neither cranberry sauce nor pumpkin pie, neither large feather headdresses nor pilgrims in tall black hats with silver buckles. Clothed in deerskin, elk hide, and fur, the Wampanoag people ate corn, deer and fowl with the English. In the decades that followed, the English challenged the Native American way of life as the new settlers dug stakes in the ground, severing sections of land from the communal territory.
“The occupation of Alcatraz by the Native Americans was huge,” she said. “Things got better after that.” • When I was eleven, I sat near the front of the classroom as my cowboy-boot-wearing sixth grade teacher spoke of the Harvest Festival. It was the week before Thanksgiving, and I colored inside the lines as he spoke of explorers, cornucopias, and of meals shared between the indigenous peoples and the English and French settlers. In Canada, we celebrate Thanksgiving based on traditions pulled from a variety of different historical events — the first celebratory meal of explorer Martin Frobisher in 1578, the late 19
Today, Native Americans don’t celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, as it serves as a painful reminder of the arrival of a people who took their land, massacred their people and created a new dominant culture. •
It was overcast as I drove toward Quebec on the fourth day of spring break. On the reserve, weathered multicolored totem poles leaned against brick houses and worn wooden teepees stood beside plastic jungle gyms. It was a Sunday, and there were very few people on the streets. The Abenaki Tribal Museum was silent except for the sound of a quiet recording, the characteristic thundering drumbeats and long wavering voices of the traditional tunes. I stood before a large map of North America as the museum guide narrated the movement of Abenakis across the modern-day border. As the population of English settlers grew in New England in the 17th century, landowners enforced trespassing laws against Native Americans, prohibiting their movement across the territory. Barred from their own land and facing a dwindling population, the Native Americans fought back. In the decades that followed, the Connecticut Valley became hostile territory for Native Americans, and many moved north to avoid persecution. Joined by Pocumtucks, Norwottucks, Sokoks and Pennacooks, the Abenakis became the majority population in the small territory in Quebec. The Western Abenakis based their identity in part on this kinship with their brothers and sisters to the south. • Five days after visiting Odenak, I entered the basement of the community center in Swanton, Vermont. Six children sat in the center of a circle on metal fold-up chairs, fidgeting, as their eyes followed the dozen or so others dancing around them. My spring vacation had finished and classes had started again, but I had been invited to attend a traditional drum circle, an after-school program where students learned the songs of their elders. Multicolored Lego T-shirts, sequin encrusted jeans, and light-up sneakers formed the back-
drop to the methodical pounding of mallets on a rawhide drum at the center of the room. Some pounded as others danced. I stood at the back of the room, unsuccessfully trying to blend with the other adults who stood waiting for their children to finish the program. After the end of the first song, a young blonde girl got up from her chair and walked toward me. “Do you want to try drumming?” she asked, extending the drumsticks. “Oh, no — I mean, I couldn’t,” I said, shaking my head. Brenda Gagne, the President of the Board of Directors for the Abenaki Self-Help Center, walked over toward us. Her long black and silver hair was pulled into a ponytail and hung down her back. She had a round, severe face, and large brown and green eyes. “No. It’s okay,” Brenda said, speaking to children who had gathered around. “If Megan has invited her into the circle, then she can drum.” 20
I sat on one of the chairs facing the large drum, as Brenda pulled Megan aside, asking her if she understood the significance of the gesture she had made toward me. “Respect?” Meghan ventured. “No. It’s honor,” she said. “You have honored her by asking her to drum with us.” With patience, Brenda explained that normally non-Abenakis do not participate in drum circles. My presence in the circle was only permitted because Megan, a young member of the Abenaki community, had invited me to participate. Brenda mimicked a drumming motion with her wrists and told me to follow the lead of a teenage girl on the opposite side of the circle. “We will play the song of honor. Just follow Justine,” she said. I watched the methodical pounding of the mallets, as the sound from the drum guided the rhythmical dancing of the kids around us. The others in the circle beside me sung long notes and pounded in time. I didn’t sing, but focused on the movement of my wrists. Like a teenager holding hands for the first time, I smiled nervously, taken aback by the intimacy of the moment. Sensing the end of the song, I locked eyes with Justine as she gave the final power beat.
drums began again and Megan ran towards me with her little hand extended. “Come dance!” she said. “I don’t know how,” I replied, as she grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the circle. “It’s easy. Just tap your feet, like this.” she said. As her elders had showed her years before, she mimed the dance, gently tapping the floor in front of her before each step forward. I mimicked, grinning as we moved together around the circle. • A few hours before, I had been to an Abenaki Burial site in Swanton, a ten-minute drive from the community center on a road that shadows the path of the Missiquoi River — a tributary nearly eighty miles in length that winds through the northern section of Vermont and the southern portion of Quebec. A wooden totem pole stood at the end of the road that showed the order of life: sturgeon, turtle, otter, wolf, beaver, bear and eagle. I got out of my car and walked towards a small protrusion on the otherwise flat, grassy field. A small wrought-iron fence protected a makeshift monument, at the center of which sat two sticks crossed together in an X, held together by twine. Colorful ribbons and beaded bracelets dangled from the branches, offerings to the spirits. At the base of the mon-
“You have honored her by asking her to drum with us.”
