ADVERTISEMENT [Music] Pop-Up Magazine is a live magazine. When we tour the country, we need Asana like we need phone chargers and late night tacos. A LOT. We have so many details to keep track of: stories, music, theaters, hotels. Asana is a work management tool that puts everything in one shared space, so we see who’s doing what and when. And we can spend our time on what matters. Making a great show. Visit Asana.com to learn more and try today for free. That’s A-S-A-N-A.com.
HALEY HOWLE From Pop-Up Magazine, this is Field Guide, an audio experience made for the world around us. I’m Haley Howle.
In my most peaceful moments, I’m floating on my back, face pointed to the sun, ears underwater… all I hear is my breath, and the world around me fades into the background. In those moments, I feel weightless, like I could just float up out of the water and into the sky. Growing up in central Texas, a lot of my life revolved around water. Summer afternoons at the city pool… long, lazy floats down the river…
What does water mean to you?
We set out to talk to all sorts of people about their relationship with water and how it affects their lives. We heard from scientists, swimmers, humanitarians, writers… a mermaid… and more.
My hope is that, before we continue, you can go find some water. Hit pause and drive to the ocean if you’re on the coast. Or walk to a nearby pond or creek. Sit by a fountain.
Or just pour yourself a glass of water…
We also made a visual Field Guide to go along with this series. You can check it out at popupmagazine.com.
All right, let’s dive in.
BARBARA EISON-WHITE My name is Barbara Eison-White. I live in Bronx, New York. I’m 85 years old. I belong to the Harlem Honey and Bears synchronized swim team. I should make a correction. Senior synchronized swimming.
[Soft piano music]
First of all, I’ve always wanted to swim. I’ve always been afraid of the water. I’m one of these people that never let the water get in my face, even when I took a shower. And what happened was my son was forced to take swimming class to get certain credits, and I had to take him there, and, naturally, I enrolled in the adult class. And the first thing the instructor did was take us down to the 12 feet, forced us to go down as far as we could, and see if we bob up again. And we did. And from then on, I lost the fear, and most people on the team have the same story. Fear of the water.
[Twinkling music, into splashing]
I love to do the pyramid. I just love the pyramid. It’s so precise. We go from one end of the pool to the other. Synchronized. And then we take an encore. I feel light, free. Just with no problems, no phone calls, nobody calling me, just my time, my time. And I’ve heard people say, “Oh, those old people in the water, they don’t know what they’re doing.” But when they see us, they can’t believe it.
TAVI CLARK I’m Tavi Clark, and I have been around water, in water, and loving water my entire life.
[Soft ambient music]
The way that my body feels in water makes me kind of forget that I have a body. It’s kind of like being a kid that, like, covers their eyes and says, “You can’t see me!” Like you can see them, but to them, they’ve disappeared. There’s this thing where even if people can see me, I don’t care. I lose the sense of self-consciousness and self-awareness almost and just kind of become part of the water. Because I’d always kind of felt different around my gender. Water was kind of a refuge for me. When I’m in water, I feel incredibly graceful. I feel weightless. I feel competent in my body. Except, it’s not even lik a feeling of competence while I’m doing it. It’s just a feeling of being.
Growing up in Hawaii, I was very clearly gender nonconforming. I just did not fit in, and I would cut high school, and, like, there was a secret way to hop over the fence and get into this part of the river behind the school. My favorite thing to do would be scramble up the rocks, scramble up the river, and walk as far away from people as I could be, where I couldn’t see a single human being. It was just me and the river and the birds. And I would catch crayfish and, like, just be there and play and lay naked in the sun and be a part of the landscape.
[Forest nature sounds with waterfall]
RHIAN WALLER It’s one of the great mysteries of deep-sea biology, you know. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the bottom of the ocean, because the moon, you can send up a telescope. You know, you can look through that telescope, and you can see what the surface looks like. But the ocean, we have all this water that’s in the way. And you’ve got to try and get through that water to see what the bottom of the ocean looks like.
So my name is Dr. Rhian Waller. I’m an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of Maine, and I’m a deep-sea ecologist.
So when I see a body of water that I’ve never seen before, one of the things that I like to do is I like to, to kind of drain the water. I’m really interested in what animals live in the very bottom of the ocean. I’m what’s called a benthic biologist. I work on animals that live on the bottom. And so the water’s kind of, it’s in the way. You want to move that water out of the way to be able to see what the bottom looks like.
