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LMRD 781 - Lower Mississippi River Dispatch
"Voice of the Lower Mississippi River"
Saturday, June 6, 2020 -- Dragonfly Dreaming

~~~~re-running with corrections & additions~~~~

We Can't Breathe

We at Quapaw Canoe Company are shocked, hurt and angered by the knee chokehold murder of George Floyd in the river city Minneapolis, and subsequent injustices suffered by non-violent protestors, by ethical police trying to do their job, and by the many innocent across our great nation. This is not what we are about. The right to breathe is the most basic of human needs. The right to clean water would have to be second. Everything we do at QCC is about a good, healthy life for all. We can’t breathe in this kind of atmosphere.

The extremes of life tend to reveal qualities in a person, in a community. In this way, the stress of pandemic has opened layers of American life that are no so pretty to look at. The murder of George Floyd demonstrates this in clarity. We know we can do better as a nation, and as a people, when we all work together, in a similar way that we all all paddle together in our big canoes on the big muddy river. We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water. The river connects us all.

If you would like to read more about our rationale, please go to end of newsletter for a description of our core values and how they apply to this difficult time in our nation’s history.

Dragonfly Dreaming
with corrections and additions

Dragonfly Journey continues: to recap, we awoke the Dragonfly Dawn with a smudge ceremony. We do this before starting any big canoe project to create a sacred work space, and for us canoe carvers to clear our minds of any stuck places, or any negativity, and focus our attention forward to the vessel on hand, and her journey about to begin. Dragonfly Dawn is a voyageur style canoe, designed for the rigors of the Great Lakes by the French Voyageurs who adopted native design from birchbark canoes of the North Woods. Dragonfly Dawn will end up with our good friend and fellow big canoe captain, the legendary "Water Possum," Layne Logue, owner and operator of Quapaw Vicksburg. It is the perfect vessel for the powerful Mississippi River. I learned this style of construction in the 1990s from the late Ralph Frese, master canoe builder. The lines for Dragonfly Dawn were taken from our last big canoe, the Grasshopper, who evolved from the Junebug Canoes, who are the grandchildren of Ladybug. Dragonfly Dawn is 29' long with a 54" beam. We fine tuned the nose of Dragonfly Dawn with a spokeshave. Each curl of wood changes the shape. The shape determines how the Dragonfly Dawn will perform as she cuts the waters of the world. The curls are reminiscent of the curls of water paddlers make as they reach forward and claw their paddles back through the water, spiraling eddies forming on either side of paddle blade. We discovered tiger stripes in the red oak stem ends, on both bow and stern of Dragonfly Dawn. We tuned the keel lines, which emerge delicately out of the big canoe belly. The keel in our style is a gentle but critical line that takes form from the nose ends and gradually and subtly disappears into the expansive field of cypress and redwood strips in the belly. The top of the keel line is the only straight line in the big belly of the big canoe. After days and days of filling cracks and tiny holes, we spent many more days sanding, wetting the wood, and then sanding again. It has requirted 6 weeks of intensive carpentry to get this far. The final shape is a wonder to behold and touch, like feeling the belly of a whale. Smooth rounded forms rise from the mass of wood. Every view of the Dragonfly Dawn reveals secrets. She is like a whale, each part uniquely distinct, but connected by a smooth skin. We fitted Dragonfly Dawn for her dress -- 10oz fiberglass cloth. The silvery cloth rolls compliments her curves. Time to mix glue. Tanner Aljets invents stirring with 2 spoons. Mark River Peoples and I dress the cloth by applying glue as Tanner mixes. Organic respirators protect us from harmful epoxy resin vapors. Dragonfly Dawn's dress takes us all day and part of a night to properly fit. The redwood accent strips emerge out of the silver cloth as glue is absorbed. As the glue is absorbed the glass disappears and the dress draws in skin tight against the wood, revealing the grain within, and adding a rich amber tone. Finally, we add several layers of protective epoxy-resin over all fibers, which will leave a glossy, smooth, rock-hard finish on Dragonfly Dawn.

Pop that Canoe! Last week a group of us gathered in face masks and gloves and flipped Dragonfly Dawn off the mold and placed her upright on the floor of the canoe shop. Thanks to the many friends who helped pop our baby off her form! As with all steps in the journey of the big canoe, it takes many hands to make it work.