I walked to the side of the room, trying to slow the nervous pounding of my heartbeat. The
ument, partially obscured by the mounds of sweet grass, sat an imbedded gravestone. Throwing tobacco into the wind, I bent down and read the inscription: If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d climb right up to heaven and bring you home again. I pulled my tape recorder from my pocket and said the words of inscription into the speaker. There were no other gravestones at the burial site, and the few trees on the edge site were covered in yellow No Trespassing signs. Careful not to forget the details of the inscription, I walked back to the mound and tried to mentally imprint the details. I didn’t use my recorder again, remembering the sanctity of the oral tradition in Native American culture, feeling guilty for having used it in the first place. Once back in my car I tried to remember the words of the poem: If tears could build a stair-
way and memories… I pulled the recorder out of the pocket of my jeans and hit play. My voice came through the speaker, partially distorted by the sound of the wind, and then stopped abruptly halfway through the inscription. The battery on my tape recorder died, and the screen went dark. Alone, I sat in my car and looked around me as the wind whipped across the river in the distance. Shaken, and unable to remember the words of the poem, I turned the car around and headed back to the burial mound. I repeated the words over in my mind, but was unable to find the last phrase. As I reached the end of the road, it dawned on me: If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d climb right up to heaven and bring you home again. 22
Prisoners and the Desert Andrew Forsthoefel writing and photos by
fter graduating from Middlebury in May 2011, I spent eleven months walking across the United States, listening to and recording the stories of the people I met along the way. I walked about 4,000 miles in fifteen states and was welcomed with remarkable kindness throughout the entirety of my journey. Below are two edited excerpts from my blog, walkingtolisten.com. The first was posted in Charlotte, North Carolina and the second in Lone Pine, California. DECEMBER 3, 2011: INMATES WORKING
I see the bright orange sign far before I can read the words written in black letters across its front. I assume it’s the usual “Road Work Ahead,” and, without a second thought, put my head down to make some miles. I’m in the middle of the six-day stretch between Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina, floating in an ether of the unknown where I’m completely in the dark about anything concerning my immediate future. Exhilarating, but unnerving enough to put a pep in my step because Charlotte and a home and a family are waiting. I look up again and the words on the sign are suddenly clear: Inmates Working. When you’re driving and you pass a sign like this, you’re curious, you muse, and after a minute or two there they are, the inmates, a couple miles past the sign, and before you can even get a good look at them out your window they’re specks on the horizon and soon you forget the whole thing altogether. When you’re walking and the inmates are a couple miles past the
ing stick and throw out your pocket knife now, just as a precaution; you wouldn’t want to give them an advantage). There will be sheriffs bristling with weaponry and helicopters overhead to snipe any runaways, and what was that rustling just now in the trees next to you? Surely a human type of rustling… Every minute or two I pass a Halloween- orange trash bag bulging with refuse, and I realize the inmates are picking up our trash, the stuff we toss out our car windows speeding by at 60 miles an hour and don’t think twice about: soda bottles, beer cans, cell phones, and toys fallen from grace. Somebody has to deal with that, and it’s the inmates. Each bag sits uncomfortably, some half-full and pathetically collapsed, others stretched tight and torn, all of them strung together in an ugly, stinking, orange signature of excess and arrogance. And then, there they are: the inmates. They are little neon yellow dots in the distance, and there’s a van pulling a trailer with a portable restroom on top following them. I’m still a half-mile away, and I could always turn back. But I can’t, really. That’s the beauty of walking: experiences demand your engagement, no matter how raw or uncomfortable they might be. Unless I want to trespass through forest and risk getting lost or backtrack and delay my arrival in Charlotte, I must walk on. So I do.
