Yesterday I met a beautiful young man named Christopher, a man who loves to be on the water. He’s a boats man, and he bought my two kayaks, one of which I had several years ago named Hanta Yo, meaning “Clear the way.” I advertised a sweet deal for the pair and included everything one might need to haul them away and go directly to the water for a celebratory paddle.
As Christopher and I worked alongside each other to set up the rack and kayak carrying system on his car, we talked about how even in the wintry autumn weather Portland is having this year, an autumn paddle is special.
For several years, I’ve gone kayaking on the slow-moving, narrow, tree-lined Columbia Slough for Thanksgiving. Like the steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon seeking refuge from the strong currents and predators in the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, I go to the Slough seeking refuge from the fast-moving, sometimes predatory, activity and noise of the city. I launch my boat from Kelley Point Park and paddle the open water.
In late autumn and early winter, the expansive views are a subdued brown, gold, and gray, strikingly different from the greens and blues of spring and summer and the reds, oranges, and yellows of mid autumn. With all the leaves having fallen, I can see many more birds and other Slough creatures in the trees, shrubs, and brushy riverbanks. To keep warm, I wear snow pants, layers of wool and fleece, a rain jacket, a life vest, and a good hat. It’s an adventure.
Paddling the wetland waterway, I imagine I hear the Native people who made their village homes on the Slough more than a century ago and hunted and fished its abundant supply. In my mind’s eye, I can see the longhouses of the Chinook, Multnomah, Kathlamet, Kalapuya, and Molalla tribes. Their canoe passage then was vastly different from present-day recreational touring.
On my paddles through the years, I’ve seen river otter, beaver, coyote, raccoon, fox, turtle, eagle, falcon, osprey, flycatcher, egret, duck, goose, jay, woodpecker, hawk, Great Blue Heron, and even the reclusive Green Heron. I don’t know the names of all the aquatic plants that provide habitat and shelter for the birds, fish, critters, and crawlers in the Slough. They’re too vast for me to know.
The area must have been a rich patchwork of wetlands, wildlife, and waterways before White Europeans settled in and transformed it into agricultural, industrial, and residential developments. I’m glad that the work I do for the City of Portland Bureau of Environmental Services helps to restore the wetlands, grasslands, woodlands, streams, and sloughs for diverse wildlife and fish species. In October 2000, the Bureau completed its “Big Pipe” project that stopped sewage from flowing into the Columbia Slough for the first time in 100 years. This has greatly increased the health of the watershed. Since then, the bureau has planned and implemented other projects to create healthier habitats and cleaner water.
Like me, Christopher enjoys nature from the comfort of a boat. He shared stories of his life with boats—speed boats, sail boats, fishing boats, rafts, and canoes. He’s owned and parted with all of these types of boats in various cities across the country. Here in Portland, he’s been borrowing a friend’s kayak to go paddling ever since he was introduced to kayaking a few years ago.
Christopher and I spent the whole morning together. He answered my ad and drove over from Beaverton to check out the kayaks. While here, he conferred with friends about the deal. We also sought the help of ReRack to get what he needed to make my carrier system work on his car. Then together we installed the system on his Toyota. Together we loaded and tied down the kayaks. Together we unbolted the L-shelves I had installed in my garage to store the kayaks. Together we went over every extra item I had thrown in the deal—paddles, vests, spray skirts, watertight bags, pumps, covers—and I showed him how to operate the rudder and foot pedals.
Our process of working and talking together was an unexpected blessing for me. Handling each item gave me unexpected comfort. Seeing Christopher’s excitement, listening to his stories, learning about his life, getting to know him, and helping him with the physical labor to enable him to haul the kayaks home—all of this helped me part with the kayaks with gratitude and joy. Every aspect was sweet affirmation I had made the right decision.
Listening to my stories, Christopher was quite concerned that perhaps I ought not be selling the kayaks. His thoughtfulness gave me the opportunity to articulate more clearly my reasons for parting with them at this time in my life.
Practically, there’s the matter of space to store them in the narrow garage at the condo I’m buying. Beyond that, I reassured him that my favorite places to kayak offer easy rental options that will serve me better than continuing to store and manage a kayak by myself. Besides, I like the thought of the two kayaks being out on the water for more adventures than I can give them. Christopher will use them and enjoy them. He’s ready and enthusiastic.
There were moments yesterday that I felt I was channeling my father. I felt him in how I moved, heard him in my voice, and recognized him in my emotions. Dad liked giving a leg up to a young person or a young family, and he laughed until he cried when he saw what it meant to them.
Parting with things that have served me well and given me much joy is a double-edged sword, having both sad and happy consequences. It’s the process of examining a thing, deciding to keep it and why, or deciding to let it go and why. The choice is not always easy nor the way forward immediately clear. I can sit with uncertainty, but I also need to exercise courage to make a decision.
In a conversation with friends a week ago, I realized—not without surprise—that I was ready to let the double-bladed paddle boats go. It was like setting down a monstrous boulder. I placed my ad late Friday, early Saturday morning Christopher contacted me, and by early afternoon, I had parted with them. Before he drove away, Christopher shook my hand, gave me a big warm hug, told me he’d take me kayaking any time I want to go, and then grinned and waved exuberantly as he backed out of the driveway.
I made his day. He made mine. With joy and gratitude, we helped each other clear the way to more fulfilled lives and new dreams. Hanta Yo!
Composed on November 19, 2017 – the day after I sold my two Necky Looksha Sport Kayaks