Monday, May 11

Moon waning, last quarter ears pointing down and disappearing into the blue ether that materialized surrounding all in the early morning light, for five days Dragonfly has laid upside down, with her ends pointed down like the points of the moon, following the final of 6 layers of fiberglass and an additional 3 protective layers of epoxy resin over the fabric, frozen into place and space by the glue, (on the inside we’ll add 9 more), the final suit of armor a 23-layer sandwich of alternating 10 oz chromium bath fiberglass and low-viscosity marine grade epoxy-resin, the 1/2” layer of cypress and redwood in the middle of it all makes a 24th, a good number, the number of scutes surrounding the shell of a Mississippi Map Turtle, and the number of hours in the day, alone none of the layers would support 10 kids and gear on the biggest, baddest river in North America, the wood by itself would delaminate in the water, the glue would become brittle and crack, the fabric would warp and sink, no more capable of holding form than willow leaves falling on muddy water from trees, but taken together all three work in a harmonious mix of three basic materials, wood, glass and petrochem, to form a glassy suit of armor, long chain aliphatics contour and grip the glass and hold it to the grains of wood to create a monocoque vestiture almost indestructible to whatever is found or grows along the Lower Mississippi, the wood is fragile in the powerful river but it holds the pure voyageur canoe shape for cutting the water, and for superior maneuverability, the wood gives the canoe its feel, its color, and its spirit, the wood is the heart of the canoe, and as canoe builders we are always searching for the spirit and the heart, the wood is our favorite medium, but it needs help of a more durable kind, the glass is an earth metalloid compound, silicon dioxide, its elements SI (silcon) and O (oxgen) amongst the most prolific in the universe, also known as silica, it makes quartz, one of the hardest and most abundant minerals on earth, the epoxy resin is some of man’s magic, oxygen and carbon atoms combine with aliphatic or aromatic organics in long-chain constructions to create a kind of super hard, super durable plastic which will endure decades of hard work in our service, largely petroleum derived, a product of “superman” science, like all industrial materials awful in the hands of greedy manipulators, but wonderful in the hands of carpenters (and other humble creators).

Thursday, May 14

Studying the ends of Dragonfly, covered in a glossy skin of shiny glass resplendently full of reflections just like the new wings of a Mississippi green darner dragonfly shining in the sun, flashing blades of reflective sunlight clipping through the spring damp dusky muddy air dank with nutrient rich flood overflow, the cattleyards and cornfields of America, silver helicopter scissor flashes slicing reality like a thousand sharp swords cutting the air in a medieval war, the Mississippi Kite in from South America swooshing overhead, darting and diving, talon claws outstretched and snatching newborn shiny silver dragonfly babies in a blazing melee of insect wings and avian wings, at sunset the rat snake pair slid vertical out of the canoe shop ceiling around and around each other, I felt a slight quickening pulse watching them in their moment of primal bliss, oblivious to the dangers surrounding, spinning and spinning around and around like rivulets of snaky waterways across a sandbar in a rising river, the reach, the length of their curly extension, their love consumed, they turn their heads upwards in unison and retreat in loopy motions back upwards from whence they descended, later i have to re-check my pulse, did that really happen? My iphone photos confirm, they have become a part of the long journey of the Dragnofly Dawn.

Sat May 16

We are all glowing with the excitement of the Dragonfly Dawn journey. Once started, the canoe construction becomes a journey in of itself, each step carrying us towards a horizon which we dream to life in what we see projecting across the lines and curved planes of the shape of the canoe. Today we complete her dress. I feel like a dressmaker in attendance of a Queen. We apply the last layers of her silvery glass dress, which is like a nymph pupating into an adult. A calm quiet cool morning, we have been enjoying a lovely spring here. Jupiter and Saturn are approaching each other in the morning sky, Scorpius and Libra nearby, and Ophiuchus, and the Big Bear Ursa Major is crawling down into her den hidden somewhere behind Polaris, in the realm of Boreas, the purple-winged god of the north wind. Have you seen Venus brilliant firmament in the evening sky? In April and May she appeared at dusk, alongside Orion, who is daily disappearing from view to the West, past the Pleiades, Taurus, Auriga. And now Venus is disappearing, this weekend she will be lost to the glare of the sun, in her never-ending cycle of hide-and-go-seek, later she will appear in the morning sky, always close to the sun, always in the dawn or the dusk, like a silver angel in attendance of the sun.

