Home Columns The Way I See It: Red, Right, Returning

The Way I See It: Red, Right, Returning

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This expression comes into play when a boater is returning (entering a channel from the open sea or proceeding upstream), and must keep the red navigation aids on the right (starboard) side of the boat.

As a young girl, I relished knowing these boating commands. While my friends were shopping for Calvin Kleins at the mall (which, truth be told, I desperately wanted, too), I was learning to steer a boat through swift and sometimes treacherous waters. We kept our little Boston Whaler where a tidal creek met the ocean, and were duly warned of the swift currents and chaotic water in a place like this.

From a young age, I could tell my dad believed in me and wanted me to learn all the things he was teaching my brothers: how to navigate a vessel from the open ocean into a narrow channel, how to properly strap a canoe to the car with a trucker’s hitch, and how to catch flounder (although I was always squeamish about killing a living thing). 

I think I was the only girl in my elementary school to bring in (very proudly) an entire ice fishing setup for “show and tell” and actually know how to use it. This was the only “show and tell” I remember and a very proud moment for me. If my brothers could learn it, Dad wanted me to learn too. 

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As a young teen, I preferred paddling a canoe down a salt creek to spending time shopping for clothes. I relished the feeling of freedom I got from navigating wild oceans and rivers, and this passion later led me to pursue a master’s degree in environmental education. Clearly, I inherited my father’s great love of nature in an ancestral rhythm that I am grateful for to this day. 

Don’t get me wrong: There were long periods when my father and I fought like cats and dogs. There were objects thrown (by me!) and harsh words exchanged, and yet Dad loved me and I could feel it. He empowered me by teaching me how to do things myself, not just doing them for me. That I can throw a canoe on the car or navigate tides with ease is something that money cannot buy. 

My dad was frugal. He cherished the simple things. He bought the “irregular” socks and taught us to appreciate what we had. He loved tending the garden and cooking good food. Although I grew up privileged, I always appreciated Dad’s values. He has always been kind, fair, honest, and true. He loves people and the Earth. He’s always insisted on giving back. He instilled a sense of kindness and even inner peace in me. For this and so much more, I am forever grateful. 

There was an abiding feeling that Dad trusted me, even when I was a young girl. Of course, he kept us kids safe, but he also knew our capacities and let out the leash so we could explore and expand our horizons. He gave us a chance to test ourselves and make mistakes. 

He set the stage for me to create an adult life in which I savored wilderness and embraced challenges: I lived on a remote island in Alaska (working in fisheries — go figure!) and hiked 500 miles of the Appalachian Trail solo. I have always felt confident, competent, and courageous because of my dad. 

One of my favorite dad memories had to do with boats. Mom would pack sandwiches, grape soda, and potato chips for us before we headed to the boatyard and out to spend time on Massachusetts’ North River and the Atlantic.

Dad would bring the bow of the boat as close as he could to a giant sand bar that we called “the spit,” and I would hop off into the icy water (sometimes underestimating the depth because of drop-offs by the shore).

I would spend hours wandering that spit while Dad and my brothers headed off to fish in deeper water. I felt like I was in heaven — just me, the glistening light, the tidal pools, the gulls, and pure freedom to wander, to follow my instincts, to dream, and to be that young queen of my own sandy kingdom. Of course, he would always come back with the skiff at exactly the appointed time to pick me up. 

Dad, you gave me all of this and so much more. Thank you. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.