by Thomas Sabel - Fort Wayne, Indiana - USA

Down to the Sea in Ships

The collection of pine shavings on the floor grew as another set of perfect curls fell with each rhythmic pass of the plane. Each pass added more and more, some wide, some narrow, some as thin as hair; and they crunched under foot, although Charles Aaron tried to avoid stepping on any of them lest they be crushed out of perfection. Each pass of the plane brought forth the metamorphosis, coaxing the roundness of the oar's shaft out of the square pine 2 x 2. A square peg made to fit a round hole, he thought -one of the few thoughts entering his head as he focused on the grip and pressure of the hand plane, sliding its razor edge along the wood, coaxing the tool to do his bidding, as others before him have done using a tool that has essentially remained unchanged since Noah laid up the keel on the ark.

This particular oar was the second of a pair he was making and its shape was more uniform than the first. The first had been a lesson on how to make an oar, this second one an attempt to perfect the craft. The pair, once completed, would finish the boat project. Like carving the oars, he had no experience in building a boat, but now, within sight of the oar's taking shape, his boat lay completed, painted and overturned showing its hull unembarrassed to the world as the world, in the form of neighborhood passers-by, to see. I've build a boat, he reminded himself for the fifth or sixth time that hour, still amazed at his success as if the universe had turned its favor towards him and his attempt. As far as boats go, it was quite small not quite as long as he was tall and designed to carry two people at most, provided they were slightly less than average height and weight. But still, it was a boat with a properly pointed bow and regular transom.

A ridiculous project, some might say considering the circumstances under which it was built - so far from a lake and with no means of getting it to one. Charles Aaron didn't own a trailer and his compact car was too small to tow one if he had indeed possessed one. He wasn't about to let the facts get in the way of his creation for he had wanted a boat since he had been a boy. Even then the idea of a boat was preposterous for the same reasons as now- no lake and no means of readily getting to one. That didn't mean he couldn't fantasize about the boat he would never have. That is until now. He had his boat and his oars and only lacked a lake.

While Charles Aaron lived far from a lake, he didn't lack water for three rivers ran through the city where he lived. Fort Wayne had nearly forgotten about the rivers that once gave it life. Once, long before the coming of railroads and asphalt the rivers carried the people and goods into the city, but now bridges and viaducts hid the rivers and while they continued to run through the city they no longer were seen as the life-blood carrying goods and hope, connecting it to the rest of the world. The rivers were abandoned as a relics of the past, allowed to go derelict and become littered with the decay of other abandoned enterprises like the paint factory, the old Stroh's brewery, the iron mill, all of which oozed the pus of their open sores into the river making them problem children bequeathed to a later generation to be cleaned and made whole. To one of these rivers, the St. Joe, Charles Aaron would carry his boat when she was ready for her maiden voyage.

The night before her launch, Charles Aaron tucked her in for her last night of purity, pure because she had never been touched by the water, never wetted, as they say. She was his virgin boat on the night before her wedding. He ran his hands over her hull, caressing the wood and feeling for blemishes. Pride ran through his fingers for she was smooth as glass, her sides and bottom polished. The years of waiting slipped away during his inspection for he had fulfilled an old promise with her creation. Thirty plus years of dreaming over boating magazines, of wistful wanderings through boat shows, of envious glances at Sunday morning fishermen pulling their boats to water's edge vanished. He had made a thing of beauty and that accomplishment blessed him while he looked her over. Then, when admiring the transom, he felt the unease of something not quite right, of something overlooked, of a crucial element missing. The chines were faired, the gunnels looked right. He took his tape measure and again checked the distance from the bow to each of the transom's corners and she proved to be square. Physically, she was a perfect as he could have made her but still his heart kept telling him all was not well with her. His heart took his eyes once more to the transom and he looked at the polished green surface, clean and empty. She has no name!, he exclaimed aloud, shattering the midnight silence. I never named her. Without a name his boat had no identity, no soul. Without a name she was little more than an artifact, the expression of a hobbyist who wasting time on an empty trinket, a collection of cut up pieces of wood all glued together and painted, a large decoration but little more than that. How could he dream of putting her into the water without a name, letting her join all the other nameless boats floated in countless ponds, lakes, and rivers, like those soul-less jon-boats the Department of Natural Resources rents at the Indiana State Parks, those dull, battered, aluminum boxes barely worthy of the title boat, dispensed by teenagers who passed out damaged oars and sodden life-jackets? How could he violate her, sending her without a name into a river filled with nameless junk? It would be as bad as taking an infant nameless from the hospital. No, she would have a name, a proper and noble name, a name declaring that an old self-made promise was now fulfilled and at the same time embracing future voyages. Without pondering, he instantly knew her name, the name he would elegantly paint across her transom.