That’s the beauty of walking: experiences demand your engagement, no matter how raw or uncomfortable they might be. sign, you have a solid hour to think about the situation, which is to say, you have a solid hour to freak out. The visions begin: it’s a chain gang, big, sweaty, angry men with tattooed tears on their cheeks shoveling and hammering and singing their mournful worksong. There will be an escape riot just as you’re passing and you’ll be murdered in the most unnatural of ways (maybe you should toss away your walk-
The inmates are at the top of the hill down on the sloped, grassy shoulder. They are women, and the only authority figure in sight is the corrections officer driving the van. No chain gang. No shotgun-wielding police army. No vicious riots or desperate escape attempts. Yet. 24
As I approach the inmates, one of them turns and looks right at me, smiling slightly. She’s middle-aged, petite, and when she speaks her voice rasps. “You like fishin’, honey?” she says to me, holding up a discarded reel and rod pole, and smiling full on now. “You can have it if you want.” “Thank you, ma’am,” I say, “But I’m not fishing too much these days.” There are six women on my side of the road, all dressed in pale green jumpsuits and reflective vests. They’re wearing rubber gloves and carrying pointed poles to gaff the trash. All of us are sweating from the sun and our respective work: mine walking, theirs corrective prison labor. We get to talking. “It’s weird to be out here after being cooped up for all that time and 50 women per room,” one woman says, gesturing to the shopping center next to us where, just yards away, a middleaged mom is loading groceries into her minivan. I feel the weirdness, too. “I’m getting out soon,” the raspy-voiced woman says, “Just three more years.” “I’m getting out in a week,” another says, a young and beautiful dark-haired woman. I’m struck by how innocent she looks, or sweet, nodding her head in excitement. “The first thing I’m going to do is be with my kids,” she says. Another woman chimes in: “I’m getting out in five weeks and the first thing I’m going to do is just be alone.” I tell them how I sometimes feel strange walking down the road looking like I do, how the faces in the cars seem to be judging me, and do y’all ever feel that way? “Of course,” one responds, a kind-faced woman who adds honey or darlin’ or baby at the end of whatever she says to me, except this. I feel embarrassed, almost ashamed, for asking. Of course it’s of course. “People throw things at us. Dirty panties, bottles of pee.” 25
“They can judge me all they want,” the raspyvoiced woman says. “They don’t know me.” I tell the women I’m walking across the country to listen to stories because everyone has an amazing story to tell. “We’ve got some stories, all kinds of stories,” the kind-faced woman says. “Well, I’d love to listen,” I say. She looks over at the corrections officer driving the white van, and then back at me. “That would’ve been real nice under different circumstances.” We’ve been walking together for five or ten minutes — a surreal lifetime — and we’re at the end of their stretch. One woman, big and grandmotherly, begins breaking down the Inmates Working sign that bookends them with the one I encountered two or three miles back. I make sure to shake each woman’s hand before I leave, saying congratulations to those who are getting out soon and it’s been a real pleasure to the others. “Be careful out there,” they say to me as I walk on, miles and miles of free and
easy wandering ahead of me, infinite paths to infinite places lying at my feet, uncountable choices to make, innumerable possibilities. Before I drop out of sight behind the hill, I look back. A white bus with metal grated windows has pulled up on the grassy shoulder, doors open and stairs waiting. Disappearing behind the white painted metal, one by one the women ascend. AUGUST 17, 2012: NIGHT IN DEATH VALLEY I hated to imagine it, but walking through Death Valley was the safest way to cross into California. The other routes involved 80 mile stretches of nothingness. Nothing human, at least, with the exception of your token abandoned storehouse and ghost boomtown. It would mean walking at night, sweating out the days among the brittlebrush and creosote with no shade cover, no sleep, and, most dangerously, no water. So much emptiness. Too much. Looking at a map, the problem becomes clear, as does the only real solution: a green blob signifying “national park” with an inconspicuous road marked “190” running straight through it and, crucially, the little towns of Stovepipe Wells and Panamint Springs within a day’s walk of each other. It’s all so innocuous on a map, but thinking about what that green blob represents — really taking pause and thinking about it — rapidly becomes an exercise in panic. Especially when you know you’re about to walk through the green blob, which is actually mountains stripped of all life, rock and stone and fields of gravel, dunes like you see in the Sahara, an eerie absence of animals, the heat rising to inferno and with it the melting, drying, and cracking of everything, i ncluding you.
It didn’t help when I called the park rangers upon arriving in Beatty, Nevada (the “Gateway to Death Valley,” as it’s known) to let them know what I was about to do. “I can’t be stronger in discouraging you from doing this,” one says. Another is put on the phone: “So I hear you’re thinking about taking a stroll through our little slice of paradise,” he says. “Don’t do it.” They told me they’d had a heat-related fatality a few days before. A man had left to cross the salt flats at high noon with a gallon of water. Six miles later he was dead. “His insides were cooked,” a ranger told me later. But I’ll be different, right? I’ll be walking at night, I’ll be pushing the stroller with all my stuff, I’ll be taking 6 gallons of water. It won’t happen to me. Surely it won’t. The alarm squealing at 10 pm. Good morning, it’s time. I load it down, pack it up, turn on the headlamp and begin the descent into the valley of death. It’s cool up at 5,000 feet, the road winding dramatically switching back down the mountain, a brilliant suffusion of stars above, falling meteors on the dark horizon, animal eyes following me and slinking away. Astonishing silence. A friend I’d met yesterday said of this silence, “It’s so quiet it’s like you can hear everything from everywhere else draining out your ears. All the bullshit, the noise, the distraction, you hear it pouring out your ears.”
It won’t happen to me. Surely it won’t.
My anxiety about a sojourn down into the world’s closest approximation of hell heightens to a hum as I near the park, rising as inexorably as the temperature.
An occasional car rushes by, but no one stops, for which I’m glad. Everyone is somehow more suspicious in the night. I start to feel the heat. It closes in, smothering every inch of my body. My knees ache from the pounding, from holding onto a runawayready 100 pound baby jogger on this 7% grade descent for four hours. It’s only just as dawn begins tarnishing the night that I reach the valley floor. Sea level. It must be nearing 100 degrees already and it’s only 6 am. I speed walk the rest of the way to Stovepipe Wells, 26
ushered along by a phenomenal sunrise. The good folks at the tiny resort in town have agreed to let me wait out the day in the air conditioned lounge. A cup of coffee, though I don’t feel tired. The Olympics on TV. A big buffet brunch stuffed down with zeal. Anything to distract me from what’s waiting tonight: almost 5,000 feet up, another near 2,500 feet down, 31 miles across and god knows what kind of heat, pushing the damn stroller full of my stuff, and no cell phone service to top it off.
