Contemporary culture leads us to define feminine in words once not associated with being female: strength, independence, power, and authority. Living in the mountains, learning, experiencing the world, expanding through all things shared, grace comes from experience: from having been caught short, caught out or simply caught unaware.
Knowing who we are is a form of acceptance and surrender. There is no evading sorrow, doubt, fear or the occasional chasm of wondering what the hell life is about and how we will get through the journey. We learn calm and we earn peace.
The elegance of human expression includes beauty, gentleness and compassion – the qualities it takes to create a rich life, for anyone. Graceful is being human, together.
While thinking of the Graceful edition, we asked a few men to write about a woman who has been an influence in their lives. She could be an artist, politician, historical figure, friend, relative or climbing partner. The only stipulation was no mothers, wives or girlfriends. These wonderful personalities were put forward.
by FORREST JILLSON
A native of Jackson Hole, Forrest competes on the freeride circuit and trains hard to focus, be ready for opportunity and keep a clear vision of life in mind at all times.
Out of the trees comes a skier, slashing easily through chopped up powder. Conversation on the chair stops as we track her every turn, so compelled by the athleticism on display that we all turn in unison to watch until she skis out of sight.
Twenty-two year old Kira Brazinski, a native of Jackson Wyoming, has been on skis, enjoying the freedom and power of the sport since the age of three, but not in a way that all of us can relate to – Kira was born with a condition called PFFD or Proximal Femoral Focal Deficiency, a rare non-hereditary birth defect that affects the pelvis, particularly the hip bone, resulting in an extremely shortened left leg. From Kira’s viewpoint, being without a leg is not something that she would consider disabling. As she says, since she actually never had a second functional leg to begin with, she isn’t missing anything. Kira lives with what she was given and is grateful for what she does have.
I first met Kira last winter on the Thunder Lift at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. In eight minutes, all it takes to ride the chair up, her enthusiasm was as obvious as her love for skiing. She spoke about how good the snow was and we both wondered why there weren’t more skiers out. As we got off at the top and wished each other a great rest of the day, Kira skied off like a ripper, leaving me with this profound experience of how being different in a world full of carbon copies is something to be admired. I was proud of her.
Equipped with natural athletic talent and the help of an adaptive program early on in life, Kira learned to ski at an incredible rate, using her edges to effectively control her speed since snowplowing wasn’t an option. She will admit that some days are harder than others, but this actually amplifies her motivation – she logs an impressive seventy days per season on snow.
Along with being an expert on skis, Kira also excels at swimming; as a junior in high school she helped her team reach the State Championships and enjoyed giving other athletes a run for the money. To compensate for her disadvantage in leg strength, she developed a strong upper body and an even stronger will. During her two year stint studying at Michigan State University, she rode for the equestrian team.
At home in Jackson, Kira lives a rich life. She works part time at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s Couloir Restaurant and teaches yoga. Yoga is something she enjoys sharing with others and it has also been a very effective tool for staying present and to alleviate some of the physical pain brought on by her active lifestyle.
Operating at a disadvantage, doing more with less is something to be admired and appreciated. Kira defines her path with the same courage, poise and power that she uses to mitigate the fall line on any mountain. She pushes her natural gifts to their fullest, gives a 110% and along the way, she inspires me to be grateful and honored for the traits that set me apart from the rest.
A well respected alpinist, Barry Blanchard is a pioneer with many firsts to his name. Best known for his sense of humour, diverse experiences and a life of adventure, Barry is an author, guide and father.
I tell people that Katie Ives is a sorceress of words, yet, personally, I have to admit that she has guided my writing more with her gentle hand than magic wand.
I first met Katie at the office of Alpinist Magazine in Jackson, Wyoming, in the mid 2000s. Alpinist was the proud child of its visionary editor, Christian Beckwith. Christian was a climbing buddy of mine. There were no walls in the office and there was a palpable creative energy. The magazine was beautiful and soulful. Katie, a copy editor, sat working her magic at her keyboard. Sintered auburn hair hung two hand widths past her shoulder blades. When Christian introduced us, I was taken by how her hair was the same colour as her eyebrows and eyelashes and, lastly, her eyes. Bewitching. We’ve exchanged hundreds of emails around the writing that I’ve done for Alpinist and I always picture those eyes as she gently nudges me towards better writing, like the right hand of a friend rested on your shoulder as they open a door for you.
