BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
I live in a state of wonderment of things of seemingly inconsequential weight and mass that bear strength above expectations. I see objects built wafer thin and light and in some cases put under tension that would seem to rip them apart; but no, they hold together. I heft an old violin; slivers of wood glued and shaped and strings pulled taut; one would think the stress would fracture the wood. Then rosined bow meets strings, pauses, draws; music rises.
I lift a bicycle wheel, silver rim gleams like a circle spun around the sun. Spokes like spider web strands; hold one between two hands, bend it; it has no strength. But weave the spokes into a sun web, turn them tight, tighter; hub and spokes and rim become wheel. Wheel takes on a strength beyond its weight and I ride the bike and the wheels, ride them for miles over rough road and they do not fail.
“I have done this for years, have held up the lightweight elements that become part of my life and wondered at them; so light, so strong, so marvelous.”
I marvel over fly rods; long and willowy and seemingly too light to hold force but they cast the fly and wear down the fish. I ski for miles on skis so light and flexible that they would seem destined to fail under my weight. They hold together and they bear my weight and such strength as I can bring and they do it for season after season. I paddle in the Boundary Waters with a paddle of carbon fiber that seems at once incongruous in the wilds and at the same time a godsend, seemingly weightless but stiff and unyielding to the cool waters.
I have done this for years, have held up the lightweight elements that become part of my life and wondered at them; so light, so strong, so marvelous.
I held the violin in hand when I was in sixth grade. It was my grandfathers. I was in music class. It would be tempting to say I played badly but that would suggest that I could play at all. I may have been the worst violinist in modern times. I simply had no talent. But I remember holding that violin firm under my chin and bringing bow to string and sound, not music, not melody, simply sound coming forth. It was a wonderful sound even if it had no formal structure to it. It simply rose into the air as if a balloon released from a child and drifting high and free.
But the violin was so light and it had so much strength and that has stayed with me. The lightness and the power and the sound it could bring against all odds that would suggest it would collapse under that tension.
The bicycle wheels and the skis, they came early to my life and have stayed a constant; lightweight, under pressure and tension and yet delivering back to me so much. One would think, in an objective light, that they would fail. They are, after all, so light in heft. They seem to defy all we know about such things and in that, the defiance of the norm, have more special meaning.
And canoes. Yes, canoes. But not all canoes. There are some of bulbous lines and heavy build. There are some of aluminum, wonderful in their own way but heavy and loud. And then there are the lightweight canoes of trim lines that just look right even when standing still. Canoes that when you lift them have that “wow” feel of lightness.
Last week, a single canoe. We had driven to Minnesota to the place they build canoes, talked to the men who designed it and built it, who coax canoes to life from static plans on paper to canoes sleek and of comely lines. And light of weight. And strong beyond that weight. Northstar canoes.
The canoe was a present for Sally and they’d trimmed the canoe with ribbons and candles and she stood in the workroom with the scent of epoxy in the air and rain falling outside and a smile on her face. Now, a week later, we were on the water.
To lift a lightweight canoe is to know what I have coveted all my life; lightness with strength beyond what one would expect. Lift the canoe; carry it to the water, for a canoe of any weight is not a creature of the land. Set it in the water, gently, not out of concern for damage but out of respect. Then ease onto the seats, hold paddle at the ready. Drop paddle to water, begin the dance of the paddle; the canoe comes to life.
We paddled the canoe on a backwoods lake in the county forest under a late summer breeze. Water lilies shone white and bright under the sun and if you looked at the lilies and squinted your eyes and let your imagination run you might think that the lilies looked like stars in a dark night.
The canoe weighs a shade over 40 pounds and held the two of us with room and capacity for gear. The canoe came to speed easy and we paddled with joy. I thought that afternoon of violins and bicycle wheels and skis and, yes, canoes, of that theme in my life of things both light of weight and strong and how they have woven through my life.
Thought also that it is really not just about the weight and the strength that at times seem so contradictory when one is coupled with the other. But there is the third element and that is the feeling of wonder that weaves like a strand of DNA along with physical strength and weight and bonds it all together as one.
That wonder, that is at the heart of it all. The feeling of wonder adds emotion to the blend and static objects come alive, breathed life by our sense of wonder, which, of course, is weightless and immeasurably strong.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.