Great Quotes and Boats

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Henry David Thoreau, Rower, Philosopher, Poet, Naturalist and Author of Walden.

Great Quotes and Boats

Spendthrift

“Most mornings Andy rows over by himself in a dory from Port Clyde, half a mile away. On the way to the house, swinging a tackle box full of paints and brushes, he ducks into the hen house and emerges with half a dozen eggs, cradling them in one hand like juggling balls. He comes in the side door and chats with Al and me for a little while before heading upstairs” (51).

Christina’s World

“He rows home at dusk. Comes back the next day and troops upstairs, his heavy thudding footsteps the only sound in the quiet house. I hear him pacing around up there, opening doors, shutting doors walking into different rooms” (288).

– Christina Baker Kline, A Piece of the World: A Novel (2017).

Andrew Wyeth

Great Quotes and Boats

“And so in time the rowboat and I became one and the same-like the archer and his bow or the artist and his paint. What I learned wasn’t mastery over the elements; it was mastery over myself, which is what conquest is ultimately all about.”

-Richard Bode, First You Have to Row a Little Boat: Reflections on Life and Living (1995).

Happy New Year 2016!

  
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

– Mark Twain, (20 November 1835 – 21 April 2010) aka Samuel Langhorne Clemens, author, lecturer, American humorist, Riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River and sometime rower.

  
From Roughing It, a semi autobiography with vivid accounts about Twain’s Wild West travels from 1861 through 1867 published in 1872:

“At last the Lake burst upon us — a noble sheet of blue water lifted six thousand three hundred feet above the level of the sea, and walled in by a rim of snow-clad mountain peaks that towered aloft full three thousand feet higher still! It was a vast oval, and one would have to use up eighty or a hundred good miles in traveling around it. As it lay there with the shadows of the mountains brilliantly photographed upon its still surface I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords.

We found the small skiff belonging to the Brigade boys, and without loss of time set out across a deep bend of the lake toward the landmarks that signified the locality of the camp. I got Johnny to row — not because I mind exertion myself, but because it makes me sick to ride backwards when I am at work. But I steered. A three-mile pull brought us to the camp just as the night fell, and we stepped ashore very tired and wolfishly hungry.In a “cache” among the rocks we found the provisions and the cooking utensils, and then, all fatigued as I was, I sat down on a boulder and superintended while Johnny gathered wood and cooked supper. Many a man who had gone through what I had, would have wanted to rest.

It was a delicious supper — hot bread, fried bacon, and black coffee. It was a delicious solitude we were in, too. Three miles away was a saw-mill and some workmen, but there were not fifteen other human beings throughout the wide circumference of the lake.

As the darkness closed down and the stars came out and spangled the great mirror with jewels, we smoked meditatively in the solemn hush and forgot our troubles and our pains. In due time we spread our blankets in the warm sand between two large boulders and soon feel asleep, careless of the procession of ants that passed in through rents in our clothing and explored our persons.

Nothing could disturb the sleep that fettered us, for it had been fairly earned, and if our consciences had any sins on them they had to adjourn court for that night, any way. The wind rose just as we were losing consciousness, and we were lulled to sleep by the beating of the surf upon the shore.”

  

Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Rowing


Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your door and Charles Dickens’ tome of A Christmas Carol are images long associated with Christmas. Did you know that the singer Mel Torme imagined those warm chestnuts and the brisk, cold snow while stuck in LA traffic during a heat wave before most cars had air conditioning? Torme created holiday lyrics as a way to cool down in a hot situation. Victorian author Charles Dickens created masterful tomes filled with colorful characterization and vivid description eventful  in Great Expectations and Hard Times situation. Where would Christmas be without the lessons learned from humbug Scrooge’s Christmas Eve dream and the hopeful spirit of Tiny Tim?

Bet you didn’t know that Dickens began to write when he was very young observing Victorian life in merry old London. Dickens drew on his early perceptions to create enduring classics like A Christmas Carol and A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens’ early essays and tales were first published one by one and later republished as a collection in Sketches by Boz, Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People with few changes.

Here’s what Charles Dickens thought of rowing on the River Thames:

“A rowing-match on the Thames, is a very lively and interesting scene. The water is studded with boats of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions; places in the coal-barges at the different wharfs are let to crowds of spectators, beer and tobacco flow freely about; men, women, and children wait for the start in breathless expectation; cutters of six and eight oars glide gently up and down, waiting to accompany their protégés during the race; bands of music add to the animation, if not to the harmony of the scene; groups of watermen are assembled at the different stairs, discussing the merits of the respective candidates; and the prize wherry, which is rowed slowly about by a pair of sculls, is an object of general interest.

