Today I put the final coats of varnish on an ash paddle I’ve been making on and off in downtime for the last few months. It’s been a joy to watch it come to life after getting the ash board from a local fellah who mills his own material for his cabinetry business. That means that the paddle I made as a student at Jack Mountain in 2016 is going to be retired come spring. She’s gotten well over a thousand river miles of use and proved something important to our educational philosophy. There’s a lot of “right” ways to do anything in the outdoors, and you’ll find plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t make a paddle out of a piece of pine lumber from your local hardware store.
I’d counter that with pictures of this old workhorse of a paddle in use on the lakes of the Allagash, the fast-moving technical water of the Bonaventure in Quebec, and many more. It’ll certainly be strange not to bring her along on trips this upcoming season, but I’m excited to put the new paddle to work and get to know her a little bit. The old paddle will probably still see use on occasion, just for old time’s sake. Or maybe I’ll stick her on the wall in my workshop as a reminder of the fact that with an understanding of the concepts at work in any project, even “subpar” materials will perform well.