Wednesday, July 23, 2008

how life changes

I was just thinking today about the slow but dramatic way life changes. It can sometimes be so subtle -- for example, I was talking today about SK (SK -- I was talking to the boss-lady, discussing your upcoming return to the states), and I had to stop and try to remember why I haven't been chatting with her on Skype anymore. I thought and thought and then realized that my work schedule changed back in March and suddenly we weren't online at the same time anymore. She's in London and the time zones are all weird, etc, etc, -- and I realized it's been *months* now since we've talked, and we used to talk every day!

In property law we learned about accretion and avulsion: the two ways that rivers change course. This matters in property law only when a property's boundaries are described in the deed in terms of the river. If the river creates one of the boundary lines on your property, what do you if the river changes course? Does your boundary line change with the river? That's where accretion and avulsion come in: if the river changes course slowly over a very long period of time, in other words, by accrection, then your property line changes with the river. However, if the river changes course suddenly and dramatically, like through an earthquake or flood (avulsion) then your property line remains in roughly the same place as the river used to be.

Not that property law matters, but life changes course in a similar fashion. Some changes occur slowly over time and some occur rapidly, almost violently.

I talked to my grandmother yesterday and it depressed me. I love her very much, I have been very close to her in my life, and she's quite old now. She just turned 90 this month. She didn't sound so good yesterday, she sounded all croaky and tired. My uncle, her son, who lives across the street from her and drives her to doctor's appointments and helps when things break or when the lawn needs mowed, is suddenly dying of lung cancer. She doesn't really know he's dying because nobody has told her the truth of how bad it is, but somewhere inside her she knows. She buried a husband, a grandson, two sisters, all her brothers, her parents, countless aunts, uncles, cousins, and now she looks forward to burying a son?

I imagine she's depressed. Talking to her depresses me. She tells me my dad is waiting to hear from me and I end up having dreams all night last night about my family. Strange dreams, not the kind I usually have about them. I dreamed I was at my own wedding, but I wasn't actually marrying anyone. My family was "throwing" me a wedding, in some big old Baptist church in the south, full of straight, white people all groomed appropriately, standing in this church watching some esoteric ceremony that was supposed to be for me. I was in the back, wearing my usual scrappy clothes, sporting my new tattoo, with my short hair. People were ignoring me, or criticizing my clothes. Everyone was judging me. And it was supposed to be *my* wedding! I felt naked and unwelcome.

I was telling Mahavira about this dream and then started telling her about some realities and realized the dream isn't that much worse than reality. It's so complicated. Families are complicated, being queer is complicated, being a *human* is complicated. Complicated and painful but also precious and amazing too. I guess I'm just having a lot of feelings about things right now. I go through long phases of keeping my head down and moving forward, then suddenly I'm stopped in my tracks and forced to look back at how far I've come and how much I've failed to notice along the way. Then I have to go through the process of having all the feelings I forgot to have, then I put my head back down and off I go again.

I guess that's the way life works. Maybe when we die it will all make more sense.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Check out my new hot boots! Mahavira and I spent a grand total of nearly $600 today on boots, shoes, one jacket and sushi. We went... kinda crazy. But these boots will last a lifetime, they're Fryes.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

and now for... the REST of the story!

**Yes, both my blogs have the same title today. Happy coincidence.**

While it is true that the five day kayaking trip was fun, I have to admit that there were significant portions of the experience that sucked.

I predicted, actually, that there would be conflict on this trip the likes of which our group had not yet seen. It was palpable the night before trip when we met at J's to load up the boats and gear so we could get a smooth start early the next morning. There was just something in the air, some tension, some snappishness.

I was standing off to the side watching the proceedings when my current favorite kayaking friend, Holly, came over to say hi. I made my prediction then that there would be major conflict on this trip. Holly's girlfriend Reg joined our little huddle and we all put bets on how long it would take for the conflict to erupt and who the major players would be.

Turns out none of us had it all right, but the basic idea was totally on target. K.O., the so-called "activities coordinator" of the group, became increasingly bossy and shrill as the trip wore on. There's no point in recreating all the annoying moments for you. Suffice it to say, most of us got really tired of being screamed at on the water for five days. Screaming at your adult friends is really unacceptable. You will find yourself alienated, and fast.

It wasn't just her, though. By the end of it, I was annoyed with almost every one of the women on the trip and I could not WAIT to get off the water and away from them. A few made it out unscathed. But the rest...?

So I think I'm ready to take a break from my kayaking group. The real hint from the universe came yesterday when my little pewter kayak fell off my keychain. The kayak was a gift from a member of the group to everyone and I immediately put it on my work keychain so I could always think of the good times while I was slaving away at my job. Yesterday I reached into my pocket to pull out my keys, and the little kayak fell off and clanged on the ground. I took that as a sign that it's time to take a break from my group.

I have loved those women like family, and I'm sure it isn't totally over, I just need some space. Maybe I can find some new friends who like to kayak...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

there was more to the trip than that

(Please note, I did not take this picture and that's a canoe, not a kayak you can see in the foreground, but this is a great example of what most of the trip looked like.)

