GRAND MANAN FIELD STUDIES IN WRITING

 GUEST POST BY CLAIRE MCLANE

Before arriving on Grand Manan for the 2017 Summer Field Studies Program, I had been thinking about landscape and how it shapes people’s livelihoods, from what we eat and how we cultivate or harvest our food, to how we communicate to each through time via myths, legends, and folklore. Medicine in both physical and spiritual form passed down through how people speak to each other across generations of knowing an environment intimately. And by intimately, I mean how the land and the water can give and take everything from someone. Food, shelter, joy, death, heartache, anger, and wonder along with the many other complicated emotions such a long and nuanced relationship to the natural world and its cycles can have.

Looking out at an old herring weir from Hole in the Wall

Grand Manan is indeed a special place, and our time here has been blessed in many ways. Our conversations with Islanders and with people “from away” who have lived on Grand Manan for many years, have given us a glimpse into the life and history of a relatively small island rich in the life of the sea and the fishing industry.

Dark Harbour at sunset looking from the pond to the sea wall and dulse camps

Being on Grand Manan focused my attention in conscious and subconscious ways (my dreams on Grand Manan have been filled with the sea) to the rhythm of time and routine. The ferry coming and going, the fog arriving, and the subsequent steady hoo-oot of the fog horn from the Swallowtail Lighthouse, the tides (some of the most extreme found on the planet) rising and falling, the activity in the harbor, boats going out, boats coming in, tourists arriving and departing, the sun and moon rising and setting. The constant hum of work, and the shift from one task to another.  This strong sense of routine and rhythm sparked my interest in learning more about daily life and the experience of raising families on Grand Manan.

Katie and I had the great pleasure of spending a couple of hours speaking with Carole Guptill. Carole has a wealth of knowledge about Grand Manan, and shared many stories with us from her experiences raising a family and being a nurse on the island. One blog post can in no way do justice to Carole’s stories that ranged from historic storms, funny anecdotes about raising children near the water, herring smoke houses, island ghosts, and babies being born mid-air while mothers were being flown to the mainland.

Carole, Claire, and Katie

Carole has a warm smile and her eyes twinkle as she talks. We sat in her cozy light-filled living room while the sea glittered down across a freshly cropped lawn dotted with a few tall Spruce trees. There were jars of sea glass atop the coffee table and side tables around the room collected over the years from Grand Manan beaches. Carole excitedly showed us the latest addition to her collection, a small perfectly smoothed piece of brilliantly red sea glass – a rare and remarkable find that she happened upon just when she was about to give up looking that day. A fine ruby slipper among the more common green, blue, and white pieces.

Carole makes lovely little hanging mobiles from drift wood and sea glass. A few of these hung in the windows bringing little points of bright color to our peripheral vision. While Carole told us tales, showed us her collection of vintage Grand Manan postcards, and beautifully recited a few of her poems from memory, I couldn’t help but think how the sea had shaped these little shards of glass, taking them sharp and pointed, and wave after wave smoothing them into little pebble jewels for beachcombers to delight in finding. Much as the stories of Grand Manan have been shaped and kept by island life and the ever-constant tides. People keep the stories in their pockets, they turn them over in their memory. Some of the edges may get smoothed out or change shape a little, but the stories get passed down over and over again.

One of Carole’s sea glass mobiles for sale at the Grand Manan Museum

I’m from the Sonoran Desert, a place with expansive bright skies, extremes in temperature, shifts in light that give nod to the time when the area was all sea. When I hike to high points in the dry mountains on sunny days I look out across vast valleys and swear I can see the glitter and sheen of water, feel the fossils of long dead sea creatures lodged in the rocks beneath me. While Grand Manan is nearly the opposite of the Sonoran Desert in many ways, with its cooler temps, frequent fog, and emerald robe of green trees and vegetation, I couldn’t help but meditate on what the similarities could be between a desert and an island. Both environments are extreme in their own ways, the desert with its dry heat, and the sea with moody rip currents and storms. One’s eye is constantly trained to the horizon in the desert as it is to the sea. Without a deep ingrained knowledge and a discipline for preparedness, they can both be deadly rather quickly. There is a sense of isolation and contemplation in both environments, as well as people who tend to be resilient and independent. Does a landscape that requires these traits of its people, also foster a fierce sense of community? In Grand Manan I think it does. So many of Carole’s stories revolved around the communities built within family and neighbors, which quickly rippled out to the island as a whole.

