“I didn’t take my first surfing lesson until I was 49. My friend Maia, who started surfing at age 40, talked me into it.” So begins faculty member Mylène Dressler’s new essay about attending surf camp with a group of Guilford students.
That essay, “End Over End” – about “letting fear go, daring to look foolish, and not being ashamed to fall over while other people watch” – has been published by the prestigious journal Creative Nonfiction and also reprinted on the website Literary Hub.
Led by Guilford faculty member Maia Dery, the trip was an introduction to Guilford’s Cape Fear River Basin Studies, a program begun by Maia in 2010 and one defined by experiential learning, and by place. The Cape Fear River Basin begins near the campus and stretches 200 miles southeast to the Atlantic Ocean.
During her time at surf camp, Mylène discovered that Guilford’s Cape Fear program isn’t only about learning to ride waves, but about understanding how to see a place and be fully present in place. Maia planned it that way.
“She’d actually brought us to teach us what it meant to be aware,” Mylène writes. “To be a person among people in a definite place, at a definite time. She’d brought us so that we could try to understand what it meant to be part of a specific moment and place and community.”
Where are we? “End Over End” asks, and then answers: “The Cape Fear River is the only river in North Carolina that flows straight into the ocean. Its headwaters are rivers with beautiful names: the Deep, the Haw. Its basin, the land through which its tributaries meander, encompasses more than nine thousand square miles and a wild array of ecosystems, sieving waters from the smallest streams toward a huge coastal estuary. It is home to arguing peoples, waving grasses, fragile animals, one endangered sturgeon, and the Cape Fear Shiner – a fine, amber minnow that lives nowhere else in the world.”
As Mylène shares, she managed to get more or less upright on her surfboard; but her greatest joy was seeing students flying across the water, “some of them so surprised when they did so that they jumped off the ends of their boards … others standing taller and for much longer than I had managed to, holding their arms wide. Yes, yes!”
Mylène is a novelist and essayist who is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Creative Writing. She directs the Sherwood Anderson Creative Writing Scholarship Program, and is the faculty adviser to the Greenleaf Review, Guilford’s student-run literary magazine. You can learn more about her work at her website. Her next publication, a short story entitled “Dead Horse Point,” will appear in the Massachusetts Review in December.