Audrey Sutherland’s List

Audrey Heather Fortner 2
Photo credit: Heather Fortner

I met Audrey Sutherland when I was eleven years old and stayed at her home on the North Shore of Oahu island in Hawaii. The Sutherlands’ home once belonged to my family when my mother was a child and Audrey graciously allowed us to rent it for a week. Our trip overlapped Audrey staying there for a few days, so I had the opportunity to meet her. As an eleven-year-old with little on her mind but friends and Michael Jackson, what I noticed was how powerful Audrey seemed. Maybe powerful is the wrong word. Capable seems right. Like she could handle any situation that came her way. I don’t think I had met many women like that in my life up to that point.

Audrey kept a list on one of the walls of her home that I read during my visit. It was a list of “What Every Kid Should Be Able to Do by Age Sixteen.” This list spoke to me. The first item was “Swim 400 yards” and this seemed tough but doable. Some of the items on the list I could already do, and some I would need to learn. I didn’t take a copy of that list with me, but it came up in my memory now and then. Swim 400 yards.…

What I learned about Audrey later, and didn’t appreciate until I was older, was that this was a woman who thrived on adventure. When we visited her, she took my mother, a friend, and me on a very tame paddling expedition on the Kahana river, and gave me a signed copy of her book, Paddling My Own Canoe. I still have it. Audrey’s books, Paddling My Own CanoePaddling Hawai’i and Paddling North chronicle her solo swimming and kayaking excursions in Hawaii and Alaska. Audrey embarked on trips that seemed impossible or at least downright crazy to most of us, and she did most of them when she was older, well after having children. The Alaska trips she chronicled in Paddling North took place when she was 60 and older.

Audrey Sutherland passed away in February 2015, at the age of 94. At the memorial, my mother picked up a copy of “the list” that was available and sent it to me. Reading through it now, it takes on a whole new meaning. I am embarrassed to say that there are still items on the list that I cannot do (splice an electric cord or clean a fish). But there are many I can do. I am now a mother, a wife, a high school counselor, and a surfer. I, too, am capable of many things. I don’t know if I will ever be as ballsy or self-sufficient as Audrey Sutherland, but I’m glad I knew her. Her motto in life was: Go Simple, Go Solo, Go Now. Okay, Audrey, I will do my best.


By Audrey Sutherland

  1. Swim 400 yards, easily.
  2. Do dishes in a strange house, and your own.
  3. Cook a simple meal.
  4. See work to be done and do it.
  5. Care for tools and always put them away after use.
  6. Splice or put a fixture on an electric cord.
  7. Know basic information about five careers that suit you.
  8. Volunteer to work for a month in each of those fields.
  9. Clean a paint brush after use.
  10. Change a diaper; change a tire.
  11. Listen to an adult talk, with interest and empathy.
  12. Take initiative and responsibility for school work and home chores.
  13. Dance with any age.
  14. Clean a fish and dress a chicken.
  15. Drive a car with skill and sanity.
  16. Know and take responsibility for sexual contraception and protection when needed.
  17. Know the basic five of First Aid: Restore breathing and heart beat; Control bleeding; Dilute poisons; Immobilize fractures; Treat for shock.
  18. Write a business letter.
  19. Spend the family income for all bills and necessities for two months.
  20. Learn basic auto mechanics and simple repair.
  21. Find your way across a strange city using public transportation.
  22. Be happy and comfortable alone for ten days, ten miles from the nearest other person.
  23. Save someone from drowning using available equipment.
  24. Find a paying job and hold it for a month.
  25. Read at a tenth grade level.
  26. “Read” a topographic map and a chart.
  27. Know the local drug scene for yourself.
  28. Handle a boat safely and completely (canoe, kayak, skiff, sailboat).
  29. Operate a sewing machine and mend your own clothes.
  30. Operate a computer as needed.
  31. Do your own laundry.

*Reprinted with permission from her family.

Audrey's list hanging on the wall in my high school counseling office.
Audrey’s list hanging on the wall in my high school counseling office.

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