And so as a deep-sea biologist, we often use things called multibeam maps, and these are maps made by sound on board really large research vessels.
[Soft ambience with beeping and underwater sound]
And these sound waves are sent to the bottom, and they bounce off the bottom. They come back to the ship, and then some really fancy computers and math turns them into these beautiful maps. We’ll look at these maps. We’ll see, oh, this area’s really steep and rocky. So there we might find animals that like to filter feed because water is often sped up against these areas that are rocky. And so we might find corals, and we might find anemones and sponges and animals like that. And then we’ll see other areas that might be kind of sediment waves. So we might see, you know, shrimp or maybe some kinds of lobsters. Um, so that’s what I kind of think about when I go to a new area that’s never been looked at before. I instantly want to know what the bottom looks like.
[Harmonica playing and crickets chirping]
SHAWN BOUDREAUX I am so jealous of people that I see in other parts of the country where you could actually see the bottom of the water when you look through it. OK, I’m scared that I can’t see my feet in the water just because I don’t know what kind of tai-tai is down there. I mean, that’s a real thing. We have rougarous and tai-tais around here. You don’t know what’s living underneath there. So there’s times when you don’t want to get in the water because it’s brown, it’s dirty, it’s muddy. And along with that, you get crawfish. Of course, you get snakes, you get frogs. Silver eyes are good. Those are frogs. Red eyes are bad. Those are alligators.
So my name is Shawn Boudreaux, the vice president of Cajun Navy Relief in Lafayette, Louisiana. We’re part of a civilian-led search-and-rescue organization that uses our own personal assets to help out and conduct rescues during disaster.
[Harmonica and crickets continue, flowing river behind]
Initially, my involvement with the Cajun Navy began in 2016 with a tropical system that came across the area that didn’t even have a named storm associated with it. So it didn’t get the recognition, it didn’t get the media coverage, but it ended up being a thousand-year flood. And the people who were being flooded out were not getting any help.
Local authorities were doing the best that they could, but they had limitations. And a lot of the folks down here in south Louisiana, well, we have boats in our backyards, ya know, it’s a sportsman’s paradise. We do a lot of hunting, fishing, outdoorsy stuff. And it just started on Facebook. And we started caravaning to different areas that were flooded to start helping rescue folks. Once you start helping people and you see how effective you can be, just if you’re there, just being there and being able to help immediately. And it’s very rewarding.
EMMA ROBBINS My name is Emma Robbins, and I am the executive director of the Navajo Water Project, and what we do is help families on the Navajo Nation get access to hot and cold running water in their homes, so that they have safe drinking water.
I think being from a desert, water is something that you just really value even more. I remember as a kid, my parents were like, “Don’t waste water!” And, you know, it’s something that I think most of us Navajos have always grown up with is that you can’t separate yourself from the earth, and water is a part of the earth.
[Soft flute ambient sound]
Navajos who are living on the Navajo Nation are 67 times more likely to not have running water than your average American. And 30 percent of our population does not have running water or sanitation, and when we lose water, we lose everything. We lose our food source. We lose something that keeps our body regulating and safe. Ya know, we lose our animals. And it breaks you down mentally. You know, you have to constantly think, Where is my water coming from? Do I have enough money to buy bottled water? There are so many things that go along with not having water. It’s not just, I can’t drink anything.
[Rain and thunder]
KYLE ALVARADO The rains that stick most in my mind are the sort of surreal ones where there’s a storm cloud on top and it’s raining, but it’s an afternoon storm, so the sun is at that 4 o’clock angle. And they don’t happen often. But when they do, the world takes a sort of surreal look. You know, there’s bloom lighting off the streets, and it just, it looks very dreamlike.
My name is Kyle Alvarado. I am a lifelong El Paso, Texas, resident, and I create an aromatic liquid of the creosote bush that recreates the scent of desert rain.
[Rain and soft music continue]
When it’s about to rain in El Paso, you know the moisture will sort of wick up in the air, and the resin in the leaves begins to activate, and it starts to waft through the area. And it’s a great sort of preview of the coming rain. And then, of course, the rain comes, and it washes everything clean, and everything slows down a little bit. And that creosote smell is still there. And once the rain stops and the waters begin to recede and things begin to dry up, that creosote smell just as gently as it came in begins to sort of fade out.
