Connected by Water

I had the pleasure to meet up with Bud Herrera of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. Bud is an Umatilla, a fisherman and entrepreneur who lives near the Rufus Landing Recreation Area where I recently made camp. We traded goods (he told me with a laugh, just like 150 years ago).

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He gave me a beaded salmon necklace so that other Native Americans I meet along my journey will know that I’m a friend, dried salmon for energy, which he called “gold”, and his own personal copy of Shadow Tribe: The Making of Columbia River Indian Identity by Andrew H. Fisher.  I gave what I could: organic coffee, a honeycrisp apple, and the promise of a signed copy of my previous expedition memoir, Down the Mississippi.

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I am excited to come back to Rufus to document Bud’s story and those of his tribal elders.  The Umatilla are a Native American tribe that traditionally inhabited the Columbia Plateau along the Umatilla and Columbia rivers, a civilization dating back millennia. Bud told me that salmon is gold and that we as a world are all connected by water.  Heartfelt words from a humble and wise new friend.

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Roots and Branches: Voices on the journey

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Photo by Maija Yasui

JOURNALIST Neal Moore at the Hood River marina with his Navarra canoe, shortly after his arrival in Hood River. Moore hit the Columbia River again April 9 and two days later it cracked during portage around The Dalles Dam. Moore found a new, stronger (and lighter by six pounds) canoe through a private seller in White Salmon and expected to continue his journey by Thursday.

By MAIJA YASUI

 

Chance encounters can sometimes be life changing in grandiose or miniscule ways. You may not realize at the moment of the encounter, but years later, you may look back and say, “Hey, if I hadn’t responded to Kirby’s call and connected with Neal Moore, we may have missed the opportunity of having our youth featured in a story in the New Yorker, a documentary on CNN or a book detailing a canoe voyage across America.” The journey of 7,500 miles from sea to shining sea is described as a “voyage of discovery into the depths of America’s soul.” Moore’s desire is to tell the stories of the diverse communities he encounters along the way in an effort to “understand and celebrate individuals, families and communities rising above themselves.” What was to be a brief stop in Hood River turned into a week of discovery for Moore and the community.

I have always believed that building relationships is key to living life fully. I don’t believe in fate, but I do believe that if you are open to interacting and potentially forming a relationship with those you meet, your life will be enriched. Much can be learned about yourself, about those you meet and the way they perceive the surrounding environment.

Back to Kirby’s phone call. It came at a somewhat inopportune time. I was in the emergency room with my youngest granddaughter waiting for the doctor to come in and do an examination. She had exhibited some painful symptoms that morning at school which suggested appendicitis. Aya is a wisp of a second grader, who seldom complains about physical discomfort. She reminds me of a willow sapling, tall and slender, physically strong, swaying in the breeze, family roots and love grounding her. Seldom do tears well up from monkey bar blisters or brother’s inadvertent kicks or pokes. Insensitive remarks or inequitable treatment are another matter, turning on a fire hose of tears. All turned out well. No appendicitis or nasty flu bug detected. Rest and relaxation were the words from the wise doctor and we followed the orders precisely.

I visited with Kirby briefly, hearing tidbits about a man he hoped I would speak with, a man who had paddled upstream from Astoria on a journey of discovery. These tiny morsels of information intrigued me, and I said “Sure, have him give me a call.”

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That afternoon Neal Moore gave me a call and I learned a little bit more of his journey. It would be 7,500 miles across American, from “sea to shining sea.” He would chronicle his journey and document through film, newspaper article and book the stories of small towns and big cities along the way. These were stories of hope and inspiration that underscored the spirit of our country and its remarkable diversity. I was all in at this point, and agreed to meet at the library the next morning, spending a day introducing him to the people and places that would showcase our community.

As I pulled up in front of the library, I could see a soggy young man standing on the steps in the pouring rain. My bad. The library didn’t open for another hour. We sought refuge in my home in Odell. Over several cups of coffee and a plate of chocolate chip cookies, we began a lengthy conversation about Hood River and the people who make this such a beautiful place to live.

Neal said he had enough stories to research that would take him through the weekend, but he hoped I could connect him with a place to stay and store his life possessions now packed in his canoe on the marina. I first offered my home, but thought better of it when I realized that the people he would need to talk to lived down the valley and transportation by canoe is limited in that respect. We pondered this transportation dilemma and agreed to meet later in the day after I went to my blood donation appointment. I was optimistic that I could find someone willing to house him for the next few days.

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As I waited in line for my Rapid Pass review at the Red Cross station, I began texting folks living in town, and who are connected to activism, the theme Moore chose to highlight. Let me tell you, a lot of networking gets done at a blood drive. Like-minded people seem to extend their hands and hearts as well as their arms to give life to others. After a few “out of town” replies to my texts, who before my astonished eyes would appear, but an angel in fashionista clothing, Barbara Young. We chat. “Sounds interesting,” she says. “We have an RV in the driveway he could use. It would be better than the pouring rain camping on the rivers edge.” Relief. A warm place to stay and one of the connecting hubs of activism in our community. After a brief call to her husband Gary, Barb learns that they have plans the next three days.

