212. The Last Day

Jack is still a bit reluctant.  Never known a boat builder to plan a launch date before the boat was actually finished, he said.  So we recast it as a christening. Today Brett Baer turns thirty.  Tomorrow he sets off toward South America.  And this boat has become his own personal right of passage.

It’s a year ago, nearly to the day since Anna arrived here and the day Poe died.  Back then the plants were dying because we didn’t know we had an irrigation system.  The pool was green.  The house stacked to the ceiling with boxes.  Yesterday?  I put in a wild flower / lavender garden in the front island.  Spread mulch in the newly reconfigured vegetable area.  Wrangled missing chickens.  Picked a basket of raspberries.  Brett layered in gunwale gray paint in the belly of the boat.  And I made a celebratory abalone dinner with three kinds of pasta in the colors of the Peruvian flag.  It was absolutely, one hundred percent, the shittiest meal I have ever made.  Completely inedible.  A great day all in all.  And so it goes.

3. Tale of the Boat

The Boat

Why, we go to sea.

The Boat arrived here in the Fall, towed up onto the property on an unplated trailer by 80 year old Jack in his one ton truck.  Brett and I pulled it by hand the last hundred feet to the  Room of Requirement.  Opening both french doors wide we ferried her in.  And for a few months now she has slumbered.  The nights long, the air chill.  The cats climbed on her and sometimes we checked in.  But mostly she just slept.  Jack has visited a few times and on each occasion he’s asked if he could visit her, just to see, just to lay his hands.

Walking about in the Room of Requirement, he’d gaze at her and touch her and he was pleased.

She’s just a Penguin Dinghy, if that.  She was built for placid eastern waters and can hardly withstand the gusts on San Francisco Bay.  On top of that what’s left of her is covered in lichen.  Her stern has been plowed with gashes.  What to say?  She may be more hole than anything else, but can any absences stoved in upon her negate her right to existence?

All the while Brett has been away out with the wind.  He restored a barn in Bolinas, and served at a Vipassana retreat and painted a mural and went to a movement workshop at Tamalpa.  He got a girlfriend and got a plan which shifted into another.  All good stuff.

The days have started to grow longer.  The daffodils and narcissus have come up, the locust is in full bloom along with the magnolias.  Spring appears at last to be here.  And now Brett has returned home.

Time has come for the restoration of the Boat.  The boat that came from Arlo Guthrie’s house.  The boat that rotted in Jack’s yard in Marshall for thirteen years.  The boat that harkens to an ancient childhood memory that belongs not to me.

Why do you assume any task?  Why do you refurbish or refashion anything?  Why with all the things yet to be done – rooms still to unpack, months of bookkeeping, gardens to be planted, work work work to be done, have we taken on this project?

But we don’t have an answer.  There is no why.  We do it because it’s there to be done.

And a faint trust in the belief that beauty near always arises from the foolish act.

The Boat

As far as this story goes, the boat’s journey began on the back porch of Arlo Guthrie’s farmhouse in Massachusetts. It had sat there for a lot of years. I don’t know how Arlo came to have it or what his plans were. Apparently he doesn’t really like the water.

His friend Jack, though, loved boats. He once took the thing out on Arlo’s pond that was hardly bigger than a small room. And I guess Arlo said Jack could have it.

So Jack drove the thing from Massachusetts to Colorado on a flatbed trailer and the boat pretty much sat upside down on someone’s property for a lot of years and then it was driven down to Palm Springs where it sat upside down for a lot more years. Jack may have floated it in a swimming pool just to see what it was like.

Eventually the boat came to Tomales Bay where it weathered untended to for more than a decade. The gunnels rotted out as well some of the sidings. It had once been a lovely Penguin Dinghy much like a boat that Jack had once owned that had been swept away in the great New York hurricane of 1953.

Just before Thanksgiving my boat building friend Brett was driving down the 1 toward Bolinas when he spied a prickly pear cactus adorned with fruit. He pulled over, got his tongs and gloves and set to gleaning a bag of fruit. He was interrupted, though, by a winsome woman, a complete stranger, who seemed to have materialized out of nowhere.

We need help, she said. We need to save Jack’s boat. She suggested that it was in some sort of imminent danger and that she needed assistance.

Well, I’ve worked on boats, Brett offered. He looked around at the neighboring docks on the bay. Where is it? he asked. I can come over and see what I can do.

The woman looked at him incredulously. The boat’s not here, she said. It’s in Sausalito.

Okay, Brett said. Give me Jack’s phone number and I can call him and I can see what I can do.

The woman became very unnerved. You can’t call Jack! she exclaimed. Everyone wants to talk with Jack. Jack calls you!

So she took Brett’s number and told him to wait ten minutes and the call would arrive.

Which it did. And by the next day Brett was in a Sausalito boat yard listening to a day full of boat yarns and traveling history and loading the boat onto a trailer hitch and towing it to Bolinas. And a few days later he was at our house standing outside the chicken house with a sack of apples in each hand, staring in reverie, wondering what our plans were for the chicken house.

Our friend Evan Nichols the writer had christened it the Room of Requirement. Everyone who stepped inside was possessed by a different overpowering vision. For Mazie, it was the ping pong hang out room. I saw a cider pressing and cheesemaking facility. Evan saw a writers retreat room. His wife Amy saw a yoga room. Anne Harley envisioned a singing studio. The vultures have found it quite useful as a dinner plate.

And Brett saw a boat restoration house.

The room is one and all of these things.

And that’s how last Monday Jack pulled up in his three quarter ton truck pulling the boat. And that’s how Arlo Guthrie’s penguin dinghy came to sit inside our chicken house. And why I will spend a better part of my winter sanding and planing and painting wood.

Because if you do things right, all of this, every bit, is required.