Musings On Story Telling And The Poetry Of Old Objects

The New Twenty Footer And My Eighteen Foot “River Witch” for scale

Today I picked up a twenty-foot E.M. White Guide Canoe from our friend Don Merchant at Pole And Paddle. She’s an old boat, likely from the ’30s or ’40s. That statement on its own contains all the “necessary” information when paired with pictures. But it does this boat, and her history a disservice. Let me fill you in on what Don has told me about how this boat ended up in his barn, and eventually on my canoe rack. Unfortunately, the man who brought the boat to Don has passed away, and the names of the people involved seem to have gone with him, at least for now. I’m determined to dig them up, and you’ll understand why after reading the story.

This boat was owned by a lifelong maine guide, who used it season after season to take people out on rivers and lakes to experience the natural world. When he passed away, his daughter inherited it, and unfortunately, it sat in storage for years. This woman was older by the time her father passed and for whatever reason, never managed to get around to getting it fixed up and using it. When she was in her eighties she told an acquaintance of both her and Don who went by the moniker “Poochy” Pease, that she wanted to get the old boat “seaworthy” again and go for at least one more paddle in it. Don agreed to patch it up as best he could. I’m not sure of the exact time frame, but the guide’s daughter passed away before ever getting to go on that last paddle. So the boat sat in Don’s barn.

The differences in seat style, and upkeep

It’s a heartbreaking story, and there are so many other things I’d like to know, but likely can’t. The drive back from picking up the boat was about three hours, and I spent a good portion of it thinking about what little details of their lives I might never get to understand. When I got back home and unloaded the boat, I couldn’t help but pay attention to all the little aspects. The patchwork Don had done on some of the ribs, the beautiful steamed and bent stern seat that’s a hallmark of the old White canoes, the cracks in the canvas that likely developed while the boat sat in storage, not unloved, but unused. The ones that caught my eye the most and got my imagination running are the hooks drilled into the gunwhales behind both the bow and stern seats. They scream to me of a trait I’ve seen in so many guides I’ve worked with, of simple, clever fixes for problems that are only noticed by someone with lots of experience with a particular boat or piece of kit. Perhaps they were for keeping a tacklebox handy, or hanging a hat when the wind picked up too much to wear it. I don’t know, and likely won’t. That’s the beauty of old, well-used objects. They carry those stories along with them but require us to translate them to others. We attach those stories, sometimes embellishing, sometimes missing details, but always trying to get to the heart and soul of the object. “If this blank could talk”, is such a common thing to hear about old things. I’m of the belief that they can if the people using them are willing to pass on the stories they have about them. So I’ll happily tell the story of this boat for anyone willing to listen, and I’ll certainly enjoy getting her fixed up over the coming months and adding more to that tale.

So say hello to the latest addition to the SOTF canoe fleet. She’ll likely have a name soon, likely related to her story, and will start making a lot of appearances on the rivers we run. 

If you have stories about old pieces of gear, I want to hear about them, and I’m sure everyone else in our community would as well. Feel free to comment on this post with your (embellished or otherwise) tales. 

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