By the time it’s dark, I just want to get out of there, get it done. Rose is my hero, mamas me up some more before I leave, treating me to a big cheeseburger dinner. On my way out, a German tourist tells me, “You are so crazy,” and a French couple asks me if I’ve seen the movie Into the Wild. Things I don’t need to hear right now. About halfway up the ascent I’m too sleepy to continue so I pull into a campground and pass out on a picnic table for two hours. I’m shocked awake by a sound that can only be the stroller rolling back down the mountain — it’s not, thank God — and I’m back on the road, dazed. I make it to the mountain pass where it’s cool again, wash down a 5 Hour Energy, blare dubstep, and I’m rolling down the mountain, pulsing with the bass and the caffeine and how good it is to be alive.
I’m rolling down the mountain, pulsing with the bass and the caffeine and how good it is to be alive.
This is where Rose, a server at the resort, steps in. We chat, and just chatting puts my mind at ease. She calls me sweetheart a lot, and then fixes me lunch. Later, we sit outside in the 122 degree heat with some Gatorade to just feel this insanity, which doesn’t do good things for my mind. No sleep all day. Not a wink.
Back into the second valley with the sunrise again. Sweat the day out. Sleep a little in my tent. Up at midnight to climb the final 2,500 feet out of the valley once and for all and it’s done. No one quite knows the origin of Death V alley’s name, but there are tales, though they may be tall. Rumor has it a band of gold prospectors heard tell of a shortcut into California. No one ever took the route, but how bad could it be? And so through what would eventually become the green blob on my map they went. They suffered in thirst and sweat, they heard whispers of their mortality stumbling through the haze, and many did in fact die. When the survivors finally summited the last mountain range, free of the flames, one is said to have turned back and declared, “Goodbye, valley of the death.” I can only imagine their ecstasy in that moment. Actually, I don’t have to.
THE PARIS I USED TO OWN Paris used to be the intoxicating source of my happiness. I saw courage in her persistence and in her bold promise to always remain beautiful. She gave me time to live in the slow rhythm of her days, drifting through her cotton-like air. I marked my first nineteen years with the seal of authentic Parisian-ness, endlessly admiring the proud and elegant grey walls sinking into the melancholy sky, riding the metro, strolling to school on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève fashionably late, feeding my intellectual hunger in tiny bookstores and gorgeous museums, savoring the innumerable bakery delights, and breathing the sulfuric air of the Seine. I used to own Paris, my home. Paris was a stage for us young Parisians. We did not mean to fit into a mold, yet we probably did. Labeled by many as the “golden youth” elite, we used to go to school dressed for the runway of a fashion show. With pretty dresses and heels, and sometimes cigarettes to play on a stronger illusion of confidence, we walked tall and never forgot to look and be looked at. We knew Paris as a city where people silently decode each other through what they wear and how they look. We knew where to get attention and thought we mastered the rules of the city’s social game. One day, I walked through these familiar streets and they began to feel old. I stopped paying attention to them, stopped needing to know their story and seeing meaning in their grandeur. From those familiar walls, there was no more reassurance. I was no longer proud to belong; the bond between the city and her lover was starting to fade. I wondered whether becoming indifferent to one’s city meant becoming indifferent one’s self. Unsure of the answer, I left Paris to explore new territories, but I secretly hoped that it would help me own Paris again, my city, my home. 29
My Parisian Streets
Writing and photos by
PARISIAN CLOCKS Each visit is a chapter of a slowly unfolding re-encounter. I look around astonished but pleased to become Parisian for a few weeks again. I cannot quite tell if it is the joy of being back or the surprise to see that Parisian clocks haven’t stopped ticking. I had selfishly believed the city would wait for my return to resume. I wander in my neighborhood, and stroll around the Quartier Latin — the two different halves of my happy teenage years, so oddly distant and close at the same time I could almost touch the memories at the corner of each street. I feel new in my home, too familiar to be a stranger, and too curious not to be. On these Parisian streets, my estrangement is anonymous and discreet. Boasting heels and a trench coat, I momentarily reconnect, playfully stare back at passers-by, the good old game, and smoothly disappear into the mass of early morning walkers that flows out of the Saint-Michel metro. My legs instinctively take me through the streets I walked everyday as a schoolgirl; it feels good to be back, to know that the past did not just disappear. Each step brings back bits of happy days, doubts, endless reflections, passionate conversations, laughter of high schoolers, love for these walls, indifference. I am new to my city and my city is new to me. I walk without commitment but not without purpose; I am determined to keep belonging, though Parisians’ lives keep changing, and I keep growing somewhere else in a different direction. I sit on a bench, and compare myself to tourists; I see them observing the city with curiosity and frantically trying to capture each minute of their visit. Yet I know they only capture the surface. They watch the spectacle of the city’s splendor, but close their eyes to the ugliness, the very imperfections that make Paris real. They seek beauty in her walls more than in her people, but what are walls without the laughs and tears that inhabit them? 30
AS PARISIAN AS I CAN BE My estrangement is not anonymous to everyone — people fantasize about how much of a stranger I can be. I adopted the role of “the American”, responding to inquisitive looks with furtive smiles, always aware of Parisians’ fascination for “America”, even when it is silent and concealed. Willing to get away from the old and the slow, at least for a few minutes, Parisians hang onto each word I say about my foreign life. Their curiosity both overwhelms and flatters me, and their perception of me as different makes me feel at times unique, at times isolated. I may have become as Parisian in three years of absence as I did in nineteen years of presence. I have been made Parisian by people who do not entirely know what it means, and I have tried to meet their unrealistic expectation that I can embody an ideal of French sophistication and elegance. Yet, I enjoy their insistence to track any sign of Parisian-ness in me. I bring it back as proof that I have not changed, that, since defined as “other” by “others”, I must belong to P aris at least a little bit. It is a strange realization to understand that distance indirectly makes my belonging less questioned. I walked these streets so many times that I had stopped seeing Paris. Today, the same streets feel incredibly new to the young, fake, stranger that I became. I do not know how much I belong, or how much I want to try — I gave up on the answer. I accepted that I might not own Paris more than I own America. As long as Parisians keep asking me their way around, I must be Parisian enough.