Shrugging off his sleep, Charles Aaron gathered the materials he needed to set her name for the world to see: a ruler to set the guidelines, a pencil to outline the letters, a narrow artist's brush to carefully fill in the letters, and, from an abandoned hobby, a set of oil paints. He was more tired than he had thought for once the first rush of excitement wore off he had to shake his head many times to keep his eyes clear; he had to clench and unclench his hand again and again to keep the ache from interfering with the delicate work. He wished he had thought of naming her sooner but in time, he finished, and while not as perfect as it could have been had he done it when he was fresher, he had written her name neatly across her transom: Dawn's Horizon.

Had he been a few years younger, Charles Aaron would have greeting the following morning with greater excitement. While his heart yearned to get Dawn's Horizon into the water, his body wanted to remain under the sheets and blanket a while longer. Then he heard the noise from the garage, a subtle sort of rustling or a groan. Then the crash. He rushed out of bed, down the stairs, through the kitchen and into the garage. The boat was fine, still resting on the saw horses where he had left her but the oars had fallen and had crashed against the workbench, scattering a coffee can of woodscrews. He gathered the screws back into the can and then he saw her anew out of the corner of his eye. The time had come and he could no longer delay. Their moment together was here. He hurriedly dressed and returned to the garage without bothering to wash, shave, or brush his teeth. Since she was small, he could carry her on his back and because the morning was very young, few saw him carrying the boat on his back down the three blocks to the river's edge, like an enormous turtle heading home. He knew of a spot where the riverbank gently sloped down to the water's edge, where the spring floods rushed ashore, scouring the banks of any plants that had attempted to grow between floods and leaving its sandy silt to form a sort of beach nestled under the overgrowth. The overgrowth of wild grape vines grew thickly and it jealously guarded the riverbank so that he had to set Dawn's Horizon down on the ground and first force his body through, tearing the vines to make a hole wide enough to ease her through without fear of scratching her sides. One broken branch speared through his shirt and grazed his side. Better me than her, he thought. There would be enough scratches once she hit the water, he thought, but those would be proper water-gained marks, marks of honor, and not the faint scratches of broken sticks and branches that vainly tried to keep her from her rightful domain.

Charles Aaron cradled her over the water the best he could, with the port gunnel rubbing against his hip and grabbing the starboard with his hand. His plan was to gently place her in the water like Miriam must have placed Moses' basket, but then the muddy bank conspired against him and his feet slipped out from under him against and down she fell, splashing gracelessly into the river. When she went down, so did he, headlong into her embrace, banging his head against the knee brace. Stunned, he lay splayed out in the bottom, feet over the transom, looking up at the sky and watching the clouds shift and turn, framed by the tree branches which soon moved out of sight. Then he realized the river was pulling him downstream. She's afloat! He pulled himself up, struggling to find his place in the tiny craft. She floats! and not a leak in sight, he said eyeing all the seams, searching for errant drops. The current pulled Dawn's Horizon wherever it wanted to, like a leaf carelessly dropped into the river. Charles Aaron took the oars, set them in their locks, and pulled against them. In his mind he saw the map. From the St. Joe to the Maumee, along the Maumee to Toledo and Lake Erie, from Lake Erie to the St. Lawrence Seaway and out into the Atlantic, and with the Atlantic, he had gained the world.


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