Paddling With Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey

2018 Nautilus Book Award

Inspired partly by her own spirit of adventure, and partly by the stories of her native coastal ancestors, Irene Skyriver celebrated her fortieth year of life with a solo kayak voyage, paddling from Alaska to her home in Washington’s San Juan Islands. Paddling with Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey interweaves the true account of her journey with generational stories handed down and vividly re-imagined. Beginning with her great-grandmother’s seduction of an Indian fighter turned trader, and following her ancestors on both sides through oil booms, orphanages, wartime romances, dance halls and cattle ranches, Paddling with Spirits dips like a paddle itself between the stories of those who inspired her, and Irene’s own journey down a lonely coast. As she encounters harsh weather, wolves, bears, whales, and the wild beauty of the coastal waters, she reflects upon her own life and on the lives of the many people she meets along the way before her final, triumphant return home. Paddling with Spirits is a wild, brave, and thrillingly original adventure.

Born in a ghost town, raised in the country, Irene Skyriver is a rider of horses in full gallop across the Tibetan grasslands, on her island, and away from police! She is a rebel who is quite tame; a teen mother, now grandmother of 6. An illiterate, dyslexic observer of life. The last to leave the dance floor and the first one on it. Her hands―the flesh and bone ‘rototillers’ of the garden. An activist. An organizer. Singer of Earth songs. A Deliverer of babies. Fearful of buildings. Fearless in Nature. Shy yet fierce. Compassionate and self-centered. A busy dreamer. A drummer. A goddess trapped in a tomboy body. Impatient with opulence and true believers. Impatient with sleepers. Always curious and often playful. A peasant rich in the important things. . .

Paddling With Spirits: A Solo Kayak Journey from Meredith Raithel Perry on Vimeo.


“The interweaving of the past and the present form a complex and beautiful fabric that carries this story beyond that of a simple family history.” —Steve Brown, past curator, Seattle Art Museum, Pacific NW Coast Native collection

“In this book the long, restless boundary between ocean and land becomes a road of discovery for an intrepid paddler traversing the liminal space between present and past, between the visible world and the unseen resonance of her ancestry. With “every stroke of the paddle away from shore,” Skyriver plunges deeper into telling the legacy of her familial links to this coast. Her account alternates between stages in her pilgrimage through the water, and fictionalized stories from her kin. In prose that sparkles with bold strokes, this story is told as the journey is taken: with every splash of Skyriver’s muscular observation, story, and thought, the reader glides forward over glittering waters.” —Kim Stafford, author of Having Everything Right: Essays of Place

“In “Paddling with Spirits,” Irene Skyriver’s journey is more about connecting spiritually with the places her forebears came from than about what will become of those places in the future. Skyriver approaches her quest by mailing her itinerary to a psychic for guidance. This free-spirited, “fringe of the fringe” style — the author never wears her lifejacket — guarantees that surprises will crop up along the way. Her travel agenda may seem disconcertingly spontaneous, but Skyriver’s intentionality becomes clear in the way she weaves the stories of her ancestors into the landscapes and waterways she passes through. Anecdotes passed down through the generations in her family, richly recreated, take up the bulk of the book and are bracketed by the author’s breezy contemporary travelogue.”
Barbara Lloyd McMichael, reviewed in Oregon Coast Weekend magazine

About the Author
A Washington native, Irene Skyriver was born in Port Townsend and raised in the country. She moved with her children and horses to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands thirty-eight years ago, where she lived off-the-grid and as a single parent, spent most of her early years growing a garden, and letting the outdoors and beaches be her family’s sanctuary, inspiration, and teacher. Skyriver organized parades for Earth Days, International Women’s Days, and was one of the early founders and shapers of the Summer and Winter Solstice celebrations, as well as Passage Rites ceremonies for youth. A poet, dancer, and a singer of traditional Earth Circle Songs, writing came later for her, mostly because one has to sit down to do it! Irene received a full fellowship to Fishtrap Writers Conference, based on a submission from Paddling With Spirits. This was followed by a grant to finish the work. She now has a lifetime of materials and experiences she is applying to a variety of writing projects. In between involvement in community, her market garden, and milking goats, she plans to sit down and accomplish these new writing endeavors and is at work on her second book, a novel.

6 x 9; Paperback Original; 292 pages; $21.95
Black & White photos and woodcuts throughout
Pub date: October 6, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9987012-4-0

Distributor: Midpoint Trade / IPG; also available through Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and other wholesalers.
Individuals can order via, online, or contact your local, independent bookstore.
Booksellers, libraries, colleges/universities, gift shops, etc., can order through IPG:
Independent Publishers Group
814 N. Franklin Street
Chicago, IL 60610
Order Placement: (800) 888-4741

Rights sold: All rights available.
Rights & publicity contact Dede Cummings, publisher: