In a tribute to the major changes the United States has undergone since the election last November, the editors of Camas chose to make this issue one that commemorates the many beautiful aspects of our country. Through poetry, art, photography, fiction, and nonfiction, each piece celebrates the beauty of nature, diversity, and the true American spirit.
In “The Terrain I Knew,” a nonfiction short story by Seth Kantner, the author is an educator who is struggling to balance the work ahead in a class he will teach against the work necessary just to survive in the Alaskan wilderness. As he makes the trek from his home to an airstrip some distance away, he admires the beauty of the landscape around him while simultaneously dreading the journey to the “Lower 48,” fearing that nothing he can teach those students can possibly come close to what nature has taught him. As a fellow instructor, I can understand his worries, as I too have wondered how just one person with only one person’s experiences can possibly teach and address the needs of so many students.
Taking on a different tone and style, Mary Pauline Lowry shares a wonderful short story titled “It’s About Being Lost.” She tells the story of firefighters during the wildfire season—specifically, one firefighter who has just lost his girlfriend to another man due to his absence for work. She brilliantly details what firefighters endure to protect us from the devastation that wildfires can cause. When a traumatic experience happens, the main character reflects, “It seems no matter how many things I remember to watch out for, new dangers always pop up, the way smokes do in a stretch of three-day-old black.” As I have had recent unexpected events in my own life, I sympathize with this character—no matter how much we prepare for danger, we never know when or where it can hit us.
As our country is facing issues of xenophobia, prejudice, and terrorism, Terri Nichols brings these issues to light in her nonfiction piece, “Passengers.” While she is trying to make room in her life to help refugees from the Congo, she faces both support and opposition from the local township. While “All I am supposed to be doing is introducing a Congolese family to the laundromat nearest their home,” she faces a distressing situation. She realizes her own level of prejudice, but even greater, she realizes that even she is a usurper to another group: Native Americans. Like all of us, she is reminded that each of us may be negatively affecting another group without even realizing it, causing prejudice and distrust to spread like disease. No matter who we are, we must learn to accept and love other people, even when we are struggling with our own issues.
In keeping to the theme of our country and how beautiful it is, this issue shares many wonderful poems as well as photographs and artwork throughout its pages. In “Red Wings,” Tom Versteeg beautifully compares early spring and autumn, which share “the same golds / and browns and matted greys” and “the same stillness / in possession of the cattails / the reeds the leafless aspen trees.” Likewise, P.V. Beck also demonstrates the change in seasons in “Ice Frogs” when “spring broke out one morning and sent a tremor through the marsh / where the frogs were dreaming, cranking their icy bodies.” Each poem shares a unique and poignant image of the country, of nature, and of humans as they fight to keep going.
This issue of Camas is a stunning tribute to “Country,” and the images and pictures throughout its pages share just a little bit of that beauty with the reader. In a tumultuous political atmosphere where people are struggling for equality, for safety, for a world free of prejudice, this issue reminds me of why our country is so beautiful and so diverse.