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Paddling North, Making A Temporary Home Along The Way (BOOK EXCERPT)

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Excerpted from Paddling North by Audrey Sutherland. Patagonia Books™ ©2012. Used by permission of Patagonia Books ™,

The pattern: Tie up the boat, stand quietly and listen for clues to this new place, then carry up a load of gear, lift the latch to my new home and check the stove. This cabin at Anchor Pass had a sheepherder stove, an oblong box without an oven. In Maine they call it a chunk stove. A long wet walk led through high beach grass to the stream, but all else was luxurious.

At three o'clock I arrived, and by six had washed and dried the wool underwear and socks and was creating an elegant Japanese dinner. I patted and rolled, simmered and fried, thinking of other Asian dinners. Years before, on business trips to Japan, I had learned what could be done with rice and bits of fish. The artisan sushi makers, after long apprenticeship, become so deft as to make a ritualistic, delicate ballet of the movements of fingers, palms and wrists in shaping each two-inch block of rice. Index and middle fingers of the right hand pat the blob in the left palm. Left wrist twists the rice a quarter turn, fingers pat again until the shape emerges. I got churned up watching it, like the gut reaction to seeing a wet clay bowl growing in the hands of a master potter at the wheel. The final shape is a bite-size loaf, topped with a translucent layer of raw fish, shrimp, urchin roe or any of a dozen other delicacies. At home I had a poster of sushi with color photos of all the different kinds, and the names in Japanese and in English.

Here, I made do with ingredients from the shore and in my food sack, then laid it all out on a red-bandanna place mat. First the hot wet oshibori washcloth, then hot sake to sip, sushi rolled in black nori seaweed, miso soup, a mound of hot rice, a tempura assortment of fresh mussels, rehydrated mushrooms and fucus seaweed and finally smoked oysters from a can.

There was even powdered and moistened wasabi for dipping the sushi. You had to be cautious with that, if you wanted to keep the top of your head intact. There was a mug of tea, and a sweetened black-bean paste for dessert. I surveyed it all.

"Hah." I ran out to whittle chopsticks from spruce twigs. Next time, I'll bring a pack of hashi from Hawai'i. Those dry white pine sticks would make fine kindling.

After dinner it was time for a bath, but there was no furo, no traditional Japanese bath, to go with the dinner theme. Before commercial shower bags were available, I had combined the lining of a five-liter wine box with a tube and a rubber sink-faucet spray nozzle. It could be filled with hot water, placed inside the nylon bag I'd sewn at home and hung shoulder high from a tree.

The bag had a corner hole for Summit wine and a center hole for Franzia. But standing naked in the chill air, I didn't want little sprays of water on one side while I froze on the other. I needed to soap quickly, then have a big slosh of water. I filled my large pot to the brim, heated it on the woodstove to elbow comfort, soaped, then hooked in the detachable handle and stepped out onto the deck.

A big dumped wash of the warm water, then back inside to rub down the shivers and dry by the stove.