Follow your passion. Singular – one passion. It’s a common piece of advice. By college, many of us have picked between the arts and sciences. For fun, we take personality tests that tell us whether we are thinkers or feelers. This is a story about Elizabeth Bradfield of North Truro, a writer and a naturalist. In an age of specialization, she has chosen not to choose between her passions but rather to let one inspire the other.
As a naturalist, Bradfield is a marine educator on whale watch boats in Provincetown and expedition ships in the Arctic and Antarctic. She also assists marine biologists by collecting data about seals, whales and other creatures. As a writer, she has published three books of poetry, runs a publishing company and teaches creative writing at Brandeis University.
Her time spent working on boats inspires her writing, and her poetry is infused with her detailed knowledge of marine life. In poems like The Shepherd of Tourists on a $20 Sunset Cruise Speaks ( from her book "Interpretive Works") she writes about leading whale watch trips:
For the third time today, twelve miles out and back
to the whales, my voice through the PA flat as last night’s
tonic. Through my patter of ecology and evolution,
I’m thinking, What can I say that will matter beyond this,
your annual ten paid days? Then the twin engines downroar
to slow ahead, terns chirr the air, and a geyser of breath rises
as if on cue. “Just ahead at one o’clock,” I say from the bridge,
“a logging humpback.” The railings crowd. Cameras rise.
Empathy and longing fog the air, thick as diesel exhaust.
I can smell the long dive on the breath of the whale, fishy
and pungent. To the tide of imprecise awe, I say, “Whales
don’t sleep like us. They rest one half of their brains at a time.”
Excerpts from Bradfield's essay "Fluid States: Ocean as Place and Poetic" are also featured in the audio story. Elizabeth’s Bradfield’s fourth book, Toward Antarctica, is forthcoming in May 2019. You can read more of her life and work at ebradfield.com