I know I made the capsize sound totally dramatic and intense, and it was definitely intense in the moment. I had some major panic moments, especially in the very beginning when my hand kept slipping off the bottom of my boat and I couldn't catch my breath. But once I was standing on my feet with all my friends around me, the feeling of drama quickly passed.

I'm actually glad I capsized. It was a major learning experience. True: it's highly unlikley you'll capsize on the average, flat-water paddling adventure. But there are always those unpredictable little events that can take you by surprise. Now that I've done it, I'm not scared of it anymore. I know my life jacket will keep my head above water, I know I'll eventually manage to get to safety, I know I won't die from panic. Now I can use that experience to help make better choices about packing up my stuff (everything goes in dry-bags from now on) and outfitting myself (NO MORE COTTON! It takes forever to dry...).

I spent about 30 minutes recouperating on the rocky island before we loaded my boat back up and hit the water again. I definitely felt weird for a little while, but it passed pretty quickly and before I knew it we were making time down the Willamette. I think the first day was the most eventful. First, I capsized. Then I saw a dead guinea pig floating in the river. That was weird. Then we stopped in a tiny little town (Harrisburg?) and walked up from the waterfront park, past a Liquor and Antiques store to a mini-mart where we bought snacks and beer. Beer was an especially welcome treat that day.

Then we found this crazy place to camp. We had a vague outline of the spots we might try to camp, but we always knew we could pick and choose as we got to the end of each day. There are so many options along the river, not necessarily established campgrounds, just nice spots on publicly owned land. That first night we found this really strange spot that was already outfitted with a fire pit, a couple of tables, the metal framework for a gazebo and a bunch of firewood. The highlight of night one was catching one of the tables on fire. Twice. But that's a long story.

The rest of the trip got progressively harder. Waking up every day after a shitty night's sleep on the ground (despite two thermarests and a cozy sleeping bag) and hopping right back in the boat for 25-30 miles of paddling took its toll. Not to mention, the conditions got worse the further we went. The last couple of days of the trip were plagued by brutal headwinds. A headwind to a kayaker is like a really steep hill to a cyclist. You have to pump twice as hard to go half as fast and if you stop paddling for a second you get blown backwards. It sucks.

Despite the difficulties and the building exhaustion, the trip was really, really incredible. We made some very memorable stops along the way. We stopped on the fourth of July in Corvallis, which was right in the middle of a big Fourth festival, and wandered into town for a drink. My favorite kayaker of the moment, Holly, had been fantasizing all day about a martini and I'd been fantasizing about tequila shots, so you can imagine how bummed we were when we walked into the first open bar we found and realized they only served beer and wine. The rest of the crew were happy with that, but Holly and I put our heads together and decided to run off by ourselves to another bar down the street for our liquor fix.

And what a fix it was! It was happy hour, so our drinks were only $2.25 a piece. The bartender had to tell us four times that $4.50 was for BOTH drinks, not for each. It was such a good deal we each got two and then wandered back down to the other bar to help our friends kill a couple of pitchers of really good beer. Needless to say, by the time we left bar number two and headed down to Safeway for some more supplies, Holly and I were lit up like a couple of christmas trees and behaving just this side of embarrassing. It was really awesome.

The next day we stopped in Independence and ate the best food you could ever imagine. There's something really cool about paddling your boat for 4 hours, then pulling up at some landing in some small town and wandering up among all the normal people, carrying your life vest and your paddle so they don't get stolen off your boat. Everybody wants to know where you've been and where you're going and everybody is impressed with the dimensions of your journey.

It's also pretty amazing to be able to come off the water and walk into a restaurant and order a huge meal and eat every last scrap of it because your body is DYING for more calories because you're working so hard. That feels pretty good. I ate an entire half-pound hamburger at that restaurant in Independence and it was the best hamburger I've ever eaten in my life. I felt like Popeye eating a can of spinach, like my whole body was rejuvinating and my muscles were bulging with every bite.

Our stops in little towns were fun, but the bulk of the trip was obviously spent on the water paddling. For the most part it was a gorgeous paddle. We saw, as usual, tons and tons of birds. So many herons and osprey they almost got boring. We also saw several bald eagles, which are so stunning and relatively rare they could never get boring. We saw farm animals as well, a little herd of sheep grazing near the bank, and two big fat black cows laying right down by the water like two old ladies enjoying the evening together. They were the best. We also saw a deer or two and a nutria sitting on the riverbank. A nutria is a like a beaver with a rat-like tail rather than a flat beaver tail. That nutria was huge.

Of course, the most titillating thing I saw on the trip (as I mentioned on my other blog) was the people having sex. That was funny and unexpected. We were drifting down this quiet back channel past a private island when they slowly came into view. Actually, they were never totally in view, most of the action was obscured by a couple of lawn chairs, but I could see and hear enough to know what was going on. Good for them!

