In the Same Boat
Part 1: Getting Acquainted
by Farwell Forrest
Nearly twenty years ago, I found myself in an Old Town Tripper on a
wild river in northern Quebec. With me in the boat was a young woman I
hardly knew. We'd met several times, of course, usually in the little
library that served the small upstate New York town we both called home.
I'd noticed that we took out the same books. So had she. It was just
about all we had in common.
We'd paddled together only once beforea hastily-planned canoe
trip down a stretch of the Androscoggin. What brought us together on the
river in northern Quebec is a story for another day. At the time, only
one thing really mattered: we were there, we were in the same boat, and
we had nearly two hundred miles of river and lake ahead of us.
Well, the trip spun itself out as such trips always do. The tempo
varied, but the theme remained the same. River, lake and portage. Still
water and fast. Gale-force wind and dead calm. Rain and sleet and
cloudless skies. Halfway along, two of our companions wrapped their
canoe around a rock in mid-river. We rescued their gear, pulled their
boat off the rock, and helped them stomp it back into shape. The next
day, they were standing on the tracks where the bush-line touched the
river, flagging down a train. They couldn't wait to get home, back to
the comfort and security of life in Albany, New York. Back to day-trips
and weekends on familiar rivers.
My stern paddler and I, however, weren't in any hurry. Somewhere
along the riversomewhere between the rail-station put-in and the
scratchy little rapids where our companions came to griefwe'd
fallen in love. We stayed with the river, and followed it down to its
end, enjoying every minute of every portage, storm and rapid.
Twenty years on, we're still in the same boat. Yes, we have solo
canoes and kayaks, but the Tripper we paddled in Quebec is still on its
cradles, not far from the village we lived in when we first met, waiting
patiently for winter to loosen its grip on the rivers of central New
York. It's an old boat now, of course, weathered and brittle, with a big
fiberglass patch covering the crack made when the woodpile fell on it
during one cold winter night. Come to think of it, though, we're both a
little weathered and cracked ourselves. No matter. We're still
watertight, and the rivers are still running.
Did I mention that my stern-paddler's name is Tamia Nelson? I don't
think I did. You'll see her name again, in any case. She'll be writing
half the columns that appear here. She's a geologist by training. I'm an
economist. And we've both worked as archeologists for much of our nearly
twenty years together.
Stones, coins and bones. Together, they sum up of most of the world's
history rather neatly. And history is never far from you when you're on
a river or lake. Waterways have been human highways since ... well,
since when, exactly? Who knows? Since long before human beings learned
to write. That's long enough for me.
History follows waterways. Merchants, explorers, conquers, and
traders. Poets and painters. Soldiers and scientists, speculators and
schemers. They've all gravitated to the world's rivers, lakes and
sea-coasts. Follow a drop of water from the moment it falls as a
snowflake on a mountain peak until it disappears into a distant ocean.
You've just recapitulated human history.
We're born. Each of us is unique. Each of us is an individual. We
live. And then we die, joining the anonymous multitudes of unknown men
and women who have lived before us. Nations, too, are born. Each is
unique. Each struggles, climbs upward toward the light, flourishes and
dies. And with the passage of time, even the greatest nations disappear
into the desert ocean that is history. Remember the ancient ruler
Ozymandias, whose shattered statue alone defied time, bringing a message
of empty defiance to Shelley's "traveller from an antique land"?
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Of course, geologists, archeologists and poets have to take the long
view. In this column we'll be more concerned with the here and
nowand now that the introductions are over, it's time we got
© Verloren Hoop Productions 1999
That's it for today. I'll be back next week to finish this up. In
the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. Send your comments and
questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. (No attachments,
audio clips or family snaps, please!) I won't promise that I'll answer
each letter, but I can promise that I'll read every oneand
I will. 'Nuff said.