PAT NEAL: The law of the sea

And so, another rafting season passes astern. The glaciers in the high Olympics are shrinking at an increasing rate, which is reflected in the low water.

The river is the boss. When the old man says quit, we do — causing reflections on the past season and the people that we met.

One thing you can say for sure is that kids these days are tough. It is not unusual to see a 5-year-old pick up a paddle and pull downriver 10 miles and ask for more. Or dive right into another feat of human endurance, swimming in the Hoh River.

A lot of Peninsula pioneers never learned to swim because the water was too cold. The nearest some of my old friends got to swimming was the Saturday night bath in a horse trough.

Inevitably, some of the glacial swimmers suffered the effects of hypothermia. Which was treated by burying them in hot sand. It seemed to work. Mostly, it was a pretty nice bunch of kids this year. There were, however, exceptions to the rule.

She was what some would call “an old soul.”

Or what others might call a spoiled brat.

In other words, the kid was 7 years old with an 80-year-old attitude stuffed inside.

She stepped into the raft like she was boarding a yacht, asking the question, “Do we have to do this?”

To which I replied, “What a coincidence, I’m asking myself the same question.”

“I’ve been riding in the car for so long it feels like a coffin,” she said.

“Do you know what a coffin is?” her father asked. She admitted she didn’t.

“It’s where they put dead people,” Dad informed her.

“I feel like I’ve been in a coffin,” she confirmed.

Her name was Tallulah, or should have been. Her interests were shopping and fine dining.

Travel was not on the list.

Although it seemed like at the age of 7, she was a jet-setter hopping from New Zealand, Costa Rica, Disneyland and Disneyworld before gracing us with her presence on the Hoh River.

“She’s not my mom,” Tallulah said, pointing to the woman sitting with her dad.

She continued to delineate the intricacies of the modern blended family as the parental units sitting in the front of the raft visibly squirmed.

One thing was for sure, Tallulah was not going swimming. In fact, just getting wet was out of the question due to her wardrobe issues. She was wearing a silk blouse and had no intention of getting it wet, wrinkled or both.

Just then disaster struck. The inevitable splash came and errant drops of water came in contact with the silk, causing an outburst from Tallulah.

“Calm down,” a parental unit pleaded with predictable results.

“You’re not my mom!” Tallulah replied.

“I can have it dry cleaned and back to you by morning,” I lied.

The best I could do for laundry was to stick it in a bucket and swish it around with a plunger, but by then, we had a different problem.

“My tooth is loose,” Tallulah informed us, causing a sense of panic for all aboard.

It was then my duty to inform the party that, due to the maritime law of the sea and the powers vested in me as captain of the vessel, I was entitled to a share of the Tooth Fairy money.

The crew greeted the news with silence.

Tallulah said she’d never heard of such a thing.

I told her it was in the waiver form — and just like that, getting wet was not such a big deal any more.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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