It was constructed by four muscular hands over two days and with one purpose — to float. Built to the specs of intricate line drawings printed on rough paper, the boat came to match the blueprints ordered from an ad in the back of a Popular Science magazine.
The builders used it for two seasons, and then it sat. The boat collected rain and bred microscopic life, providing food for mosquitoes and midge larva which hatched in their own time and fed the swallows nesting in the rafters of a nearby farmhouse turned post-war residence.
Year after year the boat sat, unused, lonely and forgotten.
Then it was sold — bartered actually — for enough groceries to fill one large brown bag. The hands of a builder passed ownership to the hands of a fisherman, having his own purposes for a boat.
And the fisherman floated it just once, long enough to realize he was less enamored with boating than he first thought, before he abandoned it on the riverbank. The fisherman picked up the cane pole, walked into the water and never looked back.
And so the boat sat.
It gathered water and was home to an ecosystem of bugs, frogs and birds. Seasons later, a thunderstorm filled the river with enough water to float the craft again. Following a short drift of freedom, it capsized sideways against a log. It became a home for mice until the snakes moved in. For decades, earth and tree parts encroached on the boat until it was invisible and melted into the landscape.
And then, through the strength of a flood not seen in a century, the vessel was uprooted from the mud, tossed adrift and washed clean — reborn. It floated miles downstream, finally coming to rest upright on a limestone gravel bar.
And it sat again.
The boat collected rain that formed ice in the winter and evaporated through the summer heat, until once, with the floor and the benches revealed and longing for a captain, a storm raised the river enough to lift the vessel. It drifted again into the large, magnificent river . . .
. . . A lonely, uninhabited place forgotten by time. A steep and hard canyon of rock, evergreens and giant hardwoods. One towering sycamore grew as tall as the clouds, until it became exhausted from holding up its own mass. And finally, after sewing together the soggy, streamside earth with spreading roots for a hundred years, it decisively collapsed and broke the wooded bank. The enormous, immovable and majestic fallen sycamore redirected the water until some of the river parted ways from its parent and formed a narrow canal. The grand sycamore held firm to the riverbed, and the side channel deepened, enough perhaps, to float a man-less, lonely canoe . . .
The storm subsided and the rain dripped circles into the hull. Then a canyon wind pushed the craft starboard just enough to find the sycamore and the canal. The boat slipped across the rocks and slid over the lip into the new channel. It slowed and then drifted for another fifty yards until the keel finally dug into the underwater sand.
And so, in the side-channel, off the narrow end of a would-be island, the boat came to rest again. And it sat.
Time and currents passed, and the great sycamore’s decades of watery decay were finally enough to have it lifted and carried downstream by a rising current — the water rushed through to fill the void which the great tree had left behind, and the canal went dry.
The boat sighed. Then it collected and became and provided once again. Half of it became the earth as the other half stood steadfast with the seasons, determined to remain free.
Decades more, and then a man came, carrying refined tools and equipment unimaginable a half-century earlier to the builders of the boat. The man stopped. He smiled. He opened the iris, snapped a shutter behind precision glass, and for a few moments he visited with the boat and let it tell him a story.
Then the man picked up his graphite rod and walked into the water. He looked back only once.
And the boat sat.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N