Just like any other first responder, fire boats and the people assigned to them need to practice their manuevers in order to quickly and efficiently provide the service they are expected to provide when a fire emergency happens. Likewise, if there are any new firefighter personnel on board, or any needing a brush-up on their training, the fire boat will have to get out there and practice, without a fire. (Fire boats are used not only to put out fires on board water craft but are also used to fight fires in dockside buildings and other structures, and they must be ready to jump into service, just like regular land-based firefighters.)
Recently, on a bright, blue sky and puffy clouds, almost-spring day, I took myself down to Wintler Community Park, located on the shoreline of the Columbia River in Vancouver, WA, for a respite from the dark grey, dreary, rainy, days we’ve been having here. (Yes, we’re setting all-time records for how much rain we’re getting this winter. I, for one, am ready for it to end.)
Wintler Park includes a multi-use walkway (the 5-mile Renaissance Trail ends here) that borders along the Columbia River, where Portland International Airport is among the sights visible across the water. After your walk, you can sit for a bit on one of the many benches along the pathway, and watch the big airplanes take off and land, as well as watch the barges and ships, fishing boats and, depending on the time of year, jet-skiers and sailboats out on the water. The Portland Air National Guard Station is also across the river and on some days you can watch (and hear) the F-15s fly by.
So I sat myself down on a bench to take in the quiet beauty of the park, the big river, the coming and going airplanes, the people walking their dogs and pushing their strollers, and as I looked out across the Columbia, I realized there was a good-sized boat out on the water in front of me, circling around a large ball-shaped buoy. Curious, I opened the ship finder app on my iPhone to see if I could identify the boat – but there were no water craft of any kind shown for quite a ways up and down the river. Even more curious now – the boat should have been listed; it was certainly large enough to warrant its own location entry – I decided to stay for while and watch what it was doing out there, circling, backing up, going forward again, circling some more. Interesting behavior for a boat, don’t you know.
Some time went by, and just when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to figure it out, water began to shoot out of the top of the boat!
…and that explained why it wasn’t shown on the ship finder app: it’s a boat from a government jurisdiction (which don’t appear to be listed on the app).
The fire boat’s interesting (read that: strange) maneuvers continued, including that large spray of water coming out from the top front of the boat – the vessel kept up its circling, backing up, going forward, circling again, all while shooting water out of the big water cannon, using the big round buoy for target practice. It was fascinating, and serene at the same time. I loved watching it.
The fire boat’s “show” went on for another 30 or 40 minutes, during which I took this little 3+-minute video for you. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a few minutes of water spray; if you turn the sound up, you can hear the water cannon and a barking seal, and towards the end, a jet taking off from PDX across the river.
It was like a meditation, watching that boat, listening to the wind in the leaf-less branches, hearing the sounds of the distant geese and seagulls, and the occasional seal that’s following the salmon upriver.
I could have stayed for hours.
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I wrote this blog post last night and thought it was all ready to send out first thing this morning. But I woke up about 3 AM with more on my mind than just a travelogue story for Wintler Park with a fire boat side show, so I’m adding a few more words before it goes out.
It was a meditation, sitting there by the river, contemplating my current situation and the days ahead. I had just come from having lunch with my friend, Kathy, who moved to Todos Santos with her husband a year and a half ago. And even though we keep in touch through Facebook and emails, there’s nothing quite like “face time,” as she calls it, to remind one of what’s really important in life. Although her time in the ‘Couve (Vancouver’s quirky nickname for itself) was very limited, she insisted on making some space in her crazy busy schedule for us to have lunch together. She only had an hour and a half to squeeze me into, (and then I was late because I put the time into my calendar wrong. Go figure.) but in that 90 minutes, we not only caught up, we laughed, we ate Mongolian grill, we drank wine. We reconnected.
See. It doesn’t take a lot of time, does it? It just takes doing it.
Since I’ve been houseless and on the road, I haven’t had a consistent group of people with which I’ve had face time on a regular basis. Oh sure, I have lots of FB friends and I love them with all my heart, and I have a son that I see once in awhile (although, if it wasn’t for his significant other, I’d probably never see or talk to him 😀 ), and I have friends I talk to on the phone every now and then, but I don’t have a group of people that I see every day, like a family who lives together does, and I don’t have co-workers I see 5 days a week because I don’t have a job anymore, and I don’t have any housemates that I interact with on a daily or even semi-daily basis.
I tried to remedy my lack of face time with real people by having lunch with the other seniors down at the Lupke Senior Center and yes, I found real people there, with real stories, with real things happening in their lives, with real goings-on every day. We often sit around after lunch is over, drinking tea or coffee, talking. The kitchen clean-up crew has had to “throw us out” more than once. I don’t know why we don’t go to the area by the front entrance to the Center where there are comfortable overstuffed chairs (and the daily newspaper) but if I had to wager a guess, I’d say it’s because we all grew up where the kitchen, with its kitchen table, was the happening place every evening, where families caught up on the events of the day, where our tummies got full of delicious home-cooked food, where we laughed and talked and celebrated our daily living. Sitting around the kitchen table talking comes as second nature to us.
