Lore of the launch

By

WORDSWORTH got good mileage from his Yarrow, but I have found that revisiting the scenes of childhood can be disappointing. The two-three times I wandered back convinced me to stay serene in my old years, with memories much finer than the truth. Well, the old pine tree with its topmost branch where I sat to gaze on perilous seas and imagine myself a pirate turned out to have grown so little in fifty years that it is smaller now than it was then. So I refrain from returning. But when we drive to visit the granddaughters, we turn with a bend in the road, and I can look down as we go by and almost see the pool where I launched my canoe. Almost, I say, because the road has been relocated, some houses have been built, and there is even a school where once we youngsters tamed the unbridled wilderness and survived unspeakable dangers. Inasmuch as my canoe was a banner success of my boyhood, I'm tempted every time to stop the automobile and walk down to see. I know that I never shall.

Down the hill from the road, not too far, there should be Asy True's brook. Was he Asa and they called him Asy, or was he Mr. A.C. True? His brook ran through his pasture and in the spring before the water warmed we could take a few trout.

Farther down, after the brook got brackish with tidewater, there was another pool that yielded smelts during the snow-water run-off. One day we found a lady sitting on a stool painting a picure of the smelt pool, and she had painted in a Great Blue Heron which wasn't there at all. It wasn't just us boys that had big imaginations. I saw that picture in a library long afterwards, and the heron was still there. But the pool where I launched my canoe was upstream from the smelt pool.

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Our teacher had been trying to improve us with Longfellow's ``Song of Hiawatha'', but she was as lackadaisical about it as we were, and progress was desultory. For some reason I wondered to myself if a kook who would write about the vaporish Indians had any real notion about building a canoe, and as I thought I might find a canoe handy in my business I went to work.

I soon decided that poet Longfellow did, indeed, know about making canoes, and with the instructions handed along by Hiawatha I soon had a bark canoe well under way. I told my teacher that I was making a swift cheemaun for sailing, and she said that was nice. I had the frame well along by the time sap rose in the trees for springtime, and I had already located the birch I would strip for my skin. I carried a short ladder over a mile into the woods, and was astonished how easily the bark pulled away ``unbroken.'' (I had noticed that in another poem Longfellow had used ``unbroke,'' to rhyme with oak.) Getting the roll of bark home was the hardest part, and I had to go back another trip and get my ladder.

Somebody told me the bark must be kept wet and worked green, which makes sense, and an uncle helped me fit it to the frame. I neglected to heed this important bark lore, and let my canoe dry and crack during the next winter - so it was useful only that one summer. Too bad. I still have the thing; it's tied to the rafters of my shop, a keepsake only.

I think the Indians must have submerged their canoes, probably with rocks, and perhaps buried them in sand over the winter. Anyway, with Uncle's help I finished my swift cheemaun and was ready to tote it to water for a trial voyage. A boysize birch canoe weighs no more than a haymaker's straw hat, so I carried mine to the ol' swimmin' hole in Asy True's brook - a doughty new-day Hiawatha on his way to learn if the thing would float upon the water like a yellow leaf in autumn, like a yellow water lily.

It did. I pushed it from shore; lightly sprung aboard. There I knelt, pleased to see I had no leaks, and for a moment unaware that I also had no paddle. I had forgotten a paddle. True, paddles none had Hiawatha, and paddles none he had or needed, for his thoughts as paddles served him. So says Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Nonsense! I knew the shallow places in the pool, so I stepped out and drew my canoe ashore. Then I went home and got a paddle. The trial launch in the swimming hole had limited horizons, so I next took my canoe to salt water and spent most of that summer reenacting the arrival of the Vikings and other personalities such as Pring, Cabot, Smith, and even Elder Brewster.

Recollection suffices. I think about it, but have no desire to stop the automobile and walk down to see if that pool is still there.

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