Monday, 14 October 2013

Love and Death in Canada: Part Two of an interview with Wolf Carstens

Lone Striker continues its exploration of the world of poet and publisher Wolfgang Carstens, with a focus on the Canadian great outdoors...

Much of my own focus as a writer is on sport, and how sporting activities test people, create new crucibles for experience and shape the existence of communities. Of course, sport, in many cases, functions as a substitute activity for more bloody pursuits which used to be more common, such as hunting and war.

While you would be unlikely to find Wolf going to war, at least in a literal sense, any time soon, you might find him in the Canadian woods. Canada is a mysterious country to many Europeans, and its sheer size and natural wonders can make it seem alien and strange. Wolf thrives in this wildness, though, and believes that his own life has been shaped and his consciousness honed by his proximity to primal nature.

He certainly feels that it has made him more resilient, and better able to assess the real level of challenge which faces us in the everyday world.

"I think pursuing activities in the wild makes you mentally tougher," he said.

"I am, of course, basing this upon personal experience that suggests that most people give up way too easily.  When you have stood toe to toe with a Grizzly bear, have been bitten by Black Widow spider, or have had to build a shelter because you’ve been caught in a snow storm that lasted three days (all of which have happened to me), things like a blown tire on the highway, having to swim to shore because your boat capsized, or fending off marauders who’ve broken into your house (all of which have happened to me),  seems rather insignificant. 

"Yet, every day I see these sad sacks on the side of the road waiting for somebody to save them.  Every day people are crying about the silliest problems that you really wonder what they would do if confronted by a real conflict.

"I want to give props to my wife here.  She is not only the toughest person I know, but her 'never say die' attitude is truly remarkable.  We were camping recently and wanted to have a game of dice.  We had, however, neglected to bring dice with us.  In a move of ingenuity that would put MacGuyver to shame, she constructed dice out of cardboard, duct tape and white paint. 

Most people would’ve simply given up, yet her perseverance and unwillingness to surrender enabled the laughter and games to continue.  She’s always amazing me with small acts like this.  Her home-made dice were the inspiration for the poem Tracy Lee."

Fishing is an outdoor pursuit which Wolf enjoys, and the Canadian can see many links between the process of tempting fish out of the water and writing.

"Fishing and writing are very similar hobbies," he asserts.

"Both require preparation, patience and perseverance.  The solitude and monkish nature of casting a hook into a river is conducive to great thinking, contemplation and working through your inner demons.  When I fish, time slips away and the world disappears—whether it’s a Walleye or a poem, the reward is always worth the effort."

In the sports I've played over the years, there is sometimes a perfect stillness in the action, moments which are transmitted strangely into the memory banks, where everything slows down for a second and becomes eternal, like a moment lived forever. Out in the woods, those moments where perfection is suddenly and momentarily defined also exist, just framed by a different context.

Often, in the Canadian wilderness, that context can be truly terrifying.

"I’ve been in plenty of life threatening situations in the wild," Carstens explained.

"I’ve been up close and personal with bears, cougars, rattle snakes, and was once bitten by a black widow spider. 

"Saying that, however, it’s not always the usual predators you have to worry about.  I’ve also been attacked by beavers, ruffled grouse, and once even gotten into a fistfight with a duck. 

"The most memorable was standing toe to toe with a hungry Grizzly bear.  My adrenaline was through the roof!  It was the middle of the night and I was armed with a cane, a flash light, and my car keys. 

"Once I screwed together my courage and committed myself to dying, I unzipped the tent and confronted the creature.  As luck would have it, my van was parked nearby.  When I clicked the auto-start, the engine roared to life, the headlights snapped on and Motorhead’s Overkill started blaring through the speakers. 

"The spooked bear turned tail and ran.  It was one of the luckiest moments in my life.  It was a character-defining moment for me.  I’d made peace with my mortality and was fully invested and prepared to die right then and there to protect my family.  Since then, every other confrontation, whether man or beast, has paled in comparison.

"The life and death struggles in nature always impact me as a writer.  It is because of these struggles that comprise the underlying 'Live today. Tomorrow never comes' message at the core of many of my poems. 

"Here is something that happened to me recently.  I was driving down an isolated country road when a fox ran across the road in front of me.  He was being chased by a wild turkey.  The turkey, however, wasn’t so lucky because it exploded in a mess of blood and feathers on my front bumper.  In the rearview mirror, I watched the fox cross the road again, presumably to return to the turkey’s nest and devour the young. 

"Beyond the death scene here, it always amazes me to see the smaller and weaker animals stand up against a much larger enemy.  To return to my fist fight with the duck, it’s noteworthy that I was the one who backed down.  It was making a horrible sound and moving its head in such a strange and eerie way - and it scared me!

"Being alone in the wilderness makes you feel insignificant in relation to the greater whole.  You aren’t at the top of the food chain anymore."

Sport is a testing process for war, in many ways, making modest warriors of us all. I wondered if part of the appeal of the wilderness was similar, in that it takes us back to a place where everything matters just a little bit more.

"Let me answer with a story," Wolf said.

"Last year, a group of four young men were trying to split an gargantuan stump of green wood with their axe.  Every time they swung their axe, they would scream, 'Manpower!' 

"They tried for three days, taking turns, but couldn’t even crack the stump.  When they gave up, I retrieved the stump and worked on it with a hatchet for an entire day. 

"My kids were like, "it’s too big" and, "you’ll never do it."  When the stump finally split and sap oozed like sticky blood, I knew exactly what 'manpower' meant.  Once I had the stump chopped and stacked in a neat pile of firewood, I felt immense satisfaction.   It was a personal victory and a lesson in perseverance and overcoming obstacles to my kids.  Tests like these are ways to prepare yourself for future obstacles."

That connection with the effort and perseverance necessary to survive in the wilderness is something which is now missing in many places. Carstens feels that the ethical contradictions this situation presents go to the heart of many issues in developed societies.

"Most humans in our modern civilizations have probably lost a connection with the wild," he said.

"The most blatant example are those hypocrites that enjoy all kinds of meat yet adamantly oppose hunting.  They walk into the supermarket and buy their pre-packaged steaks but think hunting is cruel.  Last summer I attended a family reunion and out of the thirty people gathered, I was the only one who could start a fire with flint and steel. 

"I think this connection to the wild is important for many reasons, yet without experiencing the contrary view-point, I cannot comment with any certainty."


Wolf Carstens was talking to Zack Wilson, the author of  'Stumbles and Half Slips', published by Epic Rites Press. Find them on Facebook and Twitter too.

1 comment:

  1. sO LONG HAVE I BEEN ISOLATED, that i forgot to turn off the caps key--well hello writers from the beyond, beyond the borders, beyond the ocean. having dismissed my own writing as fancy past, i was surprised that on googling self, i would meet the guys i did review years ago--thanks for the words that bring such truth to someone who lives below frost line and sanity.
    OK, plenty frost this very morn, snow knee deep, no complaints. and i have some relationship with the writer's world--going back to it; and may be ready to publish this very year if i keep going into my armoire office for revisions and organization. will read your work as it brings a wink to my world gaze, ns, busy again.