[Rain fades out]
BONNIE TSUI My name is Bonnie Tsui. I’m a journalist and the author of the book Why We Swim.
So a few years ago, I went to Iceland to participate in this annual swim that happens on this island called Heimaey.
And it’s in honor of a man named Guðlaugur Friðþórsson who, in 1984, was working as a fisherman when his boat capsized, and he swam 6 kilometers over 6 hours in 41-degree water to safety. You know, in 41-degree water, you and I would, you and I would die within 20 to 30 minutes from hypothermia. But he survived, and it turned out that he, in addition to being a great swimmer, his fat was two to three times normal human thickness. And it was like he was more like a seal than a human.
So Guðlaugssund, the swim that takes place every year, it takes place, of course, in a swimming pool, because in the dead of winter in March in Iceland, it’s just incredibly cold and dark. And people sign up for shifts that they can swim 6 kilometers in the pool. And so, Iceland is one of those countries where there is an extremely high pools per capita.
[Splashing and swimming with ethereal ambient sound]
Even in the tiniest town in Iceland, there’s a public community pool. I think it was one of the historians at the History Museum on the island of Heimaey, she said, You know, in Iceland, the pool is our pub. Like, this is where we hang out. This is where we share stories. This is where we come together. And it was just this beautiful thing of, of, like, you know, this annual tradition to not just honor Loyey — Loyey is his nickname. Everyone calls him Loyey — but also to, now it’s taken on this role of trying to do something that you didn’t know that you could do.
MIKKI HALPIN My name is Mikki Halpin. I’m a writer and producer, and I live in Brooklyn, New York.
I’ve been canoeing on the Gowanus Canal many times, and there’s a wonderful group called the Gowanus Dredgers, who take people out quite often. So especially during lockdown. You know, I felt like I hadn’t seen a tree or sat and looked at the water or done anything in so long. And the guy who runs the club said he was going to go out and asked if I wanted to go. And I said, of course. And I talked my friend Caroline into going, even though her wife kept saying, It’s such a bad idea. You’re going to fall in. It’s so gross. It’s so scary. It’s toxic waste.
And it gets written about in the New York press and quite lurid details. There’s these myths that bodies have been found in it and that it was a mafia dumping ground. It’s really got a lot of press about being filthy. It is a Superfund site. And I was like, No one has ever fallen in. Like, it’s totally safe and fine. Like, just come. So she came along, and it was an extremely windy day and it was very cold, and we were, you know, just kind of getting pushed up against the walls of the canal a bit.
[Sloshing and splashing]
But we were, you know, paddling along. And then someone called my name, and I turned fairly quickly. And it was like, SHOOP!
All of a sudden, I was cold and in the canal, and I was like, oh, so embarrassed, immediately, so embarrassed… I had this whole vision in my head because I had, like, a leopard coat and I have, like, white and gray hair, and all I could think was that someone was going to walk over the footbridge and, like, take a picture. And I mean, what a crazy thing that I would be on the front page of the New York Post or something. Like, Who’s the, you know, who’s the gray-haired leopard lady of the Gowanus Canal? And was just like, oh, this is so bad. Like, this is so bad and terrible.
I have not gone back. But I will eventually. It would be a shame to blame the water for my having fallen into it.
ELLADJ BALDÉ My name is Elladj Baldé, and I am a professional figure skater competing for Team Canada for over a decade and spent most of my life in Montreal.
When you’re skating in the rink, it’s like, it’s so full of chemicals and paint and all these things that I don’t necessarily associate it with water. But when you’re outdoors on a lake, you know, it’s clear. It’s like, underneath me there is I don’t know how many meters or feet of water that’s not frozen.
[Running water with ambient soft music]
And, you know, I had the opportunity to go on Lake Minnewanka in Calgary, Banff, that truly in a way changed my relationship with skating. Really. Eighty percent of the lake was still open water. There was just a little area that had started freezing. And, actually, the part that I skated on was only a couple inches thick.
[Skating with lo-fi beat]
And that’s a bit scary. But when it’s thin like that, it’s magical because the sounds it makes is not something you ever hear. When you skate, it sings.
JOY BRYANT My name is Joy Bryant. I am an actor, a writer, and producer.
So in 2018, we went to New Zealand for about two weeks. I kind of understood what I was getting myself into, and then I kind of did not understand what I was getting myself into. Like, I knew that we were going to be rafting. But then in my mind, I think I didn’t have a frame of reference to really understand what that meant. And I’m such an uncomfortable swimmer. I don’t really swim.