Katie holds a BA in Literature from Harvard and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The latter being a hallowed crucible of American writing that has had Raymond Carver, John Cheever, John Irving, Thom Jones, James Salter and Kurt Vonnegut Jr pass through its doors. I don’t have enough time left to learn what Katie knows about the craft of writing; like mountaineering, writing is a never ending journey.
Her adult life has been dedicated to the pursuit of writing and climbing, in that order. I am inspired by her love of the written word, a passion so evident in the countless quotations she cites and the breadth and rich depth of her reading. She works 86 hours a week and yet she continues to pursue her climbing, often by headlamp on moonglowing ice.
The well of writing, like climbing, is bottomless. There will always be more to discover. I strive to be as intimate with words as Katie is, to see what she sees on the page. But until I am able, and I doubt that will day will arrive, I content myself with the muse dust she sprinkles over the pages, subtle tugs and hooks that coax out my best work:
Katie’s notes: Perhaps there might an image that would hint at the narrator’s attachment to the house that his brother had lived in (perhaps in some vaguely hinted sense of how people seem to leave, imbued in the walls and the air behind them, a feel of lost presence and time).
Barry’s revision: All that time we’d spent there seemed imbued into the walls, in a form of physical remembrance, like the faint patinas of evaporation that ring a Mason jar.
by GEOFF POWTER
Geoff Powter is a clinical psychologist, writer, mountaineer and veteran of many climbing expeditions. He has a special interest in risk, and is senior faculty with the Banff Centre’s Leadership Development.
Although I really only know her through a handful of images and the list of her deeds, Georgia Engelhard comes across as a force of nature; an adventurer, an artist, an athlete in many arenas, an intellect, and a woman generations ahead of her time.
Two images of Georgia stick in my mind. The very first photograph that I saw of her spoke to the side of her that accomplished so much in the mountains of Western Canada; the second, which I didn’t see until years later, arguably told far more about the woman who did that climbing.
In the first image, Georgia squints in glaring snow on the summit of Mount Victoria, high above Lake Louise, ice axe in hand, with a joyous smile crowned by the feral nest of blond hair that was so uniquely hers. A friend of mine had the picture stuck on her fridge door – to remind her, she said, that women had been climbing strong for a long time.
Taken in 1931, this was Engelhard just starting to catch her stride. For the third consecutive year, she’d taken a train to the Rockies from her home in the Eastern U.S. and lit up the range with day after day of big climbs. By that point she had already developed a reputation as a fiercely fast and powerful climber. One of Swiss guides she climbed with said that she ran him “ragged”; another joked that the guides needed to steal hobbles from the pack horses to rein her in. Another told her to slow down because she was embarrassing other guides’ male clients. In fact, the Victoria picture captures Engelhard’s eighth climb of the mountain in a month, part of a film being made about her accomplishments. Little wonder she was smiling.
Image 1: Portrait of Georgia Engelhard, 1934 V751/LC-1 Georgia Engelhard fonds Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies Image 2: Top of the World, [Molar Glacier, Banff-Jasper Highway], n.d. V751/PA-171 Georgia Engelhard fonds Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies
Georgia was never shy about acknowledging her skill – she completed the immodestly titled film She Climbs to Conquer, and modeled for a Camel cigarette ad. In the 1930s and 40s she climbed over 150 peaks in our west, 33 of those being first ascents – a record that, to date, has not been surpassed by another woman.
All this at a time when it wasn’t easy to be a woman in the mountains. Georgia was chastised in Banff for wearing pants in public, called “difficult” by her guides for carrying her own pack, and she wrote about how she was often “ejected from Ladies Rooms” on the assumption that the outfits and the hair meant she was a boy.
