I love this new magazine. In a world where outdoor adventure stories have become defused by ads, tweet-sized copy and cliched plots, this magazine is a breath of fresh air. Publishing non-fiction with a literary bent, personal stories, haiku and great photography, Adventum Magazine provides a pathway towards more thoughtful exploration about what it means to be in the outdoors. It’s new, it’s different and it’s underfunded. Check out this video (by clicking on the link below) to find out more about the magazine and how you can help.
Last year, John and I trekked through Bhutan. I recently received an email from Phuentsho, the principal of the school in Laya (the second highest village in Bhutan at 12, 680 ft). We had spent a rest day there, and Phuentsho gave us a tour of the school.
Bhutanese children learn both Dzongkha, the native language, and English. As we walked through the school, the children practiced their English on us, “Good Evening, Madam,” “Good Morning, Sir.” “Would you like to play football?”
Laya is a remote village in the Himalayas. Water comes from a stream, piped above ground to a few spigots spaced along the terraces, and heat comes from wood fires. Layaps are considered wealthy since they are the only people allowed to forage for the rare mushrooms found only in their region. However, the children do not have enough books. The few dog-eared English books come from India, with stilted language and outdated diction.
I asked Phuentsho if it was possible for me to send books to the children. He smiled and said, “No problem.”
“How would they get here?” I asked.
When winter comes, most of the villagers hike the two or three day trek to Gasa, spending the coldest part of the year in the lower elevations. Students take three months off school for “winter break”. Phuentsho gave me his address in Gasa, and told me to send the books there, where he could arrange for the yak travel when he returned to Laya for the new school year in the spring.
When I stood at the post office with my box of books many weeks later, the employee behind the counter squinted at the address. It was simply, the Principal’s name, the town and the country. Nothing else. “What’s the last name?” She asked.
“That’s it,” I said. “He only has one name.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself.”
She raised her eyebrows, strapped several strips of tape across the box and handed me my receipt.
I wasn’t sure if the box would make it. But Phuentsho recently emailed me to tell me it had. The children loved the books and the pictures I sent. Many of them have only seen their photographs on the camera’s digital displays of the tourists taking them. Most Layaps do not have mirrors.
Bhutan is the world’s youngest democracy. A few years ago, the beloved King, Jigme Wangchuck, abdicated his throne, transferring power to his cabinet ministers in preparation of the first election in 2008. Now is the time to see this amazing country as it opens and changes.
You must have a local guide service. We used International Mountain Guides www.mountainguides.com, and they were fabulous. I also met Tshering Tobgay, a government minister and wonderful host (he sent a box of wine, cheese and chocolate to our trekking group on the trail, it arrived by yak). His wife has started a guide company, Tergo Travels, www.tergotravels.com/.
In preparation for the big, snowy winter approaching, John and I decided to sneak away to Maui for the weekend. We found a screaming deal on Hawaiian Air and spent a relaxing, warm few days in the sun and surf.
As we stood on the beach with our beginner surfboards, John figured that, as skiers, surfing should be easy. And when he caught his first wave, riding it all the way into the beach, pumping a triumphant fist into the air, I thought I’d have the same success. I mean, after all, I’m an athlete. I can balance. And John did make it look so easy.
As you can see here, I struggled a bit. The board kept diving into the trough of the wave, sending me on some spectacular, feet-up falls into the surf. It must have been fun to watch from shore. And afterwards, my nasal passages were certainly clear. But I won’t be joining the pro circuit anytime soon. In the end, I rode a few waves to shore, stepping off onto the sand and grabbing my board just before the backwash took hold of it and used it as a club on my head. I was getting the hang of it.
But the tables really turned when we tried stand-up paddle boarding, which, according to one waitress, is the fastest growing sport in the country. Who knew? I mean, I’d seen lone surfers, serenely paddling along the lake, but the fastest growing sport? What was the appeal? For one thing, it’s not easy. Unless you look straight ahead, your legs becoming part of the board, your hips absorbing the wavy chop, you will fall. But after a few wobbly moments, I got the hang of it. I even rode the behemoth into the shore, weaving through the big waves and stepping off, almost, on the dry sand.
Just like anything else, smooth water and a few pointers make the going a little easier.
I just returned from Rivers Inlet, B.C. as the only woman on a guy’s fishing trip. My husband promised me romance. He swore there’d be unsurpassed beauty, sunset cruises, even privacy. He pledged we’d find salmon, lots of salmon–maybe one big enough to quell the brewing desire to “slay the gigantic king”.
In spite of the fact that our 25 foot aluminum fishing boat does not even have running water, a heater, or a toilet, I believed him. Plus, he never mentioned the 3am wake up call to get to the head of the inlet in time for the “bite.” He never told me we’d be watching out for logs in the pitch black water, me wondering what the hell I got myself into.
And while I can’t say much for the romance part of it–I mean how romantic is twelve pairs of socks just to keep the shivering to a minimum?–I did get some nice pictures.
This humpback whale breached a few feet away, while we trolled for salmon. I’ve seen whales many times from Mexico to Alaska, but I’ve never seen such active breaching. It was incredible. While I scanned the water through my viewfinder, I was struck with the paradox of preserving a special moment through photography.
The thing about photography is that you want to catch the moment, to record it and print it (or post it to your FB page). It becomes something which you can gaze at later; something that you hope will transcend the moment. But it’s sort of an oxymoron because by merely taking a picture, seeing the whale breach through the viewfinder, you become a little more removed from it.
Or do you?
I would like to argue that perhaps the camera’s viewfinder adds a new dimension to the moment. Maybe it deepens the experience, just as thinking about how to post an experience to FB or write about it adds to the event.
As I held my Nikon D80 in my hand, fingering the shutter button and wrapping the strap several times around my wrist (I was, after all, practically leaning out over the gunwale of a very rocky boat), I watched the black water for any signs of the whale. It had just done a beautiful tale-up dive a hundred yards away, and I was ready to catch its next rise. This time, however, it shot out of the air just a few boat-lengths away, and I pressed down the shutter and captured this photograph.
John hoorayed from the helm. “Did you get that?” He asked. “That was incredible.” I told him that I got it, but I resisted the urge to press the play button on my digital camera and double-check. Instead I held the camera away from my face, watching the world through one naked eye, while the other steadied the waterline through the camera’s lens.
Cameras, blogs, FB updates are all just modern ways to tell a story. And, after all, haven’t we been telling (and re-telling) stories since Day One? I believe that stories make the experience. They become (enhance? replace?) reality. If, upon returning from this fishing trip, I lament the cold dampness, whine about the longer-than-expected itinerary, complain about having to pee into a bucket on the back deck, then the memory (and the trip) will become a prick in my mind. It will be a rough sand-papery wedge of reality in between my cheek and gum.
Instead, if I tell the story a little differently, remembering the beautiful whales, the towering peaks and the not-too-rough seas, it becomes something entirely different in my memory.
That is the beauty of photography, and also the value of blogging and facebooking and tweeting. We all need to tell our stories, put a spin on our lives that helps categorize and explain our experiences.
The frame we choose to hang our memories in can (as The Dude would say) “really bring the room together”.