Inspired partly by her own spirit of adventure, and partly by the stories of her native coastal ancestors, Irene Skyriver celebrated her fortieth year of life with a solo kayak voyage, paddling from Alaska to her home in Washington’s San Juan Islands. Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey interweaves the true account of her journey with generational stories handed down and vividly re-imagined.
Beginning with her great-grandmother’s seduction of an Indian fighter turned trader, and following her ancestors on both sides through oil booms, orphanages, wartime romances, dance halls and cattle ranches, Paddling with Spirits dips like a paddle itself between the stories of those who inspired her, and Irene’s own journey down a lonely coast. As she encounters harsh weather, wolves, bears, whales, and the wild beauty of the coastal waters, she reflects on her own life and on the lives of the many people she meets along the way, before her final triumphant return home. Paddling with Spirits is a wild, brave, and thrillingly original adventure.
"In this book the long, restless boundary between ocean and land becomes a road of discovery for an intrepid paddler traversing the liminal space between present and past, between the visible world and the unseen resonance of her ancestry. With “every stroke of the paddle away from shore,” Skyriver plunges deeper into telling the legacy of her familial links to this coast. Her account alternates between stages in her pilgrimage through the water, and fictionalized stories from her kin. In prose that sparkles with bold strokes, this story is told as the journey is taken: with every splash of Skyriver’s muscular observation, story, and thought, the reader glides forward over glittering waters." —Kim Stafford, author of Having Everything Right: Essays of Place
“The interweaving of the past and the present form a complex and beautiful fabric that carries this story beyond that of a simple family history.” —Steve Brown, past curator Seattle Art Museum, Pacific NW Coast Native collection
A Washington native, Irene Skyriver was born in Port Townsend and raised in the country. She moved with her children and horses to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands thirty-eight years ago, where she lived off-the-grid as a single parent. A poet, dancer, and singer of traditional Earth Circle Songs, she received a full fellowship to Fishtrap Writers Conference, followed by a grant to finish the Paddling With Spirits, her first book.