An Evening in the Shop

Fourteen years ago, I ordered the plans for a boat named Redwing,  a camp cruiser designed by Karl Stambaugh.   I have yet to build the boat, not for lack of motivation, but more a matter of priorities.   In fact,  I had the plans lofted in my garage in New Hampshire when we made the decision to move to Pennsylvania…  life is full of trade-offs!  In the meantime,  I built a few six hour canoes,  a cedar strip canoe,  a bolger  Gloucester light dory,  and a pygmy kayak..  and, the purchase of Adagio, our compac 23 two years ago has diverted considerable time and energy..  but the plans for Redwing still sit on my shelf, and I visit the place in my mind periodically where the dream of slowly exploring shallow backwaters in our very own home-built boat lives.     There was a time, a few years ago, when I thought that Redwing just might turn into a reality….

An Evening in the Shop

“So when are we going to get started on the boat project?” I asked my friend as we worked together in his shop.  Finding myself,  yet again,  in need of a sheltered place to work, I had asked him if I could bring some wood  to his shop to be planed.  At 48 years of age,  a number items remained on a list that  had evolved over the years , a list of things that I wanted to accomplish in life.  It did not exist on paper.  Instead, it lived in my mind, and, In truth, I had achieved a number of the goals that I had laid out, but the list seemed to grow longer with each passing year.   Surely, the construction of a shop would seem to  rank high in priority after all these years.  With each new project, the first question was “where would I find the space to work”?   On the bookshelf in my room there was a file containing at least half a dozen different plans for shops that I had bought over the years.  Someday….

My friend was retired, and he was pursuing a dream of his own.   He was restoring a Model A.  However, my sense was that the job was taking longer and costing more than he had anticipated.  We had been talking about building a boat together for at least 3 years, but he had to finish the Model A first.   In between feeding boards through the planer and making adjustments for the next run, my friend announced that his wife and he had applied to live in a retirement village in a town that was about 2 hours distant from where we lived.  I knew that they had been investigating such a move, but I was still struck by the revelation that they had actually filed an application, that they were on the waiting list, and within a year or so, perhaps even sooner, they would be leaving.

Just a few weeks prior to this conversation we had  been sitting at his kitchen table, the plans for  “Redwing” , an 18 foot camping cruiser spread before us, talking about using the space in his garage, currently filled by the Model A  for the construction process.  He was excited about the prospect of moving on to a new project,  of building a boat, and I was looking forward to working with him.

“I’m not sure” he answered after a moment’s contemplation.  We continued the process of planning the boards, the shop filled with the whine of the blades shaving another 1/16 of an inch of wood, leaving the boards smooth and flat and ready to become a part of the jelly cupboard that I was building for my wife. 

Killing the power to the planer, the room plunged  into a deafening silence.  The roar of the machine remained in our ears for a time, but it was the lack of conversation that was most noticeable.  My friend continued to ponder as we began the clean up process.  I watched as he stiffly stooped over to sweep some chips onto the dustpan that he held in his hand.  “ I guess that I won’t be able to build the boat”  The silence was broken with this simple sentence. His voice was filled with resignation.   The time was not right for a response.  I continued to sweep the floor as I grew to understand the significance of the moment.  Even as my own list grew, it had never occurred to me that I might not accomplish everything on it, that circumstances might cut short the pursuit of my dreams.  And yet, here I was with my friend at the very moment that he confronted the reality that his dream of building a boat and using it to strike out on an adventure,  perhaps not unlike Huck Finn, to  go cruising and exploring and fishing with his wife,  would have to be abandoned.

After a time, I agreed that it no longer seemed practical to spend time building a boat as one contemplated the time and effort that would be necessary to prepare to move,  where would he store such a boat at a retirement community anyway.   Practicality does not always enter into the pursuit of dreams however,  and I knew that what I was offering was weak consolation. 

Our job was complete.  I loaded the wood into my van and turned to thank my friend.  We arranged another visit to use the planer again, and then I slid in behind the wheel.  As I pulled from the driveway, I wondered about the future.  I wondered if, in just my sixth decade like my father, I would  simply expire one day without warning, leaving some projects undone and many others still in the dream phase.   Or if I would grow old and incapable of accomplishing all that I had planned.  I pushed the thoughts out of my mind with the resolution that I would begin to build that shop, just as soon as …..


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