Beyond the Grain

by:  Abigail Costigan & Claire Pacione

The sun’s rays radiate down on me as summer fights to keep its grip on Arcadia.  Few things are as rewarding as making something useful with your own hands, but it’s hard work!  Sweat beads on my forehead as I struggle, armed only with a hand plainer, to free a canoe paddle– seemingly trapped in a plank of red spruce. Three weeks have passed since we first picked out our wood and began the process of making our paddle.  After 9 hours of work – 3 hour sessions per week – 1 could finally start to see the outline of a finished product.

Our teacher, Everett is a real North Country man who wears a banjo on his belt.  As he gives me tips on shaping the blade of my paddle, I ask him about his favorite wood to work with and his eyes immediately brighten.  Warmly, Everett Smith starts in with, “Oh, cherry is our most beautiful here in the North Country.”  With a soft smile forming on his face, he explains the deep red hues of cheery wood and its delicate platelets that are created by its vertical grain structure.  A native wood that catches our teacher’s eye is the red spruce, which Everett admires for its strength, stronger than steel for its weight.  Everett, a banjo player himself, appreciates the wood for its musical sound board.  The annual rings of red spruce grow closely together, making it preferable for guitar makers.

His wife Martha, is the news director at North Country Public Radio, but she’s not the only family member that can spin yarn. The best part of woodworking is when Everett pulls out a box of Oreo’s and a carton of milk and says, “Okay everyone, it’s time for a break, not about anything in particular, let’s just talk” in these moments he shares stories about his struggle to get back a boat he built from Abercrombie and Fitch, or the folk music he plans to play for us or an old radio he likes to bring in.

There is something special about transforming a plank of wood taken from a tree grown in the Adirondacks into a paddle used to explore the region’s lakes.  It’s pleasing the way this circle of life is – difficult, a little dangerous, and beautiful when done with love.