Originally posted on April 6, 2015
by Cherice Bock
Editor, Whole Terrain
Image: Catherine Doucette exploring the backcountry of the Valhalla Mountains, British Columbia, Canada
We are continuing our series profiling the authors and artists featured in our latest volume, Metamorphosis. Learn more about the Metamorphosis volume here. Click this link to order this and previous volumes.
I caught up with Catherine Doucette just after she returned from a backcountry ski trip in the Valhalla Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Her love of backcountry skiing began in high school, when she was lucky enough to attend a school that emphasized outdoor skills and sports, the White Mountain School in New Hampshire. She proceeded to attend St. Lawrence University, where she could continue to study wilderness skills and outdoor education. After a stint teaching in Switzerland and traveling with the school’s ski touring groups, she returned to the United States. She continues to participate in trips into the backcountry each winter, saying, “I find that some of my most meaningful interactions have happened because of the people and places I experience in the backcountry, and these provide fodder for my writing.” A creative nonfiction writer, Doucette seeks out midwinter treks and writes about them for outdoor recreational magazines, literary journals, and other publications that appreciate her blend of adventure and reflection.
“The Price of the Run,” Doucette’s piece in Whole Terrain’s Metamorphosis volume, is no exception. In it she tells the story of her first snowmobiling excursion, recounting her feelings of guilt coupled with exhilaration, freedom combined with vulnerability, power alongside the nagging sense of overstepping human bounds. Of the experience Doucette says, “That was a time when something clicked and I realized the deeper issue of who I wanted to be and the ways I use the environment. I try to use landscape as a lens for exploring bigger issues. These symbolic, personal moments help explain the bigger environmental picture. It’s these mirco-examples that stick with me as I notice how they affect what’s going on around me and what I care about. I work a lot with the wilderness in my writing, conscious of what it means to be alone in the mountains, and attempting to communicate how we can continue to have that as an opportunity.”
Doucette intentionally crafts her writing around such transformative moments, which is why the theme “metamorphosis” felt like a natural fit. She attends to small moments in her life, especially her life on the winter slopes, that “hinge on a larger reality.” It’s these moments, she says, where transformation is possible, if we recognize the feeling and follow the thin thread connecting that tiny experience to the greater truth it metaphorically encompasses. “I came away from the snowmobiling experience deeply unsettled. I didn’t know how I felt about it. I felt conflict and confusion for a long time afterward, like maybe I had done something wrong. That questioning and discomfort prompted me to explore it through writing, which helped me untangle my thoughts and feelings.” To truly pinpoint the source of those feelings and to begin to understand why they are there requires inward waiting in that discomfort, reflecting and ruminating — a process that is at times painful and deeply personal, but also satisfying.
Calling herself a “quiet environmentalist,” Doucette attempts to live her own life in ways that preserve the environment, but she also hopes her writing will nudge others toward more care and concern for the natural world they enjoy. Through her involvement in the ski industry over a number of years, she has noticed snow packs decreasing. “If we’re going to continue to recreate, we need winter!” She describes, mainly in personal essays, the beauty and sublime grandeur of the places she visits on skis, stating, “If that can help inspire people to think about preservation of these places, that’s what I hope to do.”
To those thinking about submitting their work to Whole Terrain in the future, Doucette shares this advice: “It’s okay not to be a super-hardcore environmentalist, or based in science. I come from a humanities background. Don’t be afraid to submit creative pieces. The added shift of perspective offered by the editors can be really compelling and add a different angle.” She already had a version of “The Price of the Run” written when she saw the call for Metamorphosis submissions, but it was much longer than the requisite 2000 words. She decided to lean into the challenge of finding “what was at the heart of that piece,” even though that meant she had to “cannibalize the piece.” She realized she was able to do that, and reflects, “The strongest parts emerged.”
Bio: Catherine Doucette grew up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She is an avid skier and has found joy in mountain ranges around the world. Doucette’s work has appeared in the Bellingham Review, New Madrid, Silk Road Review, Emrys Journal, and the Los Angeles Review, among other publications. She has work forthcoming in The South Dakota Review and Pembroke Magazine.