Which brings me to that second photo. (editor’s note: the photograph cannot be published due to pornography laws, but it can be found through a simple web search)
In it, renowned American photographer Alfred Stieglitz, in a black and white image, captures a young woman precariously perched in the window of a log building, clutching three apples to her hip. She is beautiful, voluptuous, and utterly naked. This was Georgia at 14.
Stieglitz was her uncle, and the shot, from 1922, was part of a series of images that the artist took throughout her childhood. It’s easy to feel discomfited by the picture – this is a naked 14-year-old, after all, and the photographer was her uncle, for God’s sake – but Engelhard herself insisted that uneasiness mistakes the world she grew up in, and who she actually was. She was surrounded by the avant garde art and artists of her time – and more importantly, was an artist herself. Engelhard spent years painting alongside Steiglitz’s wife, the great American painter, Georgia O’Keeffe.
There are special few people who can change lives generations later, but I feel this woman changed mine. I am surrounded in the mountains these days by women, and that is a beautiful shift from just a couple of decades ago, when I so rarely saw women on the rivers, trails and hills. Dozens of women have helped pave that path, but I’ve always felt Georgia was the one who blazed the original trail.
Georgia Engelhard went on to Vassar, was a national-calibre equestrienne, became a renowned photographer who shot pieces for National Geographic, moved to Europe, and lived common-law well into her 40s, before eventually marrying her climbing partner. But if she was a feminist – and many in the sisterhood claim her – it was in action, not in proclamation. Georgia insisted in fact, that “Women are held back by their own opinions of themselves, not by the opinions of men.”
by DAVE BIDINI
Musician, author and filmmaker Dave Bidini is one of the founding members of Canadian rock group the Rheostatics. He has published several books and also writes as a journalist.
Sheila lost her house in a fire a few weeks ago. Everything was lost. The place was in Kensington Market and they think it was arson, but people aren’t sure. Sheila (and her partner) had been there for years, although I never visited. I’d only ever gone to her apartment on Spadina Avenue, way back in the early 80s, but even then, I didn’t go inside; I was too afraid. Sheila pushed out a strong, rare energy, and as a New Wave kid from the suburbs, I couldn’t handle it.
Sheila Wawanash was my first editor. I was seventeen. She ran a Toronto rock paper called Shades. It was a tabloid, printed on great leaves of newsprint. There was always a black and white photo near the front by Peter Noble: either Lydia Lunch or David Ramsden or Jim Carroll or Frankie Venom. Holding it felt as if you were holding something important, and you were, because effectively, Shades was the first “entertainment” magazine in Canada, although Sheila would carve you for calling it that. Her face was angular and darkly cut over sweepy bangs, and her eyes were wicked – which only added to my terror – but she spoke kindly and quickly like a kettle on the boil, forever encouraging me in my writing. After forgetting to turn on the tape recorder for my first ever rock interview (with the Ramones), I called Sheila, embarrassed, heart-broken, reaching for some kind of balance. “No problem,” she said through the rotary phone in my parents’ kitchen, “Just write down everything you remember.” I did this, wrote the story, and it appeared in the next issue of Shades (the front cover). My friends saw it on the newsstands of our favourite record store. That month, I felt like a pretty big deal, and that maybe writing was something more amazing than I’d ever imagined.
Sheila massaged my awkward, young person’s copy, and kept assigning me stories: REM, The Dickies, The Fleshtones, Echo and the Bunnymen. “Go, go, go, and do it,” was her command whenever I suggested an idea for a story. So I did. And now I’m here and she’s there, without a home.
In 1985, I had the chance to go to Ireland to school. Around the same time, my band, The Rheostatics, was offered a tour of the bars of Northern Ontario. I didn’t know what to do until I found Sheila sitting in the front bar of the El Mocambo. I asked her for advice and she, said, “Oh, God, go to Ireland! Go, go, go and do it.” And so I did. There, I became myself – became a man – and if I hadn’t, I don’t know who I’d be.
I can’t give Sheila her house back. But maybe I can say this: thank you, Sheila and I’m not scared anymore. Thank you over and over and over.