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Vol. 15, no. 1
February / March 2012


Alone in a Rubber Boat (Page 4)



"The only real security is not insurance or money or a job," says Sutherland, "not a house and furniture paid for or a retirement fund, and never is it another person. It is the skill and humor and courage within -- the ability to build your own fires and find your own peace."

From the lanai
we see three people picking their way across the rocks on the beach and approaching the turtles that have hauled out. “Do they see the sign?” Audrey asks. It’s not clear whether they do, but they see us staring at them, and while they look tempted to manhandle the wildlife, they keep their distance. At one point two spearfishermen appear towing a float with a “diver down” flag. Audrey frowns. The area has been badly overfished, she says. It’s not like the old days when you could just jump in and come back with a lobster for dinner or an octopus for the washing machine. She tells me about a fish friend of hers she named Kahu. “He was a puffer fish,” she says. “Scientific name Diodon hystrix, I think.” Kahu can mean “leader” in Hawaiian, and when she used to take the children snorkeling in front of their house, Kahu would greet them and lead them out the channel. She was horrified when she found Kahu in the hands of a spearfisherman who intended to use him as a lampshade. As she was saying goodbye to her mortally wounded friend, her finger got caught in his coral-crunching beak. She holds up a crooked index finger to show me the result, grinning at her own stupidity. “It wasn’t his fault,” she says. “He was dying.”


Before I give up my Adirondack chair and say goodbye, Audrey shows me the oversize pet door she’s going to install for the seventeen-pound cat she recently got at the Humane Society. We share two glasses of cabernet sauvignon and a plate of cheese. We unroll two of her old kayaks and inspect them (one is named Diodon— an inflatable boat named after an inflatable fish). She tells me again of the cave she wants to visit before the winter waves come up, then hands me a mallet and sends me to the beach to move her turtle sign. As I leave, she fondly recalls what Alaska fishermen used to tell her. “They would say, ‘You’re paddling eight hundred miles in that?’” she says, bright eyes flashing with delight. “‘You must be a real nut.’”