Wed May 20

In the belly of the whale, the big canoe swallowed me whole and allowed me to glow in the inner peace of the last light of the day, long lines extending to confluencing points all around me, warped lines moving towards a back hole as I fly through the space of my imagination running wild in a world gone wild, flow lines of the mind flying through the cosmos high above the consciousness of mankind in the never-ending flow of lust, and love, and passion, the insatiable urge to procreate tempered by the incandescent ethereal wonder in the colors and rhythms of the universe forever flowing around me and through me in endless laminar flow and centrifugal motion, the eruption of the stars followed by clouds of space gas and dust gathered together and later made to coalesce around regions of light and gravity, the tropical storms of the galaxy’s solar systems gyrating round and round, gathering raw materials and making them start to spin, and here I sit with a goofy grin, deep within the warped lines of a curvaceous cosmic canoe.

Friday May 22

The jukes are closed, but the blues are resounding ever more loudly, the spirit-ghosts of Tater and the Mississippi Junebug are walking the back alleys, down the empty streets and lonely corners, and spilling over the muddy banks into the peace of the Sunflower River, away from the madness of the world.

My tiny, insignificant scrawling, the tiniest and most insignificant waves emerging from my infinitesimally small vibrating shape seeking and serving in the oceanic fullness surrounding each dust mote speck pulsing in a way helpful to the whole, cruising downstream in my cosmic canoe shape cutting the light and sound waves into an amazing toe-bending waterfall array of reflections and melodies as the flocks of morning dust mix with a strange arrival on a sky reaching skeleton of a cypress tree, a flock of black bellied whistling ducks, exotic wanderers fleeing disappearing Mexican and Texan wetlands, goose-sized bumps on the naked branch greet the morning sun following the storm, throaty heart-wrenching blues in a dead quiet blues town, mixes with morning songbirds, and the wet hiss of raindrops beating the belly of the Sunflower River.

Finding Peace:

It’s good to find your peaceful place in this wild world. Recently my mother asked, “where do you find your peace?” My answer: “I find it in you, my mother, my family, my river. I find it in my canoe shop.” Now the question remains: Where do you find yours?


Balance, Diversity, Democracy

Quapaw Canoe Company core values are balance, diversity, and democracy, which all derive from our experience paddling big canoes on the big waters of North America. Balance is exemplified by the passage of our canoes. Everything we do is about keeping even keel. To do otherwise is dangerous to our health and well-being. Pandemic and police brutality are examples of the imbalance we seek to counteract in our services and work as canoe builders, guides & outfitters. Other imbalances include species loss, global warming, and loss of wild places. Diversity for us includes all peoples and all creatures great and small. We have always created equal access for all. Our staff reflects our regional demographics, around 60% Black and 40% White. Since 1998 we have made it our mission to make sure all communities found along the Lower Mississippi River enjoy equal access to the wonders of the big river, and the life changing experience of the wilderness. Our adventures practice the best qualities of Democracy. Everyone in the big canoe sets aside their differences and paddles together for the good of the whole. We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Inherent in life is the right to breathe clean air, the right to drink clean water, the right to eat good food, and the right to live in healthy shelter, in healthy communities.

The extremes of life tend to reveal the true qualities in a person, in a community. The stress of pandemic has opened layers of American life that are no so pretty to look at. The murder of George Floyd demonstrates this in clarity. We know we can do better as a nation, and as a people, when we all work together, in a similar way that we all all paddle together in our big canoes on the big muddy river. We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water. The river connects us all.


We're all Connected:

Ending here with Big River Love to everyone. Wherever you are, in on any of the seven continents, or on any of the seven seas -- wherever the passage of life flows onwards forever flowing -- we hope you are well and making good decisions for yourself, your friends, your family, and the future of humanity.

We feel you, and we are all in this boat together. Yours always, in service,

"Driftwood Johnnie"
John Ruskey