Sights of Growth words and photos by Carson Dietz Hartmann
n a Thursday afternoon, Caroline Sacri pulled me aside after history class and invited me to drive with her family to Piton de la Fournaise, the most active volcano in the world. Caroline was a lanky girl with brown skin and dark hair whose family was Hindi and lived in the village of St. André on the eastern side of Réunion Island. I was seventeen, an American high-school boy from Seattle, Washington, studying abroad in what seemed to me like the most remote and strangest place in the world: Ile de la Réunion, a French overseas territory in the Indian Ocean 435 miles off the coast of Madagascar. I had been on this island for two months, but never to the volcano, situated on Réunion’s southeastern side, at the end of a forestry road that snakes up mountainsides and along plateaus. A round trip to the volcano takes an entire day. I accepted Caroline’s offer, and told my homestay family about my plans for the weekend that night over a meal of pasta and wine.
On Saturday morning my homestay mother, Colette Millot, drove me to Lycée Lavasseur, the high school where I met Caroline and her father. Colette and her family had lived on Réunion for 20 or so years, but were from France originally. She taught English at Levasseur, but spoke to me in French.
• Only when I flew from Seattle to Réunion Island did I realize how far I had come from home. On my connecting flight from Paris to St. Denis, the island’s capital, I glued my face against the window as we flew over Africa in the night. I saw the lights of Ethiopia, the snaking cityscapes of Mozambique and then a pit of darkness. I was 6000 miles from home and wouldn’t return for three months. The next morning as the plane descended onto the black tarmac of Réunion, I prepared for my first encounter with the island by chugging the mini-bottle of island rum that the stewardess had given me with my orange juice. The rum helped me, at least initially, to reconcile the confusing pairing of loneliness and independence that I felt at that moment. •
“Sois sage,” she told me, the sun glinting off her sunglasses, “Be good.” She seemed nervous about letting me go for the day because she didn’t know the Sacris very well. Honestly, I hardly knew Caroline. Our only connection was that we had exchanged emails a year before, when I was first looking for a homestay family to live with on Réunion Island. After a few months of back-and-forth, Caroline had told me that her family couldn’t take me in, 32
and I connected with the Millots soon after. Seeing that Caroline and I went to the same lycée, however, she wanted to spend at least a day with me before I left Réunion. Caroline and her father were waiting at the gate of the school. Her father, whose name I can’t remember, wore a white polo, jeans and sandals. As Colette and I exited the car he became immediately animated, shaking my hand vigorously and hugging Colette with a smile. He escorted Caroline and me into his sedan, and we waved goodbye to Colette. Our car zipped through the grid of city streets until we merged with the the Route du Littoral — the four-lane highway that encircled the island — and then headed east to St. André. As we drove, her f ather looked back through the rearview mirror at me nervously, his eyes widening when we made eye contact.
