Burlington, Vermont

I spent a Saturday afternoon in Burlington with my hosts, the Breilands. It was a glorious, sunny day in the high 70’s.

We eased through the Church Street Marketplace that runs uphill, bounded on the north by Pearl Street and by Main Street on the south.

All sorts of fun is to be had at the Marketplace: music, diverse food offerings, good shops, saying hello to one’s acquaintances in a small college town. So many cities have tried and struggled with, or failed in, the downtown pedestrian mall concept. The city planners in Eugene, Oregon might want to come study this place.

We parked just around the corner on Main, in front of Nectar’s, the reliable old club where the band Phish got its start. Main Street runs steadily downhill from the highway, through the picturesque campus of University of Vermont, to the waterfront of Lake Champlain.

This summer day saw dozens of sailors and power boaters enjoying the perfect weather and water. A winter day might see skaters heading west across the lake toward the Adirondack Mountains off to the New York side.

I’ll remember the foot of Main Street as the place where I had my first cree-mee (sometimes, creemee). Out west we call this a frostee, frosty, or soft-serve. But the cree-mee is qualitatively different in that (a) it seems, at least to me, to be less sugary (which I like), (b) it is equally craved by young and old, and (c) in Vermont at least, one of the flavor options is maple.

Missing Karen, I ordered the maple, her favorite sweet. Dang, it was good! I should have had the large or at least the medium. And I should have figured a way to bring some home for her.

(Next day, at another location and having come to my senses, I did order a medium maple cree-mee. Breilands surprised me by having maple sprinkles added on. Thanks!)

At the foot of Main Street was an excursion train. North of it along the waterfront were a festival venue, a paved bike path and a yacht club. Naturally, Erik and Meredith have been invited to meetings to consider the possibly addition of coastal rowing to this facility. What a perfect venue for it.

Also along the waterfront is a facility that to me represents how unique and humane this city is.

Taking up about a half acre of prime waterfront real estate is a skate park. On this day several dozens males and females from tykes on up were swooping, jumping, turning and gliding above ground that many cities would have seen fit to divert for condos or trendy restaurants, or the like.

Burlington is definitely on my list of cities to visit again – next time with Karen. It reminded me of a miniature Portland, Oregon, with a similar casual, easy-to-meet atmosphere created by good-natured, bright, purposeful people. The people in Burlington, though, seemed less self-conscious than Portlanders. I like that.

Driving in Quebec

I was concerned because the highway signs are in French only and the only French words I know are toast, fries, poodle and Vichy.

Driving through Ontario, however, I gained a small measure of confidence by reading the bilingual English / French signs thoughtfully provided.

So, for example, I figured out that 15 km meant 15 kilometers / 15 kilometres.

I carried that knowledge across the provincial border into Quebec, thereby allowing me to read 15 km as 15 kilometres.

Oui! (5 words, then).

I did fine, I think, although I did see more of Quebec than the map seemed to indicate.

The Better Angels of Our Nature

In his first inaugural address, given on March 4, 1861, the day he was was first sworn into office as President of the United States, President Abraham Lincoln appealed to the secessionists to hold the nation together. He used the word “Union” twenty times, and sent a clear message that he would not allow the Union to be peaceably dissolved. “We cannot separate.”

I was raised by parents who revered Abraham Lincoln. We talked of him often and in the third grade I began to read stories about him, and things he had written and said. It was if he were a living mentor and guide.

I memorized the first inaugural address in the fifth grade. Most of it has been lost to my memory, so I go back frequently to read it. The passage that helps to keep me at my usual upbeat best is its conclusion:

I am loth to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Lincoln’s speech did not stave off war. But the wisdom in its giving is that, come what may, the language of optimism – that together we will rise to our best – is far better that that of pessimism. This attitude guides me in my personal and professional endeavours and is, I hope, how I will be remembered. It is how I remember my parents.

Early on June 30 I was driving from Cheyenne, Wyoming toward Laramie. I pulled off at a rest area situated some 8600 feet in elevation – the highest point on Interstate 80. There stands a monument some 30 feet high consisting of a chiselled stone column topped by an enormous bust of President Lincoln.

I stood next to my hero for long minutes and breathed the warming morning air. These were moments of wonderful serenity and gratitude, similar to how I feel pulling into the dock after a good morning row, or when I my good family and friends are around me, or when I reflect on the good fortune in my life.

I thought, sure, there are bad things in life, but, see: the magnificence!

Ron and Judy

Monday, June 24, 2019

I had my morning tour of Concept2, which Meredith Breiland arranged (details to come), then drove an hour east and just north of St. Johnsbury, VT, to Lyndonville.

