An old stone artifact handed down in Jason Murvine’s family has finally led to an immensely long project – construction of a 24-foot dugout canoe.
It lies on a bed of wood splinters at the intersection of park roads at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area, right where it fell, hidden inside an aged tulip poplar. Dressed in American Indian garb, Ranger Murvine in his spare moments, chips, burns and scrapes away everything that isn’t a canoe. Of course, he attracts plenty of questions and curious visitors, especially youngsters, which give him an
opening to stage interpretive programs around the project. As a small, slow-burning fire turns the heartwood to cinders, visitors are invited to scrape away with mussel shells found on the lake’s shore. Then, the fire’s hot coals are shoved further along the canoe’s length and the process is repeated.
“I just thought it’d be fun to ‘relive’ something I’ve never experienced before and I thought maybe other people would think it’s fun. Personally, that’s the kind of park I like to visit,” Murvine said. The project and the interpretive talks are especially popular with visitors who enjoy camping at the lake, but don’t have a boat; they’re always drawn to something interesting going on, he said.
The work’s going well, but not quickly. “Maybe we can launch it this summer, but it may be next year,” Murvine said. American Indians could produce such a dugout in two or three weeks, he said, but they had more skilled labor.
Growing up in his native Ohio, Murvine was always told the old artifact given him was sort of a generic “hatchet,” but after he delved more deeply in his study of American Indian crafts, it dawned on him that it is an adze – the perfect tool for boatbuilding. It’s now strapped to a new handle with artificial sinew, but he uses it mostly as an
interpretive tool, having roughly shaped the canoe with a modern adze and the occasional help of a chainsaw.
When finished, the dugout will be only about 20 inches wide with less than 24 inches of interior depth, so it’ll take some skill to navigate. Traditionally, two paddlers kneeled in the middle with one person standing at each end. American Indians in this part of
northeastern North Carolina were certainly familiar with dugout canoes, Murvine said, but native “shad boats” would likely have been more prevalent since large rivers predated the manmade reservoir. Those smaller boats were designed to act in pairs to set fishing nets. Large natural lakes farther east prompted wide use of dugout canoes. Several ancient ones have been raised from the bed of Lake Phelps at Pettigrew State Park.
Murvine is already pondering his next project – fashioning arrowheads from glass. And, the bottoms of beer bottles confiscated by rangers seem to be the perfect raw material. “It’s a kind of recycling,” he said.