shore to the base of the mountains that blurred into a sea of green as we drove past. Cane was once Réunion’s main industry. Originally, the industry brought over Malagasy and Mozambican slaves to work the plantations. After the French abolished slavery, over 30,000 northern Indian and Tamil men and women immigrated to the island to work in the plantations as indentured servants. It was on the heels of this migration that Caroline’s ancestors originally came to Réunion. Caroline told me this as we drove. In the town of St. Suzanne, clouds draped across the sky and it began to rain. We were entering the side of the island known as “the coast in the wind” where weather is unpredictable and sporadic. Systems of rain clouds
“So you like Réunion Island?” he said, “Ça vous plait?” He used the French formal with me and spoke very slowly so that I could understand. His accent was unlike Colette’s; the way he said his words was smoother, his vowels more drawn out. I thought about the question. I thought, no: I was homesick and had dreams every night about my family and friends, dreams full of vivid images of the Pacific Northwest and heavy feelings of losing the home I’d never left for this long. “Ouais,” I said, “I like it very much.” I didn’t feeling like explaining. Homesickness wasn’t something I could articulate well in English, let alone in French. From the road, I could see the ocean, which extended into infinity with no other land in sight. Vast fields of sugar cane extended from the 33
quickly approached this side of the Island from the Indian Ocean, covering the sun, dropping sheets of water and then quickly dissipating. “Merde,” said Caroline’s father, looking at the clouds and the rain. He turned on the windshield wipers. But I liked this weather. If I were weather, I thought, I would be the rain: the rain of S eattle winters, the light rainstorms that lasted for days
and nights in December, or maybe a summer’s rain that turned the surface waters of the Puget Sound to pumice. I had learned to be happy in those drizzles that fell through the night on to skylights. The tropical rain that fell hard and fast on the cane stocks and on the asphalt of the Route de Littoral as we drove reminded me of home. But it was not the same. • The main street of St. André is a long, gracious boulevard lined with boulangeries, épiceries, cafés and samosa stands. A red stone Catholic church stood on the corner next to a towering minaret, and across the street, a Hindu temple decorated with thousands of colorful figurines rose out of a garden of palm trees. Caroline’s
He nodded, seeming to understand. I stopped talking. I had never felt more defensive or conscious about my nationality than on Réunion Island. While some travel to undo themselves and cut ties to their origins, I traveled to Réunion and my bonds with home only grew tighter. Caroline’s father pulled the car onto a side street and then up to a small house, with red clay shillings on the roof, pink stucco walls, and a stone patio made of lava rock. The three of us ran to the door, using our jackets to shield ourselves from the rain. Inside it smelled like cumin. At the door, I was greeted by Caroline’s mother: a short, loquacious woman with the same complexion as Caroline and a hairdo that resembled Jackie Kennedy’s. She showed me to the kitchen, where she lifted the lid off a crockpot on the stove. “I’ve packed a picnic,” she said. “It’s carri. I hope you like it.” Carri is like curry, a typical creole dish of Réunion Island, whose cuisine is a metaphor for the island’s colorful culture: a mix of Indian, French, Malay, and Chinese flavors. She looked outside at the rain, and then to her husband.
father pointed to the temple, looking back at me in the mirror. “Tu vois?” he said, “Nowhere else but on Réunion will you find religious diversity like that.” Not true, I thought. I tried to say something about America. “We have mosques in my city, but I’ve never seen a temple. There is plenty of religious diversity in my country.”
“Ça va passer,” she said reassuringly, putting the crock pot in a wicker basket. This will pass. Caroline’s father sighed; he looked concerned. “Bon,” he said, “On y va.” Our full car headed east along the coast, turning right towards the mountains at St. Benoît, twenty miles down the road. • 34
The rain stopped. Beams of sunlight cut the clouds. The grey sedan wound up the slope and through a forest of trees with broad leaves whose branches drooped under the weight of vines. Caroline mother’s talked and talked; her husband focused on the road, occasionally looking back me through the rearview mirror. As we crested a hill, the forest became farmland. The land was subdivided into oblong plots. Stone farmhouses with white fences lined the roadway. Stone walls covered in moss delineated property lines. Cows grazed on short, spongy grass. Behind the farms, my eyes followed the steep incline of the land a to the backdrop of the ocean, which was now a cerulean line with a layer of the humongous white clouds looming above it. I asked what was cultivated in these hills and Caroline’s mother told me that the region is famous for cheese. Quickly, the clouds swept over us, obscuring our view of these lands and of the ocean.
In the town of Bras des Calumets, we pulled over at the first boulangerie we saw and bought samosas. Caroline’s father spoke to the shopkeeper in Réunionese Creole. Spoken by ninety percent of the islands residents, this creole is yet another representation of the island’s culture: a mix of Malgasy, French, Portuguese, Tamil, Gujarati and Hindi. None of the members of my host family spoke Creole. I once asked Colette about this language on a drive to St. Gille de Bain, a beach town on Réunion’s western side. “Creole is not a language, it is a dialect,” she said. French is Réunion’s official language but since the majority of the population speaks Creole, the illiteracy rate is fourteen percent, the highest of France’s communes. Language politics on this island make for social stratification between classes and ethnicities, especially between mainland-born French and Malagasies. Caroline translated her father’s words for me as we watched the samosa fry in oil. Passing through town, I saw white stucco houses with large metal gates built close together. Malagasy boys in tank tops sipping juice watched us from the curb. I occasionally spotted road kill: mainly squashed chameleons, brown and dried up on the asphalt. The road began to coil up another forested hillside and I opened the window to avoid carsickness. It began to rain again. I kept the windows open for a moment, letting the rain fall onto my face. Caroline looked at me funny, so I closed it. I wondered when we’d arrive. • All roads to the volcano converge at the town of Bourg-Murat. From there, the 25-kilometer- long Route Forestière de Volcan begins to snake its way across a plain of lava rock and desert shrubs. But before our car began this winding journey, we stopped to gather goyave on the roadside: small red berries that resemble rose hips and taste like guava. We plucked them off the raindrop-laden bushes in the fog.
