" 'You're telling me this is a canoe?' says my old friend Steve. 'Looks more like a piece of scrap metal to me.'

" 'Steve, how rude!' I gibe back playfully. 'This is an Elder! Do you stick your mug in the face of other Elders and tell them what shape they're in? How about showing some respect?'

"The boat — or what used to be a boat, according to Steve — lies upside down under some brush behind my cabin. It is late summer, the Wild Rice is ripe, and Steve has stopped over to see if he can borrow a canoe to go ricing. I don't take his reaction personally — it's just Steve. At the same time, I get the feeling he might not share my appreciation for the classic watercraft that I am allowing him the privilege of using.

"He bends over the hull and scrutinizes her folds and dimples as though he were actually questioning her sea-worthiness. If he were a normal person, you'd think he'd stand back with an appreciative smile and savor the sight of such an ancient craft that has seen many waters and been part of many adventures. Okay, maybe his reaction is what you'd expect from a normal person, but I think I'll have some more fun with this anyway. I also wonder if Steve can see what I see in the canoe.

" 'What you're looking at are the marks of wisdom,' I continue. 'This boat has gained many teachings, many lessons on her journey. She wears her battle scars with pride.'

" 'One teaching I don't need,' says Steve, 'is to be out in the middle of the rice bed in this old tin can with the water slowly creeping up over my ankles.'

" 'Let me tell you the story of this boat,' I continue. 'Let's sit over here under the Pines, and then you can decide if you want to take her out ricing with you or not. But first, just take in her ambiance. She's telling us her story right now — all we have to do is listen.'

" 'All right Tamarack, I'm usually up for a story, but it'll have to be a good one. And a short one, because the rice is ready and I'm itching to get out there.'

" 'Yeah, it is,' I reply, 'and it's hanging heavy this year. After you hear this story, I have a hunch you'll just know whether ol' Bessie is intended to be your ricing companion or not. She could tell her story better than me, and you could probably hear a lot of it without my help. Those dings and dents you were looking at with a raised eyebrow are her voice. Right now she's telling you the story about when and where each one happened.'

" ' "Story," you say? It looks more like a nightmare. She must have gone down in Pearl Harbor.'

" 'Hey, I thought you were going to listen! But you're right on one count — it is more than a story. It's a saga you'd hear if you could step back and keep quiet long enough to hear her song. There are all the voices, such as the age of the boat, the registration and park stickers, the repairs and how well they were done, and the color of the paint and how and why it's peeling. And then there are the scratches that show what kind of rocks she went over, the strength of the current, how much cargo she was carrying, and the ability of her paddlers. All these voices, and more that are not as obvious, spin the tale of where she's been and what she has seen.'

" 'Hold up,' says Steve. 'You're not going to get me in that thing with a history lesson. Where's the story?'

" 'If you could give me a few minutes without interrupting,' I huff back at him, 'you'd find out. By listening to the song of the boat, you get to know her spirit, her needs and desires, her capabilities. She'll tell you whether or not she's a ricing boat, and whether or not she wants to go with you. In the same way that you have a need, so does she, and she speaks hers just as clearly as you did when you came and asked to borrow a boat. She sings a beautiful song, high and melodic. So let's give her our ear.' "