Passing on Legacies

As we rumble down the road, our dog Midge in the back seat, the boat in tow, and the river where we’d spent the past week receding in my sideview mirror, the realization settles in: I did it.
For 24 river miles, and nine months – and fifteen years before that, and perhaps my entire life – I knew, but didn’t quite allow myself to believe, I could do it. I was consumed by doubt that I could row our fully loaded boat through a challenging series of rapids, first to our favorite camp, and then downriver to the takeout, even while I was in the process of doing it.
Clell and I have shared our lives, this boat, the Deschutes River, and waterways around the world for nineteen years. First, our husky-mix Sierra joined us. For the past eleven years, Midge has been our boat, fishing, and river companion, and now our one-year-old puppy, River, is learning to embrace the lifestyle that inspired her name.
Clell has been rowing and fishing the Deschutes – which flows north from Little Lava Lake in the Central Cascade mountains to the Columbia River – for more than fifty years, accumulating experience and knowledge as vast as its endlessly flowing waters. Yet, our twenty-five-year age gap has had him counting on me more and more to row us down the river. We both knew it was time for me to take the oars.

Clell has been rowing and fishing the rivers of Oregon and Washington since he was fifteen years old, working as a guide off and on, and bringing people in his life together for the past 35 years to celebrate friendship and steelhead. He met Dove while she was working at L.L. Bean in Bend, OR, and their shared love for fishing became their connection, first in friendship and later in lifelong partnership.

Midge and River are a constant presence on the boat, at camp, and everywhere else Dove and Clell go. At camp, Dove gets up before first light to fish, while Midge stays in bed with Clell, giving Dove the gift of solitude and personal time on the water. Through her countless days on the river, Midge has learned to snuggle comfortably amidst the usual buzz of camp activities, like setting up, cooking, and playing music. These are things that Dove hopes Midge passes on to River.

While River is her own dog, she’s already expressed a love for swimming and an obsession with the Lunker that she undoubtedly picked up from Midge. Through the years, Midge has learned that when the car is packed and the boat is attached, it’s time to go to the river. Over time, River may learn to pick up on this as well. Until then, Dove and Clell enjoy watching each dog experience river life in their own way and together as a family.

Midge, too, has a legacy to pass on to River. While their personalities are different and their relationship ebbs and flows as River grows from puppyhood to young adult, Clell and I get to witness Midge teaching River what it means to be a water dog. To spend days or sometimes weeks at a time on a boat, fishing, camping, and living according to the flow of the water.
A lifetime on the water has taught me that we can’t know what’s around the next bend, regardless of our depth of knowledge or the open river guide in our hands. While we might anticipate obstacles or eddies, nothing is certain.
It can be too easy to make up stories – about the past, the future, about ourselves. These stories can be powerful, and it’s tempting to hold on to them, even while creating an experience or a truth that tells a different story. These moments, however, contain an opportunity to grow by letting go of old beliefs and making room for new stories to unfold.
I have learned that in the face of uncertainty, all we can do is look at what is right in front of us and use our experience, intuition, and support from our loved ones to navigate the flowing water as best we can. To show up as our best selves, one oar stroke at a time.

Dove has been at Ruffwear for 17 years and has been the Director of Sales for the past 13 years. Growing up, she spent her days playing outside – exploring the forest near her home in Oregon, swimming in the North Umpqua River, climbing trees, and racing bikes with her brother on the river access trails. These experiences taught her to be self-sufficient and brave in her curiosity. In some ways, these childhood lessons have come full circle in her adult life.

Over the years, Dove has integrated these experiences into how she shows up in her role at Ruffwear. Early in her career, she believed that her best self was someone who worked as hard as possible. So she did that – pulling long days and working overtime. Now, she’s come to understand that her willingness to be vulnerable and have the courage to show up as her true self is a gift, striving to be available to others in the company who are seeking support, a sounding board, or a listening ear. 

She’s gained a deeper awareness of what it means to hold a leadership position that is traditionally dominated by men. In the past, she hadn’t necessarily thought of her career path and leadership role in terms of her identity. Now, she is gaining understanding about how being a woman shapes the perspective and experiences she brings to work, the unique impacts she is able to make, and how she might use her experiences and privilege to pass on her legacy, encouraging and making space for others to step into leadership roles.

And so, despite years and months and 24 river miles of believing I could not do it, perhaps it was the depth of my experience, intuition, and my loving people and dog around me that showed me I could row our heavily-loaded boat carrying what I treasure most in life safely down the river.
On the way home, after the boat was loaded up on the trailer, and the gear and Midge were packed into the car, and we began rumbling down the road that would take us back home, I realized that Clell’s river legacy was being passed to me. And, in that moment, I knew I would be able to carry it.