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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Jet boating


Monday morning I picked up an old friend; she had been on our wedding committee (in 1977!) and was now in her late eighties and very frail; and having seen her family scatter across the world was living alone in the farmhouse in which she had raised and cared for them all. She has a taste for adventure for which she has had little scope, and so she placed with us an order, so to speak, to accompany her on one of the famous Jet Boats on the Rogue River.

She had also, in some ways, raised us, as a spiritual mentor, and of all the people in our worship community, she was the only one who filled the role by being properly severe with me when I had my midlife crisis. I'm always, I think, a little frightened of her, and yet I know her to be one of the few absolutely non-judgmental people in my world.

The three of us packed our things into Beloved's car and headed for Gold Beach, three and a half hours away. I had reserved three seats on a boat and Beloved had reserved a motel room. She often asks me to drive on these longer journeys, a holdover from days when I had a somewhat husbandly role. But it would have been a strain, for our Elderess of the Tribe was starved for talk, and I am nearly three-quarters deaf. So Beloved drove and I sat in the back, happily rediscovering a novel which had greatly impressed me in my twenties.

I also napped.

We discovered along the way that Elderess was having great difficulty using my name and pronouns, not for any disapproval of my current status but because thirty years' usage was deeply ingrained. Upon our arrival in Gold Beach, I walked, arm in arm, with the Elderess, toward the river boat museum.

"Dear heart, I have a concern ..."

"It's about your name, isn't it? Oh, dear."

"And the pronouns ... here I am in the wide world in a little green summer dress; and -- and how you address me can be, in some circumstances, a life-or-death matter."

"I'll do my best, girl. I'll do my best." And she did very well thereafter.

She was planning to write an article about the Mail Boats and we were a little dismayed to find that I had been bamboozled by clever ad copy into reserving a ride with their competition, but we felt we could stick it out and learn enough, perhaps by doing our shopping in the Mail Boat sales room in Wedderburn. This turned out to be the case. The Mail Boat people seem very sweet, and we promised that on our next visit we would ride with them.

Early the next morning, with about twenty others, we presented ourselves to be herded down to the 80-mile boat. It took the Elderess a very long time to get down the ramp, and everyone was very patient with us. Beloved and I looked across at each other -- what were we doing? But our charge seemed quite determined; and so we boarded and listened to the instructions from our young captain Kevin. He's a grandson of the inventor of this type of craft, who had started the company. Among the passengers was his dog, Emma, a lovely golden retriever, who goes along on all of his trips.

It was low tide; and in the mists each piling out on the water stood tall as a telephone pole, and atop each stood a cormorant, spreading its wings to what sun it could find.

Kevin took us out onto the estuary, past a number of sea lions, and once in the main channel, gave us a taste of what the boat can do by whipping it in a circle on one spot in about four seconds. The spray leaped a good thirty feet into the air, and everyone got a taste of the Rogue. We all squealed, some dubiously, others with delight; and away we went.

Going up the first few miles was much like riding the train at San Diego's Wild Animal Park. Kevin has an absolute eye for wildlife and stopped every few minutes to point out some natural presence. He showed us bald eagles, juvenile and adult. He showed us ospreys, and took us to within thirty feet of one that had settled, in bemusement, on a low branch with a very large and very determined eel in its uncertain grasp. He showed us herons and mergansers, and of course many deer and Canada geese; but we also got to see a huge river otter at work -- it was the Elderess' first otter, and she was delighted -- and, best of all, we shut off engines and drifted down toward a very busy mink, who seemed not at all perturbed by our presence.

We drove through riffles and rapids and skimmed past huge rocks like the Twin Sisters, and turned donuts and wheelies in the canyons, and it was all great but very wet fun. I kept looking over at Beloved and the Elderess; often they had their eyes closed as they were being showered, and hunkered down against the cold. Both assured me, and each other, that they were fine, and both checked on me as well. I tend to be much affected by cold and wet, but was having one of those lifetime adventures on which one forgives the conditions, as were they.

All around us the mountains were suffciently imposing and wild to remind us that while we were on the coast this was not the Coast Range as we knew it, farther north, but the Siskyous, with their gnarled roots exposed in the canyons, gneiss, shale, serpentine. At stops, Beloved pocketed her usual many small green rocks, crazy-streaked with white veins.

The wind was so great that my earrings became a hazard to my cheeks, so I popped them out and into a pocket. We came to Agness -- twice -- once for a pee break and later, after some white water, for lunch on a wide deck above the river. I admired the young waitress' fresh-water pearl necklace and she told the story of how she got them. The sun and shade crossed and re-crossed us as we ate, due to the canyon winds pushing the darkly leaved myrtle branches far above.

The inland temperature climbed above 900F and I was able to remove enough layers to feel feminine again. I am unhappy in pants, even women's pants, because I feel they make my past easier to spot. But instead of the ubiquitous sweats, hoodies, and t-shirts among the other passengers, I had resorted to a black one-piece swimsuit as a top, with reinforced Spandex at the waist and built-in cups. This seemed to provide a convincing presentation. By the time we got back to the harbor, I was wet, chilly, windburned and sunburnt, but happy.

The Elderess was very pleased with her sometimes harrowing experience, but was tired all through. She and I crashed at the motel and slept through the afternoon like play-exhausted toddlers. Beloved was not done with the day and went hunting on the beach for sand dollars. She found two unbroken ones, and, looking up, saw three small whales, perhaps pilot whales, breaching and spy-hopping beyond the surf.

By morning, a steady rain had set in.

-- risa b

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