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Anna Maxymiw: The Boat Pull

Maxymiw stands with the boys along the water's edge @ Maisonneuve. At the wilderness lodge, a fly-in fishing camp just south of James Bay, the female staff stays on land. The shoreline is for the male staff, for the boys. Girls steer clear of the water’s edge and stay away from the docks. And most of all, girls don’t pull boats. We don’t get to feel the weight of a slick gunwale in our palm, don’t get to work out our aggressions through the bowl of a freight canoe. Girls sit and girls watch.

When the boys pull boats, they are selkies. Their green staff shirts stick to the skin of their backs, cloth wet from sweat and from the frothing, shallow water. They pull on their gloves with grim determination and their teeth. They crack their lower backs and their shoulders and their necks, practicing their own form of northern shoreline yoga; preparing for the nightly ritual. Intensely focused, they bray, moving hand over hand up the length of the coarse boat rope to heave each of the camp’s half-ton freight canoes out of the water and up onto rails. When pulling boats, the boys each have their own position, and the positions never change. Sweetpea and Stu the Rook and Dave hold the gunwales. Big Rob anchors the rope at the very end, up near the shoreline, and Jojo stands beside him. Tom brings up the rear, shouting that everyone should keep pulling, keep pulling harder.

When the boys pull boats, they run over wet boat rails caked with clay. The rails, whole peeled black spruce trees nailed into place like latticework across the shoreline, are designed to cup a boat’s hull and to hold it still. The boys jump from rail to slick rail mid-pull, moving their feet even as the boat rope is taut in their hands. They keep themselves aloft on the wood even as a thousand-pound cargo canoe barrels toward them. If they fall, they get caught under the boat. They break a leg. They twist an arm. If they fall, they hit their heads on the rocks. So they don’t fall.

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