Caroline’s father seemed relaxed for the first time all day as he wandered through the wood with his baskets. A mile up the hill, we pulled off to eat our picnic at gazebo in a sloping field. Caroline and I ate samosas and talked about Seattle. She, like her classmates, was fascinated by the United States, and asked me constantly what proms were like and if I went to parties and drank beer from red cups. Caroline’s mother corrected my pronunciation of the word coupe, serving me a steaming spoonful of curri and then telling her husband to tuck in his shirt. On the road again, we came to a look-out on the edge of the Rivière du Remparts gorge: a box canyon that gouges a deep, ragged wedge out of the landscape and follows the ancient caldera of Piton de la Fournaise all the way south to the town of St. Joseph. Forked tail gulls drifted in the upwelling from the bottom of the canyon into the clouds above our heads. Caroline’s mother took this opportunity to tell me about the miracle of St. Rose. The village of Piton-de-St. Rose is situated on the oppo-
site face of le Piton de la Fournaise. In 1977, le Piton erupted out of one of its lower calderas and lava advanced onto the town, giving the residents only a few hours to evacuate. Engulfing and burning as it went, the lava headed for the entrance of a Catholic small chapel. Yet as it came through the church door, the flow stopped dead in its tracks, split in two and circled around the church. The Church is now called Notre Dame des Laves — Our Lady of the Lavas. I wondered if I’d ever been to the site of miracle, if miracles happened in America or at all. We dropped from the plateau along a set of switchbacks and the landscape became a vast plain of lava rock that fanned out on either side of the road. The road was cracked and covered in red dust, the wind sweeping up small red whirlwinds. Known as la Plaine des Sables — the plain of sands — this expanse was a sudden desert after miles of green. I asked if we could stop the car and walk around, but Caroline’s mother said it was too dangerous. The clouds could come and we could wander blindly off the cliff. 36
“C’est comme la lune,” Caroline said to me, pointing into the distance. “It’s like the moon.” The plain sparkled, sunlight reflecting off the sand. We came to Pas de Bellcome, the pass at the end of the road that looked out over the Volcano’s caldera. But large clouds blocked our view. Caroline’s father whispered curses under his breath as we exited the car. “Merde.” Caroline and I walked over to a sign that diagramed the geology of the volcano: numerous pyroclastic cones dotted the floor of the volcano’s outer flanks, and a lava pit lay boiling in the center. We waited for the clouds to pass, but after thirty minutes, they only got thicker. We got back in the car and headed down the road, passing through the Plaine des Sables, now in a dense fog. “Ne sois pas trop triste, cheri.” Caroline’s mother said to her husband, running her fingers through his hair. Don’t be too sad, my dear. “He had a good time. Didn’t you, Carson?” I nodded. Caroline’s father’s eyes were fixed on the road ahead. “Les garçons ne grandissent jamais, n’est-ce pas, Carson?” she said, laughing, “Il est triste comme un petit garcon.” I didn’t understand and turned to Caroline. “Boys never grow up, do they, Carson?” she said, chuckling to herself, “Daddy’s sad just like a little boy.”
The car fell silent. I looked out the window at the rugged landscape of shrubs and lava rock. The rain began to fall again on the Plaine des Sables as the grey sedan snaked its way down to Bourg Murat. • I left Réunion Island at night in the end of May. Colette. My family dropped me off at the airport and watched me disappear into security. My plane for Paris took off over the water and arched across the sky. From the window I could see the black domes of Réunion’s interior: maybe le Piton, maybe la Plaine des S ables. I thought of the trek ahead of me — 6,000 miles across the world — and how much easier it seemed to undertake than three months before. I felt as if I had more of a foot in the door of the world than I had then, as if at either ends of my journey, I had a some sort of home. An announcement came over the intercom that the beverage service had begun. I felt briefly accomplished when I successfully ordered orange juice from the stewardess. “Un jus d’orange, s’il vous plait.” The lights of the cabin dimmed and I looked out into the dark. Pricks of light dotted the ground, seemingly mirroring the night’s sky. Falling asleep, the words of Caroline’s mother lingered in my mind: boys never grow up. And I thought to myself that she was so profoundly wrong.
P E L I C A N S TA K E F L I G H T A SUMMER ON STAR ISLAND
writing and photos by Hannah McMeekin and Brittany Thomas
tar Island is part of the Isles of Shoals, a small cluster of islands off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire that straddle the Maine-New Hampshire border. In the summer months the rocky island hosts weekly religious conferences at its Oceanic Hotel. Year after year, the conferees return to the island’s familiar shores. Similarly loyal “pelicans” staff the conferences. A pelican is the affectionate term given to the eighty or so twenty-somethings who keep the island running. They return each year to work with a different crew — maybe the kitchies, or the dockies or truckies.
We met as two new pelicans, both working as waitrae in the dining room and learning the many “pel” traditions. On one of our first days, we experienced our first. Every pel walked from the dining room with a bowl of water teetering on our trays, down the hotel steps, onto the pier, and out to the end of the dock. We dumped the water into the grey ocean together, our tiny splashes swallowed into the Atlantic
to mix with the contributions of years of other nervous new pels’. Star Island is unique because it has a place for everyone. Visitors, who are for there for a week at a time, are quick to claim a small part of it. Familiar characters occupy rocking chairs: the older lady who brings her beanie babies to the dining room, or the one knitting a cable sweater, or the sweet man who asks for honey at breakfast. The reasons for choosing a particular place vary. Some seek a view of the waves lapping onto the rocks, others want to hear the tinkling of silverware on plates or to breathe in the distinctive smell of t-shirt and candle escaping from the gift shop. The space we claimed as our familiar spot was Reading Rock, a particular section of the rocky shore on the western corner of the island where a softly curved rock provided a perfect chair for Hannah and a nearby flat section offered a chaise for Britt. We wrote letters, had 38
indows in Portsmouth and checked consignw ment shops, but we couldn’t find what we were looking for. What we were looking for was a clock that reflected island time. On Star Island, the passing of time took on a whole new meaning: rhythms replace time. The bell on the front porch was our metronome. Eight chimes: breakfast. Twelve: lunch. Six: dinner. These rhythms have accumulated over time, like the layers of paint on the hotel’s old clapboards.
islands each day, but our intimacy with Star kept us within her coastline. We never asked to hop aboard the dinghy as it crossed; we were content to be captivated from afar.
