Behind “On the Line”

“On the Line” is the story I wrote for this year’s Crow magazine. It looks at the tradition and revival of trapping.  Drop everything and read it.  And the rest of the stories, because damn, it’s a fantastic collection of journalism.

 

I have never spent so long on one item. It was labourious. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word was carefully researched before it was crafted. Multiple sources to back up even the smallest of facts. I spent hours dissecting the smallest details, searching the ends of the earth (okay, the Internet) for that second or third source to triangulate what I was trying to say. At times, it was exhausting. But I am prouder of it than I am anything else I’ve written so far.

It was something I felt a connection to. Trapping is a tradition that is being lost in my own family. In fact, I am the first generation NOT to trap or hunt. So I see in Mikaela someone I could have been… someone I still could be. But it’s not just my interest or connection to the matter at hand.

Namely, selfishly, it was fun to write. I travelled to Prince Albert, Sask., for a two day northern trappers’ convention. No one knew what to make of me. I knew what to expect. These were men and women who lived largely in the bush. Their faces showed the hardships of the bush – the tough conditions, the hard work, the survival. Some could barely speak English, butwere fluent in their native Cree or Dene. Many glanced at me suspiciously… the stranger, the outcast.

Someone had me sign a piece of paper, saying who I was, where I was from. That paper was then read out, and my name was listed off with the various dignitaries that were there.

“She’s a journalist,” they announced. “She’s here to tell our stories!”

I was no longer a stranger or outcast, no longer eyed at suspiciously. From that point forward, I couldn’t get a moment to myself. People wanted to tell me their stories. Many of them were startling – sad stories of an endangered way of life. It was also telling how the north is an untapped resource of stories.

I took my time talking to people, to fully hear and understand their stories. At this point in my writing, all I had was research and statistics — the rich history of trapping, how many trappers there were, how many were left, and the implications of things like fur bans. The numbers outlined the crux of the story — it was a way of life that was at risk of being extinct. But I didn’t have characters to illustrate the facts. That’s what I set out to find at the convention. And there were many people that almost fit the bill. But the crowd demonstrated another point —  that when this generation dies, there is a risk that trapping will die with it.

Then Rose approached me. And then the rest unfolded from there.

My trip to Prince Albert is easily one of the highlights of my academic career. I met a lot of good people, who are fighting the good fight to hold onto their traditions. Many reminded me of my grandfather. Everything smelt smoky, like moose hide. I felt at home there, in a place I’d never been. Many people asked me my story and I told them, how my motives for telling this story were inherently selfish, how I wanted to tell a story I felt was being lost in my own family. I proudly showed them photos of my grandfather.

“He looked very kind,” one FSIN vice-chief told me, putting a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “Kind eyes.”

Moments like that stick out the most. The acceptance into a community of which I was an outsider. The trust and eagerness in which they told me their stories. I haven’t forgotten many of them. I just don’t know how to tell them yet.

Click here to see photos from the Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association Convention. 
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…because i’m a twentysomething

I feel like this is what I needed, regarding my post last night.

today was meaningful

when i was thirteen, i couldn’t wait to be eighteen.  i thought i’d know it all by then- have all the answers and that prized freedom. and when i was sixteen, i planned to be married by age twenty-three with two kids. i’ll always smile to myself when i think about how time changes things. and when i turned twenty four i made a list of as many goals as i had in years. by my 25th birthday, i’d accomplished them all.

and a funny thing happens about the time you turn twenty.five. people start asking about marriage and kids and houses. and you begin to worry about savings, retirement, and health insurance.  you start spending your money on plates.pots.new tires. short term sacrifices for long term gains, right? and sometimes you start to compare your 25 years with everyone else’s. you wonder if you’re on the right track because…

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On a more personal note…

I try not to write about my feelings. I try to avoid mushy diary entries. Nobody wants to read that. I try to share experiences I have had in journalism. It’s relevant (kind of.)

But I have something to get off my chest.

I’ve changed a lot in the past year. Some people credit that to my relationship. And while that has certainly played a part, I don’t think that is it entirely. 

In the fall of 2012, I started journalism school. It was scary. Terrifying, actually. I felt like I was a fraud. My classmates were (are) driven, intelligent people. I felt behind. I have a slight inferiority complex. I have always been younger than my acquaintances, so I have always felt like I had to work harder to keep up. That’s how I felt in journalism school.

Than I started to see what I could accomplish. I’ve come a long way. 

Now, I have my eyes on the prize. I don’t really know where I want to end up. I want to work in broadcast journalism, preferably TV but radio is cool, too. Besides that, however, I’m not sure where I want to be. Public broadcaster? Private corporation? Daily news? Longer form? That is all up in the air.

But I have my eyes on the prize. 

I want to be a damn good journalist. I want to read everything, learn everything; continuously work to make myself better, smarter, sharper. I want to be taken seriously, despite being in my early 20’s. 

Sometimes I feel like I don’t recognize the girl who moved to Regina almost four years ago. The girl who graduated from Westwood Community High School. Who thought it would be cool to get paid to tell stories. Who loved dollar draft night and coming home late on Thursday’s, going to class on Friday after a few hours of shut eye.

Maybe I’m too uptight sometimes. I’ve always struggled with balance. I throw myself into something 110 per cent and sometimes I neglect other things. So maybe, yes, I am too uptight. I forget I’m not even 25 yet. I am so focused on getting where I want to go. Maybe I’m not enjoying the journey as much as I should.

But I am. I love working. I love working long hours, I love being overwhelmed. 

It’s about balance. I’m working to find it.