Friday, December 1, 2017


      Over the years I’ve owned a lot of them, both low and high quality. Of course, as is usual for me, price was always at the top of the list. The first paddles were bottom of the line and worth every penny. Still have them. One is tacked above the shed door as part of an ‘X’ pattern with a plastic, Mickey Mouse swing seat my three-year-old son used to call ‘Bommie’ centered above. Together the three have a look something like a skull and crossbones. That was the intention anyway.
     The remaining few hang in the shed with splitting glue joints, lending them a forlorn look. Though they were cheap, the splitting was my fault. Or at least it I think it was. The paddles were bought back in my ‘things last forever and I shouldn’t have to do squat to help them along’ days and weren’t given the maintenance they deserved. Even crap will last a long time if given a little TLC. But I hadn’t yet realized that. A brief ten minutes of light sanding and a coat of spar varnish at the end of the season was all they needed. After I came to realize things fall apart over time, the last cheapie, a beavertail, was given the attention it deserved and looks near new after better than two decades use.
     Allan and my trips to Manitoba called for new paddles, at least in my mind they did. As luck would have it, one of the businesses on my extended FedEx route made paddles and hockey sticks, quality ones. They also sold factory seconds. Yup, my kind of quality. There I bought a pair of bent shaft models. When he heard what I’d done, a co-worker told me you couldn’t j-stroke with a bent shaft. Not a problem for me. Hell, I couldn’t j-stoke with a straight one. Didn’t know it at the time but I needed the Internet to teach me an ages-old method. Seeing as how I’ve always done things ass-backwards that fit right into the pattern.
     Over the years I came to see those bent shaft paddles had other uses. When it came to repositioning while fishing a weed edge, ‘cause of their sort shafts, they’re sculling wonders. Grab one at the blade top, reverse the angle, brace your arm against the shaft and go to town. She’s painful in a constructive way. It’s an inch-along process but when you’re covering every foot of good water, that’s what you want.
     Somewhere along the line I got the idea to make my own paddle. A classic one from a single piece of ash. I recall reading that Sigurd Olson, the author and outdoorsman, carved his own from ash and even wrote an essay about it. As I recall, Olson wrote the slab of wood had to hewn from the heart of a lightning struck, swamp ash and whittled in the light of a full moon. Could be wrong about that but it sure sounds good. Regardless, Olson carved his from ash and so would I.
     As luck would have it, above in the garage rafters rested an ash plank. Fairly straight grained and dry as bone. Over a couple of weeks I sawed, planed, sanded and varnished. What I finally held in my hands mostly looked like a paddle and kind of felt like one also. But she was heavy like something Alley Oop would cold cock a mastodon with. Not good. These days it’s the third member of the shed’s skull and crossbones. Looks good up there.
     But I wasn’t done with thinking of another. The idea stuck with me through the years until spare time and quality glue finally became one. The next was also formed from spare ash. This time a pair of scrap boards were dismembered and reformed into a general shape with waterproof adhesive and clamps. Throw in some work with the band saw, hand plane and a sander or two and once again I formed a fine pile of shavings and wood dust, also a functional tool. Took it to the Boundary Waters where it worked like the real deal and tuckered me out some. Guess it was still on the heavy side.
     Long story continued, me and the paddle ghost became good friends. Got together a dozen or more times in the garage with varying kinds of wood. Came to learn at my workbench that walnut made an attractive and hard accent material. Its dust also darkened my snot more than I thought healthy. The walnut came to me from the international airport via a good friend who’d passed away a few years back. These days you’ll find it on several of my paddles tips and grips and a rock or two on border lakes. Believe that’s known in some circles as entropy.
     The newer paddles are lighter and for sure a lot prettier – For an amateur who’s stabbing his way through the dark. The last pair was formed from garage sale redwood. Don’t know how long the cabinet was sitting in their garage but it had a decades-long patina. Straight-grained, old growth wood that set me a-tingle. These days that kind of treasure can only be found in scrap heaps and antique stores. This year’s pair of tips came from hand-hewn birch from the cabin. Throw in a little scrap pine and aromatic cedar as accent, they’re pretty enough to hang on the wall and never touch a drop of water.
     Working the wood’s a love-hate job. When you’re working scrap wood with marginal tools, each step takes attention and care. Even then nothing comes out perfect. The loom, that’s the handle, is formed from three or more lengths. The blade from a dozen or more and the grip has another four pieces added. Lot of gluing and clamping. All told, the last pair is a slap-dash of twenty-one pieces.

