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LMRD 780 - Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Wednesday, June 3, 2020 -- Dragonfly Dreams

Dragonfly Journey continues: to recap, we awoke the Dragonfly Dawn with a smudge ceremony. We do this before starting any big canoe project to create a sacred work space, and for us canoe carvers to clear our minds of any stuck places, or any negativity, and focus our attention forward to the vessel on hand, and her journey about to begin. Dragonfly Dawn is a voyageur style canoe, designed for the rigors of the Great Lakes, and so is the perfect vessel for the powerful Mississippi River. I learned this style of construction in the 1990s from the late Ralph Frese, master canoe builder. The lines for Dragonfly Dawn were taken from our last big canoe, the Grasshopper, who evolved from the Junebug Canoes, who are the grandchildren of Ladybug. Dragonfly Dawn is 29 feet long with a 54" beam. First, we fine tuned the nose of Dragonfly Dawn with a spokeshave. Each curl of wood changes the shape. The shape determines how the Dragonfly Dawn will perform as she cuts the waters of the world. The curls are reminiscent of the curls of water paddlers make as they reach forward and drag their paddles back through the water, spiraling eddies forming on either side of paddle blade. We discovered tiger stripes in the red oak stem ends, on both bow and stern of Dragonfly Dawn. Then we tuned the keel lines, which emerge delicately out of the big canoe belly. The keel in our style is a gentle but critical line that takes form from the nose ends and gradually and subtly disappears into the expansive field of cypress and redwood strips in the belly. The top of the keel line is the only straight line in the big belly of the big canoe. After days and days of filling cracks and tiny holes, we spent many more days sanding, wetting the wood, and then sanding again. The final shape is a wonder to behold and touch, like feeling the belly of a whale. Smooth rounded forms rise from the mass of wood. Every view of the Dragonfly Dawn reveals secrets. She is like a whale, each part uniquely distinct, but connected by a smooth skin. Fitting Dragonfly Dawn for her dress -- 10oz fiberglass cloth. The silvery cloth rolls compliments her curves. Time to mix glue. Tanner Aljets invents stirring with 2 spoons. Mark River Peoples and I dress the cloth by applying glue as Tanner mixes. Organic respirators protect us from harmful epoxy resin vapors. Dragonfly Dawn's dress takes us all day to properly fit. The redwood accent strips emerge out of the silver cloth as glue is absorbed. As the glue is absorbed the glass disappears and the dress draws in skin tight against the wood, revealing the grain within, and adding a rich amber tone. Finally we add several layers of protective epoxy-resin over all fibers, which will leave a glossy smooth finish on Dragonfly Dawn.

Pop that Canoe! Last week a group of us gathered in face masks and gloves and flipped Dragonfly Dawn off the mold and placed her upright on the floor of the canoe shop. Thanks to the many friends who helped pop our baby off her form! As with all segments in the journey of the big canoe, it takes many hands to make it work.

Monday, May 11

Moon waning, 3/4 ears pointing down and disappearing into the blue ether that materialized surrounding all in the early morning light, 5 days Dragonfly has laid upside down following the final of 6 layers of fiberglass and an additional 3 protective layers of epoxy resin over the fabric, frozen into place and space by the glue, (on the inside we’ll add 9 more), the final suit of armor a 23-layer sandwich of alternating 10 oz chromium bath fiberglass and low-viscosity marine grade epoxy-resin, the 1/2” layer of cypress and redwood in the middle of it all makes a 24th, a good number, the number of scutes surrounding the shell of a Mississippi map Turtle, and the number of hours in the day, alone none of the layers would support 10 kids and gear on the biggest, baddest river in North America, the wood alone would delaminate in the water, the glue would become brittle and crack, the fabric would warp and sink, no more capable of holding form than willow leaves falling from the trees, but taken together all three work in a harmonious mix of three basic materials, wood, glass and petrochem, long chain aliphatics contour and grip the glass and hold it to the grains of wood to create a monocoque suit of armor almost indestructible to whatever is found or grows along the Lower Mississippi, the wood is fragile in the powerful river but it holds the pure voyageur canoe shape for cutting the water, and for superior maneuverability, the wood gives the canoe its feel, its color, and its spirit, the wood is the heart of the canoe, and as canoe builders we are always searching for the spirit and the heart, the wood is our favorite medium, but it needs help of a more durable kind, the glass is an earth metalloid compound, silicon dioxide, one of the most abundant substances in the universe, also known as silica, it makes quartz, one of the hardest and most abundant minerals on earth, the epoxy resin is some of man’s magic, oxygen and carbon atoms combine with aliphatic or aromatic organics in long chain constructions to create a kind of super hard, super durable plastic, largely petroleum derived, a product of “superman” science, like all industrial materials awful in the hands of greed, but wonderful in the hands of benevolence.

