I’ve owned various garages over the years that held various boats, but none of these structures was more hallowed than the first, a poor lighted edifice that featured the usual vestiges of workshop disarray: A broom in one corner, shovels and rakes scattered helter-skelter in another, a bench full of unreturned tools borrowed from friends, and a bad painting of a mallard duck hanging crooked over one door.
Also, in addition to a vintage aluminum fishing boat on a trailer, the garage housed a Shell Lake hunting skiff, an unrestored craft built circa 1950 whose presence reminded me daily that the thrill of impulse buying often vanishes with the cash spent.
I raise the issue of boat-holding garages now, in April, because — bear with me — the current rage among people for whom the day’s news upsets their psychic equilibrium is to create meditation rooms in which pleasant states of mind, and even spiritual awakenings, can be achieved. Decorators in the know suggest these rooms be outfitted with “bells, chimes, crystals and affirmation stones” and perhaps even “spearmint eucalyptus meditation candles.” When combined with the recommended dozen-or-so buff-color pillows scattered on the floor, these knickknacks are guaranteed to help achieve the desired serenity. Or not.
Either way, sitting in a boat on its trailer in a garage in April, when ice still covers many Minnesota lakes, has long provided a similar state of elation for me. And not only for me, but for hundreds of thousands and perhaps even millions of boat owners — an assertion, I’ll concede, that is unverifiable, but for present purposes we’ll let slide.
What is verifiable is that the anticipation of future, positive events can induce its own type of euphoria, so much so, researchers say, that the process of anticipating a coming event is often recalled more fondly, and clearly, than the event itself.
In this case, the anticipation by boat owners of coming open water and the imagined splashing into it of their boats, whether large or small, is an act, especially after a long dark winter, that provides its own sort-of delirium, candles optional.
This attraction to water and of floating a boat on it is common to all people, or nearly so, especially those for whom the opportunity is seasonally restricted, as is the case in Minnesota.
When I was a kid in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we had a cartop Crestliner that my dad flipped over onto sawhorses for the winter. This was outside, in the backyard, and our kitchen window provided a bird’s-eye view of the craft and the snow that accumulated on it, December through March.
By April, my dad had stared at the boat for so many months that he began doing so even during the mealtime prayer, vacillating, perhaps, between thanking the Lord for our daily bread and beseeching Him, finally and once and for all, to free us from the bondage of winter.
Early on, I was smitten with my dad’s love of boats and water, and when summer came I’d ride my bike to our town’s small harbor on a bay of Lake Michigan. One local fellow owned a Chris-Craft, maybe a 35-footer, a snazzy cruiser with a mahogany transom that he polished daily with soft cloths and elbow grease. Swinging my legs over the dock edge, I’d listen wide-eyed while he regaled me with stories of voyages he had made to Mackinac Island and Petoskey and Harbor Springs and Detroit, places I could otherwise only imagine visiting by moonshot.
Like my ad’s, my first boat was a 16-foot aluminum job that I bought used, outfitted with a 10-horse Johnson, vintage 1960. I got a trailer in the deal, too, and when I moved to Ely, I tied the boat and motor to a two-bit dock that extended into White Iron Lake in front of my two-bit rented cabin. Were you an eagle in those days, circling high overhead, aloft on midday thermals, none of this would have looked like much. I wasn’t a big shot with a yacht, or even the owner of a glitzy fishing boat like those sported by perpetually excited TV anglers. But when I cast off from the dock, my elbow bent at the tiller, angling through Silver Rapids to Farm and Garden lakes, a spinning rod bouncing at the ready, I knew the freedom of motion, of leavening, even, that all boat owners and passengers feel and know.
Over time, the desire to replicate such experiences only grows, as does the anticipation of being on the water between launches. Whether a motor provides the power, or oars or paddles, it doesn’t matter. Construction might be of fiberglass or wood or plastic. Again, no matter. Within variations, each will rock softly in calm waters and pitch and yaw between foam-topped waves, thus their attraction.
Being water borne, then, becomes not only an act unto itself worthy of repetition from ice-out to freeze-up, and worthy also of anticipation in the intervening months, including now, in April, but a state of mind — its own sort of meditation room.
How else to explain the celebration over centuries, literally and metaphorically, of water and water travel in American poetry and music?
Dating to 1842, examples among many include “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and, more recently, Kenny Chesney and his song “Boats.”
When the sun’s at his back And the winds in his face
It’s just him and the wheel
He wouldn’t take a million for the
Way it makes him feel
Vessels of freedom
Harbors of heeling
So it is, now in April, that hundreds of thousands of us, perhaps even millions, are retreating to garages and sheds, and sitting in our boats.