The water is calling

I’ve often thought about my love for boats given that I’ve never lived where boating is a way of life. I grew up next to a river that until very recently was considered to be unnavigable. These days a few intrepid kayakers with creek boats have made short trips in sections of the river and I’ve even padded around a bit in an old creek boat not far from where my growing up years were spent. Two miles downriver the Boulder enters the Yellowstone which can be navigated in kayaks and canoes and rafts. We’ve floated in the Yellowstone in many different types of craft over the years. The name of my home town, Big Timber, comes not from some unusually impressive stand of trees, but rather from the return of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1806. As they crossed Montana, Lewis kept to the Missouri River, but Clark led a portion of the explorers overland to the Yellowstone River. Near my home town, they not only had found the river that would take them to the Missouri and a rendezvous with Lewis, they found trees that were big enough to create dugout canoes for the journey. After traveling with horse and on foot, the ability to float downstream was an appealing upgrade for the weary travelers and they dubbed the place Big Timber because of the trees they harvested there.

Since those days I have lived mostly in places without any big water. My boats have traveled more miles on the trailer or on the roof rack of my pickup than they have in the water. I have a hadn’t-built kayak that has criss-crossed the United Staes and Canada. I suspect that the boat has traveled at least 20,000 miles on the top of the truck and perhaps a couple of hundred miles on water. Most of its paddles have been short - less than 5 miles. I’m hardly the “Old Man and the Sea.” I don’t have a sea. My boats have visited the ocean, but it is a rare year when they are dipped in saltwater.

Generations of humans have had an attraction to and a fear of big water for as long as there have been humans who lived within sight of an ocean or mighty river. Living in the 5th century before Christ, Homer wrote of the attraction of the sea:

“And into the broad expanse, and into the bosom of ocean plunge, to behold the old man of the sea and the home of your father.” (Iliad)

He also concludes the epic Odyssey with the opposite advice:

“Go forth once more, you must . . . carry your well-planed oar until you come to a race of people who know nothing of the sea, whose food is never seasoned with salt, strangers all to ships with their crimson prows and long slim oars, wings that make ships fly. And here is your sign unmistakable, clear, so clear you cannot miss it: When another traveler fails in with your and calls the weight across your shoulder a fan to winnow grain, then plant your bladed, balanced oar in the earth and sacrifice fine beasts to the lord go of the sea. Poseidon.” (Odyssey)

I guess I’ve lived like a member of the “race of people who know nothing of the sea.” for most of my life. Most of the time I’ve lived more than a thousand miles from the sea. We did live in Boise Idaho for a decade, which is only about 500 miles from the coast, but just a short walk to the desert. We lived in Chicago for four years and there we were a short walk from Lake Michigan, a truly impressive body of water, but we had no boat in those days and I never went far enough from the shore to need a boat in those days.

Still, I am attracted by the water. I dream of paddling along the shore of the ocean, exploring the inlets and islands and places close to the shore. I’ve no need and no abilities that draw me to crossing oceans in a tiny boat, but the small amount of paddling in protected waters that I have done has led me to want more such experience. It is one of the things that is very attractive about the possibility of moving to the area where our son lives. They can be at the Salish Sea, formerly called the Puget Sound, within a half hour of leaving their home. It was from a place within a very short distance of their home where our family boarded a tourist boat for a whale watching tour a few years ago. The smell of salt water and the last of freshly caught fish have imprinted wonderful memories in my mind of that place.

I know that big waters can be dangerous. We’ve visited the Oregon Coast on days when the winds are fierce and the waves are threatening and the spray is freezing cold. I know there are days when one does not want to venture out into the storm. Living near the ocean will demand that I learn new skills of judgment and discretion. My boats are little and small boats do best in small bodies of water. Unlike larger boats, however, my boats enable me to sit on the water and feel the rise and fall of the swells and see the world from the perspective of the surface.

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain wrote of life on the river and traveling by night on a raft: “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”

The big water continues to call me. I know that the years have passed and that i’ve become a sentimental old fool, but it does seem that perhaps I should heed that call.

There is a folk song that goes, “ . . .give me a boat that can carry two. And both shall row, my love and I.”

I’ve got the boat. I built it a few years back. Now I just need the water and we’ll go rowing, my love and I. Of course she doesn’t have to row. She can just ride. I don’t mind the rowing.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!