Thursday, May 14

Studying the ends of Dragonfly, covered in a glossy skin of shiny glass resplendently full of reflections just like the new wings of a Mississippi green darner dragonfly shining in the sun, flashing blades of reflective sunlight flashing through the spring damp dusky muddy air dank with nutrient rich flood overflow, the cattleyards and cornfields of America, silver helicopter scissor flashes slicing reality like a thousand sharp swords cutting the air in a medieval war, the Mississippi Kite swooshing overhead, darting and diving, talon claws outstretched and snatching newborn shiny silver dragonfly babies in a blazing melee of insect wings and avian wings, at sunset the rat snake pair slid vertical out of the canoe shop ceiling around and around each other, I felt a slight quickening pulse watching them in their moment of primal bliss, oblivious to the dangers surrounding, spinning and spinning around and around like rivulets of snaky waterways across a sandbar in a rising river, the reach the length of their curly extension, perhaps their love consumed, and then turn their heads upwards in unison and retreat in loopy motions back upwards from whence they descended.

Sat May 16

We are all glowing with the excitement of the Dragonfly Dawn journey. Once started, the canoe construction becomes a journey in of itself, each step carrying us towards a horizon which we dream to life in what we see projecting across the lines and curved planes of the shape of the canoe. Today we complete her dress. I feel like a dressmaker in attendance of a Queen. We will apply the last layers of her silvery glass dress, which is like a nymph pupating into an adult. A calm quiet cool morning, we have been enjoying a lovely spring here. Jupiter and Saturn are approaching each other in the morning sky, Scorpius and Libra nearby, Ophiuchus, the Big Bear crawling down into her den. Have you seen Venus brilliant firmament in the evening sky? In April and May she appeared at dusk, alongside Orion, who is daily disappearing from view to the West, passed the Pleiades, Taurus, Auriga. And now Venus is disappearing, by this weekend she will be lost to the glare of the sun, in her never-ending cycle of hide-and-go-seek, later she will appear in the morning sky, always close to the sun, either dawn or dusk.

Wed May 20

In the belly of the whale, the big canoe swallowed me whole and allowed me to glow in the inner peace of the last light of the day, long lines extending to confluencing points all around me, warped lines moving towards a back hole as I fly through the space of my imagination run a world gone wild, flow lines of the mind flying through the cosmos high above the consciousness of mankind in the never-ending flow lust and love and passion, the insatiable urge to procreate tempered by the incandescent ethereal wonder in the colors and rhythms of the universe forever flowing around me in endless laminar flow and centrifugal motion, the eruption of the stars followed by clouds off space gas and dust gathered together and later made to coalesce around regions of light and gravity, the tropical storms of the galaxy’s solar systems gyrating round and round, gathering raw materials and making them start to spin, and here I sit with a goofy grin, deep within the warped lines of the curvaceous cosmic canoe.

Friday May 22

the jukes are closed, but the blues sounding ever more loudly, the spirit-ghosts of Tater and the Mississippi Junebug, walking the back alleys, down the empty streets and lonely corners, spilling over the muddy banks into the peace of the Sunflower River, away from the madness of the world

My tiny, insignificant scrawling, the tiniest and most insignificant waves emerging from my infinitesimally small vibrating shape seeking and serving in the oceanic fullness surrounding each dust mote speck pulsing in a way helpful to the whole, cruising downstream in my cosmic canoe shape cutting the light and sound waves into an amazing toe-bending waterfall array of reflections and melodies as the flocks of morning dust mix with a strange arrival on a sky reaching skeleton of a cypress tree, a flock of black bellied whistling ducks, exotic wanderers fleeing disappearing Mexican and Texan wetlands, goose-sized bumps on the naked branch greet the morning sun following storm, throaty heart wrenching blues in a dead quiet blues town, mixes with morning songbirds, and the wet hiss of raindrops beating the belly of the Sunflower River.

Finding Peace:

It’s good to find your peaceful place in this wild world. Recently my mother asked, “where do you find your peace?” My answer: “I find it in you, my mother, my family, my river. I find it in my canoe shop.” Now the question remains: Where do you find yours?