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He's Baaack! Or, Farwell Returns

by Farwell Forrest

He once wrote regularly for Paddling.net. But then he stopped. Now he's returned to Paddling.com. He's Farwell Forrest, and he's the other half of In the Same Boat. Think of him as Quixote to Tamia's Sancho Panza, if you want. Ignore the master-servant thing. It don't signify. In truth, Sancho did all the work and had all the brains, while Quixote chased dreams and jousted with windmills. The windmills won, of course. But despite his bruises, Farwell's still game. And there are windmills on the horizon.

By Farwell Forrest farwell@paddling.com

June 6, 2017

I'm back!

Article by Farwell ForrestIt's been a while, hasn't it? Then again, perhaps there are no readers of this column left who can remember when I last wrote an article for Paddling.net, as it then was. But for better or worse, I'm back at the keyboard again. Tamia's taking a well-earned break, and I'll be filling in for her. For how long? I don't know. Tamia isn't saying. She's working on a couple of book projects, and the job will take her several months. Still, I'm sure she'll contribute a column from time to time, and I'll certainly do what I can to hasten her return to these pages. Until that day comes, however, it's up to me to fill the space. I'll do my best, but don't expect me to channel Tamia. I don't have her talent. I'm an indifferent photographer, I neither paint nor draw, and my interest in food begins and ends with eating. I enjoy spending time on the water, though. Paddling, rowing, sailing… It's all the same to me. Though I draw the line, somewhat irrationally, at paddling while standing—at least as an end in itself. When I stand up in a canoe, I want a pole in my hand, not a paddle, which means that the latest evolution in paddlesport has passed me by. I'll always accept an invitation to dine at the water's edge, but I doubt I'll ever SUP.

My bottom line, then? When I'm in a small boat, I mostly keep my ass on a thwart. Or if the boat happens to be a small sailing dinghy and the breeze is freshening, on the windward gunwale. So why, if I don't feel the need to follow the lead of the industry's Mad Women and Madder Men in moving restlessly from one Big New Thing to the next, even Bigger, Big New Thing, do I paddle? I'm glad you asked. I paddle to … wait for it … go somewhere - somewhere I can't get to as easily (or as pleasurably) on shanks' mare.

This may require a few words of explanation. Paddling is never the easiest way to go somewhere by water, is it? You can travel much farther, in much less time, by harnessing fossil sunlight, and that's obviously the people's choice. It's not hard to see why. With a hundred horsepower at their fingertips, the Gasoline Alley kids not only get wherever they're going without having to break a sweat, they also get to shatter the stillness of wild waters with the burble, whine, and roar of their exhausts. There aren't very many places left where silence reigns supreme. Soon there won't be any. And some people will doubtlessly think this a very good thing. Many of us now feel vaguely uneasy when we hear only the ripple of wavelets and the cry of a distant loon. It reminds us that we humans are recent recruits to the cast of planet Earth, with the length of our engagement yet to be decided. That being so, the throaty rumble of a 'rude offers welcome reassurance. It's the sound of power, affirming our species' place as Number One in nature's pecking order, on the job and in control, now and forever. You could call it the aural equivalent of the graffiti left by gangs to mark their turf.

And needless to say, being Number One means you can do what you want. Drive your Kamikaze WaveBanger back and forth along the same half-mile stretch of shoreline for a week, by all means. You'll have loads of good, clean fun in the process, not to mention winning the eternal gratitude of the chamber of commerce every time you gas up. There's a bonus, too: With each trip up and down the lake, you'll pump a little more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, hastening the day when all of Canoe Country will enjoy endless summer, and millions of landlocked North Americans on both coasts will find themselves waterfront property owners for the first time in their lives—without any of the inconvenience and expense of moving. In fact, this is already happening in some places, and the principal beneficiaries often turn out to be the folks living in the poorer sections of town, where seawalls and pumps are unaffordable luxuries. Not to worry, though. They're on the waterfront now, or they soon will be. It's like the market gurus say: A rising tide raises all boats. That's got to be good, right?

Er… Well… Maybe not. After all, Pan, the ancient god of nature, isn't really the kindly, benevolent spirit depicted in The Wind in the Willows. And he hasn't lost his ability to inspire panic. Anyone who's ever ridden out a hurricane, watched a tornado skip gaily through a rural hamlet, or seen a wind-driven wildfire reduce a forest to charcoal and ash will readily understand that tampering with the climate may not be the smartest thing our species has done. In the years since the Little Ice Age came to an end, back in the mid-19th century, Canoe Country has enjoyed "Goldilocks weather." Warm summers, but not too warm. Cold winters, but not too cold. And rain and snow in due proportion. That's been the case in most years, at any rate. Orderly, well-mannered seasons have trouped merrily along, one by one, in stately procession. But it seems we weren't happy with that. It was, you know, boring. Perhaps this is why we made a collective decision to give the global thermostat an upward twist and see what would happen. And now we will.

The show must go on, of course. There's no canceling the performance, and attendance is mandatory. Death's the only way to miss the last act. Nor can any of us pretend we haven't been told how the story ends. Like Robert Frost (and most professional atmospheric scientists), I hold with those who favor fire. Or at least a slow bake, with the small but intriguing possibility that the curtain will come down just as the "Venus scenario" plays out onstage, and earth's oceans boil away. Not even Wagner could top that.

Still, some of us, some few of us, stubbornly insist on behaving as if we can change the script, even at this late stage. Call it folly, if you wish. For that is what it is. But having seen early in my life what our species can accomplish in the way of calculated destruction, I now feel duty bound to walk lightly on the earth. I take pleasure in cleaving a clean and quiet wake though the water, too, and when the day comes that my arms are no longer equal to the task of wielding a paddle, I won't rush down to the Gasoline Alley Garage to buy a jetski. I'll just write finis to the aquatic chapter in my life's story. And if I won't turn to a motor to augment my failing strength then—in extremis, as it were—why would I want to do so now, when I can still get around under my own power? Daniel Behrman once pointed out how automobile culture has made premature cripples of us all: A car, he presciently observed, is "really nothing but a wheelchair. … Everybody [today] is a paraplegic, we have superpower for infrapeople." His words will grate on modern ears and inflame contemporary sensibilities, I suppose, but they ring true, nonetheless. I was imprisoned in a wheelchair for a short time, back in the day. I can remember how good it felt to stand on my own two feet once again—and how wonderful it was to take my first tottery steps away from that damned chair. It should therefore come as no surprise that I've little wish to renew our acquaintance until I'm compelled to. So I'll continue to pursue pleasure the no-octane way.

Which is why, for me, the easiest and best way to travel to, from, and on the water necessarily involves sweat, toil, and (sometimes) tears. But not blood. Not yet, at any rate. And not gasoline. Ever. Will my quixotic approach to recreation make a difference? To the future of planet Earth, no. Not a bit. But to me, yes. All the difference in the world. I'll just have to be satisfied with that.

Next week: A second look at Daniel Behrman. What does the "Man Who Loved Bicycles" have to say that might interest canoeists and kayakers? You'll learn the answer here. Unless something else engages my attention. We shall see.

Questions? Comments? Got something to add? Just e-mail Farwell.

Copyright © 2017 by Verloren Hoop. The moral rights of the author have been asserted.