     Last fall at the State Fair I asked a craftsman how many hours in each of his paddles. He thought a moment and said, “Maybe two?” Good thing I’m not trying to make a living as a paddle man.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


     A few years back my daughter and son-in-law bought a new house. In the basement they installed a gas fireplace. Not as charming as a wood burner but a whole lot cleaner and much easier to supply with fuel. If you've read any of my old entries you know how much I enjoy making needless work for myself. And believe me, gathering your own firewood is a time-consuming and sometimes painful joy.
     Anyhow, even though their fireplace is a modern, hi-tech pleasure, they wanted a rustic touch, a hand-hewn, log-style mantle. Sounded good and would give me reason to tromp the woods, chainsaw in hand. That our local, cabin beavers had widow-maker hung an aspen was icing on the cake. Not fifty yards from the cabin door there was a mantel-to-be entwined in a trio of red oak trees. Yeah, even beavers screw up now and then just like fear-crazed grouses occasionally bounce off tree branches. I can vouch for both. Grew up thinking those kind of things never happened, that Mother Nature and all her creations were perfect. I was wrong.
     Though I've gathered something close to a hundred cords of firewood over the years, I'm nowhere near to being a woodsman. When a tree drops where I've intended there's more than skill involved. That's why several tons of mature aspen pitched at thirty degrees shy of vertical got me thinking of escape routes and the location of the nearest clinic. Had there been no need for a mantel the tree could've leaned there forever as far as I was concerned. But there was a need and I'd dropped widow-makers before, so what the hell, why not? At least I was smart enough to do it when I had company; call it 'share the blame.'
     Since it was to be Ryan's mantel, he was the perfect, poor fool to join in the fun. As it turned out all went well, though there's no way I could have moved the beast of a saw log without his help. Even then it was all we could do to flip-flop it to a spot where I could rip out the oversized plank. Long story short, I'm sitting in their basement a few years later and looking at the mantel as I write. She's developed a twist but not so much as to cause a problem. The blackened, worm-crawled log edge is a thing of beauty, as is the little stretch of chainsaw chatter. Call them natural charm, you may not but I sure do.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Draftee (A Buffoon in Vietnam)

     Pulled the trigger this morning on my second book, this one based off my Vietnam blog. Now it's in my son's court to add the cover he designed. The story's not bad but will pale compared to the cover. Couldn't make up my mind as to what kind of tale it was till I went and got honest with myself. Not an easy thing to do. Right off the bat Archie, the narrator, says what follows is as close to the truth as he can make it though he had to change all the names so as not to get his ass in a legal bind, so I guess it's a memoir. Anyhow, it's not as good a tale as the first book, a novel, but'll turn few stomaches. That's more or less what I was hoping for from the get-go back in '84 when the idea first passed through my thoughts.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brain Death

     Haven't written for a few weeks. Those things happen in life when other stuff comes to the fore. Haven't been anywhere to wet a line 'cause my spare time's been in hiding. My wife had a full knee replacement and has been sidelined for a while. I've been busy burning food and ruining clothes in the laundry. Yup, incompetence is what love's all about.
     Also been putting the wraps on a second novel, called Draftee. It's not so much a novel as she's autobiography with the names changed. You might say I've been working on it in spurts for around six years. Like the first book, Draftee's written for my grandchildren, though my language leans a little more on the red side of civility. Hell, a man can't write about Army life and a tour in Vietnam as a grunt without dropping a little color on his words.
     Anyhow, I felt I should put a few words on the page and these are the best I could come up with. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Four Days

