Youíll be pleased Ė or at worst, donít really give a rip Ė to learn that Iím about 80 percent done with my pinou.
As described a few weeks ago, this is a cross between a canoe and a pirogue, incorporating what I hope are the best qualities of both and none of the worst qualities of either, though that remains to be seen. I have managed to get the chines and stringers bent without breaking them (I broke two sets on my first couple of tries) and have the bottom and side plywood on.
It turned out bigger than I intended. I wanted something in the 13-foot range, but I made the silly mistake of measuring out that at the bottom, forgetting that when I put the stems on each end, the forward and aft rake would be significant enough to make it just a hair under 15 feet long. It is about 35 inches across the bottom, and both these measurements are within the realm of the manufactured fishing or hunting canoes I have studied on the market today..
As oil hovers over $70 a barrel and gasoline gets within flirting distance of $3 a gallon, my pinou is looking more and more attractive to me. It will be either exclusively paddled or I may put an electric trolling motor on it, but if I do that, I have to register it with the state, pay fees and put those ugly dadgum stickers and numbers on it. All for a tiny electric trolling motor. Weíll see.
Next week, Iíll be on my spring fishing vacation, and my cousin Jim is coming from Ft. Worth, Texas to join me as has become a family tradition of sorts. My pinou wonít be ready by then, unfortunately, so weíll be spending our fishing time in Dadís little boat with the 15-horsepower engine that I can make multiple trips to the lake in on six gallons of gas, as opposed to the big ugly bass boat which takes six gallons of gas just to start the engine.
Iím a-quiver with anticipation. Last spring Jim and I had an excellent vacation and caught a few fish. Even without the fish, itís good for us to get together as often as we can.
But Iím still looking forward to using my pinou in the next few weeks. In fact, I think Iím actually going to be classy and paint the name on the bow: The Pinou. Problem is, with a double-ended vessel, pointed on both ends, which is the bow? I guess itís pretty arbitrary, but such arbitrary things make me nervous. What if Iím wrong, and shame my ancestors and myself by paddling my pinou around backwards for the rest of my life? The cypress trees would shrink away in embarrassment, the finches chirp hysterically at my folly. I really need to make sure I get it right.
The notion of a canoe or a pirogue is kinda romantic, too. I was inquiring with a duck hunter the other day whether anyone still hunts out of a pirogue or canoe, and he said yes, but itís becoming a lost art. Sounds right up my alley, doesnít it? Wooden boats, bamboo fly rods and lost arts. What more can a relic like myself ask for?
Iím only 41 years old and already an eccentric old curmudgeon. Can you imagine how Iíll be in 20 years?
Itíll be good fodder for another book, for sure. I might try to name it something cool like other books Iíve read such as, Moose In the Water, Bamboo on the Bench or Jim Northrupís Rez Road Follies:, Canoes, Casinos, Computers and Birch Bark Baskets. I could name mine something like Bamboo, Pinou and Minou to incorporate Patches maybe. How about, Pinous in the Water, Minous in the House? Or maybe, They Shoot Pinous, Donít They?
Yes, I like the notion of paddling through the swamp or down a small bayou, away from all the big ugly bass boats, just me and the gators and the belly-busting-with-laughter finches watching me paddle my pinou backwards. What happened to the yellow finches that used to be so abundant around here? When I was a teenager great bright flocks of them use to be on Lake Fausse Pointe. Once, my fishing pal and I were in my little bateau down Peach Coulee, and dozens of those little yellow finches with the black masks circled the boat for a couple of minutes or more, a spectacular maelstrom. Then, as if saying goodbye, they shot off over the trees and to this day, Iíve not seen a single one again. Thereís many such things. There used to be, now and then, a whacking, pounding sound in the cypress and tupelo stands, usually when I am alone but, now and then, with the brother of my soul in the boat. As if something enormous were coming through the trees, crashing through the saplings, trampling irises and reeds and deadfalls underfoot and then, just before it seemed weíd see it emerge, just as we just knew it was going to leap out of the woods, it would fall silent. Neka sama my fatherís people called it. An ancient spirit, a nefarious soul that sometimes came out of the fire to snatch young children from the hearth.
Ah, but there I go, rambling again. A relic and an eccentric, eh? I guess part of what appeals to me about a pinou is that I suspect the last surviving vestiges of my fatherís peopleís legacy shrinks away from roaring outboards and noxious two-cycle smoke. Yellow finches and Neka sama. Peach Coulee and dancing lights in the still of the night. What a teeming, magical place the swamps and lakes and bayous must have been when there were only pirogues and dugouts, bateaus and small skiffs. Before the putt-putt even of the old one-lungers, the wonder and awe must have beenÖhumbling.
I know Iíll never be able to recapture that completely. But maybe, from behind the shadow of an old cypress tree, perhaps from under the shallows of a clear, green-black cove, thereís still a hint of it out there. Thatís what I really go for. Fish are nice, fish are great, catching is always preferable to being skunked. But a glimpse of a world gone by, untouched by combustion fuels and rainbow-tinted slicks of petroleum, untainted by noise and churning propsÖthatís the true rewards of an outdoor life, at least for me.