 

On our last night we went to a talk about Kent island at the Grand Manan Museum. I was standing near Russell Ingalls who, when someone asked teasingly if he had been present at the time the 1930’s film we were watching had been made showing logging activity in Seal Cove, simply replied to the question: “No I wasn’t, but I’ve been told.” This was such a strong statement to me, and speaks to the strong oral tradition of many islanders and their deep ties to Grand Manan, the sea, and to fishing. To their sense of community and their knowledge of how to read their natural surroundings.

Gannet Rock Lighthouse

As I write this, Katie and Josh are making cookies in the sweet little Compass Rose B&B Flagg House kitchen that has been our home for the past two weeks. They are talking to each other through a series of communications about dough density, questions about egg cracking techniques, and chocolate chip ratio preferences. They are negotiating dough ball sizing, and joking with each other. Their hands are covered in sugar, flour and oats and they make frequent eye contact while mixing the sweet ingredients. They alternate between talking about the cookies and talking about the whales we saw yesterday. I sit typing away on my laptop listening to their cheerful chatter orbit the kitchen island, and I’m thinking about community, about the strong community that forms on islands in particular, and about the relationship the community members have not only with each other but with the natural world and the stories they tell. These stories get told while the cooking gets done, when the long light of afternoon is drifting through windows and people are sitting around and visiting with each other.

 

So many of my experiences on Grand Manan have had to do with precisely this relationship between people and nature. From watching the full moon rise over Long Island, to research students banding tiny Savannah Sparrow chicks, to watching Russell Ingalls watch the water as he maneuvered his boat skillfully into the basin at Kent Island. And for the pack of 10-12-year-old island boys kindly and curiously checking out the Harbor Seal pup resting on top of the lobster car at the North Head wharf, to seeing a field of hand-harvested dulse drying on huge round sunbaked rocks.

Harbour Seal pup on North Head Wharf

How grateful I am to have spent time in this special place and talked to so many wonderful people about their experience of Grand Manan, the island they call home.  

GRAND MANAN FIELD STUDIES IN WRITING

GUEST POST BY JOSHUA RIEDEL

Kent Island: “Prey for Fog”

About five miles south of Grand Manan lies Kent Island, a home for nesting birds and spittlebugs and lots of fog. I’d hoped to visit the island during my stay on Grand Manan, but the trip wasn’t guaranteed. Boats bound for Kent Island are infrequent, and weather conditions needed to be favorable in order to make the journey out. On our daily schedule for Thursday, July 13, the proposed date of our trip, we simply drew a star, superstitiously thinking that writing out KENT ISLAND TRIP might jinx us. What if they run out of room on the boat? Or maybe storms might roll in.

 

Our superstition rewarded us: we were greeted Thursday morning by calm waters and mild, drizzly weather. The trip was on. We hopped in the car, made a necessary stop at the North Head Bakery for cinnamon doughnuts and blueberry turnovers and more cinnamon doughnuts, and drove down to Seal Cove, where Russell Ingalls waited for us in his boat, Island Bound.

We arrived at Kent Island at low tide, which meant Island Bound and its trusty skiff Chuck, could only take us so far: we’d have to walk through the muddy basin to reach shore. Thankfully, Ed Minot, the director of the Bowdoin Scientific Station on the island, and caretaker Mark Murray guided us across the tricky terrain, offering solid mud-walking advice like, Lift your heel up first so you don’t lose your boots!

Fog attracted me to the Field Studies Grand Manan program, specifically the work of Bob Cunningham, who studied fog on Kent Island for seventy years, in what was the single longest continuous study by one person in one place, ever. I had heard about Bob’s rudimentary methods for gathering fog and had seen photos of him hanging high from an aluminum pole, fixing an anemometer, but it wasn’t until I was out on Kent Island, standing in front of his small 8’ x 6’ shack, named Fog Heaven, that I could really imagine what those summers on the island must have been like for him. With only his shack and a few basic meteorological instruments, Bob performed research that would lead to the Clean Air Act of 1963. A headline from the June 30, 1940 issue of the Mount Washington Daily News describes Bob’s work succinctly: TECH MEN JAM FOG INTO JARS FOR RAIN RESEARCH.

Today, the shack houses a Bowdoin College research student, and the weather station is much more sophisticated: Solar-powered instruments connected to WiFi collect data, and you can even watch a live webcam that shows the current conditions on Kent Island.

Before lunch, we discovered a series of letters sent to Bob by Ernest Joy, Kent Island’s first caretaker who stayed on the island year-round with his wife, Carrie. His letters detail the critical role Ernest played in recording the weather conditions on Kent Island when Bob Cunningham was away. Ernest was also quite funny: he often joked with Bob about the weather, once claiming that the fog was so bad it nearly caused his eyebrows to mold!

