The Willow Boat

  In about ninteen-seventy-four my wife Liz and I built this wonderful boat.

Or was it so wonderful?


Boats and Saddles

          When Liz and Ellis first got together in the mid seventies, they spent their first summer traveling throughout the state of Washington. They had both recently terminated jobs and were collecting unemployment to the sum total of about sixty-five dollars a week. They spent the entire summer traveling around the state camping in meadows, brush piles, and roadside ditches. Never once did they camp properly in a campground. They would usually wait till the last few flickers of light and pull the car off the road into some bushes and either pile out onto the ground or just sleep in the back seat.
          They found an especially comfortable roadside ditch near Prosser that afforded them running water and shade from the largest willow tree they had ever seen. They moved in under the tree for several weeks, long enough to plan an extensive horse back trip along the Pacific Crest Trail to Mexico. Now that was a real dream. Neither of them really knew one end of a horse from the other, and Ellis actually despised the damn things, but they held tight to the thoughts of gliding along the mountain trails and dipping into green valleys long enough to pick out a couple of young unbroken critters that surely would have killed them before they made it out of the state.
          We can't be quite sure how that dream evaporated, but it did, and they ended up building a boat instead. The boat consisted of about a hundred pounds of willow branches tied together with baling twine into the approximate shape of a canoe. They first planned to find a slaughter house and obtain some cow hides to cover this crude framework, but in the end they opted for burlap coated with several drenchings of fiberglass resin. This may have conserved a bit of weight as compared to the hide plan, but it also provided the thing with a very interesting surface texture. As the polyester resin was applied, the loose fibers of the burlap clung together in small groups to form little points about a quarter of an inch long and spread evenly at about the same interval. When the resin hardened so did the little points, with a net result of creating a large cumbersome weapon. They had made a thirteen foot long flesh rasp, weighing in at something like two hundred pounds. It had to be handled with gloves and even that only helped. In getting the thing onto their car for travel, Ellis inadvertently rubbed up against it with his arm. They didn't bother trying to retrieve the bits of his arm that stayed behind in the surface of the boat, but they were more careful handling it from then on.
          Once secured to the car, they broke camp and said good-by to the low country and headed for a mountain lake to Christen their new traveling companion. They stopped somewhere for lunch as they slowly made their way toward higher ground, and as they walked out of the restaurant back to the car, they were struck by the fact that their car appeared to be carrying a large turd on the roof. More by accident than by design, they picked Dog Lake to launch their lumpy brown craft. Actually, Dog Lake picked them. At any rate, when they arrived at the lake, there was a nice normal American family on vacation, with two children and a dog. When they saw them pull in with a big turd on top of their car, they packed up and pulled out.
          The lake itself was a splendid, small, smooth surfaced body of water encompassing several acres. The edges were lined with deciduous trees and shrubs that gave way to evergreens as one retreated from the water. They carefully removed the thing from the top of the car and placed it in the water. With short boards for paddles, they hopped in and pushed off into the small lake. It could have been that one more coat of resin would have been enough, but it is certain that more resin was needed. There were tiny holes everywhere. and as their weight pushed the craft deeper into the water the thing looked like a fountain, with water squirting up everywhere that was below the waterline. They looked at each other and began to laugh. They laughed out of control for long enough that the big turd sank out from under them, and they merely swam out of the boat and headed for the shore. A few yards away they paused to look back at just the gunwales (if one could call them that) still above the surface of the water. It's immaterial which of them wanted to retrieve it and which wanted to leave it, but it was talked over briefly and decided that it was much too big a piece of litter to leave in the woods, so they spent much of the rest of the afternoon hauling it out of the water and putting it back on top of the car. Once the water logged turd was secured, they headed North in the direction of Seattle.
          They weren't really sure where they were headed or why they were even headed North, but in those days it would have been impolite to worry about directions or distances, or many other things for that matter. As they meandered along the crest of the Cascades, they stopped to look over the edge of a small concrete bridge that crossed a rushing mountain stream. From the bridge, the stream looked like a little white pencil line on a piece of mottled green construction paper as it rushed by some hundred or more feet beneath their feet.
          The thought of their new boat making its white water debut in this little stream, launched from where they stood, was almost too much to take. At one point Ellis convinced Liz that the whole idea was bigger than the litter question, and it had become a matter of art. This particular launching would be a fine example of performance art, and that the big turd had the right to go out in a fitting manner, with reason and dignity. Liz didn't see the same glorious flash that Ellis saw, and she reminded him that the big turd was still a turd, and that litter was still just litter, and they had no right to place such a blight on this beautiful spot. In the end they left the boat secured to the top of the car, and drove blindly into the belly of the city.
          When Ellis was growing up, he had several friends that loved practical jokes. They spent hours laying plans and carrying out these sometimes not so benign little acts, sometimes on each other, and sometimes as a team on some more innocent soul. The sum of all these little jokes would take several volumes to reconstruct, and we won't go into them for now, but at any rate, one of these former jokesters just happened to live in Seattle. Actually he lived only about a mile from where they were when the thought dawned on them. Being a rather normal person, Ellis' friend would undoubtedly be at work, and that meant they would have about an hour to do their little deed. They pulled up into his driveway on a quiet residential street somewhere in the Ballard area of town, and shut off the car. Liz felt the need to remind Ellis once more that this was still littering to some extent. He could only laugh at the though of Leslie coming home to find the big turd snuggled next to his front door. Finally Liz consented to help him haul the thing off the top of the car and on to Leslie's porch. They wedged it in between one of the pillars that held up the roof and the front door, and after setting several flower pots full of begonias, that had previously been on the porch rail, into the boat, they made a hasty getaway. As they rounded a corner about two blocks from his house they met him going home. He didn't see them, and they didn't look back. It was getting close to dark by this time and they decided to head for friends in South Seattle for the night.


Copyright 2007. Ed Gnaedinger.