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Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Boat in the Sky

Each fall it's time to drain the pipes, put antifreeze in the traps, clean out the fridge, fold up the dirty linen, and wash all the dishes carefully and cover them with tin foil (a vain attempt to foil the winter frolics of mice).

My daughter's red plastic kayak, which sits on the porch most of the summer, must be brought in. Don't get me wrong. She paddles beautifully, and for fishing, cannot be beat. Her form is sculptural, even seductive. Her hips are ample, her beam broad enough to support the stoutest person in comfort, or a young girl with a swift paddle in water skimming ecstasy.

Being a plastic boat she does not measure for a prestigious slot in the boathouse, where the family's guide-boats sit mustily all winter, gleaming in their spruce and cedar perfection, hewed of micro-thin lapped boards that match perfectly, laced together with thousands of small copper tacks.

She is not that. Yet some craftsman and boat-maker did labor long and hard at her form. Tested her in the water, approved her for use by children, as well as experienced adult paddlers. Then kicked out by the thousands from a mold.

My first boat lives in that family boathouse, one that my grandfather offered to me in his declining years, if I would carry it in from a far flung location on the property, then restore it lovingly. For decades, it had resisted the incisors of porcupines gnawing its oar handles for the salt, and the occasional whack from a black bear, albeit from the outside. For a decade after moving it out of the wet and away from animal predations, it followed me, like a loyal beast, in various turns, living with me in my New York apartment, in a loft on Greene Street, and in my parent's basement in Connecticut.

My grandfather called it a 'stream-boat', at fourteen feet it could handle two men and a deer easily, on the lower reaches of the Shingle Shanty. It was drawn to turn effortlessly, yet glide straight as a scull across the smooth ripples of the stream. Rowing her in dry times took skill, but with a draft of barely an inch with one passenger, she could be run up over the top of a beaver dam, allow the passengers out, and then a moment to tow her over the other side. The speed and carrying capability of a guide-boat far outstripped the canoes of Maine design brought to the region later by sportsmen.

Her ribs were of impeccably bent spruce roots, with bottom board of cedar, the very highest degree of wood craftsmanship in any culture, during any period.

How many family histories might be told through boats? This I wonder bemusedly, as I haul our little pudgy plastic kayak indoors each fall, into the living room of our little cottage, named 'Meadow's Edge' by my father. Then, huffing and grunting, I lift her bow up into a strap loop which I've thrown over the rafter above. Then the stern. Then moving a chair between bow and stern, I cinch her up closer and closer to the single rough hewn rafter above, until her keel almost touches. She is upside down, hanging in the air, and so will remain all winter.

Night falls, I relax on the floor, for some yoga, only the flicker from the wood-stove to illuminate the little dark cavern of this cottage. I gaze up at Maya's kayak, upside down, ready to embark upon a journey through the heavens, an upside down journey . . . to where?

In the haze of the yellow embers of the fire, the logo "Old Town" reads like a palindromic reflection of a logo for "Coca-Cola". I yoga my way downstream afloat on an oversized red bottle of Coke. I ride into the underworld and cross the river Styx.

The fire in the stove surges, wind picking up outside. My sky vessel spins like a compass needle upon the magnetic currents of an aery void. It leaps and swings to the rhythm of rapids in another world.

I launch upon a series of inverted yoga poses. Head bent back in shoulder stand I play with my feet against the outline of my craft in the sky. I surf the bream of the heavens. I am 'Dead Man' about to be put adrift in the Pacific with all my earthly belongings, sent to a sea burial in the West.

Somehow I transition from yoga into bed. Dawn arrives. The ritual continues, mop the floor, clean under the disk drain. Sweep the back porch. Unload the fridge. Turn off the gas. Prop the refrigerator door open. A last look.

Maya's kayak swings in the breeze of the open door. Is that a goodbye? She will be here in the spring.

Is the world that we inhabit, all floating in a boat that is upside down?

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