Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


The Hunt

I started grinding my teeth last night. I've never done that before. Several friends of mine have - some even have had to get head gear from their orthodontists to prevent them from getting lock jaw. I guess I've never been that stressed before. Short bursts of stress, yes, but a continuous dull ache of stress that persists throughout the day and into my dreams...that is new. I dreamt of one of my subjects from my mini-ethnography the other night. I awoke with an image in my mind; a photo I wanted to take.

I don't want it to seem like I'm writhing in confused misery. It's actually quite exhilarating - this feeling of uncertainty I'm growing used to - of constantly being on the brink of some big discovery. It's "story lock-down" day on Friday, and I still feel like I'm on story-try-it-out or story-vague-idea-that-will-hopefully-develop-into-amazing-story day. I'm on the hunt.

This feeling, I hope, will bring me closer to my subjects. I'm happen to be pursing a story about people who go hunting for sport - not hunting for animals, but for small boxes of treasure called "caches" that they hide in various places all over the state, using plotted coordinates on a GPS device. It actually exists all over the world, this secret world of "geocaching," and boy, are people passionate about it. I've spent hours over the past two weeks talking with cachers and poring over their online forums, immersing myself in such joys as the "FTF" (First Time Find) - being the first one to find a particular treasure, like an old explorer being the first person to tread on uncharted land. I wonder, what is it about geocaching that enlivens the passions of grown men and women from seemingly all walks of life?

I spoke with a cacher named Dave, from Bangor, about why he thinks people cache. He said that he thinks it's part of human nature to hunt, "whether for food, tools of buried treasure. Humans were the first to explore the Earth and have continued underground, underwater, and into space...geocaching makes it possible for average Joes to participate in these activities while remaining in a safer environment than Lewis and Clark or pirates from the middle ages..." And he's right, I think - following your GPS into the woods isn't exactly like plotting uncharted territory, but somehow it takes you to that same place in your mind, the place where you are hunting, where you are on a quest for discovery.

In creating a radio documentary, there's the idea and then there's the story. I didn't really think about how different they were before I came here. A story encompasses an idea, but it has so much more - it has characters, conflict, a movement from here to there. In class, we talked about fitting our story ideas into the following sentence: "someone does something because, but..." So. Mainers go off on the weekends and hunt for treasure because...a) they have an innate desire to hunt b) they have developed friendships and communities around the sport c)? d)??, but...but what? How does one find a "but"? But TBA.

So, story lock-down. It sounds so harsh, like a prison sentence. While I've made some contacts, and made some plans (on Saturday I'm hitching a ride with a cacher up to a group caching event in the North Woods of Maine), I still feel lost, like I don't quite have the coordinates for my destination. I imagine myself as one of those old time explorers - holding a treasure map with burned edges, clad in pantaloons - hunting and digging, hunting and digging, hoping to find somewhere to mark my "X". So I guess I'll keep doing that. And I'll dream, I'll grind my teeth, and I'll wake again.

Amanda (Radio Track)

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