I move behind the “veil of secrecy,” a curtain used by the Red Cross staff to review my health history. Suddenly I hear Barb’s sweet voice calling. “Hey Maija. I am waiting here with Paul Blackburn and he says he has a room.”

I am ushered to my donor bed and the needle is inserted, blood filling the bag rapidly. At the precise moment I finish, Paul plunks down on an adjacent gurney. I fill him in on a few details and the connections begin to fall into place. The Blackburn/Dillon household is full of activism and connections for our intrepid paddler.

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The following days are a whirlwind of conversations with Gorge Ecumenical Ministries, Latinos in Accion, The Next Door, Somos Uno … From there, he is on to the individual activists’ stories, Vicky, Gracy, Adriana, Montserrat, and Cristina. Moore has to extend his time in Hood River another three days to make all these connections. He has just scratched the surface.

Moore’s story begins in a community where helping hands, hearts and arms are extended willingly and compassionately. It is the story of many generations who have met discrimination and adversity head on, inspiring a new generation of movers and shakers.

My story is the story behind the story; of the list of friends and acquaintances who began making the connections for Moore to meet our youth, our dreamers, our student activists. These students passionately believe that all lives matter, that our schools should be safe, that people of every age, gender, ethnicity, and faith should be respected. Their belief has been transformed into action, raising their voices, mobilizing their peers, proposing solutions to the problems plaguing our society.

I like the story behind the story that Neal Moore will tell. It is the story of our community at its finest moment, day in and day out.

20 random things

I was tagged by @hettela to share 20 things about myself, so here goes:

On a hike across northern Ethiopia in 2014 with a donkey named Afro (well, his real name is Gopher — in Tigrinya that means “Wild Hair”)

1) I attended a Rudolf Steiner school as a kid so I’m big on the arts but don’t believe in grades or tests.
2) My family moved every 2 years around LA and I promised myself when I got big I’d stay in one spot.
3) Instead of revolving communities I now revolve continents.
4) I was asked to join my friends in the “gifted class” in Jr High, if only I’d take an IQ test, and I flatly refused, asking my teacher who she thought she was to measure my intelligence.
5) The most interesting person I’ve ever lived next to was the comedian Richard Pryor at the time he set himself alight.
6) I am drawn to eclectic characters with stories to share.
7) I hit my head in the bathtub as a little kid and have had a speech impediment ever since.
8) Which has inadvertently helped develop my writing.
9) On the night I finally got represented, by Writers House, I confided with the barmaid that this was the greatest day of my life, to which she replied, this is my worst. Life is relative.
10) I lost my brother Tom when I was thirteen and he was sixteen. Not a day goes by when I don’t pause and smile and remember him.
11) For a long time Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises was my bible but now I like good traveller stories.
12) I’m currently reading Danziger’s Travels: Beyond Forbidden Frontiers.
13) On the open road is my favorite place to be.
14) I think I spend too much time dwelling on the past.
15) I just finished a memoir about my exploits as a teenager in the townships of South Africa.
16) A jumbo jet I once travelled on lost 2 of 4 engines over Africa.
17) The first question people ask about paddling the Mississippi is: Tell me about the time when you almost died.
18) I’m in awe of friends and family who settle down and start a family.
19) I think the ideal life is that of Huckleberry Finn, and I love the fact we have no idea what happened to Tom Blankenship.
20) I live for travel and continually dream about the next adventure to be.

Mission Statement: Sea to Shining Sea

My name is Neal Moore. I’m a storyteller and a paddler, and I’d like to invite you on an expedition of epic proportions.  We’re going to be taking this canoe up the Columbia River from here at the confluence of the Columbia River on the Pacific Ocean, right across America — 7,500 river and portage miles to New York City.

It’s going to take 2 years — we’ll be traversing 22 rivers and waterways, touching 22 states and stopping off in 100 story-stop towns. Although the best stories are going to be the stumble-upons – the characters we meet up with along the way. The characters that hold the power to transform how we look at the nation, how we see ourselves and our place in the world.

The expedition, it’s large in scope and it comes at a time when we’re struggling, when we’re searching, for our identity as Americans, for a path forward.  The aim here — it’s not to be divisive but to be inclusive. To showcase and highlight and celebrate how our identity, ethnicity, and freedom play out across this entire land.

Also, to showcase that discovery.  For you, for a worldwide audience, for really anybody whose interested in what makes the American experiment tick.

Of how we can wear our heart on our shirtsleeves — of how we can try.  Small communities, big metropolises, indigenous Americans, African Americans, Latinos, Asians, gays and straights, and the transgender community to boot.

Those who identify with all of the above, with none of the above, that hold the secret for what works for them, for their families, for their communities.

They’re not going to say it — they’re going to show it.  And if we stop and pay attention, and observe, and feel, we can find the answers, we will see and we will know what has always made this country great.

Inclusiveness, and hopes and dreams and falling down and scraping our shins and getting back up and drying our tears — and putting our best foot forward.  With the hope, with the certainty, that the future can most certainly be bright.

It’s a grandiose idea, that taking a canoe across the country, that thread by thread, that piece by piece, when we link it all up together — from here at the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide to the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes to the very feet of the Statue of Liberty — we will know, we will feel, and we will understand, the story of America.