And I just remember, like, kind of like trying to keep my anxieties, like, just very quiet because I’m just like, Oh, God, this fucking boat, like, can I turn back now? I mean, I don’t have to, like, I don’t really have to do this, right? I don’t have to do this. Like, this is crazy. Like, I’m going, like, it’s going to flip over, I’m going to die, I’m gonna drown. Like, it was like all these things going through my mind. I just sort of, just kind of, just fought through my anxieties and got my ass on the raft. And then, it wasn’t bad… I’m just so grateful that I just shut up. Because once we got on the raft, I was like, Oh, this is it? I’m good.
OLIVIA GONZALES My name is Olivia Gonzales. I live in Thorton, Colorado, and I’m a professional mermaid.
So at the Denver Aquarium, the way that we do shows is all with free diving. So we don’t breathe off of any compressed air or anything like that. It’s all breath holds, and we do a scripted show. And so it’s a full-blown kind of little production. There’s lines that we say underwater. It’s very choreographed. Kids love it. A little girl once was, she came up and her eyes started at the bottom of my tail and trailed all the way up to my head. And she just was like, You are humongous!
And I was like, Awesome!
So when we’re swimming, it’s really important, while we’re underwater and performing, that we’re not blowing bubbles out of our nose or out of our mouth because it just doesn’t look great. And so the water will definitely kind of flood in your sinuses. And so when you get out, you have to literally, like, kind of bend over and just let it flood back out of your nose. When I first started, so when I did my audition, I had no idea that this was a thing. I was in college at the time. So afterwards, I had to drive up to campus, and I had a test in my environmental chem class. And I’m sitting there taking this exam, and all of this water is coming out of my nose. And I had no idea what was going on. I was freaking out. I’m trying to take this exam. So not the most glamorous thing. And yeah, definitely, I would say, one of the downfalls of the job.
ERIKA BERGMAN My name is Erika Bergman. I live in beautiful Victoria, British Columbia, and I’m a submarine pilot. Research submarines are actually called submersibles. And so our kind of submersible is entirely windows.
[Sonar beeping and dripping water]
It’s like going to an aquarium and being wrapped by the glass in your own little bubble. It’s really fun to take people down underwater, especially people who have perhaps made theories about what they think they’re going to find down there. At first, they lose their minds. They get so excited. Everybody is so chipper and chatty and philosophizing down there, if I can use that word, and after a few minutes, nobody is saying anything. Everyone is just staring out the window with their jaws wide open.
And one of my favorite things to do is to help people realize the kind of distortion that the bubble creates. So when you’re in this spherical acrylic pressure hole, we call it, everything outside looks about 30 percent smaller than it really is. And so no matter where I am in the world, at some point during the dive, I know that I’ll find a beer bottle. And you find a beer bottle, and you show it to your passengers, and they look at it and their eyes go big. They’re like, What is that? A beer bottle for Barbies? Is that a doll toy? You say, No, that’s an actual beer bottle. And then all of a sudden, their sense of scale completely changes. And that reef that we were looking at or that sponge that we were looking at, that’s when the moment clicks for them. And then they realize that it’s actually massive, and it’s taller than the submarine and it’s wider than the submarine. And we’re just this little pinprick of light looking at one little piece of this massive motif of an ecosystem.
[Ethereal ambient music]
ADVERTISEMENT Even if your team isn’t in the same place, your work can be. You just need Asana. Asana is where teams coordinate work. So they know what to do, why it matters and how to get it done. Plus, everyone can see the team’s plans, get progress, and discuss things. So you can get work done and your team stays a team. Where there’s Asana, there’s a way. Visit Asana.com to try for free. That’s Asana, A-S-A-N-A.com.
HALEY This story was brought to you by Pop-Up Magazine Productions. Written and produced by me, Haley Howle, along with Joy Shan, Alyssa Edes, Ariel Mejia, and Elise Craig. Our editors are Derek Fagerstrom and Doug McGray. Our music and sound design is by Alex Overington. Our Creative Director is Leo Jung, Rebecca Chew is our art director, and Jackie Bates is our Photography Director. Lauren Smith is our Director of Operations. And we had production help from Al Schatz and Andy Spillman. Thanks so much for listening and don’t forget to check out our visual Field Guide at popupmagazine.com.