Archive:  Year 4 - July 1st, 2009 "Making Independence"

As I was driving into the marina today, I saw Robert working on his boat – as he is nearly all day, everyday – and gave him the usual wave.  He waved back, indicating that I should stop and come and speak to him.  Dutifully, I parked the car and approached the makeshift scaffolding surrounding his boat.  

Robert has been working on his boat since I moved into the marina three years ago.  It is vital to note that by ‘working on his boat’ I mean he has sought out, carved and placed every tiny plank that compiles his completely original ship.  From bow to stern he literally has a story for every piece of wood and how it got to this exact spot.  

Robert himself could be anywhere from 40 to 70 years-old, and I imagine even he, if pressed, would have a hard time telling you his exact age.  He has long hair that he wears in a ponytail and under a wide-brimmed leather hat – a cross between the kind of hat worn by Indiana Jones and the one worn by Crocodile Dundee.  He is usually smoking a pipe or a rolled cigarette and he lives out of a small van that is generally parked behind his boat.  He has joined me a couple of times when I took The Road out on the River, and we have had countless conversations of a cosmic nature around the fire-pit.  He disappears in the Fall and reappears in the Spring, his ark-like boat progressing noticeably each year.  This year, however, he says it will be complete.  He’ll hit the River in October.  To New Orleans, then the ocean, then history…

Today was the first time I was invited aboard.

The scaffolding surrounding the hull, which one must climb to get to the decks, is literally improvised materials - reminiscent of the sort of haphazard planks that teens nail in front of windows to keep the zombies out… However precarious the way there, however, once aboard, one cannot miss the singular existence of this boat.  Like other great things that are constructed with care, she pulses with the energy that has been poured into her.  She’s smooth and sleek and smells of pine pitch and oak planks.  Robert brought me to the bow and pointed and the freshly painted top deck – flat and white.

“What do you see?”  He asked me.

Guh… I hate it when I know I’m being set up for a profound response. I never get it right.  “Lines.”  I said, indicating the lines where the canvas surface was bound together.

Robert huffed, disappointed… “No.  A stage!”

I looked again.  Indeed, he was right.  It was as much a stage as anything I’d ever seen.

“It’s a dream of mine,” he said, “to have music and shows up here.”

I smiled at him.  “I know a million of people who do that.”

He smiled back. “I know.”

We talked about musicians and magic acts and how we would use the giant hatch in the center – a wonderful bout of mutual fantasy.  He also showed me the interior hull and the bulkheads.  Approximately 12’ wide and 35’ long, it is entirely made of wood, much of it maple and oak and it is bound together with pine, pitch and varnish.  He pointed out where things were ultimately going to go, and his favorite portions of her frame – it was nothing short of mesmerizing. 

It was an interesting encounter for several reasons, among them was a comparison to the experience I had the week before with Habitat for Humanity.  As I have mentioned in recent blogs, work is light these days, and volunteering for something like Habitat seemed to be one of the best ways to use an excess of free time.  I did not know when I volunteered, however, that the day I was working was going to have a heat index of 105 degrees… Guh.  It was 97 degrees when we got to the build at 8:30AM and we were ultimately forced to go home by 3PM because it was simply too dangerous to be outside working. 

By the time we left, however, we had built scaffolding and raised a 2nd floor wall.  It was sweaty, awesome work that I would do again in a heartbeat.  They informed us before we left that once the house was finished (approximately 4 months) we would be invited to the dedication ceremony where we could meet the owners and see the finished product.  The house is located in South Minneapolis and the idea of driving by and knowing that I pounded a few of the nails into its structure was huge thrill. 

My small contribution to this house compared to Robert’s complete construction of his boat, even down to the hunt for the raw materials, makes what he has done all the more impressive.  That he will then climb aboard and take an epic journey to the ocean is the stuff of legend – and for good reason.

Such things also got me thinking about my own home.  Lovely and floating beautifully, she is not really boating as I have yet to summerize her engines and take the helm.  The reasons for this are many – primarily financial – but as the 4th of July approaches, I am itching more than ever to be a real Captain again, powering her imperfect frame and my every possession down the Mississippi River.  Tomorrow afternoon, with the help of Captain D, I’m climbing into my engine room and getting her running again… Hopefully.

There is always a chance, especially after this unusually hard winter, that she has suffered some sort of damage and will need more repair.  My Port-side stringer has been a weak point for over two years, and I am – at best – only a moderately experienced pilot.  All that being said, however, The Road is first and foremost a boat - and boats are meant to go boating.  Among the many bargains The Road and I have made over our years together, one is that if she is going to die we would both rather have it be in a blaze of glory rolling down the River, than slowing molding away “safe” in harbor.  

Should that be her destined end, however, I’d really rather it wasn’t this weekend…

Let’s hear it for Independence.

Next Post: August 13th, 2009 "Don’t Sweat the Equity"

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