After lunch, Savannah-sparrow researcher and poet Ian Pristis led us on a walk through the meadow to see the birds’ nests. Savannah sparrows on Kent Island have their own unique song, Ian explained to us, and the sparrows pass on their songs from generation to generation. As part of his research, Ian and colleagues wanted to find out whether the sparrows can learn new songs. Camouflaged speakers line the trail and play these new songs, mimicking two birds communicating with each other. So far, some birds have indeed learned the new songs, and have even passed those songs on to the next generation.

By 3pm, the tide had gone up, and our boat was waiting for us at the dock. On our walk down to the water, a Bowdoin student offered to show us the storm petrels burrowing in the forest on Kent Island. Whisking us through the forest, she paused at a small clearing and leaned over, reaching her arm deep into a burrow, all the way past her elbow, in search of a petrel. “Feels like there’s a chick in here too,” she said. Carefully, she lifted out of its burrow a mature petrel. “Want to smell it?” she asked. I’d never been asked to smell a bird before. Its scent was rich and musty, like the forest floor itself. She then held the petrel up to our ears, the way you would a cell phone, and we heard its rapid heartbeat. Finally, she showed us the petrel chick, small and gray like a ball of dust, or a rain cloud.

By the time we boarded the boat, the rain had picked up. A group of students from Dalhousie rode back with us, documenting the birds they saw in the water along the way. As I watched them record their findings, I thought about the similarities between scientists and writers, about how close observation is so central to both our work, and about how the boundary between these fields is so much more fluid than is usually assumed. I thought about Ian studying Savannah sparrows and imagined him taking measurements in his notebook, jotting down notes for a poem in the margins. I thought about Zoe, a Bowdoin biology major who studies spittlebugs, who talked with us about the importance not only of performing research but of communicating that research clearly to a lay audience. I recalled the books scattered around the common area tables–field guides to local birds and plants and marine life, as well as novels like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Colson Whitehead’s The Intuitionist–and thought about how Kent Island has all the makings of a place in which the sciences and the arts coexist.

I hope I can return to Kent Island. I have this dream of everyone sitting around the long table where we ate lunch, after the research is done for the day, and discussing the essays and stories and poems inspired by work on the island, new songs to carry with us back to our respective homes when the summer ends.

FIELD STUDIES IN WRITING SOUTHWEST

FIELD STUDIES SOUTHWEST

The University of Arizona Creative Writing Program is pleased to announce the pilot project for its Field Studies in Writing Southwest Program made possible with support from the Agnese Nelms Haury Program Environment and Social Justice and under the leadership of Alison Hawthorne Deming, Haury Chair and Regents’ Professor. Like our Field Studies Grand Manan project, yhis initiative is intended explore how the literary arts can create humane responses to climate change, environmental, social justice and border issues.

The new southwest project will be coordinated by recent MFA alum Paco Cantú; Associate Professor Susan Briante will serve as faculty facilitator. Ethnobotanist and Patagonia resident Gary Paul Nabhan also serves as consultant. Participants will spend two weeks in southern Arizona, working in collaboration with the Borderlands Earth Care Youth Institute. This program, sponsored by the Borderlands Habitat Network, engages marginalized youth in hands-on restoration work of the local ecosystem while providing leadership and educational opportunities. In March two MFA participants joined with graduate students from the Wake Forest University School of Theology, under the leadership of Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith, to visit the Native Seeds/ Search farm in Patagonia and the Kino Border Initiative in preparation for the summer program.

2017 FIELD STUDIES SOUTHWEST AWARDEES

Abby Dockter is an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction from Farmington, New Mexico. She spent a few years following field and lab science jobs up and down the Rockies, and has written as a science communicator for UA’s Institute of the Environment. Her most irresistible interests are (pre)history and ethnobotany, how we change our surroundings and how they in turn change us. She enjoys long, dry archaeological reports, and usually hikes with poetry.

Gabriel Dozal is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at the University of Arizona from El Paso TX. He is concerned with defining the extreme code-switching, camouflage, and chameleon nature of the culture of the borderlands.

Raquel Gutiérrez is a bilingual poet and essayist pursuing an MFA degree in poetry at the University of Arizona. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she writes about language, history, space and institutionality and publishes chapbooks by queers of color with the tiny press Econo Textual Objects, established in 2014. Her work has found homes in Huizache, The Portland Review, Los Angeles Weekly, GLQ: Gay and Lesbian Quarterly and Entropy.