So, yes, I found a community of sorts at that senior center, but since Vancouver is a temporary stopping-off place while I see my cadre of doctors, the Senior Center has been a short-term relationship for me. Kind of a one-night stand approach, I suppose, but realistically, in general, the seniors I’ve met don’t travel very far away from home (unless it’s on a vacation-type tour, or to see family, etc.), they don’t drive very far to see friends any more (that’s if their friends are still alive), and don’t often add new friends to their lives, other than at lunchtime at the senior center or the occupant of the apartment next to them in their senior housing. Oh, they’re up on current events and the conversation is often about today’s politics or the Academy Awards or the latest electronic gadget, but when lunch is over, we leave and go our separate ways.
As I sat by the river that afternoon, contemplating on the fire boat, I thought of the lives these seniors have lived and are currently living: there’s the 92-year-old retired Air Force pilot who’s flown around the world more than once (we laugh about me jumping out of “perfectly good airplanes” and I tell him he knows good and well that there’s no such thing as a “perfectly good airplane”); there’s the 91-almost 92-year-old woman whose favorite car is her ’29 Ford coupe and yes, she’s the mechanic on that car, or she was back in the day when she still had all her won tools; there’s the 89-year-old man who still plays the fiddle every Sunday down at the local Grange – and he’s the youngin’ in the band; there’s the 83-year-old man who volunteers every Tuesday to plant trees up in the woods just outside Vancouver; there’s the boyfriend and girlfriend, both of them in their 90s, who just got back from taking a river boat cruise down the Mississippi River last fall.
There are so many stories! At 63, I feel like a baby compared to these people who’ve lived such long lives, and who continue to be active in their own day to day living. Sure, there are people who struggle with their health just like I do, others for whom the $3 for lunch can be a challenge, and still others who come just for the hot meal, eating by themselves over in a corner of the dining room, but most of the people who come for lunch at the Senior Center are there for the same reasons I am: to have a conversation with a real person, fact to face.
Their stories got me to thinking about what I’m doing with the rest of my life. I often feel like I’m marking time, just like we did back in the high school marching band when the drum major wanted us to stop moving forward, to stand in one place, but to continue playing as we marched our feet up and down as if we were moving.
Marking time. Going nowhere. Making noise.
Yup. That’s me. And because I’m treading water, I get discouraged. I get frustrated. I feel like I’m never going to go anywhere other than wherever I am at any given moment. Funny thing is, I realized as I sat there on that bench, that I have felt that way all my life. And because I’ve felt that way, I’ve never been in one place very long. Oh sure, I’ve been in an area for years, but I haven’t lived in one place, kept one name, worked at one job, gone to one church (yes, I’ve even tried that a time or two over the years), worked out at one gym, for any length of time. I always thought I was running TO something, trying to find what I wanted, looking for something I just knew was out there, but it occurred to me, as I was staring out at the fire boat, that maybe I’ve been running AWAY, trying to find the person I am, the one I’m supposed to be. I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to be what everyone else thought I should be but not a lot of time being me.
And now, as I look at my current situation – health, finances, age, community – I feel like I don’t have any time left to find me, to figure out what it is that I want to be when I grow up, to repair the damage that’s happened to my finances, to get my body well and healthy, to find a community of friends. And I find myself wondering if I’m all alone in this contemplation.
I don’t know what the answers are. Heck, I’m not even sure what the questions are! But I do know this: today is the only day any of us have and some of us won’t make it out of this day alive. I know I want to make the best use of these hours and I want to be the whole-est person I can be. I want to laugh more, love more, walk under more trees, hug more, sing more songs, paint more mugs and canvasses, meet more people, soak in more pools, explore more trails, watch more sunsets, wave at more ISS fly-bys, plant more herbs, cook more food, knit and crochet more yarn, drink more macchiatos, play more music, sew more fabric, write more words, walk more beaches, watch more movies, pet more dogs, make more art, eat more crème brûlée. The list could go on for pages. Maybe I have too many things that I want to do more of, but all I know right now is that I want to do more. More of whatever is in front of me to do. More of everything. Including contemplating.
Won’t you join me?
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Wintler Park in Vancouver is a popular place to sit and watch the Fourth of July fireworks that are set off from a barge located in the middle of the Columbia River. Just make sure you arrive early as the park fills up quickly!
Through further research, I found out that the City of Portland Fire and Rescue Station 17 is located on nearby Hayden Island in Portland, OR and has one fire engine and two fire boats assigned to it.