Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Back in 2006 when I started writing this (almost) daily journal, I wrote in the subheading that it would sometimes be about boat building. Since writing that heading, precious little has been said here on the subject.

I wrote that heading because when I started this blog I was in the process of building my second watercraft, a sort of Midwestern drift boat for use on the White River system. The first was a cedar strip canoe, and yesterday working from about 1:00 in the afternoon until 10:30 last night, we came very close to putting the finishing touches on the third -- a 20 foot long john boat fashioned after the boats local fishing guides used to take clients on White River float trips in the first half of the last century.

In those days they didn’t talk about the White River “system” the way we have to today. That’s because it was still just a river, and I use the term “just” very lightly. The White was never “just” a river. In the days before the dams, it was a long, swift, and beautiful stretch of clear, clean flowing water that I deeply wish I had had the opportunity to see and float.

If you’d like to read a great description of the old river and this area before so many of us pink skinned fools messed it up, try Henry Schoolcraft’s journal of his 1817 walking trip from Potosi., MO down to the White River in Arkansas and then along the river’s course upstream to what he described as an excellent place to build a town – present day Springfield.

In the days the three plank john boat was in use, fishermen traveled from all over the country to experience a White River float trip. A fellow named Jack Owens had the best known guide service in the Ozarks based in the Branson area.

The boat we are building is modern-day plywood replica of the boats Owens used. You can see one of his old boats at the new Bass-Pro shop in Branson, but if you keep your eyes on the White, the North Fork of the White, the Eleven Point, the Current, or the James, you might see Kyle Kosovich at the helm of the one we will finish this week.

There is a great deal of satisfaction in coming to the end of weeks of effort to put a boat together. The smell of paint replaces the clogging scent of sawdust and the heady odor of epoxy. The oaken rub rails and gunnels gleam against the green of the paint for the first time. The cedar fore and aft decks go into place beneath the oak transom plates and suddenly the lump of lumber and glue you’ve been toiling over lo these many weeks becomes a boat you can imagine slipping agilely down a riffle into the next fish filled eddy.

This week-end, weather permitting, we will turn that imaginary trip into reality in the maiden voyage of the Amicus, as Kyle intends to name his boat. (As evidence of who this young man is, Amicus is Latin for friendly.) We will float the James in an attempt not only to learn the new craft’s foibles and decide what corrections we might need to make, but also to put the Ozark’s waters to the same test Jim Owens’ guides used to give them. We will look for white bass, walleye and crappie. We might even find some goggle-eye and a smallmouth or two, but the real joy of the trip will be the culmination and christening of our labor of love.

The process of building is always a pleasure for me, but this one was pure joy. We were building the boat so Kyle could try and revitalize the Ozark guided float business with a new twist. He is an ecologist studying fish and wildlife management at MSU. His dream is to use this boat to take people back to the old-time experience of floating down a beautiful stream to a gravel bar campsite complete with a crackling fire and a dutch oven dinner, but instead of catching a big stringer of fish to be killed, the fishing will be catch and release. Instead of taking outdoor souvenirs out of the Ozarks, the floaters will be taught how to find and identify the macrobiotic life that makes it all possible. Instead of destroying plants and animals in their days on the river, floaters will learn about the karst structure of the Ozarks and its impact on the resources available to the flora and fauna as well as the risks it poses for them.

Working on this boat with this fine young man has given me increased hope for the future of the Ozarks and more. For the Ozarks because I now have seen first hand that there are young people like Kyle who care deeply about the ecology of this region I have come to love and more because if there are many more like Kyle in our colleges and universities, there is some hope that the reckless destruction of our environment that my peers have wreaked on this planet might at least be slowed down if not halted altogether.

My reverence for nature which has been part of my psyche from my earliest memory has always made me aware of the degradation that was going on around me. I don’t think that was true for most people, but I think it may be true for more now.

Far too many of our children and grandchildren do live so completely separate from nature that they hardly know it exist and certainly don’t recognize their connection to it, but getting to know Kyle has restored my faith in the power of young people with his kind of dedication to have an impact that will benefit even those poor souls whose separation from nature so impoverishes their lives – however shiny and fun their Wiis and Ipods might be.

So if you see a shiny green, impossibly long john boat drifting down the river one of these days, slow down a bit and give Kyle a wave. A wave of encouragement and of recognition that you are witnessing the rebirth of an old Ozark way of life and the birth of a new approach to life in the Ozarks – one filled not only with the enjoyment of the outdoors offered by our streams and woods, but also with the reverence, awe and respect they deserve.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. -- M. K. Gandhi

Individually we have little voice. Collectively we cannot be ignored.
But in silence we surrender our power. Yours in Peace -- BR

The reason for going was to keep the crude flowing and raise a false flag abroad. – from a poem by Jack Evans titled 3500 Souls -

1 comment:

Kathy said...

Delightful Departure from your Daily Dispatchs :) For just a moment I was imagining myself floating the old White River.