Paddling through life
I keep an eye out for talent and deeper meaning; talent because it should be recognized and deeper meaning because it makes life easier to understand. This week I found both.
Jim Seibel likes to canoe a bit. The tools of this trade are simple,
a canoe and a paddle. However, he and some friends like to do a fair
amount of miles and need the best and lightest equipment available.
This means spend a lot of money or make it yourself.
I’ve known Seibel a few years and always picture him on one of those
“Shop smith” commercials or on the cover of “Popular Mechanics.” It’s
fair to assume that Jim would use his considerable talents to make
his own equipment, although he’s too modest to say so.
Seibel’s canoe paddle’s are part science and part folk-art, beautiful
and useful. The paddles are strips of wood glued together then bent
at a 14 degree angle at the point where the handle becomes part of
the paddle or “beaver tail.” These laminations are only 3/16 of an
inch thick so that they may be pliable enough to bend. A layer each
of walnut, maple and aspen are repeatedly joined with waterproof glue
into a sandwich to be bent, routered and sanded into a finished
The 14 degree bend above the paddle is for a purpose, efficiency. At
this degree the paddle enters the stream at a 90 degree angle which
presents the full face of the beaver tail to the water for better
power. A straight paddle presents its full face only rarely and
lacks the efficiency of the paddles Jim creates.
The beaver tail and handle are now all one continuous unit, jig-bent
and ready for Seibel to remove all the wood that isn’t needed. The
whole paddle is thicker towards its center line for strength and
thinner further from center for weight. The paddle weighs only one
pound which is due to router and sander works that takes many hours.
The difference between a one pound paddle and a two pound paddle can
only be realized after several miles of effort in the proving ground
of a backwater stream. Seibel’s first paddle was double the weight
but experience and confidence have shown Jim what to keep in and what
I thought about this whole process and really admired the
craftsmanship. I also thought about how what we each create tells our
own story. Seibel has probably spent more time building the paddles
than he’ll spend using them on the first trip. What he is doing is
investing effort and delaying gratitude until a time when his efforts
will reward him both for his efforts and patience-something for which
fewer people have the character to emulate.
In life, we seem to carry so much extra baggage. We hold grudges,
bare misconceptions and carry prejudices which are untrue and make us
tired over the long haul. As we get older and more confident,
successful people whittle away at their life and remove the extra
weight they bare and keep only that which makes them strong. Just
like Seibel’s canoe paddles, which carried more heft at inception but
can accomplish as much or more at half their original weight.
Nice work, Jim and thanks for the story, I guess a person can learn a
lot from a well-made canoe paddle.