“Hey, have you finished that canoe you were working on?”
It’s a question I get occasionally from folks who happen to know I’ve been building a woodstrip canoe.
Unfortunately, the answer today is the same as it’s been for about a decade: “No, I’ve still got a ways to go.” Now I even qualify that answer with, “Maybe by the time the kids graduate from college …”
(My kids are ages 9 and 11, so the gist of that statement is that it will be a long, long time before this boat floats.)
I’m not sure exactly when I started dreaming of building my own boat. Growing up, we lived in a subdivision still under construction. We’d collect pieces of wood from the scrap piles around the neighborhood, and nail them together back in the garage. That was followed by a large-scale naval battle in the wading pool in the back yard.
If the idea of building something that floats hatched there, perhaps it was refined when, at some point in my late teens or early 20s, I saw Norm Abram build a sailboat on “The New Yankee Workshop.” I declared on the spot that I would build my own boat, too.
My twin sister was in the room at the time, and we must’ve been old enough that she already knew how the men in our family operate, and bet me $5 I wouldn’t get it done before I turned 30. (Yes, I owe her $5 — plus eight years of interest.)
After college, while one of my various part-time jobs while searching for a full-time reporting gig was at an outdoors outfitter, and that’s where I came across a couple of books about building a woodstrip canoe — and the dream became fully formed.
At the time, I even thought building a canoe myself might be the perfect alternative to buying one.
Since then, I’ve moved across the country, but the dream has traveled with me. I even ordered a set of plans and started building the form for the canoe.
Of course, a lot of other things have happened since then, too. I had kids, for one, and bought a house. So free time seems to be filled with kids activities or other projects around the house.
And I did actually buy a canoe (it’s how I spent my first permanent fund dividend check) so that I could get out and paddle — after all, we have a world class canoe system in our back yard, and my wife clearly saw how the building project was going when she said, “Why don’t you just buy one?”
As it turns out, when you actually read the book instead of just daydreaming over the photos, there’s a paragraph in there that building a canoe is not a time- or money-saving alternative to buying one. It’s just one of those things you do for your own satisfaction.
And now, in my garage, where others see valuable floor space being cluttered up by a pile of wood, sits a half-constructed woodstrip canoe. Every now and then, I’m able to sneak out and add another row of woodstrips or shape the stem before someone finds me and my attention is hijacked elsewhere.
At one point this winter, I even considered just scrapping the project, and trying again someday when I have time — maybe after the kids are done with college. It is taking up my entire side of the garage (my wife and I have his and hers sides of our garage; mine’s cluttered with tools and gear; she actually parks a car on hers) and gets in the way of anything else I want to do there. And there’s flaws here and there where something was rushed that will take filler and lots of sanding to smooth.
But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’ve got too much emotional investment. It’s like Captain Jack Sparrow says in “Pirates of the Caribbean” when he’s talking about what it means to have your own boat: “Wherever we want to go, we go. That’s what a ship is, you know. It’s not just a keel and a hull and sails; that’s what a ship needs. Not what a ship is. What the Black Pearl really is, is freedom.”
I don’t know what will happen if I ever actually finish the canoe. I think, if I get it done before I die, I’ll ask to be buried in it. (And if it’s not done by then I guess that would make the task a little easier.)
In the mean time, every time a see a car around town with a woodstrip canoe or kayak strapped to the roof, I stop and ogle it, like other guys check out cool cars or motorcycles. I will tell whoever’s in the car with me, “Someday, that’s what mine’s going to look like.” And I might sneak out to the garage that night, and, if I don’t have to spend an hour cleaning up just to get to it, get another row or two of woodstrips glued in place.
So, what happens to a dream deferred? It doesn’t shrivel up, nor does it explode.
It sits on your side of the garage collecting dust.
Clarion editor Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.