In a place no one can see you, you can see yourself more clearly.
This essay originally appeared in the print edition of High Country News March 16, 2017.
Think of your skin as a map.
Its marks inscribe a story of your life. The raggedness of your fingertips from biting your nails. The lines in your cheeks from laughing. The scar from surgery to help knit broken bone. The burn you gave yourself when only pain would calm you. The nick on your wrist that, whenever you touch it, makes you think of the talus field where you stumbled and cut yourself, the mountain lake where you washed the blood away.
On this August afternoon, the skin on my calves is tanned dark, crisscrossed with scratches, welted with bugbites, scummed over with beaver pond. On this August afternoon, my skin says that I’ve ventured into the boreal forest, and that it’s kicking my ass.
I’m a few days into a 16-day canoe trip with five girlfriends down the remote Spatsizi and Upper Stikine rivers — joined threads in the high reaches of a great system of braided, salmon-bearing waterways that originate in a swath of northern British Columbia known as the Sacred Headwaters. It’s a place toothy with mountain ranges, broad-shouldered with tundra plateaus, and furred with endless forests of white and black spruce and bursts of poplar just turning gold. More…