Two o’clock strikes, and everybody looks anxiously in the direction of the bridge through which the candidates for the prize will come – half-past two, and the general attention which has been preserved so long begins to flag, when suddenly a gun is heard, and a noise of distant hurra’ing along each bank of the river – every head is bent forward – the noise draws nearer and nearer – the boats which have been waiting at the bridge start briskly up the river, and a well-manned galley shoots through the arch, the sitters cheering on the boats behind them, which are not yet visible.

‘Here they are,’ is the general cry – and through darts the first boat, the men in her, stripped to the skin, and exerting every muscle to preserve the advantage they have gained – four other boats follow close astern; there are not two boats’ length between them – the shouting is tremendous, and the interest intense. ‘Go on, Pink’ – ‘Give it her, Red’ – ‘Sulliwin for ever’ – ‘Bravo! George’ – ‘Now, Tom, now – now – now – why don’t your partner stretch out?’ – ‘Two pots to a pint on Yellow,’ &c., &c. Every little public-house fires its gun, and hoists its flag; and the men who win the heat, come in, amidst a splashing and shouting, and banging and confusion, which no one can imagine who has not witnessed it, and of which any description would convey a very faint idea.”

Two pots to a pint indeed. Keep Christmas well and have a very, merry holiday!

Book Review: Boys in the Boat By: Daniel James Brown

Weighing enough to read or keep paddling?

When Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat first came out last year, my coach Paul Bloom at UConn wanted us all to read it. I knew I would eventually, and when it came out in paperback I got a copy to mark up the good parts to keep in my duffle. But it wasn’t that kind of book. I wouldn’t find a new, inspirational way to call for a power ten for the boys in my boat to pull harder and tap into some drive that even they didn’t know they still had. These boys hailing from the University of Washington were the other Huskies, the ones who won the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics right in front of Hitler. I’ve held an Olympic gold medal once for an unforgettable brief moment. It feels cold, hard and solid, heavy in a fulfilling and complete way. Just being in the presence of gold and an Olympian is inspiring. To win one must be divine. But Brown’s book isn’t about winning a race but to survive past the opposition.

Brown offers a lot of rowing knowledge, history and technique throughout his nonfiction narrative. Through impeccable pacing and detail Brown really connects to the essence of what it feels like to be a rower. There is a pulse to the story as Brown captures the rhythm and language of rowing and writes from the heart. The narrative is framed on third seat rower Joe Rantz, from his sad but resilient childhood to the dying man in his nineties who wanted this story to be “Not just about me. It had to be about the boat.” Brown does tell the story of the boat, but makes the story personal using Joe Rantz’s life set against the Depression, the Dust Bowl, Hitler’s militarization of Germany, and the propaganda of German cinema. The coordinated effort of event and circumstance is amazing to read but just part of the story.

There is also the ongoing rowing rivalry between University of California, Berkeley and UW, especially by the coaches. Brown gives a lot of insight to UW’s winning record through Varsity Coach Al Ulbrickson, UW Novice Coach Thomas Bolles, and Cal Berkeley Varsity Coach Ky Ebright who had coxed for UW. My favorite personality was Brit George Yeoman Pocock who built cedar racing shells for most of the collegiate crew teams in the country on the second floor of the UW boathouse. Pocock was a self-taught rower who adapted the short quick stroke, a quick catch and a quick release from watching watermen ferrying passengers on the Thames. Brown uses a spot on quotation from Pocock to start every chapter ironic as the proper Brit never offered unsolicited advice. But Pocock was always called upon going back to the boys at Eton, the East Coast Ivies, Wisconsin and a pesky Ky Ebright.

These boys on the water were heroes. These boys on the water had skill, drive and swing as they feathered in unison with that swoosh of power that every rower instinctually feels deep in their core. There is no doubt that every rower wants to win, but the 1936 Olympic team hailing from UW had the humility, the intelligence and the will to survive. What Brown has done here was to hand humanity a how to book to row faster, stronger, and further beyond our blisters, egos and time trials but also how to row faster, stronger and further beyond the Depression, the Dust Bowl, abandonment and hunger. These boys rowed because they all mattered. They did whatever they could to move forward in tough times. They were tough because they had to be. They found power in each other and each stroke because they put heart, body and mind in the boat. Mind in boat was their mantra as it should be, but for these boys it was religion.

 

My rating for The Boys in the Boat is five oars because it is the most I can give any book. I’m stowing my marked up copy in my duffle for inspiration and to be reminded of the potential we all share. The Boys in the Boat offers an exhilarating way to slip away from all of life’s trepidations for the reader just as it did for these boys as they pulled water. No rowing experience necessary.

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