Posted by: powellpjc | April 12, 2009

Starting a New Life



I have been slow to realize it but I am beginning a new life. People don’t know me. I don’t know them. I can start all over.

This is a rare treat for anyone and I appreciate it.

When I walk into Safeway out here in Portland I am confident there will be no one there that I know. This may sound selfish and hermit-like but it was always the case back home. Without fail I would bump into 3 or 4 patients when I was in buying chocolate milk and brownies. I owe a lot to my patients—they kept the bread on my table—so don’t think for a moment that I am not grateful. I just didn’t know all their names when I met them around town and that was embarrassing for me.

Now I have no worries. I am who I am. Ripped blue jeans and paint on one arm. I am more polite to strangers, I think, than I have ever been. I am in their country and I must integrate myself. No matter how fat I think people are—and they are fat on the industrial scale—the American service worker is unfailingly polite and helpful. There are folks at every turn, wearing vests, asking you if you have found everything. Well, of course I haven’t but I rarely tell them so. They are too friendly.

Portland is a muscular city and I think it is so because it is a great port. There are countless immense bridges of all designs over the rivers. Tugboats and drawbridges. Barges and ocean freighters.

There are factories here. People in Portland make things. They get raw materials and they manufacture goods that other people want. I grew up in Thunder Bay and we manufacture shit. We weigh and clean grain (we used to) and we turn standing trees into newsprint. Others make newspapers. Mining happens somewhere. Here it is a delight to drive into a shop and request, for instance, new plexiglass windows to a custom shape. There is none of the, ‘We will order the plastic and have it ready in two weeks refrain. They tell me, ‘Ok. Order ready in 2 days at noon.’ I am being hard on my old, lovely hometown and I don’t want to be. I am just happy to have ready access to goods and services for once in my life and this is my new life.

Notes on Portland:

This is the real River City. Actually, Rivers City. I thought my boat was on the Columbia River for the first two weeks I was here. Turns out I’m in the Multnomah Channel of the Willamette River but I can see the mighty Columbia 1 kilometre upstream.

This is spring and the salmon are running. Don’t ask me what kind of salmon—I don’t like fishing. There are plenty of folk who do love fishing in these parts and they are hard at it. I mean 5 o’clock in the morning hard at it. I know because one of the launch ramps is right next to my dock mooring and the boys slide by rocking my boat. They are allowed to fish for the wily salmon on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays  and they have been at it for the last 3 weeks with almost no success. I watch them return in the afternoon, hunched in their foul weather gear, the beer and enthusiasm long gone. Why do you need camouflage gear to sneak up on salmon? Ok, I’m not a fisherman.

The fat people continue to amaze me. They are everywhere in the little towns surrounding Portland proper. I see them up close in the grocery stores. They ride electric buggies. This is not because of some disability but merely because of their hugeness. They can’t walk very far. From the car to the cart.

In downtown Portland there is a lot of the west coast style. The opposite of the fat crowd. Skinny long hairs riding bikes in the rain; skinny long gray hairs working the counters at the hardware stores; the folks everywhere look like they were born to recycle and drink expensive, fair practice coffee.

All in all, it’s a good place to work on a sailboat. No snow now although the great volcanoes visible from my deck—Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Baker—are all heavily snow clad. And like the lonely prospector in Northern Ontario who hears the rock calling to him, the boat calls to me every day with a new and seemingly inexhaustible list of jobs. Great stuff.

The boat is called ‘la Rosa’. There are many reasons and one is my dear grandmother, Rose Powell.



  1. After reading about your new start on life I am so glad that I have lost 15 pounds and am walking to get into fabulous shape! After all of the comments about fat people once I am in fabulous shape there will be no doubt that I will be included in this new life as well!!!

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