Way back in 1976, I made my first trip east, during the summer between college semesters. I rode a Greyhound bus all the way from California to the Montreal Olympics, then made my way down to New York State. And it was there, at Albany, that I encountered the boat that would change my life, the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater.
I’d heard about that boat a few years earlier, at a Pete Seeger concert in Berkeley, CA, near where I was attending college. Something about the way Pete talked about that boat and about the Hudson River stuck with me so when I got tickets to see events at the Olympics, I decided to see the Clearwater, too. I was going all the way across the USA, so why not see everything?
I went for an afternoon sail on the boat, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, I was hooked. I went back to California, graduated, worked a couple of crappy, low-paying jobs, and eventually got hired into a high-tech job in Silicon Valley. The whole time, though, I couldn’t get that boat or that river out of my head, or my heart. In 1980, I convinced my company to transfer me to their Manhattan office and I rented an apartment in the lower Hudson Valley, where I could see a sliver of the river out my living room window. By mid-1981, I’d quit that job to go sailing. I worked winters as a tech writer at IBM Kingston (which was actually in Lake Katrine) and spring, summer, and fall on the boat, as much as I could finagle my way into volunteer and then crew positions, learning what I needed as I went along.
Eventually, I moved to Boston, then, later still, back to California, but my heart always carried a piece of that river and that boat with me, no matter where I lived. This week, I got to renew my love affair with that boat, seeing it docked across Rondout Creek as I walked with an old shipmate along the Kingston waterfront. Clearwater still looks beautiful, and my heart still skips a beat when I see that tall mast poking at the blue sky.
The next day, I renewed my love of the Hudson by putting my kayak in the water at Norrie Point and paddling north on the slack tide for a while.
There’s just something about being on the water, looking at the shoreline and seeing the handiwork of the eons-ago glaciers that carved the path from Canada to the Atlantic Ocean that one day would be this river.
I paddled past picnickers, hikers, a blue heron, and more than a few crows and gulls. I saw powerboats, one sailboat, and one fellow kayaker, both of us agreeing that being on the water was the best place to be.
I turned back around, hoping to ride the ebb tide back to Norrie Point, but the wind had other ideas and it was a bumpy paddle and a lot of work to get back to my launch point. I bobbed like a cork as I made my way home, letting the wind and the water remind me that some loves last forever, despite time and distance.
Who hears the rippling of rivers will not utterly despair of anything.
Henry David Thoreau