Oleh Lysiak has lived life on the edge often, working at everything from a journalist to a tree planter, smuggler, fishing guide and sculptor. His book “Art, Crime, & Lithium” relates his life from its beginnings in western Ukraine to highs and lows everywhere from Telluride to southern California, to Mexico, Utah, and finally settling in Oregon. The back cover blurb sums it up: “Art, Crime & Lithium” is an immigrant boomer’s bi-polar adventure saga spanning six decades over five continents, as a writer, mobilist, smuggler, with multifarious jobs, easy women, one enduring marriage, brief successes, debilitating failures, spectacular recoveries, memorable dogs and healing walks on Oregon beaches.”
It is an exciting and fast-paced true life story. The following is one of Lysiak’s adventures on Lake Powell; then a more peaceful time with his friend Serena Supplee on the Green River in Utah.
The Orca, my 18-foot red and gold fiberglass sea-kayak, slices through Lake Powell noiselessly, nose pointed at the cut between the islands where Bullfrog Bay and Hall’s Creek Bay meet and the channel for Lost Eden Canyon begins.
The Orca is a dream when I slide in the cockpit, roll hips for balance, lean back, snap on the screaming yellow spray skirt, touch toes to rudder pedals, take hold of the paddle, shove off and dig in with the first wrist rolls.
The afternoon wind picks up. A squall soaks me in minutes. It’s a hot day and the rain is welcome. The wind, on the other hand, turns the lake into a nasty short chop, and makes headway difficult. I struggle with the chop and wind until an expansive beach appears. I land the Orca softly, de-rig and make camp.
Everything I need is in the Orca. The Thermarest and sleeping bag are forward, behind the flotation bag in front of the rudder pedals; the day bag with sunscreen, sun glasses, maps, mini-binoculars, and lip-screen is rigged starboard. Fishing pole and sailing rig port; first-aid kit and tackle box behind the seat, secured with a shock cord. The aft compartment , separated from the cockpit by a fiberglass bulkhead, contains tent, kitchen fuel, groceries, snorkeling gear and waste disposal system.
I set up the tent to get out of the weather, hook up the white gas MSR one-burner, and whip up a cup of Swiss Miss before cooking a dinner of noodles spiced with freeze-dried veggie soup. I have a brandy flask to nip on but forgot cigars on this trip.
With adventure you need to remember that the more you carry, the more you have to deal with, the more you have to maintain. For me it’s about the spirit of adventure, not the ease or comfort involved. What I require are essentials and faith in my ability to survive. I’m speaking on my own behalf. People consider me foolish. Thank you. We don’t go to the same places. We don’t have the same reasons. Leaves me room to move and I need a lot.
The late Tom “Too Tall” Simmons, a legendary adventurer, surmised I shouldn’t have a motorized vessel because of my short fuse and inability to deal with things mechanical. He was familiar with the story of how I heaved a brand-new Johnson 40 horsepower outboard into Lake Powell, after it refused to operate as advertised. “Two Tall” told me I was a better engine than anything I had to work on mechanically, and the physical exertion would hopefully keep my temper under control. He was right. I’m a good engine.
A card announcing Serena’s Tucson watercolor show arrives in the mail, a good enough reason to leave the apartment.
Happy to see each other, friends with things to share, we talk the afternoon away on a vigil for art aficionados. Serena is going through changes, unhappy with her relationship with Marcus. He’d rather fish than do anything else. I explain my situation in no uncertain terms. We travel the surrounding desert in her van, camping. She paints; I dabble. Serena insists I come to Moab and move in with her.
I don’t argue, and do what she says. With her help and understanding, I face down my demons. I owe her my life. For months I shudder at the thought of dealing with a world outside Serena’s house and yard. I sweep the house, deck and yard daily, maintain equilibrium, keep a lid on the rage. She introduces me to a river-runner friend of hers, Jimmy Ferro, (Dr. James Anthony Ferro, PhD, Psychologist). I trade him mobiles for his time, tell him some of the crazy shit I did, expect to hear I need institutionalization. He laughs and asks if I really did do all this stuff. I assure him I did. Jimmy tells me I’m not crazy, merely bi-polar: manic-depressive, a whole different ballgame. He suggests I read Dr. Ronald R. Fieve’s book, “Moodswing.” I find, buy and read it. Dr. Fieve opens my eyes to the history and reality of bipolarity. I’m missing salt in my bloodstream. I can be fixed by being one with my chemist. Blood tests at the local hospital get me a prescription for lithium carbonate, part of my life for the next 20 years and better.
The Green River
Serena’s oar strokes are deft, soft, responsive to the current. She runs rapids with precision, wile, charm, humor and occasional terror. Rapids conjure terror no matter how smooth you are.
This July morning doesn’t stay cool for long, on our first day in Desolation Canyon, in the Emotional Rescue on the Green River below the Bad Land Cliffs, the West Tavaputs Plateau and the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservations.
Serena has paints, brushes, and watercolor paper mounted on plywood, in canvas bags. I have cat-fishing gear. We have a deal. Serena paints and I set up camp, fish and cook. We’ve done this before. We find a campsite each day which has shade come morning. Serena waits for perfect light. She paints and I get dinner ready.
We hunt for shade and good places to fish. By dinnertime I usually have a stringer full. It’s a tough life, living on fresh catfish and rice, Kenyan coffee and Australian cabernet. When Serena rows I sketch canyons, rock formations, vegetation, critters, capture the immense simplicity of the natural state, like scribbling notes on a moving herd of mastodons as the ice age slips away.
Serena takes the Emotional Rescue in the rapids. She has more than 40 trips down Desolation Canyon as a professional boat woman. The rapids and Serena are old friends. She has plenty of respect for the roar, rocks and rushing rapids. I marvel at her wily, feather-soft style of negotiating rapids, which I try to muscle. Serena’s been running rivers since she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in art. She took to the river like an otter, worked for river-runner outfits out of Moab, became a Desolation Canyon specialist. She ran Westwater, Cataract, the Grand Gates of Ledore. While she rowed the wild rivers, she developed a set of arms and shoulders befitting a true Taurus woman. Serena refined her artistic vision, and painted her passion.
Horseflies and mid-summer heat are oppressive. All we can do is button down and swat. The heat is another matter. When you can’t find a shady spot to chill out we strip down, slip into the river and float connected, hanging on to the Emotional Rescue, liquid angels in the silt.
It goes by too fast, nothing left to do but pack and leave. I look around the canyon one last time and make ready to shove off. Serena wants another cup of coffee, has to linger, prolong the sorrow. We both know it’s time to face the humdrum grayness—phone calls, bills, worries, responsibilities and hassles—of the fabric of our lives.
She slides the oars into their locks and strokes into the current.
You can purchase this book and others by Oleh Z. Lysiak, from him at P.O. Box 1571, Bandon,OR 97411, at Moonraker Books in Langley, WA, and on Amazon.com. To see Serena’s Supplee’s artwork, visit http://www.serenasupplee.com