Three miles out of town runs a year-round brook that skirts the edge of the farm of Ron and Judy Groskopf. Judy was raised in St. Johnsbury. Like me, Ron was raised in Sonoma, CA. He is a third generation Sonoman through his paternal grandfather and fourth generation Sonoman on his paternal grandmother’s side.

Ron is three years older than I and, since we were young, one of the older guys who was always good to me. My father was Ron’s and my math teacher and coach at Sonoma Valley High School. Not only that, Ron is the older brother of Charlene – my former wife and the mother of our son Ian and daughter Eryn. Ergo, he and Judy are my kids’ maternal uncle and aunt. Family.

Ron Groskopf therefore looms large for me, and has, for almost sixty years. Although his sister and I went our separate ways long ago, Ron and I never did get divorce. But to my discredit I never did resolve things with him. I left matters dangling.

Ron graduated from University of Nevada-Reno the year I started at Cal. He had been in ROTC, so, soon after graduation, off he went to Vietnam, as a second lieutenant, US Army, 101st Airborne.

So wrapped up was I in living the college life, rowing crew, keeping my grades up, courting his sister Charlene, and shooting my mouth off about what a lousy war we were in, that not once did I ever give proper consideration to Ron’s sense of duty or the danger he faced every day.*

Nonetheless, the two of us always got along well over the years afterward – how generous of him! And always he, and after he married, Judy as well, were good to my children. And still I did not keep up with him.

Visiting them on their farm would have made the trip from Oregon worthwhile, even had nothing else good come of it. Ron and Judy Groskopf are the same people they were last time I saw them 30+ years ago. They are full of good cheer and love for Ian and Eryn and me; sad to hear my father had died and eager to share stories about him; positive about family news; grateful I came to see them.

And Ron, a third-generation trucker (my son is fourth-), loved Alan’s boat trailer; and as a guy whose family kept a classic Chris Craft at Lake Tahoe when he was a kid, he was enthralled with BETTER ANGEL.

The visit truly was short and sweet.

Milling around outside as I was leaving, I said to Ron, “You were an older kid I looked up to. Still do.” We gave each other a back-cracking hug, shook hands and said good-bye.

It’s that simple.

* Read Karl Marlantes’s marvelous book Matterhorn. You’ll learn something about the combat life of 2nd lieutenants in Vietnam. Their life expectancy was not long.

The Racing Shell Trailer

Several people have asked about the trailer I am pulling.

Alan Stewart built it for me, with a little help. Alan is my friend of 40+ years and one fine rower. He now dedicates himself to coaching, as head coach of Vancouver (WA) Lake Rowing Club juniors and masters.

The bottom frame and axles are a galvanized, commercially-built EZ Loader 21’6″ power boat trailer. We removed the boat bunks and the winch. Alan welded and bolted iron (angle and tubes) for the superstructure, then unbolted his work and took it to the galvanizer.

The trailer will carry three shells on each of the top two levels and two on the bottom. Bottom two levels are for 1x, top for 1x or 2x/2-.

The box sides and floor are expanded metal – easy hooking for bungees and the like. Lots of room for oars and sculls and other stuff such as the fold up bike at the back.

Friend Peter Perrin helped Alan build the trailer for a couple of days, mounted the waterproof aluminum boxes, and added some other final touches.

The torsion bar suspension gives the trailer a smooth ride, even on the barely updated wagon roads that are used in the Interstate Highway system in certain eastern states.

The trailer pulls easily behind a mid-sized SUV with a turbo V-6 engine.

Send a comment if you want other details or information about the boat slings and cradles I use.

Rowing Across the Midwest

Friday, June 28, 2019.

Today I was up and out early for an hour of rowing on perfect water on a fine lake a quarter mile from my hotel in Laporte, Indiana.

De-rig, load, drive back to the hotel for shower and quick breakfast. Drive across northwest Indiana, Illinois and Iowa into Omaha, Nebraska for the night. It is 5:00 PM and It is 97 degrees outside. The low tonight is forecast to be 75. We don’t have these temperatures on the south coast of Oregon.

All across Iowa I drove into a strong headwind and, for 90 minutes, a Midwestern thunderstorm with black sky, heavy rain, bolts of lightening all around, and boom after boom!

The boats held on.


Driving through Eastern Pennsylvania yesterday I came within 40 miles of my paternal grandfather’s place of birth and early childhood, The town he came from is Slatington, PA.

I was at Slatington once years ago and I took the time to search out some distant cousins who are related on my grandfather’s mother’s side. They are Pennsylvania Dutch (German-American).

My grandfather, Miles F. Costello, was born in 1888. He attended school through third grade, then quit school to go to work in the slate quarry that was the town’s life blood, in order to help support the family. He had been an “A” student.

His father was cruel- so cruel that my father could not recall having been told his first name. Dad did recall his father saying that after a day’s work in the quarry his job was to carry a bucket of beer home for great-(or not-so-great) granddad; and that if he spilled any, he would get cuffed, hard.

