"I can't make it until tomorrow afternoon. I'm working on your boat, you know," my friend Noah said to me one day last week.
I have often mentioned Noah and his boat-building expertise in this column. Right now, Noah is deep into another boat-building project. That's nothing new, of course, but there are times it seems that he holds me responsible for his own frailty when it comes to his inability to resist the urge to create yet another floatable craft.
Because we talk frequently about matters that do not involve boats, and because those communications sometimes require face-to-face meetings regarding non-boat matters, he is quick to let me know that any scheduling difficulty is on my head.
But, my boat?
Well, yes, I guess that might be correct in the sense that I have a certain spiritual investment in any boat Noah builds. Every canoe, kayak, sailing vessel or rowboat he has ever painstakingly crafted or talked about building has a life in my own imagination. He knows I am a sucker for boats of all kinds. And he has the skill and patience to build the boats I can only dream about.
We both subscribe to the notion so well articulated by Rat in a conversation with Mole in Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows":
"Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats," Rat declared when Mole sat in a rowboat for the first time.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity to "mess about" in some of the beautiful boats Noah has created. As I write these words, I feel a little bit of weakness in my aging knees just thinking about the way his boats look, the way they float and the way they handle on the glassy waters of Flathead Lake where Noah conducts his trial runs and maintains his own growing fleet.
Chances are slim that Noah's current project will ever actually join my own ragtag fleet of things that float, or things that could float, given enough effort.
These days, I can claim a raft, outfitted for fishing; a 63-year-old aluminum rowboat with wood trim that Noah and Sparky helped me refurbish a decade ago and that I still use frequently as the vessel of choice for many Swan River expeditions; an aging ski boat that my son Sander insists we need to keep in operating shape; and the hulk of another aluminum rowboat that resides in my backyard, waiting to be restored. Long gone is the wonderful drift boat, built by friend Stuart, another well-known craftsman. Also gone is the colorful procession of rubber duckies, rafts, canoes and assorted craft that have carried my pals and me on a lifetime of adventure.
For me and my pals, boats seem to have always had a certain fungible quality, like money, suggesting that they can, when appropriate, be traded, sold or transferred, generally with the goal of acquiring another, presumably better or more specialized craft. People who love boats are always looking around for new possibilities.
The memory of each boat that has passed through my ownership is still with me, and I continue to subscribe to the immortal words of my pal Erwin who said, "There is no such thing as having too many floatable craft." I do daydream about how nice it would be to call one of Noah's creations my own.
I am not convinced that the boat Noah is working on right now is the one destined to join my fleet, but you never know. However, I do know that whoever ends up with that boat is going to have a dandy.
Greg Tollefson is a freelance Missoula writer whose column appears each week in Outdoors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.