The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pangea Split

We at the Canadian Writers Collective are proud to present the second place winner in our Canadian Travel Story Contest. Thank you so much Janisse.

Pangea Split
by Janisse Ray

Notice how quickly the bay recedes, abandoning more of the red-pebbled beach and leaving high-tide rocks blanketed with orange-brown seaweed. Notice back along the cliff, white asters with golden disks bloom in pockets of loose mineral and the strange branched milkweed hangs with frittilaries.

Notice Mary lying naked on the rocks in the sun, thinking of Africa.

“I wish your boyfriend were there,” she tells me.

I am noticing a shadow the exact shape of a bird passing beside us on the wide rocky beach, imprinting for a second its wings against the worn and eroded cliffs of Chignecto.

“That’s mean. You shouldn’t have brought four books.”

“I carry them.”

“We all carry them. Plus I’m still hungry.”

“We could cannibalize.”

“That’s really mean.” Again the fleeting shadow. Above us, sky. A gull wheels over the bay, magician. “Joe cut off his toothbrush to save milligrams.”

“Like I say, a jerk.”

Joe’s my boyfriend. He wants to hike faster. He wants his pack to be lighter. He thinks we’re going to run out of stove fuel. He hates morning oatmeal. When he says “gruel” you think he’s going to say something else. It sounds like cruel.

I sit up and stones clack together.

The cove is 100 feet wide, flanked by tumbles of jagged, wrinkled rock that look as flaky as overworked gray-green dough, and is. The cove is a U-shaped apron made of billions and billions of stones rounded from the bay as it carries them out on its 50-foot sweeps. Most of the stones are smaller than eggs. They are of all imaginable shapes, some pinkish with dark flecks, some a granite-like green, some light gray, orangish. Most are different shades of pink and green.

Below, on the sloped rocky beach, the Bay of Fundy makes a gentle clapping sound as it departs.

Mary sounds drowsy. “One hundred eighty-five million years ago,” she says.

“When we started hiking?”

“When Africa split.”

I don’t say anything. She and I have been friends for a hundred years.

“We could’ve had a free ride.”

“Speaking of free ride.”

“Don’t forget the herniated disk.”

“Why did you bring a god-damned library,” I say.

“What should I do, burn them?”

Funny she should say that. I notice Will is building a driftwood fire down by water’s edge. Will is Mary’s boyfriend, pretty new. Fires are illegal in the preserve. That’s what I don’t like about him. Joe is sitting up on a jagged abutment of rock that must submerge at times; he is carving a piece of wood with his Swiss-made knife.

“I like that idea,” I say.

“You’re not usually mean.”

This afternoon we saw our first seal. Joe spotted it. We stopped to swim and after we climbed back to the trail, he looked back and saw it swimming where we had just been. Later in the afternoon we saw more. We were sitting on top of a cliff, resting in six-inch grass that had wispy, stringlike leaves. Among the grass were flowers I do not know: a sedum with pink tips, irises past bloom and hoisting seedpods, a lavender vetch, stunted yarrow, a small aster with nickel-sized blooms yellow and white. Below us, seventeen seals lounged on one boulder. Some were white and some tan. Each had two big brown eyes, two front flippers and a divided fan tail. The sound they made was an odd growling moan.

Now the sun is preparing to set. A strip of sky between New Brunswick’s far blue shoreline and a ceiling a clouds is bright, fiery orange. Behind us fresh water keeps falling off a cliff in a dainty waterfall

I’m breathing smoke, watching the sun set.

Mary gets up. Her flesh is beautiful against all the rock. She walks up the beach with a crunch crunch crunch like running your hands through glass beads. I don’t watch her put her clothes on. I hear the crunching again.

I put on my clothes. Joe is coming in from the rock. I hug him and hold his hand. We go to the fire.

Mary has her head down and is feeding paper to the fire. A book in her lap.

“What are you doing? I say.

She shrugged. “I finished it.” She tears another handful of pages as quietly as she can.

Nobody else says a word. I’m thinking that unless it was printed on acid-free paper, it’ll turn yellow and fall apart anyway. I also think she wouldn’t do that to a hardback.
Will brings out his flask of rum. We all drink some because for one thing it makes his pack lighter and he’s carrying the heaviest load of all. Unless Joe has secretly slipped the extra fuel bottle or water filter. I have been saving a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee. I try to pretend that I’m not dividing it exactly into four parts.

“Think of it,” Mary says to everybody, pointing toward the chocolate water. “That used to be Africa.”

“It was right here and then it went so far away.”

“I’d like to go there.”

“One day,” I say.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Janisse, if you're stopping by, thanks for sending us such an original story. We'd love to know more about you if you'd care to share.

Sun Dec 10, 03:51:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I didn't travel as a young adult. It's a big regret of mine. Stories like this hit the sore spot. You discover yourself as you discover the world. Beautifully done!

Janisse, send me your address! I have a prize for you.

Mon Dec 11, 09:25:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Patricia said...

Lovely work Janisse, thank you for sharing it with us..xo

Mon Dec 11, 07:56:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I don't know how current this info is, folks, but our contest winner is quite accomplished, according to this write-up on Chelsea Green Publishing's site:

Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1. She is the author of Wild Card Quilt and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award, as well as the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, Southeastern Booksellers Association Award for Nonfiction, and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award.

A naturalist, environmental activist, and winner of the 1996 Merriam Frontier Award, she has also published her work in Wild Earth, Orion, Florida Naturalist, and Georgia Wildlife and has been a nature commentator for Georgia Public Radio. She moved this year to Vermont, but still spends much of her time in Georgia.

Tue Dec 12, 02:06:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Thank you for sending this to us, Janisse. Your descriptions are clear and incredibly meaningful. Jen

Wed Dec 13, 10:57:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

The language here is so beautiful and expressive.

Sun Dec 17, 10:34:00 am GMT-5  

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