Rooted

I entered my shop this morning to smell linseed oil, varnish, and wood shavings. I was transported to my friend’s boat shop in Newbury, the WoodenBoat School in Brookline, Maine, the shipyard I worked in one summer, and the shops of mentors and friends from over the past fifty years. A woodworker’s aromatherapy.

It’s hard to explain the languor that overcomes you as you share the unity of experience across the years and distances. It’s like you could step back twenty years or five hundred miles. One place and a single time stand-in for the others. The chips and shavings on the floor tell a story. Put them all together and have a negative shape echoing the garboard or eagle crafted from the plank.

There is a connection also, across the generations, to the mentors and masters who taught the trade to us. They sit on chairs near the woodstove during the winter, drinking coffee, smoking pipes, talking about the weather, and telling tales of launchings so long ago that the keel timbers are dust. Occasionally one will stand by our shoulder, whispering a suggestion.

I’ve been in the large industrial spaces some people call workshops, and I think they lack the sort of connectedness of the more familiar locations I am talking about. Instead, they perform a robbery of the spirit.

Maybe it’s the lack of patterns hanging from the joists, remnants of projects completed fifty years ago. The faint pencil marks tell a history of later revision as the project was modified for another client. Somewhere in the shop, you can find everything you’d ever need, every bolt, screw, or grade of sandpaper. All you have to do is find it.

So this morning, I entered my shop to smell linseed oil, varnish, and wood shavings. I was transported to my friend’s boat shop in Newbury, the WoodenBoat School in Brookline, Maine, the shipyard I worked in one summer, and the shops of mentors and friends from over the past fifty years. It’s nice to be rooted.

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