boats. In winter, we would start the woodstove in the morning
and work in coats and hats and sometimes gloves until the
room warmed up. Neighborhood dogs would stop by and lie
next to the stove, and once in a while, someone would drop in
to see what we were doing or just to chat.
My boat slowly took shape – the pile of lumber and odd
chunks of wood metamorphosing into recognizable structures,
then the structures into a whole. Progress was halting, and
mistakes were common: sometimes a day’s work would have to
be undone the next, then redone the day after. I found myself
often saying, “Thank God for epoxy.” It fixed errors that in
earlier times might have meant tossing long-labored-over pieces
into the firewood pile. I kept a list of all the mistakes I made,
thinking that someday I might turn it into an amusing story.
Lori lent a hand to position awkward pieces, looked on with
experienced eyes to solve problems, gave a kind or corrective
word, and lifted flagging spirits.
Four years after I began, my dory was done, gleaming with its
new coats of paint and varnish. On the inside top of the transom
I tacked on an oval bronze nameplate etched with the name I
had given her, Nona Belle, to honor my wife, Nona née Bell.
The day we launched Nona Belle at a local reservoir was
sunny and warm after the rain the day before, and many family
members, friends, and onlookers were at the ramp as my wife
christened the boat with soda water from a plastic bottle,
avoiding broken glass and wasted champagne. I backed the
trailer into the water, and Nona Belle glided out to the cheers of
the crowd. She rocked gently in her new world, the painter like
an umbilicus reaching to the shore. A birth indeed.
As I watched the water-light dappling over her sides, I hardly
believed that such a thing had come to pass. She had attained
both of Robert Elliott’s kinds of perfection: perfectly beautiful
and perfectly functional. But Nona Belle was not mine alone.
She belonged to those who had inspired and encouraged me,
who had shared time, space, wisdom, and their craft. She came
from New England traditions, passed down through the ages.
She was of Vermont’s enduring forests – their giving of the raw
materials. All were there in Nona Belle, floating on the water,
waiting for me.
Charles W. Johnson of East Montpelier is the former Vermont state naturalist and the
author of several books. This story was adapted from the article “Close to Home: A
fine dory built of locally grown wood,” originally published in Small Boats Monthly,