 

GUEST POST FROM RAQUEL GUTIERREZ

July 12, 2017

I Pledge Allegiance To *THIS* Flag: Arivaca Riding with Humane Borders

by Raquel Gutierrez

I have been living in Tucson for a year now. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers from near and far tell me they love the images they see on my various social media feeds of this mysterious moonscape-like desert surrounding Tucson. Many of “my followers” live along both coasts so of course it is gives me great pleasure to be able to ignite an awe for the uncontainable beauty of the Sonoran Desert even if it is from afar. For me being in this desert on any given morning or early evening means being given over to the expanse of possibility the landscape offers. It has been the way to get new perspectives when stuck on a writing project—to step out into any number of trails and parks that surround Tucson and take it all in. Whether it’s the way the light moves across the shallow valleys of Gates Pass before sunset or the way the temperature surprisingly drops ten degrees when your trail takes you into the shadowy parts that sit below Pima Canyon, the infinity of surprise that lives here is hard to deny.

  

But as the temperatures increase, as they have this summer with every indication of the 110-117 degrees pointing to a climate change that may not be reversible in years to come, there is another thing one cannot deny—any slight carelessness on your part and the desert will kill you. And that fact made itself clear on a recent ride-along outing with Guillermo and Stephen, two volunteer truck drivers for the Southern Arizona organization Humane Borders/Fronteras Compasivas. As soon as we—Abby Dockter, Gabriel Dozal and myself, a trio of Creative Writing grad students from the University of Arizona currently engaging in a Southwestern Field Studies program sponsored by UA’s Agnese Nelms Haury Program—climbed into the water replenishment truck we were told that if we broke down in Arivaca, an hour and fifteen minutes south of Tucson, we would be exposed to the same conditions as the Latinx migrants we were trying to help. I looked at both my comrades and shook off any doubt that we would not be okay. We were the lucky ones after all traveling with over 100 gallons of water into the harshest topographies in the Southwest. At the worst, we would be sweaty and uncomfortable, changing the imaginary flat tire in my mind’s wandering to worry—but we wouldn’t die. That’s how I made contact and peace with the privilege I carried into different parts of the valley that blanketed the infamous border town of Arivaca. If there was anything to do with the privilege it was to risk it.


According to their website, Humane Borders maintains a system of water stations in the Sonoran Desert on routes used by migrants making the perilous journey to the North mostly by foot. Getting into the truck at Green Valley, we were promptly driven to the first water station situated behind a pecan orchard. The orchard looked strangely out of place and time with its trees lined up tightly towering above a few acres covered by bright green grass, an indication of the obscene amounts of water it must have consumed on a daily basis for it to look that way. But I was thankful nonetheless for its existence and hoped it was there to offer some shady respite to the men, women, and children who made the orchard a part of their journey.


As soon as we got to the water station my heart swelled with a convergence of emotions. I may have quietly gasped at sight of concrete blocks, a quartet of 2×4 wood planks, and a 55-gallon plastic blue barrel sitting stoutly but bravely above the dried out arroyo behind it where I imagined weary travelers would emerge. In the distance, I continued imagining that I could hear a chorus of sighs of relief at the sight of a purple flag whose color had been made dull by the daily solar pounding it takes while waving intrepidly in the hot summer wind.

After surveying the water station for cleanliness, potability, visibility, and instances of possible tampering, we moved on to the next water station destination in Arivaca proper, Elephant Head. But before heading out of the pecan orchard Stephen asked Guillermo, who was driving, to stop by a peripheral section of the orchard where he spotted empty water bottles and a spectrum of detritus of migrants past. Plastic bottles that were empty but still intact signaled recent passage. However, there were old, discarded backpacks that like the life they carried inside them looked as desiccated as any living creature that succumbs to the harsh conditions of a merciless desert. It was those bits of human evidence that made the area seem anachronistic—to travel by foot in a time saturated by every imaginable technology is maddening, if you think about it for too long.

Over the course of the next nine hours I would be mad and quite maddened. It is this affective drive that impels volunteers like Guillermo and Stephen to make this trip every 2-3 weeks for the last two years. When we arrived at Elephant Head I noticed something that wasn’t on the first blue container.

La Virgen de Guadalupe. I should clarify that it was just a glossy sticker with her likeness.

All of my twelve-years’-worth of nostalgic Catholic School hackles went up at the sight of the feminine deity that made her debut on a hill in Tepeyac, Mexico. An apparition that only an indigenous man re-christened Juan Diego could witness. Stephen noticed me noticing her and said it’s hopefully a way migrants can understand that the water station is there to help. I nodded approvingly, but behind my sunglasses and smile I bit my lip and pinched the muffin top peeking over my belt loop to keep from crying.

