In May 2008 I made a paper mache boat.
I intended to send it down the river with a potted plant in place of the Lady of Shalott
. For over a year, the boat sat, forlorn and gathering dust. And then randomly, I was inspired again. Along the sides of the original boat, I painted an updated Bayeux tapestry
, with friends in place of conquering heroes. And then I decided, if I was going to all the trouble of sending one boat down the river, I might as well send several. So I made three more: one from a terrible book ("The Gondor"), one from a computer box ("The Wanderer") and one from a teensy cardboard candy box ("The Coffin"). Each was biodegradable and flammable. These details are important, as I planned on planting flowers in The Gondor and the Bayeux, and lighting The Wanderer and The Coffin on fire, as a combination Viking funeral and grand send-off.
Everything did not go as planned.
To get close to the river, we used a local kayacking place's pier. The owners of the pier indulgently let us send boats off of their pier, but warned us not to set anything on fire. They were afraid that the (very polluted) Chicago River would go up in flames. Eager to maintain their goodwill, we agreed not to light anything--except a single firework, which served as the symbolic pyre for our boats. Sadly, although The Coffin and The Wanderer, which had flat bottoms, floated just fine, The Gondor started listing to one side almost immediately. The flower within turned out to symbolize Anne Shirley
, not the Lady of Shalott.
Disheartened by this failure, we decided to throw the final boat, the Bayeux, off a nearby bridge. Even if it filled with water and drowned the plant, at least we'd have had the pleasure of tossing it into the air. I threw it--and it vanished. It had landed underneath the bridge. After long moments of anxious waiting, the current tugged it into our sight. It was upright (though a little off-balance) and the plant remained! Never before has a potted plant been flung off the North bridge into the Chicago River, and survived to tell the tale.