Over the course of the first weekend several small things went awry:
- Lake weeds and strong winds foiled our efforts to tow the Library raft with Silverwood’s trolling motor and we had to paddle it via canoe (something I was so excited to not do)
- The vicious storm that caused the wind that troubled the transport also caused a power outage in the cafe so there was no cream for anyone’s coffee
- A large, very furry, very wet dog jumped onto the raft and shook itself dry all over the materials
- A zine called All The Lakes I’ve Swam In fell into the water and floated away
These things amounted to minor annoyances, in between which many wonderful things happened:
Two legit librarians were our first patrons; many boaters found us by surprise; some lake residents came and checked out books (and returned them!); I met one of the 2014 artists with whom I’d only corresponded with via Facebook; some New Yorkers who’d never been in a canoe before paddled out; Scout the dog came with a fancy dog lifejacket; Steve the floating poet read every book in the collection and got a funny sunburn from one of those woven straw hats; Steve and I also signed and dipped the 6 copies of A Book Dipped in Two Lakes to complete the edition; the photographer’s camera was not lost when he fell out of a canoe trying to get a good shot; lovely reporters from MPR came to visit and wrote up a nice piece; some artists from Chicago canoe-delivered a book that includes a head of cabbage.
All-in-all, we were sunburned and smiling having shared beautiful objects with so many visitors.
And then at the very end of the day on Sunday the canoe transporting the entire collection back to shore capsized.
The Library canoe was not alone in this drama, as four canoes turned over that day due to the intense wind. Mostly importantly, the humans in the boat were fine — Silver Lake is thankfully not so deep — but all of the books in all of the tubs went into the water.
What ensued from there was an important lesson in resiliency, both of paper products and of spirit. Amazingly, the volunteers in the canoe rescued every single tub and all of the books. A Silverwood staff person swam around the lake in their work clothes to collect all of the stray Ziploc bags. The park director drove over in the golf cart to bring all the soggy books up to the Visitor Center. Another staffer set up tables in the Great Hall as a make shift triage center and found us loads of cloth towels. Two Library volunteers stayed until 9 pm to help lay out the books for drying. Another Library volunteer took several of the one-of-a-kind books back to her studio where she spent hours leafing in waxed paper between pages and even re-binding a couple of books.
Over the past five days I’ve used countless paper towels and rolls of waxed paper as I’ve tended to books drying on my dining room table. It is a pretty profound act of care and intimacy to save a drowned book. You have to turn the fragile pages over and over. You see the book as a whole object – a structure, but also as fragments of a collection of letters, words, images, paper, thread. Sometimes I would lose attention for the task and sit and read poems on damp pages.
I’m humbled by this material called paper that can become completely drenched and then reform itself, the same but different.
I’m so grateful for the volunteers for all of their help, for the Silverwood staff for going along with this madness in the first place and all of the artists for understanding the risks of such an endeavor.
Come see the new collection! It’s been transformed.
Photos one and two by David Eberhardt, a photographer with a mostly perfect sense of balance in a boat.