Time seemed to be marked by how close or far we were to the curious mountain peak known as Baboquivari, a sacred place for the Tohono O’odham nation as the home of the creator, I’itoi resides in a cave at the base of the mountain peak. For the Tohono O’odham Baboquivari is where it all begins. Throughout our ride-along Guillermo would stop for all of us to take in the scenery, snap photos and stretch our legs. It felt like Baboquivari was looking out for us as we


did our best looking out for others. Gabe asked what would we do if we encountered a migrant to which Stephen quickly replied we’d give them food, first aid, and water.

As the morning progressed and the sun’s rays intensified, I felt the sweat pooling in and around my body’s various concaves and then disappear. The desert was taking its rightful tithe of moisture from me. We snacked on sweet baby peppers and threw the ends out the window to which Guillermo would say it would be a few hours tops before the desert consumed our biodegradable trash. We could all be untraceable. It would be so easy here traversing Arivaca’s desert veins and arteries.

I started thinking about the ways in which the untraceable is made evident. Or how the migrant’s journey has been represented to me throughout my life as both reader and writer as well as the 1980s child of Latinx immigrants from El Salvador and Mexico and the one in the here and now—the adult child. In prose we have writers like Rubén Martínez and Reyna Grande rendering the experience of crossing over, their portraits of others or selves desperate to reunite with family in the North, all of whom in various pursuits of better economic stability. As a reader, these literary voices have meant to me finding the language to illustrate the ways these migratory traumas continue to haunt families both constituted by and torn apart by inhumane border policies. But my parents’ migration took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s—they were essentially crossing an imaginary wall with nary an agent policing those boundaries. Dare I say they came to the North in the innocent hey-day of border crossing on par with episodes of The Brady Bunch? Or the golden age of border law breaking when detention centers meant nothing more than a bus ride to Ciudad Júarez or Tijuana while Los Tigres del Norte sang earnestly about contraband and betrayal in a drug deal between lovers gone wrong.

But here in the desert the migrant’s journey is represented to itself and to strangers like me who witness that representation, making the experience of being here that much more urgent. Take the work of Alvaro Enciso’s monuments to fallen migrants for example. These are colorful crosses affixed to coordinates that mark where a migrant lost their life during the journey through Arivaca and other parts of Southern Arizona. Seeing these crucifixes made unique in color and metal details in complimentary colors in their intended habitat allows the spectator—whether another migrant, a border agent, or someone engaged in humanitarian aid—a profound empathic encounter that enables a communing with the recently deceased while bringing to the mind’s fore the realistic circumstance of future migrants dying in the desert nearby.

It is these kinds of artistic representations that operate as both homage and reminder that we need each other to get by. We need each other to remember. We need each other to witness.

Being out in Arivaca—as we traveled at 3mph towards the water stations at Rocky Road, Cemetery Hill, Soberanes, and the last station closest to the Mexican border at Martinez Well—as the mesquite trees like night sky constellations took every shape possible in each of the landings where we stopped, I kept thinking of the work by Salvadoran poet Javier Zamora. Javier’s poetry focuses on his own experiences as a child who bears witness in his poetry to what it means to endure passage in the desert and what it means to be one of the lucky ones. As we checked for the frayed flags and water levels at each stop, I thought about the young man named Chino remembered and made flesh again in Zamora’s poem “Second Attempt Crossing.”

For Chino

In the middle of that desert that didn’t look like sand

           and sand only,

in the middle of those acacias, whiptails, and coyotes, someone yelled

           “¡La Migra!” and everyone ran.

In that dried creek where 40 of us slept, we turned to each other

             and you flew from my side in the dirt.

 

Black-throated sparrows and dawn

             hitting the tops of mesquites,

beautifully. Against the herd of legs,

 

             you sprinted back toward me,

I jumped on your shoulders,

             and we ran from the white trucks. It was then the gun

ready to press its index.

 

             I said, “freeze, Chino, ¡pará por favor!”

 

So I wouldn’t touch their legs that kicked you,

             you pushed me under your chest,

and I’ve never thanked you.

 

Beautiful Chino

 

the only name I know to call you by

             farewell your tattooed chest:

the M, the S, the 13. Farewell

             the phone number you gave me

when you went east to Virginia,

             and I went west to San Francisco.

 

You called twice a month,

             then your cousin said the gang you ran from

in San Salvador

             found you in Alexandria. Farewell

your brown arms that shielded me then,

             that shield me now, from La Migra.