I bought a houseboat, or “floating home,” as the real estate agents like to call them, about a year ago. When I moved in, I had dreams of paddling my outrigger canoe up the channel in the mornings, fishing the salmon runs in the Spring and diving naked off my dock during the full moon for the sheer sensual pleasure of water on skin. The idea of living simply on the water, and enjoying the life of a river rat, held a lot of appeal.
Though I do indeed paddle as often as I can, I’ve realized that in order to keep from getting sick, I have to shower as soon as I’ve left the water, and that if I don’t do the same for my canoe, it will retain a permanent stain. Swimming, clothed or not, is out of the question. The fish I catch are lethargic, and I’ve been warned not to eat anything that I might pull out of the channel, as even limited exposure could be dangerous to my health. So, I found myself modifying my activities to adapt to these limitations. After all, I told myself, it’s still beautiful out there, and that’s just the way things are…
But what the hell is that about?
I can’t claim to be an activist in the classic sense. I don’t attend rallies, I have never chained myself to anything, I don’t even contribute to the organizations whose efforts attempt to right our collective environmental and social wrongs.
But I’ve become a backyard activist. I’m picking up floating debris as I paddle, and doing cleanups along the riverbank that I face each day. I joined the local chapter of Riverkeepers. I’m learning about the history of the channel, the upstream antics of the Mills and Smelting factories that turned the lower Willamette into a Superfund site and what can be done to restore it. I’m testing the water, and getting involved.
It took something close to home, in my own backyard so to speak, to bring me to act. And now that I have, I find myself looking at the other actions in my life, and how easy it is to make other, smaller changes, that collectively have a huge cumulative impact.
It’s a small step, but it feels pretty damn good, actually.