They Were Small Craft Advocators

Previously published in Small Craft Advisor, November / December 2011, Issue No. 72

Hal Kay Ann, my wife K, fifty seven, died quietly in Michigan July 6th 2011, forty days after my dad Hal, ninety, had died in Cedar Key.

Small boats were part of their lives since childhood. He introduced me, a child, to fishing from small boats and boat building; K's dad took her fishing, too, as a youngster from small craft.

She and I, together, learned kayak paddling twenty five years ago. At least sixty years back, Hal gave me the pungency of two cycle fuel with the musk of freshwater's edge. He let me hear fishhooks whistle past my ears, which mostly missed them. He gave me oars, shorelines, sunrises and dusks on big and small water.

Hal came back from World War Two with an itch to fish from a boat, but his brother had their canoe. When I was maybe five or six, he bought a small surplus life raft. I worried a fish hook might deflate it in water over my head, though he reassured me its three chambers couldn't fail at once. He built a plywood pram, then a skiff, and, when I was twelve, we built a class A-B hydroplane.

* * *

K's picnic-wake memorial was in Michigan July 17th, on her favorite park's low peninsula, a half mile out into twenty mile wide Lake St Clair. It was during the sunny days of ninety plus degrees, but under the scattered shade trees it was a little less hot. Water temperature was near seventy, and a southwesterly 5-10 felt good under the roof protecting a dozen picnic tables.

While chatting with scores of people, I'd glance past them to the Lake and look around on twenty six years of memories with K---in this park less than a mile from this spot we first kissed. (And Hal had taken me as a kid, fishing and duck hunting, to the Flats, the St Clair River's huge delta in Canada and the U.S., a few miles northeast across Anchor Bay.)

KayAnn K and I rowed Anhinga to and from those low islands five miles east. From my view from the forward thwart, she, sitting aft, was indescribably beautiful. She'd reminded me of a young Ingrid Bergman, and I told her so.

And once I told her --- jokingly, I'd thought --- she was ballast, replacing a bucket of sand in the bow seat of Claira, our twenty foot, three-hole sailing kayak. What I ought to have truthfully said was, "Everyone should have such a lovely and vivacious, capable and uncomplaining bucket of sand in their very wet bow seat."

One day, when Claira had her original A-frame rig, we ran on the wild edge of a coldwater capsize, across the bay to the southwest.

KayAnn Three miles northeast, a heavy summer squall shoved us ashore in our Sea Pearl 21. And on keel boats out on the Lake, we, too, had slapped flies and hobby horsed in the powerboat chop.

* * *

A month after the picnic-wake I drove with Sammy, K's adored dog, to Ron Sell's and Kay Stremler's place in Michigan's cooler Upper Peninsula, two hundred and fifty miles upstream from Lake St Clair. It's a rocky point poking north into Munuscong Bay on the St Marys River, across from Canada, between Lakes Huron and Superior. Their small boat friends gather on a weekend in mid August. K and I'd been there with Sammy the last three years, the last two with Hal. (See SCA issues #55 and #60.)

I'd brought some of K's and Hal's ashes, thinking we might offer a toast, or something, before scattering them in the River. But I didn't say anything to the group.

On the islet In the next cove west is an islet K and I had often visited, and K had paddled Sammy there, too. So, in crisp light air he and I paddled to the islet and brought ashes. Sammy smelled each opened jar, but didn't react. I sprinkled --- some sank and some floated away --- but it seemed of no consequence. Just ashes. I paddled to another shore and sprinkled more while Sammy sniffed along the beach.

K's world disappeared and her with it. Her umwelt, her bubble of subjective existence, seemed fragile to her, but to everyone else it was powerful and enfolding. In the end, though, as with a popped soap bubble, there's no shape left. It's gone. Molecules are recycled.

On the islet As Sammy and I paddled fifty yards off that shore, a medium sized antlerless deer waded out a couple hundred yards ahead. When we reached its path it was swimming. We beached beyond where it'd walked into the calm water. I scattered more ashes, and watched the deer a long time. It looked as if it had a couple mile swim ahead of it.

~ HH

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