Category Archives: The Peel

More soundscape sneak previews

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Tony and I,  Aberdeen Canyon, Sept 2014. Calder Cheverie Photo.

Here’s another preview clip from Confluence at Aberdeen Canyon.

This soundscape project is part of the worldwide premiere of The Peel Project, a documentary about activism, identity, and art, which will take place at the Arts Commons in Calgary, Alberta in February 2016.

 

Paddling together on the Peel River.

I wrote this for a CBC contest about belonging. It didn’t win. Still pretty good though.

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Photo: Aurora Darwin

This evening, I am an explorer on another planet. A planet where I paddle a canoe on mercury, and the thick, heavy atmosphere burns liquid nitrogen. Where the wings of startled birds make a hovercraft whoopwhoopwhoop as they pass, and that’s the only sound until they land again. Gaetan and I are way out ahead of the group, but the bow position and his gift of amicable silence lets me pretend I’m alone here, and I’m not afraid. Dip my paddle in and pull.

We are so close to the end. The end of the day—as the sun touches down on Northwest Territory hills—and the end of our trip. Twelve of us have paddled the Peel River Watershed from the Ogilvie River in the Yukon, and soon we’ll be in Fort McPherson. A twenty day trip, for a documentary about Canadian identity. So for the last eighteen days, we’ve been looking for ourselves. Our faces in the canyon walls. I am a Métis woman, French and Cree First Nation. Gaetan is from Quebec, that’s all I know about his identity. That, and today he is at the bottom of our social hierarchy. The outcast. These things always happen in groups, somebody pisses somebody else off, and everybody gets in on it.

Yesterday Gaetan had had enough of group dynamics: waking when we’re told, eating when we’re told, keeping within earshot in case there’s a Grizzly. So he separated himself. We didn’t see him all day. He missed the pancake breakfast, though we kept them warm for him as long as we could. He missed the evening fire, when we all talk about one thing we’re thankful for. He was probably thankful for some time to himself. But people don’t like it when you deviate from the pattern, disturb the groupthink.

Yesterday, I ran laps up and down the beach by myself, but I stayed within earshot. When the pancakes were ready, I ran a few more laps. I don’t like being told what to do, either. But I’ve come to count on the group, since it’s comfortable. At the evening fire, I said I was thankful for a day to myself. I’d spent it writing in my journal, a hundred paces down the beach. Sang a little to the canyon walls, but I didn’t see my face in the rock.

This morning, when Gaetan asked me to paddle with him, I gladly agreed. Although we’re paddling the biggest canoe today, the one with all the heavy gear, we’re both strong. It wasn’t long before we were way out in front. He talked about feeling like he didn’t fit in, and I told him I understood.

Early in the trip the Peel was narrow and frothy, now it’s wide and sluggish. Soon we’ll slow down, rejoin the group to find camp for the night. But in the meantime, Gaetan and I dip and pull through mercury. We’re not afraid of anything.

Within yelling distance

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Peel memory one billion and one: having the first overwhelmingly gigantic meal (RED MEAT) in Dawson City and drinking an overwhelming amount of red wine and doing the nasty sourtoe shot thing (tequila, natch) and being surrounded by new people and a whole new set of social requirements (I actually used the men’s washroom, considering the urinals only briefly and then dismissing them before surprising a man on his way in and remembering oh, yes, society=gendered bathrooms, as opposed to the equalizing magic of an utterly neutral hole in the ground) and needing so desperately to escape from everyone for a second and remembering that yes, off the Peel I was technically able to make my own decisions and be my own person.

And so, breaking away from the group in what felt like a huge explosion of rule-breaking, groupthink smashing self actualization, but was actually just walking about fifty steps down the boardwalk, I sparked up a joint that I had been gifted post-Peel, inhaled deeply, dramatically deeply as if my performance was being evaluated, and exhaled every fucking worry, ever. Exhaled into a sky made strange by streetlights and multi-story structures, but with enough stars to still feel like (the latest incarnation of) home.

And yes, when the group, equally bonded to me as I to them, recognized that one of their own was missing and came out the door and called my name, I was, as required on the trip, within yelling distance. And actually pretty relieved when they came down the boardwalk and surrounded me again. Relieved that they would still come looking.

Phew

CanoeCanoe trip vs. urban grind. So many “I cannot possibly keep this up” moments, way beyond the point where “just power through” seems like an option, so I have to go easy on myself, be a little soft (which feels counter-intuitive), wait and see (which I HATE), and suddenly it’s like “Hey, remember an hour ago, when I couldn’t possibly go on? Phew.”

Not gonna lie, the grind is fairly challenging right now. Here’s a little scene from the memoir for days like this:

“Straighten out,” I say. “Face the ledge.” That’s what we were taught to do, face the ledge head on, and if you miss the V, the sweet spot for getting over, you power through. We should straighten out, but there isn’t enough time. Or maybe we aren’t trying hard enough. So we go over the ledge sideways.

“Wooooah,” We both yell, like we’re on the log ride at the PNE. “Woooooooahhhhh.” The decent isn’t a big one, only a few feet, but it works my stomach over like a freefall. Somehow, we land  upright, but the water at the bottom is forceful and confusing. I don’t know what it wants from us.

“We got this, Bakes, we got this, Bakes, wegotthis,” Daniel says.

I’m trying to remember, there’s one direction you’re supposed to lean in this situation, and it’s counter-intuitive. That’s what they told us. It’s either up river or down river, but it’s counter-intuitive. But my intuition is just reacting to the boat. We tip left, so I lean right.

We got this, Bakes.

I lean too far, so it tips right, so I lean left.

We got this, Bakes.

I realize what I’m doing, and try to feel my core muscles and sit straight. There’s this move, I can’t remember what it’s called now, where you slap your paddle down on the flat water like a beaver tail to keep yourself from tipping over. But there’s no flat water at the bottom of the ledge, only boil and froth that wants to wrench my paddle from my hand.

We got this. We have to get this. No, we haven’t go this. Capsize protocol runs over my field of vision like the Terminator: Target=water. Objective=get out of the spray skirt, head above water, locate your partner, signal that you’re okay. Get upstream of the boat. Swim to shore. Keep your feet in front of you, so they don’t catch on anything and leave you pinned under the water. Bowman takes the paddles, sternman takes the boat to shore. This is happening. When the boat tips again, I practically dive in.

Radio star

I’m going to be on Smithers community radio today, CICK 93.9, around 2pm to talk about the Peel Project and how artists draw inspiration from their environment. You can livestream from the website, or I’ll be able to share it as a podcast later on if you miss it!