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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Bringing It Home

Posted by hal | September 25th, 2006 | Filed under Environmental Change, Outdoor Sport, Personal Reflection, Positive Change, Who We Are


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.

5 Responses to “Bringing It Home”

  • September 27, 2006 at 10:11 am | gordon says

    “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”– Margaret Mead.

  • September 28, 2006 at 12:30 pm | Julie says

    Welcome to Portland, Hal. When I moved to here four years ago, I too became active through my own backyard. I joined Friends of Trees that first year and helped plant 16 trees in my neighborhood; one of the trees I planted in my own yard – a pink-blooming crape myrtle. The next day, I gave birth to my daughter (probably induced by all the digging and planting). I’ve plant trees every year now. While most urban areas are losing tree canopies, Portland has increased their urban forest in a large part to the non-profit organization Friends of Trees.

    My backyard also hosts a worm bin; my son and daughter consider these worms household pets. After an accidental encounter with a bat, my family found a new interest in these winged superheroes. We setup a bat house in the yard to encourage bat families to join our neighborhood.

    The backyard is a place to bond and become active with the greater, green world. Gary Nabhan stays in The Geography of Childhood: Why Children Need Wild Places, “We do not see land with the same eyes…It sings different songs to each of us, and what we hear changes in accordance with our years.”

  • October 4, 2006 at 2:43 pm | hal says

    Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I’m really enjoying the feeling of connecting to my immediate environment, and it actually enhances my personal sense of place, and my connection to the whole river system.

  • October 16, 2006 at 7:06 pm | mike says

    This is actually in response to something Julie wrote. Before I go on, know that I love bats and think they are one of the coolest creatures. However, I suppose being a microbiologist I feel inclined to warn you about housing them because of them being a vector for zoonotic disease(can pass from animal to human). I’m not just saying rabies, but SARS, Ebola, Hendra, Nipah and Marburg virus’ can be linked to bats. They are super cool animals (even cute I think) and very important to the environment. However they can house a virus and never get sick at all, which suggests they are a source of the virus. If you have children (or pets!), be weary. That’s all.

  • November 12, 2008 at 3:44 pm | Leonard Torres says


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