By the end of the trip, I was spent. I lagged far behind the crowd during the last two days and felt sore and exhausted. My arms were practically numb from the constant paddling and my back was killing me from sitting for so long in the same position. One-hundred-twenty miles is a long way to go in a kayak on a slow moving river. It was a challenge and I'm still wiped out, but I'm so glad I went and I'm already making plans for the next trip. It feels really good to take something like that on and see it through. Not to mention I've come home with a fabulous tan and muscles I didn't have before. That's got to count for something.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

back, burnt and worn out

Howdy peoples. Did you miss me? Probably not, considering how spotty my posting's been lately. You probably wouldn't have even known I was gone if I hadn't told you...

It was a pretty crazy adventure. One-hundred-twenty river miles in five days. The cumulative wear on the body was something I hadn't counted on. Each day, more tired, more sore. Each day, less enthusiastic. After five days on the water, several hours (8-ish) per day, I *still* feel like I'm moving, rocking slightly, forward and back, like everything in my periphery is sliding slowly past me. I'm getting a little seasick sitting still...

I capsized within an hour of getting on the water at the very start of the trip. We put in on the McKenzie just north of Eugene. The water was moving really fast and we knew it would dump us pretty quickly into the Willamette, which was our goal. We hadn't moved but about three miles when we hit a crazy mish-mash of intersecting waterways. A tributary was pouring into the McKenzie, which was also at that point splitting around an island. We tried to cut hard right and take the easier channel around the island, but we realized the danger too late to fight the current and we all ended up being swept backward into the swirling chop on the left.

At first it seemed fun and I laughed at our helplessness and sheer "WEEEEEEE!!!" factor of being zipped around so fast. I'm used to slow currents and meandering paddles, so this seemed exciting at first. We were all whipped this way and that by a million different eddies. I worked hard to get myself turned around and moving forward, a feat I accomplished just in time to see one of my compatriots being dragged viciously under a low hanging tree by the intense current.

She ducked and the tree raked over her head violently. It looked awful and I knew I was on the same path so I started negotiating my own approach. My plan was to reach up and grab the biggest branch, which I hoped to use to steer me slightly left of the snag. Unfortunately, a split second before I reached the tree, another eddy slammed into me and drove me with incredible force forward into the tree. The extra power ruined my plan and instead of steering myself around the snag I ended up spinning myself out of my boat.

I have flashes of awareness during the spill. My first thought, underwater and upside down, was "wow, so this is what it's like to flip." Then I briefly imagined reaching up to pull off my spray skirt, like I've seen in my kayaking safety videos, but of course I hadn't put on my spray skirt so I had nothing to pull off. Instead, I fell right out of the boat and started for the surface without any effort on my own part, almost as if the hand of god had reached down and grabbed me.

The second thought I had was "I hope there isn't a boat on top of me" as I started to surface. I was so relieved when my head popped out of the water and didn't slam into my upside down boat. Then there was a nice long stretch of time without thoughts. I couldn't breathe, I was choking and wheezing and my breath was hitching in my throat like when you sob and can't catch your breath.

In retrospect, I realize the water was so cold I couldn't draw air in at first. At the time, I wasn't really aware of the cold. I started to panic. I couldn't get a good grip on my boat and in my panic I tried to flip it over to either climb in it or to expose the deck rigging which I could have at least gotten my hands around. Unfortunately, I had a heavy cooler strapped on top of my boat, which caused my boat to keep spinning and to wind up back upside down.

My hands kept slipping off the bottom of my boat and I was totally freaking out. But then I became aware of all my friends in their boats nearby telling me I'd be ok, telling me to relax and breathe, telling me they were going to get me out, telling me I was fine. And you know, if you'd told me before I capsized that they'd react that way, I would have predicted that their reassurances would just get on my nerves. However, in reality, it was so helpful. Once I was able to hear them, I made myself relax a little and then I realized that my life vest was keeping my head above water, even though my grip on my boat wasn't strong, and I slowly started to realize I'd be ok.

It felt like a hundred hours, but pretty soon I drifted down towards an island and my feet started touching bottom. In minutes, I was standing on dry ground gathering my wits while my friends dumped the water out of my boat and tried to dry out my stuff. Miraculously I didn't lose anything, except one handkerchief and a couple bungee cords. My new perscription sunglasses stayed firmly attached to my face throughout. My hat fell off, but Kara spotted it and directed Dynette to grab it. My water bottle floated past me, but Maia grabbed it. Somehow or another I never let go of my paddle. And, last but not least, my bottle of Flonase found its way out of my pocket and tried to drift away, but I managed to grab it.

So I hit the shore with my paddle in one hand and a bottle of flonase in the other. And I think I was also a little bit in shock... but.... whatever...

Anyway, I'll tell you all about the rest of the trip tomorrow. Now I have to go drink beer and eat pizza with my girlfriend who missed me a lot...

More later...

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

gone daddy gone

Just wanted to let you all know I'll be gone starting tomorrow morning until late Monday night. Nothing special really, just going on a five day kayak trip down the Willamette River from Eugene all the way to Portland. :-)

It's gonna be so awesome but I'm sure I'll miss Mahavira a LOT and I'll be very happy to come back to town.

See you next week.