Miles Costello left home at age 12. He never said much to my father about what he did, or where he went, after that. My father did learn that at age 15, my grandfather was taken in and cared for by an African-American woman in St. Louis, MO. Also, that Miles F. Costello served four years in the U.S. Navy prior to WW1, then enlisted in the Army when the U.S. entered that war, because it was the best job he could find. He fought in the infantry in France.

My grandfather married Hilda Knoll of Milwaukee, WI. They moved to Rochester, MN, where he supported his wife, two daughters and my father-to-be working as a self-employed cement- and brick mason. Fifteen years ago I saw the nice little home he built in 1920 with his own hands.

At age 14, my dad went to work for him carrying hod (look it up). That’s why he was so strong and such a great athlete.

My grandparents moved to the San Diego area during WW2 for work. My grandmother worked in San Diego as a maid.

I recall visiting them once when I was about age 10, 1959 or so. We took a ride and she made my grandfather take us past a home she had just been hired to clean. It was the home of a lawyer and his family. Grandma Costello was so proud to have been hired to clean the home of a lawyer.

Starting in 1976 when I graduated from law school she acted as if I were no longer little Donnie. I felt sad about that.

My grandfather Miles was gentle and kind. Comparing how he was with how he had been fathered became one of my early realizations that individual behavior is a matter of choice.

These thoughts brought tears of appreciation when recently driving through Rochester, and yesterday when I was near Slatington.

On Tuesday, Graeme King asked whether I was related to the famous Costello rowing family of Philadelphia. Paul Costello, for example, was cousin of John B. Kelly, Sr., and himself a triple Olympic champion.

I told Graeme I doubted it. Although you never know, because Paul and Miles were both Pennsylvanians.

Below, Miles, Howard and Don Costello in my senior year of high school. (You’ll need to squint.)

Graeme King

On Monday, June 26 I left the Hanover home of my good friends Wyatt and Rachel and hustled south on the Interstate for my scheduled 10:30 meeting with Graeme King.

I met him at the Putney, VT workshop that he built in the 1980’s. From the outside it is a nondescript building that belies the magic therein. In this shop Mr. King has for decades continued a tradition of boat building he began in his native Australia some 45 years ago.

King boats are marvelous and are prized among rowers. My former double partner, Stu Brown, once raced in a wooden King 4-. He said it was the prettiest a fastest four he had ever raced, including carbon boats lighter in weight.

Graeme King wooden racing shells will become even more prized, because he has built his last boat. For reasons of health and age (he is 72) he says he simply is not vigorous enough to build from start to finish a shell that meets his standards. He continues to do repair work, although currently he says he mostly putters about, due to recent knee surgery.

We had spoken on the phone several times, but I had never met him before. We visited for well over an hour. I said that out by the Pacific we see very few King wooden racing shells and although I have never rowed one, I aim to nab one some day. He said he would keep an eye out for me.

We talked about his history in boat-building, which has already been well documented in Darryl Strickler’s Rowable Classics. He asked why I was driving around in New England with three wooden racing shells on a trailer. I shared some tales about the trip.

I described myself said as a bit of a missionary for wooden racing shells; that I feel much of the good direction in my life I owe to what I learned starting back to my earlier years in wooden shells; that touring with these boats gives me a chance to give back some of what I have gained; that this trip has borne out my theory that people – even those with no connection to rowing – are drawn to these fine crafts; and that, heck, it is a good time in my life to take a (as my daughter calls it) row’d trip.

I said I own and on occasion row carbonfiber racing shells, including one that is manufactered by a company for which he does design and consulting – but that carbon boats “are industrial stuff, while wooden racing shells are alive. They feel me and I feel them.”

He said wooden boats breathe.

At this point, he got up, painfully, and with his cane hobbled into the back room to show me two sets of sculls dating to 1890, which set the rowing stations of a 1890 Thames River skiff he has restored. He handed me one of the sculls. I looked it over closely. It looks new!

We stood there for minutes without a word. The rain rain had tapered. He led me outside to a nearby building and unlocked it. There was the Thames skiff!

I have never seen anything like it. He had worked on it for years. He researched the history of the boat (and the sculls) and went to the trouble of travelling to England to verify every little detail, down to the crests that adorn the boat and the oars, and the type of cotton rudder ropes.

We returned to the main shop. We talked about the tradition of wooden racing shells. I said I am not the person to build these things, I can only collect, curate, love and row then, and share them with others.

I’ll have more to say about Graeme King, and photos of him and the shop to share, later.

I had brought a copy of Strickler’s Rowable Classics. I asked Mr. King if he would sign his name on one of the pages written about him. He wrote: “Don, Keep up the good work looking after the wooden boats. All the best Graeme King”