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From a Wooden Canoe: Reflections on…

From a Wooden Canoe: Reflections on Canoeing, Camping, and Classic…

by Jerry Dennis

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Recently added byTimBazzett



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FROM A WOODEN CANOE, by Jerry Dennis.

I just finished reading Dennis's collection of essays last night and I have to tell you that this book is a pure delight. There are thirty-two pieces here (I'm counting the Introduction, 'cause it's as instructive and fun as the rest), none of them more than three or four pages long, so it's a perfect bathroom book. And I mean that in only the best sense. Except these essays are like potato chips, "ya can't eat (i.e. read) just one." So you might end up sitting in that small study longer that you oughta.

Besides being a wonderful writer, Dennis is an outdoorsman, a guy who loves being out in the woods or on the water, camping, canoeing, fishing and all that other stuff those kinds of guys do. Starting with extolling the virtues of wooden canoes, he goes on to riff about tents, wooden matches, favorite old coats, long johns, coffee, duct tape, cast iron skillets, stupid stuff guys do, and, well, a lot of stuff, ya know? I especially liked the piece about knives ("Great Blades") - getting his first jack knife from his dad, favorite knives he's owned, and giving that first knife to each of his own sons, along with the usual admonitions: "It was not a toy. It was not to be thrown or handled carelessly ... By the age of ten or twelve, most boys are ready to give up toys for tools."

Words like this brought back memories of my own first jack knife and the games of mumblety peg and splits during school recesses. I know, "It's not a toy." But we were careful playing those games. We knew.

"Dumb Moves" shows Dennis's ability to look back and laugh at youthful mistakes, like the time he and a friend sunk a pickup truck at a boat launch. And his fondness for long johns is equally comical in "All Hail the Union Suit." He also staunchly defends his ratty old black and red wool hunting jacket and the importance of pockets in "Just Me and My Jacket."

I should probably tell ya that I am not an outdoorsman. I am much too fond of my worldly comforts, a comfortable chair and a good book, so I especially enjoyed "Autumn Journeys," in which Dennis admitted that, while he does love getting out, when the weather turns iffy, he is also glad for "the coffee pot in the kitchen and the winter's reading already piled on the shelves beside the fireplace." In the final piece, "Paddling at Dawn," Dennis compares the feel of slicing across the still waters of a pristine lake in his canoe to "the grip of the earth against your bare feet when you were a kid, running so fast across a lawn you were certain you could launch into flight." I haven't been a kid for nearly sixty years, but I could relate, and it was good to remember it again.

And that, in essence, is the magic of all of these pieces. Dennis makes you remember, or he takes you with him into sharply delicious outdoor adventures he has had. He remembers his childhood, he remembers his father's words and instructing his own children when they were young. These essays are lovely little jewels of writing, and there is not a clinker in the whole bunch. (I also loved the drawings by Glenn Wolff.)

And just as a postscript, I have to remember to ask Jerry some day if he has ever read the work of the late John Jerome, another very talented essayist. Because these pieces by Dennis kept bringing to mind Jerome's book, ON TURNING SIXTY-FIVE, written around the same time as this book. There was also another Jerome book I loved, called TRUCK. And currently I am making my way slowly through yet another Jerome book called STONE WORK. I'm pretty sure Dennis and Jerome would have had much to talk about had they ever met. Another older writer who kept coming to mind as I savored these pieces was Hal Borland, whose memoir, THE DOG WHO CAME TO STAY, is one of my all-time favorites.

The fact is Jerry Dennis is undoubtedly one of those very multi-faceted and multi-talented men, unlike me. I'm a guy who likes to sit and read - and dream. But we were both once that strange animal called an "English major," so I suspect we'd find plenty to talk of too. I thoroughly enjoyed this book - every page of it. Very highly recommended. ( )
  TimBazzett | Nov 11, 2015 |
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