Still one of my favorite photos. Might have been my first overnight sleeping on one of the boats.
I remember waking up to the sound of wild turkeys and owls along the shore, seeing the clouds turn from cool blue to vivid crimson as the boat wandered slowly at anchor. Then sitting up to see the lotus leaves floating in that same reflected sky.
Passed a couple of really big milestones this week.
1) Today I finally was able to bring the boats home.
The Melonseeds have been away rooming in Doug Lawson’s rented garage for well over two years – since a month after the house fire. We needed our shed to store what could be salvaged from the house while cleaning and construction progressed.
Even after the basement was cleaned out from two feet of sooty water, and purged and repainted, it was temporary storage when we moved back in, until remaining projects got sorted out.
So Doug gratiously offered to space with his boats about 20 minutes away. We’ve had four boats, plus kayaks, two or three lawn mowers and wheel barrows, etc., all crammed into that two car garage ever since.
Then, of course, we got hit with this little thing you may have heard of – a worldwide plague – which has lasted over a year.
So before I could re-home the boats I had to clean out the shed. To clean out the shed, I had to first clean out the basement. Done, and done.
Also, after a year of doing nothing, I’m out of shape, so this project required some concerted hammock time to finish.
2) And, fortuitously, I was able to schedule my first dose of the anti-plague vaccine last week. Apparently, I’ve been drafted by Team Pfizer. Put me in, coach, I’m ready to play!
Weather was great today, so Doug and I met over at the garage and extracted my boats. Looked just like we left them – a fine dusting of pollen the only sign they hadn’t been on the water a few days ago. And home they came.
It’s been a harrowing couple of years, no question. Today, for the first time, it’s starting to feel normal again.
Looking forward to time on the water again very soon.
We’ve known Doug Lawson and his wife Giselle Gautreau in various ways for over thirty years. Doug is a writer and sailor of small boats, including Melonseeds. Giselle is an artist, a painter. We’ve always had much in common.
Before moving back to Virginia, they lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, which is, among many other fine things, fire country. Our daughter, Amanda, lived just a few miles away at the same time, so with one trek to the West Coast we could visit both.
Driving the countryside – whether in the mountains or valleys, even on the coast road and into the redwood forests – Terri and I were struck by the scars of past wildfires. Everywhere were unexpected reminders of its constant presence and destructive force. Some even still smoldering.
Back east, we would sometimes get texts from Doug and Giselle during fire season. On the smell of smoke, the strange color of the light, an ominous glow over the ridge, or throbbing pulse of choppers swinging buckets through the night sky overhead.
Years of living with the constant threat and visible presence of wildfire leaves scars on the psyche, as well as the landscape.
Safely back in Virginia, I suspect as a form of self-therapy, Giselle recorded the surreal aspect of that experience in a series of paintings, including a large one she called “Conflagration.” It hung in their house here for several years, and we always admired it.
After our own personal experience with fire, though, Terri and I saw it in a new way. A grass fire burning away across a wide field, it seems at once oddly normal, menacing, and beautiful. Fire thrives as a living part of the landscape, moving across it like a herd of cattle or flock of birds. A natural but dangerous predator, a pride of lions hunting gazelles.
Soon Terri and I realized there was a place to hang this painting in our house – now saved from the fire, but still scarred by it. As we are, too.
Terri and I first met Timm Schleiff back in 2009. He rolled in late one night to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in St. Michaels, after driving all day from West Virginia. He was starting a new trade as a custom boatbuilder, and was pulling the first boat he set his hand to: a Herreshoff Coquina. Terri pointed him to the campsites – he must have just slept in his van that night – and told me later about the nice young man she had met. The next day we found him on the docks by his boat.
If you don’t know anything about building boats, I am here to tell you that no one I know, save Timm, would attempt a Coquina for a first try. Herreshoff was a lifelong designer of elegant yachts, and this was the daysailer he designed for himself at the height of his career. A graceful boat with fine lines and a fast sailer, but challenging construction for even experienced builders. And Timm’s boat was a real beauty, complete with bronze fittings, hand made cleats and leathered oars.
We took a sail with Timm on the last day, helped him shuttle to the ramp and load up. Exchanged information, and have kept in touch over the years.
Turns out the business of boat building is even more challenging than the building, especially in the mountains of West Virginia. Boats are complicated, take a long time to complete, and boat owners are notoriously persnickety clients. Timm decided to broaden his horizons, and spent two years honing his craft at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, one of the premier craft schools in the country.
A few years later, he bought an old quarry in Lewisburg, WV, built himself a shop and a sawmill, and opened business as Hidden Quarry Artisans, where he has been doing very well. Now he and his wife Maria, also an artist, are building their own house. And raise over 80 hives of bees with a honey business in addition to everything else they do.
When Terri and I began replacing what we lost in the fire, we made a concerted effort to collect things made by friends and family if possible. Even when it means having fewer things. We already have paintings by friends Giselle Gautreau, Curt Bowman, Eleanor Hughes, and Randy Smith. Tools from Dennis Keener, a handmade bookcase and books from all my buddies in the extended TSCA sailing group. This list goes on.
So I contacted Timm about making a piece of furniture for us, and sent a couple of photos of things we like. A few weeks later we got a simple sketch back and a proposal.
Timm sent some progress photos now and then, and a couple of weeks ago the sideboard was ready for finish.
Yesterday, Terri and I drove to Lewisburg to pick it up. I think the photos speak for themselves, but needless to say, we’re delighted. Timm’s craftmanship is amazing. The wood is figured cherry from trees cut in Pennsylvania.
Back around Christmas, a bunch of the guys in the sailing group started asking about making a delivery from Philly, Delaware, and Jersey – “a major award” they called it, and promised it was neither a leg lamp nor Brandi, the rubber mermaid fender. This week they showed up for a tour, with the goods in tow.
Most of us sailors are also readers. There was much relief that the boats were safe, but it hurt them to hear that my library had burned. So they banded together and brought me a new handmade bookshelf and four crates of books to fill it. Totally blew me away.
Apparently, this has been in the works for some time. I may not have this exactly right, but apparently Paul S., a teacher, salvaged some clear Douglas Fir from the old bleachers during a gym renovation. He delivered it to Kevin B. at the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival in St. Michaels, who then drove it back to DC to build the shelves. Meanwhile, over a dozen of the guys pitched in and put together a collection of books. Emily says they contacted her to see if she could suss out what I needed.
Many of the titles they sent were those I had before the fire and were on my list to find again and replace if I could. Many I have not heard of, but now look forward to reading. Add these to the books from Doug L. and Dave G., and I’m well on the way to restarting the library again.
Pete P. even tossed in a framed print of me sailing in Caesura with the tops’l up, taken on one of my last trips with the crew.
All of the above, including just seeing good friends again, made me realize how much I’ve missed it. By the time warm weather returns I should be ready to get on the water again. Even Steve E. has been prodding with a standing invitation, so it’s long overdue.
We snuck in a few days at Winter Harbor this year. We had to forfeit last year, and missed it. Too much life going on. But this year, with the house nearly done we felt we could take a few days off and not lose the chance again. Glad we did.
The sailboats are still in storage, but we took the canoe, paddled it over and back. I took photos and video as usual, but just haven’t had time to look at any of it. Went back tonight, back at my editing station again finally, and got a nice feeling from this part. Enjoy.
May we all have more days like this in the coming year.