     I already miss the quiet. The noise and busyness began on the drive home. Two track driveway, gravel road, two lane highway, and finally four lanes for the last hundred-fifty miles. Traffic built and my brain returned to living in the world of white stripes and two tone, seventy-mile per hour slabs of steel and plastic. The drive home is always far more tiring than four days on the waters and in the woods. No doubt about that. Life's border line primitive at the cabin and sure hard to leave.
     It almost took more gumption than I could muster to load the canoe and fish a little. Though I enjoy all parts of being on the water, fishing has become not much more than the reason to paddle out. Also there's the matter of physical pain when paddling into a breeze. Caught a four pound bass on the fifth cast and a similar fish about as many casts from the end. They bracketed two afternoons on the water when the scenery was the highlight.
     I ran through my lake possibilities many times before deciding on proven water. Both lakes are around a hundred and fifty acres and hold enough fish to keep me upbeat about catching something. Been on both enough times to take the guesswork out of where to fish but the idea was to work as much shoreline as the wind would allow. Each day would give me close to three miles paddling, enough upper body exercise to assure joint pain in my aged body. I have no idea how fast I can cover water these days but for sure there were times it felt like I was dragging an anchor. Left no doubt I'd have to be cautious in setting mileage goals should I ever attempt a solo trip in the Boundary Waters. Probably not going to happen but I still get a kick out of daydreaming.
     What I enjoyed most was time in the woods when the deer and wood ticks were wherever they go in the fall. In the last couple of years we've had a few blow downs. The sight of a busted and hanging oak is not something I enjoy and have spent a few hours since last year pruning tree trunks. At the moment I've sawed and split enough hardwood to last till Lois and I pass on. In fact a fair amount of the wood will turn to soil before we can get to it. Never gave it much thought in my youth that someday my enthusiasm for work would outpace my ability. I guess there's not much doubt that day has arrived.
     More than anything what gives me pleasure is being able to set my own pace. Work when I want and rest when I damned well feel like it. S'pose I could do the same at home but that's not the way I've wired myself. Next time around I'll work on that.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Too Long - (in progress)

     It's closing in on three years since I've been in the solo canoe. Almost made it two years ago. Even had the canoe strapped atop the truck. A last second phone call and a family emergency had it quickly off-loaded and me packing. That will change next week. I was hoping for a fall Boundary Waters trip but will settle for the waters of the Chippewa National Forest. Mostly I'm thinking smallmouth bass and trout but will no doubt throw in an old favorite or two to get the feel of a fish on the line once again.
     I was thinking minimalist as to gear but have decided to carry enough to cover all possibilities, maybe even a fly rod. At the moment most of the fishing tackle still sits where I left it when Allan and I got home from Canada. I've salvaged line from the reels that'd given me the miseries but there's much more to do.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where To?

     Good question. At the moment I've written myself out of adventures and have none solidly planned. There's a definite maybe in the Boundary Waters for this fall and a near for-sure, four day fling at the cabin near the end of this month. The cabin will most likely be a solo trip. Haven't been on the water alone for a couple of years. Usually when up there I enjoy my time in the woods. Call it quiet time and as I've grown older I've come to find wholeness in the sounds of nature as they drift in and out and through my thoughts.
     I've finally started sorting out the mess of fishing equipment from the trip Allan and I went on in Manitoba. A pair of my older reels constantly threw loops and quickly were set aside. Oh well, they had fifteen years of use and weren't all that good to begin with even though their price tags said they should have been. I've come to learn quality and price don't always go together. Cost is important when it comes to equipment but the cost I have in mind is time. When I've finally squeezed out the time to be on the water I don't want to lose any of it to faulty gear. Good thing Allan and I always carried a half dozen rigged rods during last summer's trip or we'd have spent a lot of time fiddling and untwisting bird's nests. The reels in question are now on their way out the door and have been replaced with entry level quality. By that I mean finely machined gears and not a dozen ball bearings. Somehow fifty years ago fisherman managed to catch fish without a single ball bearing. How was that possible? Anyhow, yesterday I began to spool line from the buggered reels onto the new ones. Worked slick so long as I took my time. One down and one to go.
     Sometime over the next couple of seasons I'd like to make a wood tackle box. Probably a simple one along the line of an old fashioned tool box. Wouldn't have room for more than a dozen lures, same number of snap swivels, reel oil and grease, a couple of reels, needle nose, jaw spreader, and some backup line. Call it a single purpose box for a second trip to northwest Manitoba. Yeah, it'd be an idiot's delight with little room for error but from what I learned from July's trip, such a box would be more than enough.
     Next, between now and then I'd tie up a dozen spinners, all red and white blades, number one treble hooks, and oversized buck tails. Yup, they'd go in the Canada box. Should Allan and I be rigged the same way there'd be no problem. At the most we went through eight spinners last time and two of them were the result of poorly tied knots. Call me a fool - guess I'll leave it there for now.