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One Man’s After-Work Cocktail: The Chagrin River in a Kayak

Thursday, June 5, 2014 at 4:20 PM

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Alford took a break on a paddling trip to capture this peaceful image of the activity he loves. A reporter's kayak doubles as a recording rig. Alford taking a break on a beach full of driftwood. Kayakers are just some of the creatures in the water. Alford loves the sound of the ice breaking up on the water - and he gets out early enough in the season to hear it.

It’s been said, “Every man has his passion.” Something that stirs our emotions, brings pleasure, provides meaning. Pursuit of our passion is a way to define ourselves. Listening to other Northeast Ohioans talk about their passions, we think, also provides a revealing lens into who we are as a region. So, today we kick off an occasional series. We’re calling it, “Passionate People.”

For our first profile, ideastream’s Joanna Richards introduces us to a man whose version of an after-work cocktail is a mixture of water, bird calls, and solitude.

On the Chagrin River, there are birds everywhere. Big ones, small ones. Ones you can see and ones you can only hear.

“That’s a great egret,” Bill Alford points out. “It looks almost identical to a blue heron, except it’s all white.”

Alford’s been living and paddling in Eastlake for about a decade. By day, he’s a broadcast engineer for WOIO. In the evenings and weekends, “I’m in a boat as much as I can be,” he says.

We paddle through winding channels, between some small islands. Alford points out tree trunks nibbled by beavers, a place turtles sunbathe, an island where geese and herons nest. As we pass some backyards, the wildlife is more domesticated - puppies run and play, and bark at us as we pass.

“Puppies!” Alford calls to them in his best baby-talk voice. “Hi puppies!”

We turn out into Lake Erie, and pull up to a little beach.

“We’re on North Island,” Alford explains. “The only land access to the beach is private. The only other way to get here is by boat, or by kayak.” Alford calls it his secret hiding place.

“I have several secret hiding places, actually,” he says, laughing. He says it’s fun to be able to have those still, as an adult.

“You forget about what was important to you when you were a kid,” he says.

When he hit adulthood, Alford got a job, joined the military. But when he got out, he rediscovered his love of being alone, out on the water.

“The solitude. The solitude and the quiet” - that’s what he loves, he says. “There are times when I like to paddle two, three miles out at midnight, and sit out there under the stars…and you can be alone with your thoughts.”

Alford got into boating as a kid, tagging along on his dad’s fishing trips on a motorboat. But he prefers a kayak now. Without the roar of a motor, he can paddle among the birds, and listen. Sometimes he makes recordings...of the birds, or the insects at night.

“I’m probably more influenced by what I hear than what I see,” he says. “Because there’s so much out there that you can’t see that’s still there, but you can hear it.”

Alford’s favorite sound is so rare he hasn’t been able to record it yet. It happens at the end of winter, when the ice starts breaking up.

“It creates these long crystals that sit next to each other in the water. And as the waves hit them, they sound like crystals jingling together. I call it ‘a million chandeliers’ ...Half of what I’m doing out there is listening to my surroundings. And those are the things that people miss, and so I feel really privileged that I’ve experienced those things that other people haven’t.

Alford’s not stingy with his experiences, though. He says the easiest way to explain his passion is to share it.

“If I need to just come home from work…and some people might have a martini. I like to get in the boat and paddle out on the lake and watch the sunset - that’s what I like to do.”

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