The old Erie Canal runs through a park near Fayetteville, about a mile from where I grew up. My brothers helped make the park, clearing trees near the canal path during their high school summers. And I discovered this part of the canal when I was about ten.
On my bike, I used to follow the older kids from my street down to the Canal. We would get off our bikes, and look at the old aqueduct conducting the water.
From then on the Canal was part of my imagination’s landscape. I was fascinated to learn that the Canal ran as far east as Albany. When I was in fifth grade, my father interviewed for a job in Albany. He didn’t take the job, but while the matter was pending, I imagined myself moving to Albany and getting a little sailboat. I would use the boat to visit my friend Paul back in Syracuse.
Of course, none of this ever happened. And by the time I was in high school, I had next to nothing in common with Paul. He was into hunting, and I was into rock music.
But there are twists. When I was in college, I was at the age when even the most devoted fishermen don’t fish. Yet the water fascinated me.
In my sophomore year, I saw the movie Deliverance on TV. I had to watch it because we were reading the novel in English class. The movie’s brutality totally escaped me. All I paid attention to were the canoes.
I thought of getting a canoe. I decided I could build one, although I had next to no carpentry skills. I asked one friend if he would build a canoe with me, and he thought I was joking. I asked Paul to help me, and he agreed.
In a magazine, he found a place you could write to for instructions. I wrote to the place, and instructions for building a canoe came in the mail. We built the canoe that summer.
We bought some lumber from a local yard, and used it for the frame. We took old plywood that Paul had in his garage, and wrapped it around the frame. As I still had no real skills, I mainly held pieces together while Paul hammered in the nails. We used caulk to insulate the joints, and covered the hull with polyurethane.
When we had finished, we paddled the canoe down the Erie Canal. There was a slight seepage of water, which we handled with a cup we always kept in the boat. But the canoe floated! We were able to take it on short trips. Only once did it capsize, and that was on Limestone Creek, where we got tangled up in some low-lying branches.
We took it out on the Canal over two summers. We kept it on the side of my house, and only when the leaves turned color did we place it up on the rafters inside my garage.
In the third summer, Paul was in the Army. I took my oldest brother out once in it, and that was the last time it was used. Almost without me noticing, over thirty years passed. My mother said she wanted to clear out her garage, and asked me what my intentions were regarding the canoe. I took a look at the canoe, and saw a crack running down its stern. It was no longer seaworthy. Still it took months for me to make a decision on it. Only last week I said that Paul could take it away.
I wasn’t there when Paul and my brother took it down from the rafters. Paul said he would chop it up, and that’s probably for the best. The canoe is behind me, and has been there, I’m afraid, for a long time.
There is the passage of time and the evolution of friendship. There were the times we took the canoe out on the water, and the times I regret I didn’t. Even now I make some plans for another boat, knowing it may never come to pass.
Still I can say, “It was a good canoe. It floated when we needed it.”