Marlin Holden has many words for describing what it feels like to finish a tribal canoe journey.
"It's tremendous," he says. "It's prideful. You just swell up and (it's) exciting all over. It's kind of like a euphoric, all wrapped up in all the hours you spend on the water."
This year, when the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe's two canoes land at Suquamish tribal land in early August, Holden likely will be one of the first to speak. And in carefully chosen words, he will let the thousands gathered there know that he and others representing the Jamestown Tribe have paddled great distances to honor a fallen warrior whose spirit only recently left the ones he loved.
Marlin and others will be wearing black armbands and a portrait of Pete Holden, Marlin's brother, upon their sweatshirts.
Pete Holden died in February at age 60.
For Marlin, one of Pete's two brothers, the news came as a shock.
"We were starting to rebuild our brother relationships in the last three, four years," Marlin says. "I couldn't believe it."
Though both Marlin and Pete had similar paths at the start - they both grew up in the area and served in the military - Pete was the one who came back and made Sequim home.
While Marlin was living
and working in a number of spots in Washington, from Shelton to Seattle and Clallam Bay, Pete took a job at the Sequim School District. As lead maintenance supervisor, he was known as the go-to guy for repairs for more than three decades before his retirement in 2005.
He also was a volunteer for youth sports and a Sequim fire district volunteer for 14 years.
"I'm a people person," Pete said in a newspaper feature three years ago ("Just Talking: A Life and Loving It," Jan. 4, 2006, Sequim Gazette).
"I tried to help out where I could."
When Marlin moved back to the area in 1999, the two brothers grew close once again. One of Pete's passions was getting out on the salt water, spending much of his retirement crabbing with Marlin on nearby waterways.
That's where the two were just days before Pete's operation in February to remove a tumor from his kidney.
"That's what I like about living here; that salt water seems to stick in your veins," Pete Holden said.
Marlin recalls he was going to visit Pete in the hospital to tell him how well they did with the crab pots on a Friday afternoon.
Pete died that day.
"We both enjoyed it out there (on) the water," Marlin says. "He was really at peace."
Experience like no other
The 2009 Tribal Canoe Journey sees about 100 canoes from as many as 90 United States tribes and Canadian First Nations plus an estimated 12,000 people in support as tribe members and friends make their way to Suquamish tribal land from Aug. 3-8.
The journey marks the 20th anniversary of the first nine-canoe exposition that in Suquamish started as the Paddle to Seattle.
Marlin says the journeys have three aspects that are unique:
_ One, for many it's a spiritual experience that can connect a paddler to ancestors.
_ Two, it revives the tribe's culture by paddling some of the same waterways, albeit at a generally faster pace.
_ Three, it gives paddlers time to, in a sense, meditate about life.
"You have time to think out there when you're pulling," Marlin says.
"There's always been a thought coming to my mind, to change a part of my life that needs to be changed."
An added twist to this year's journey is that Jamestown is allowing youths to paddle with adults. Marlin and others suggested the change to the culture committee, encouraging leniency for journey participation.
The youths, about five in all between 13 and 17 years of age, have to earn their spot on the canoe by doing the land and cold-water training.
No stranger to the journeys, Pete Holden was a puller on the Laxayn_m, one of Jamestown's canoes, for the past three years.
This year, Marlin, a seven-time journey veteran and skipper the past three years, is having Pete's son Josh along for the ride.
His spot? Right in front on the Laxayn_m - his father's old seat.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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