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The President's Deck

Value, Values, and Hidden Details

Some years ago, my young son River was helping clean up tree debris after a storm when he thoughtfully observed, “You know, Dad, it’s unfortunate that no one understands the hard work that gets done; they only see the final product, a clean yard. They don’t understand how much work went into it.” So too it is with wooden boats. People marvel at flowing lines and gleaming varnish, but many may not recognize the forethought and planning, the time-honed skills, the dedicated effort, and even the heartache invested in the construction and maintenance of wooden watercraft.
A very thoughtful WCHA member recently surprised me with the gift of a fascinating book entitled “How to Build Impossible Things: A Carpenter’s Notes on Life and the Art of Good Work.” In his prologue, author Mark Ellison describes how people usually see only the surfaces of things, and he argues that the real meat of things often lies hidden underneath. In his work as a restorer of old buildings, he notes that pretty magazine photos of the final products ignore all the dust, dirt, blood, and sweat that got hidden away before the photographer arrived. These remnants,
though, are the true signatures of history and the evidence of human thought and toil that underlie meaningful endeavor.
History and humanity – these are the heritage in “Wooden Canoe Heritage Association.” Long before canoeing history was recorded, inspired people began hollowing logs and bending wood, bark, and animal hides into hydrodynamic curves that supported travel, enhanced the gathering of food, and sustained trade. Newcomers first borrowed these canoes for

exploration and commerce, then borrowed their shapes and concepts to mass produce small craft that made myriad people healthier and happier through wilderness exploration or Sunday afternoon excursions on local waterways. Whether outfitted with gun and flyrod or a parasol and pillows, canoes made the day, and artisans made the canoes that in turn helped make the memories. 

These artisans of yesteryear and their shops were very much like the people and workshops of today, around which shavings pile on benchtops, and sweet aromas of cedar and varnish permeate everything as wood dust lazes through beams of sunlight, now just as then. In the pages of this journal, we see beautiful surfaces with sweeping curves, we marvel at well-built and well-restored boats and the fancy trappings of stylish canoe outings. However, what sets the WCHA and its people apart is a deep appreciation for the expertise that underlies the final product. We celebrate inspired design and thoughtful craftsmanship.
Some of the best creators and restorers of small craft today are compiled in the WCHA's Builders and Suppliers Directory. These individuals and the people alongside them work to keep wooden canoe history and heritage alive. They build and restore, often using traditional techniques and methods, and supporting them supports our mission. When you see a canoe built or restored in one of their shops, or see the work of other restorers, builders, and caretakers among our membership, imagine the full measure of care and commitment that goes into these creations. If you are the artisan yourself, celebrate your own creativity. With the continuing passage of time and as so much of traditional value seems to be diminishing, it becomes ever more important to appreciate that what we do is far from ordinary, and to understand that our passions are appreciated by most everyone who encounters our
world, even if they don’t recognize the dust, blood, sweat, and tears behind our pursuits.
This is not just about building and restoring; it extends also to what we actually do with our watercraft. As we trip through seemingly unexplored wilderness or take day trips on local lakes, rivers and estuaries, we become rejuvenated by experiencing the outdoors under our own power. We retrace the routes and actions of many who came before us, and our journeys today, especially when we share them with others, help preserve natural wonders for future generations to love in their own time.
In short, revel in what we do. Paddle, build, restore, join with each other, invite others to join us, and support each other as we all construct the continuing history and heritage of wooden canoes. It doesn’t matter that people may not see the dust and dirt or appreciate our toil and troubles. What matters is the fun we have in creating things and memories, and the lasting effect each of us has on the world through the actions we take, the things we make, and the values we share.

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