Each day of the week was different. We spent Sundays, the first day of the conferences, explaining to conferees how things worked. “Oh no sir, there is no longer any dessert served with lunch, but we do have fruit!” and “The hot cereal is in the back left hand corner right by the green door” were common discourse. Monday was reliably the day of the fire drill and every employee had a role. Evacuators scattered the island, checking behind each closed door, while firefighters rolled out the long, empty hose from the corner of the hotel. Tuesday was deli day in the dining room, when platters heaped with veggies, tuna fish and layers of cheese covered the tables, and the conferees invariably asked, “Where are the cold cuts?” Wednesday was lobster night, loved for the spectacle of the waitrae running out of the dining room, stripping out of uniforms splotched with meat and butter and plunging into the water. “Pel Shows” marked Thursdays, when Pelicans performed skits, songs, and dances for the conferees. All the stops were pulled out for Friday’s dinner: banquet night. The waitrae set out tablecloths and lit candles. They wear black shirts rather than white and run out of the kitchen at the end of the meal to the conferees’ enthusiastic applause. Saturdays were hectic, with the departure of one conference and the arrival of another. The separate crews dissolved and the entire staff worked together to ready the island for another group of shoalers, returning to their spirit’s home.
Throughout the summer we repeatedly talked about our desire to find a watch on one of our days off. We peered through storefront
There aren’t many restrictions on Star, apart from “no open flames” and the unspoken agreement to not talk about the amount of
picnics, and drifted into sleep in the comfort of our self-declared place. Center stage in the seascape beyond Reading Rock was White Island, home to thousands of terns and a white lighthouse. We wondered how many birds actually lived over there, where there was space to dock a dinghy, and what it would feel like to look back at Star from the nest of the lighthouse. Despite days spent plotting how we could visit the island, we never made it. One motorized dinghy crossed the currents between the
The remoteness of the island gives it stability, impermeability.
time left before your boat departs. In many ways, Star is oblivious to the passing of time. The three trucks on island have been continually refurbished, flames painted over rust, tires patched. Despite their signs of wear, the trucks — named Zeke, Gunther and Dante — refuse to die. Cottage A, renovated to provide handicap accessibility, features ramps rather than elevators, and those wishing to charge a modern device must first search for an outlet. The remoteness of the island gives it stability, impermeability.
The rest of the Pelican flock followed, flying for a long moment before plunging into the harbor.
Star’s loyal people return with the confidence of knowing what and whom they will find there: friendships built in one-week intervals, year after year after year. Conferees, pelicans, daytrippers — everyone wants to get the most out of their time on this rocky spot of land, where the next day is simultaneously mysterious and predictable. We, as pelicans, experienced this in holiday celibrations: a whole year’s worth of holidays celebrated on their respective dates in July and August. The glitter and green of St. Patrick’s Day on the 17th of July is complemented by red and garland a week later for Christmas on the 25th. Independence day is
the only holiday celebrated in tandem with the rest of the country. But Star, with its view of six or seven little fireworks bursting at distinct locations along the mainland coast, celebrates with the greatest awareness of its freedom and independence. On one August afternoon, when the number of days left in our summer was waning against our will, island management asked all the pelicans to gather on the lawn for a surprise. While we lingered, the bellhops skittered down the front steps, across the lawn and down the pier, the island’s only avenue for arrival and departure. Without hesitation, they jumped off the end of the pier, bodies in suspension until they splashed into the ocean at low tide. The rest of the Pelican flock followed, flying for a long moment before plunging into the harbor, appreciating that moment of unknown and knowing it to be the feeling they had all sought and found in this place.
Editors-in-Chief Ricky Chen Kaveh Waddell
Nat Drucker Editors Ruben Guzman Alex Jackman Vedika Khanna Adrian Leong
Photo and Art Contributors
Hannah McMeekin Mara Moettus Sam Sidhu Cate Stanton Ma誰a Venturini
Elma Burnham Andrew Catomeris Zach Doleac Marcella Houghton Gillian Lui
Advisors Lyn DeGraff, Reprographics Jeff Howarth, Geography
Millau, France (Kaveh Waddell) Preceding: New Mexico, USA (Zach Doleac) Back cover: Vermont, USA (Andrew Catomeris) 43
JOIN THE ADVENTURE If you are interested in submitting writing or photography to Middlebury Geographic or in being part of the magazine’s editing team, please contact us at email@example.com. Every issue of Middlebury Geographic is available at go.middlebury.edu/mg.
Middlebury Geographic Fall 2012
Middlebury Geographic's Fall 2012 issue, featuring writing and photos submitted by Middlebury College students and alumni.