One of my favorite books of all time is The Wind in the Willows, a classic kids' tale written by Kenneth Grahame and first published back in 1908. Anyone who has a passion for being on the water probably knows its most famous line:

"There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

But that's not my favorite quote from the book. It's just the one that will fit on a T-shirt.

This Irish rowboat could be the Water Rat's craft, pulled up on the bank awaiting the next adventure. .

Last spring, while cruising the Shannon River on a luxurious riverboat, my husband and I spotted a boat that matched my exact vision of the Water Rat's sturdy craft. Mole describes it as "just the size for the two animals; and the Mole's heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses." Though this skiff is actually large enough for two or even more people, and I did understand its uses, there was something about it that brought back my favorite conversation between Mole (a complete landlubber) and the Water Rat (who took his watery home completely for granted).

Soon after he spots this fine vessel, the Mole is seated (much to his "surprise and rapture") in the stern. "This has been a wonderful day!" he tells his new friend.

A day made wonderful, just by stepping into a boat for the first time.

That's a basic concept, but it's so easy to forget for those of us who spend our spring weekends thinking about launch dates and work lists, and talking in a lingo which may even be incomprehensible to other boaters. (Just ask Lenny Rudow what an "asymmetrical spinnaker" looks like.)

Instead we need to communicate our enthusiasm, without boring anyone with the long list of projects and chores that is (for us) so much a part of "messing about in boats." And the best way to do that is to take a lesson from the Water Rat, who instead of telling his friend about his boat (the bare spots in the varnish, the bottom that needs scrubbing), takes him out to see and smell and hear the river for himself.

I can imagine the two animals (instantly friends, thanks to the special bonding power of boats) pushing this boat off the bank, and I can almost hear Mole admit to the Water Rat: "Do you know, I've never been in a boat before in all my life."

Which brings me, at last, to my favorite quote:

"What?" cried the Rat, open-mouthed: "Never been in a—you never—well, I—what have you been doing, then?"

—Carol Cronin

Photo courtesy Paul Cronin Studios