Jen stood next to Jason at helm, double-checking the wheel, throttle, and gauges of the pontoon boat they had rented for us to celebrate Jason’s birthday. The (probably) stoned, (seemingly) teenage nautical “master” of this craft was nonchalantly tossing out last minute instructions to Jen and Jason about untying the boat from the dock and reversing out of the slip.
Sundresses or t-shirts over bathing suits, slathered in SPF 50, the rest of us were pulling towels from our bags and choosing seats on the boat for our trip up the Willamette River. It was a gorgeous summer day. The perfect day for a boat ride.
“The gas gauge is on EMPTY,” Jen shouted to the rental guy.
“They’re all broken. Every boat says empty, but they’re all full of gas. No worries, man!”
And, of course, we all paused for a moment because that seems like something you’d want to fix if you rented boats for a living. But whatever, man. The kid was aggressively passive and he hopped off the boat, telling us to have fun as we pulled away from the dock.
In truth, I haven’t been feeling well recently. It’s been over a month of chronically tired, zombified Alison. I’m more of a fall/ winter girl and summers always make me feel like hiding, but as the sun bleached my red hair to pink and the wake’s spray splashed on my shoulders, I was grateful I hadn’t evaded this mission. There is a moment every year when I forgive summer for being so hot, for making me feel so fat and clumsy. This was that moment.
We traveled north, under bridge after bridge, and finally found a spot off Sauvie Island near the meeting point of the Willamette and the Columbia Rivers where we decided to jump in. Hunter first off the stern, then Jason, Peg, and Lisa. Maureen and Jen followed shortly thereafter as Sarah watched the boat.
Francis loves to swim so much I think he is part fish and he vaulted over the bow like an 8-year old, legs splayed and arms wild. I am neither fish nor mermaid. I swim maybe once a year and always wonder if I’ll remember how. But the river water was soft with unpredictable warm and cold patches. My insecurities drifted away with my fatigue. I could just be there, in the water– treading, floating, lingering. Francis paddled over like an eager seal pup to check on me. It had been too long since he’d been in the water, and he was grinning from ear to ear. I lapped up his kinetic energy until my legs grew tired of scissoring.
The 9 of us clambered back onto the boat, dripping wet with July jubilance. We listened to music and slurped watermelon and cherries as we sailed south on the river and then up the Multnomah Channel. Now confident in our seafaring ways we eagerly waved at the expensive sailboats and houseboats on the channel, none of whom seemed very interested in waving back at tourists on their wet road.
The bright, midday fireball lowered her position and sprayed softer, warmer tones through the sky as we headed south toward the dock. I focused now on the bellies of the bridges I knew only from above. Jason steered us masterfully under the St. John’s Bridge first, then The Fremont, The Broadway Bridge, The Steel Bridge, Burnside, Hawthorne, Morri…
“What did you do?” Jen asked Jason.
I was confused. I hadn’t noticed anything.
“That wasn’t me,” Jason replied, shrugging. “It just stopped.”
The boat’s motor had ceased.
“What’s up? What’s going on?” We all asked.
Jason started the boat again, but it wouldn’t catch.
“I’m trying to get it going, but it won’t turn over.”
Of course the boat had run out of gas. Just like we knew it would when the boat rental dude told us the gauges were all broken. Just like you knew it would when I started this story.
Jen called the dude who said he was swamped with customers and told us to try the motor again. We did. Nothing. He said it would take him about an hour to get to us and tow us back to the dock.
So we did what anyone would do.
We jumped in the river again, right in the middle of our fair city, with our gasless pontoon boat floating aimlessly next to us. And it felt fantastic. It felt ridiculous. It felt like the sort of thing that I might have judged if I had been watching from the river’s edge. “Silly kids,” I might have thought to myself. How I long to be a silly kid most days and how good it felt to be one!
“We’re in it! We are ingredients in the soup!” shouted Peg.
Ingredients in the soup of Portland. Yessiree, that felt right. I was like a succulent new potato or a carrot stump floating along in our city consommé.
Eventually, we reboarded our boat and tied it to the side of the river where it had drifted. The rental kid pulled up in another pontoon boat. He had that cocky, machismo, “I own this river” stance that you might expect from a pontoon boat rescuer. I mean, a 23-year old. He had a cigarette dangling out of his mouth which he flicked into our soup river right before pulling up alongside our boat. He rolled his eyes as if we had done something wrong and told us about another boat that had run out of gas farther up the river. We did not say, “why do you rent boats with broken fuel gauges?” or “why do you rent boats for 4-hour sessions that only have 3 hours of gas in them?” It wasn’t worth getting into an argument with this fool. We had gotten an extra hour and a half of boat time, and we were pretty satisfied with our day.
We were ingredients.
So now I give to you a recipe for a summer treat that I wish I had brought to share on that trip. These are a breeze to whip up, full of flavor, and are perfect for a summer outing!
Asparagus and Basiled Goat Cheese
wrapped in Prosciutto
- 12 ounces asparagus
- 5 ounces goat cheese
- Handful of fresh basil
- 6 ounces prosciutto
- Snap the ends off the asparagus where they naturally break. Toss the ends and cut the remaining stalks into 2 inch pieces.
- Heat half a pot of heavily salted water to a rolling boil. Fill a bowl with ice and water. Boil the asparagus for one minute, drain and then put into ice water to stop the cooking process.
- In a food processor, put the goat cheese and the fresh basil leaves. Pulse until the basil is chopped into the cheese and it becomes a lovely green.
- Lay one prosciutto slice out on a cutting board. Slice it the long way into 1-inch slices and then in half to make 8 small slices of prosciutto (sometimes I get 6 pieces, sometimes 8 depending on the prosciutto).
- Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of basiled goat cheese onto the end of the first small slices of prosciutto and then top with two asparagus stalks. Roll the prosciutto around the asparagus and goat cheese neatly.
And here’s a clip of me rolling these on KATU’s Afternoon Live: