Monday, December 3, 2012

Genetics- Addendum

As this River season ended, I found myself even more busy than at the peak of the season... but that's another story... Now, it is simply an excuse for having neglected my blog for so long. Though an article I recently came across inspired the writers muse, and I finally found a moment long enough to breath deep, sit down and act upon the muses blessing.

In my last post "The Genetics of River Passion," I explored the idea of a Love for the River as potentially being a genetic trait, something that is in our blood. I sited instances of recent inheritance of this gene, passed from parent to child to grand child, even popping up in other branches of a family tree, but all within visible reach. I then left a big question wide open... "Where did this gene come from?" Speculating that it comes from a time when waterways were highways- a necessary way of life and survival, I left it at that. Then, I found said article...

I was browsing through some Scottish History (as I tend to do dorky things like that,) and was suddenly awe struck at one line in a simple little blip about my family history....  
"The beautiful but very dangerous, Loch Awe has been an inspiration to many of the MacArthur family and they were known to be experts at boating and seamanship." 
Well slap me silly and paint me red! There it is! Right there, on a Scottish cultural preservation web site! I should have know it all along! Rivers do flow in my veins! And not just any River either, the River Awe... the River where I wrapped my first and only (so far, knock on wood) raft. Wrapped 'er good too! I mean no pulleys or anything, but about four people hauling on one rope to get 'er off type wrapped good.
The Iconic view of Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe.
It was 2001, I was 19 years old and had made my way to Edinburgh with a fiddle and a backpack, following some sort of primal urge pulling my young seeking self home to the motherland. Caledonia, Alba, Scotland... cold, wet, mildewy, stuffy...  beautiful, magical, insatiable to my generations old homesick heart. After a month or so of hitch hiking around Scotland and exploring Edinburgh, my birthday rolled around. Always having spent my birthday on the River, I of course found myself on the door step of Splash White Water Rafting in Aberfeldy the eve before. Then the day I turned 20, rather than simply going boating as anticipated... I ended up working a trip and staying on at Splash for the rest of the season!

One of the Rivers commercially run in Scotland is the River Awe, a short 6 mile River which runs from the outlet of Loch Awe to the mouth of Loch Etive. A lovely little class II+ /III-  River, our TL (trip leader) Brian, asked me if I would like to run point (first boat) on my first Awe trip, as I Love reading & running, and he knew I was good at it. I enthusiastically agreed, and had already been eyeballing my line down the left side of the first little bony rapid called "The Graveyard." After the safety speech  however, my four customers implored me to please be gentle with them as they were "very nervous" and "not sure that they really wanted to do this." I pulled Brian aside and told him about my nervous customers, suggesting that he should run point after all.

Graveyard rapid on the River Awe

We all shoved off the beach, got a fun little surf in the weir wave from the Loch Awe dam outlet to practice our paddling and headed for "The Graveyard." I watched our boss (who was paddling along in an IK [Inflatable Kayak]) run that left line I had been eyeballing. Expecting Brian to do the same, I was a few boat lengths behind him setting up my line. To my surprise though, Brian did no such thing! No, rather he eddied out in the middle of the River and began briefing his customers on some kind of crazy rock star line he wanted to try. Calling a "back paddle," my poor nervous customers lightly lily dipped their paddles in the dark peaty water, effecting nothing but an every so slightly slower encroachment upon Brian's boat. Suddenly confused about what I thought was the correct line, and blinded by the big blue boat in front of me playing that obnoxious game of "hide the rock," when Brian finally peeled out in front of me, I realized that wherever the hell Brian was going, I wanted to go left! 45° to the current & "All Forward!" ...Nothing... not even lily dipping. Damn, that's a really big rock we're drifting at sideways... ok... "All Back!" ...Nothing... shit, ok "HIGHSIDE! I mean JUMP RIGHT!" And in that split second it took my brain to convert my instinctual highside command into the Scottish jump left/right command, we were wrapped well around that rock. My customers all made it safely up onto the rock, ropes were tossed to shore, and after much group effort tugging, she came free. We all piled on in from the back side of the rock, and low and behold, my customers were no longer nervous, had a great rest of the trip, and actually paddled!

McArthur Clan Crest "Faith & Work"
Ah River Awe... I was so attracted to that region, yet spent very little time there... Little did I know at that point that it was the ancestral seat of my Clan, or that my ancestors were notorious boatmen, perfecting their art upon the waters of that very Loch and River...

The McArthur Clan is an ancient Clan. So old that there is no longer an official Clan Seat. So old in fact, that it was sort of lost in the modern world of Clans. Only recently was an official clan society resurrected to honor all of the sects of "Arthur." There is a saying in the Highlands: "As old as the hills, the MacArthurs, and the Devil."

Them boatmen MacArthurs... even though sailing has never been my calling, I have enjoyed some in my day, and have a few relatives who are very into it, including my Uncle "Captain" Jack who has lived on a 22' sail boat for over 40 years. However, in the immortal words of Ratty from The Wind in the Willows- "There is nothing in this world my dear friend, nothing, quite so delightful as messing about in boats, simply messing about in boats!" Whether your heart floats amongst lake/loch currents, ocean waves, or flowing creeks and Rivers- we are all boatmen, and are all passionate about our boats and the waters they travel upon. It would seem that yes, this passion is indeed a genetic trait that flows in our blood.

Curious about the findings of my watery heritage, I did a quick google search for McArthur with various boat/river words and found- of course myself on the Kokopelli rafting guide bio page, but also, a Charlie MacArthur who is the founder of the Aspen Kayak Academy, and USA canoe/kayak Olympic team member Jared McArthur. Also, who could forget the young woman who broke the world record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005- Ellen MacArthur. It would seem that my immediate family are not the only descendants to have carried on this boatman gene that the MacArthur clan was so renown for.

MacArthur Tartan

In conclusion, it didn't take much digging, rather only a scratch of the surface to discover some small but meaningful history connecting my passion to my lineage. Yes, this insatiable drive to float upon moving water is in deed a traceable genetic trait. I mean, I have always know that the McArthur Clan were notorious pipers, and knew that the music boiled in my veins, but it is almost comforting to know that the River too, boils in my veins in the same way. It is a part of me, deeply ingrained in my DNA, something I could never deny. It is my heritage, just as much as my music is.

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