The Gathering of Stories: My Experience with Cultivating a Book

SOAR Mammal Cover
Posted March 10, 2021

By:  Courtney Trowse, Community Collaboration Officer with Sustainable Oceans Applied Research (SOAR)

From my earliest recollections I've had three major passions in my life – nature, art, and books – and all the more wonderful if I can hear or read a story about nature that includes beautiful images! While I am rarely able to remember my entire grocery list or my children's shoes, though this seems to be a moot point as they'd never wear them even if I remembered them, I do seem to have endless capacity for nature facts and listening to tales from other nature lovers. I am also enthralled by artwork and the ability of images to evoke such strong feelings across the boundaries of language and reason. So, when OERA accepted our proposal to create our own guidebook (thank you for funding one of my lifelong dreams!), it was with unbridled enthusiasm that I took on the most wonderful task of cultivating content for Whale Tails and Other Stories of the Outer Bay of Fundy.

What did this entail, you may wonder? Well, one of the primary purposes of the guide is to be used for training and as reference material for marine animal observation in relation to tidal turbines. This means that each animal must have an accurate physical description and identification section, including behaviours and seasonality. Building upon the framework that had been created by our team previously, I delved into my own research with steaming mugs of late night tea. Losing myself into sea creature wonderland, 3 a.m. would often roll around before I realized it. It was fabulous. The ocean and her creatures are wild and fantastic beyond imagining and I just wanted to read all the articles! Even better than cozy nights with hours spent reading the NOAA website, was the time I got to spend listening to and asking questions of some of the incredible people who have spent decades working on and with the Bay of Fundy.

Honestly, I can't believe that this gift of time with people I admire is considered my job, and I am beyond grateful to those who took the time to talk with me, sharing their wisdom, experiences, concerns, and hopes. We covered so many topics and feelings, I wish I had the foresight to record all the interviews and not just take notes, though thankfully they've agreed to sit down with me again. There was a lot of laughter – the antics of Mother Nature never fail to amuse. I also often found myself wide eyed with wonder; hearing of close encounters and life changing moments, or as a picture was painted in my mind of our Bay of Fundy waters abundant and teeming with life. This was followed by an aching sadness because I've never seen the Bay like that, but hope that someday I will. I have faith in the resilience of the Bay and her creatures and see the beginnings of a path forward in which we humans create a healthier, more respectful relationship with the oceans we love and rely upon.

Speaking of adding voices, there will soon be videos that are accessible online alongside the guide. These are parts or the whole of conversations we've recorded. I love the written word, but there is a different magic to someone sharing a story in their own words and voice, so we felt these videos are an invaluable accompaniment, an integral part of what we are creating. You'll get to hear local whale tour operators share stories from their decades of time with the whales – whales they've come to know as individuals, who have brought their calves to visit and play, whales who have looked them in the eyes and known them. They'll tell us how the Bay has changed and the impact they see humans having. You'll hear local artist, Pat Sollows, discussing how the whales themselves are trying to show us the path forward, and how artwork can help us deepen our relationship to creatures we've never had a chance to meet. We hope that the list of voices will continue to grow, we need many perspectives to offer a fuller view.

Truly a collective effort, this book is made manifest by the many contributors in all stages and facets, and we are grateful to each one. As a living document, it will continue to grow and evolve as new contributors come forward with their insights and stories. I'm so proud of these beginnings and I look forward to seeing what it becomes.

Moving forward we have big plans. The obvious is to create a printed edition of the book. We are in the process of gathering a bit more material, but we will have the first version available for purchase in the fall. We are in discussions with the Museum of Natural History on how we can integrate the book into their exhibit(s). We will also be pursuing similar discussions with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic and beginning the process of getting the book added into Nova Scotian curriculum.

We set out to create a different marine guide than what we had seen before, one that reflects the importance of collaboration and respect as fundamental to moving forward in a good way. Whale Tails brings together many lenses through which to view the Bay of Fundy and her creatures. By layering local, traditional Mi'kmaw, and scientific knowledge with personal stories, and soul-touching artwork, we gain a far richer and broader perspective. It is not only informative, but captivating and stirring.

Whale Tails and Other Stories of the Outer Bay of Fundy is exactly the sort of nature guide I've always dreamed of reading and I hope you love it as much as I do.