The rains of March and early April are here. The seeds are getting started, and I am more than a bit frustrated with the new “peat moss-free” seeding mix I am trying. Nevertheless, the maple sap is boiling, and the almost spring is upon us.

Now I recall, at the edge of winter, that there will be days that I am itching to get garden beds in order, but there will be too much water on the garden to move without creating a mud patch.

The cat will demand to be carried into the carving shop and begin an inspection tour. She’ll move about the projects in a furtive and firtle fashion- looking busy but doing little. Finally, after knocking a few things over, she’ll get into the nip and lay in her shop bed and purr.

The details attended to; I’ll set my tools out and start carving while listening to the marine weather forecast rattling and hissing away on the tiny shop radio.

It beats the hell out of February!


Kicked out. That’s right; I got kicked out of the commune I had joined. I was told I had issues with privacy and property. They were correct. Other people randomly invading what I thought of as private space, my bed, was beyond my comfort zone. My guitar was my only real possession, and having it used without permission set me off. The third and final time I found Donnie with it, I refrained from putting his lights out. But, he walked funny for a while. So yes, I was asked to depart by the commune’s council—the best decision.

As one of the few left who knew much about gardening, I left a deficit in the food-raising knowledge base of the community. Most of my fellow communards had trouble recognizing a carrot grown in soil. Their primary contact with vegetables had been a grocery store produce aisle.
I didn’t miss the political orientation sessions that were required attendance. As one of the few working-class kids, I tended to howl with laughter when the doctrinaire talked about encouraging the workers to join the coming revolution. I had tried to explain that in 1968 many of the white working class had a large enough slice of the pie that they felt no need to ruin things for themselves. They drove new cars, had union jobs, and their kids went to the state university. Also, there was not a lot of respect owed to 19-year-olds who had never worked in a mill, factory, or any job. For those folks to reject their current course, things would have to deteriorate incredibly.

My experience at the Internationale farm shoved me firmly into the camp of being a recovering anarchist. Not being one to hold my feeling in, I shared my opinions. At my favorite drinking establishment, the wise heads of the Harvard Gardens sagely nodded in agreement. Visiting our table that evening was Sol. Sol was a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, an experienced community organizer, a former communist, and a local ward heeler for the Democratic organization. After letting me blather on for a while, Sol looked up from what had to be his tenth beer and said to us, ” Listen, guys. Mao’s Little Red Book is all good and excellent, but hard work wins the day, not airy theory. To mangle Napoleon – Determination is to Doctrine as two to one.”

The Shop

I am forever looking for ways to maximize the limited space in my eight by ten-foot greenhouse/ workshop. I continuously shuffle tools from one place to another. Only carving tools have fixed locations because I need to reach for them all the time. Specialty planes, jigs, tool bits, and things I rarely use have no pride of place and get shifted as needed.
A neighbor visited last year and advised that I try the Marie Kondo method of decluttering. I civilly listened for a while, tuning the meaningless chatter out. A copy of Marie Kondo’s book was left leaning against the shop door. The pages were reasonably good for starting the firepit up. My neighbor’s feelings were hurt. But people who use screwdrivers to open paint cans are not to be trusted.
Is the space full? What’s the expression about having ten pounds in a five-pound container? OK, it’s true.
A twelve-step program for compulsive tool buyers might help. But I have a thing about being away from my tools for meetings. Just taking the time to write this keeps me away from browsing the Lee Valley site, not to mention Rockler, Woodcraft, and Highland Woodworking.
My wife has called me in for dinner. I’ve asked her to bring it out to the shop; she just doesn’t understand.


Sweepers, Sweepers!

Boats need cleaning, and as general maintenance helper and crew member supreme, it was generally my job to sweep, swab, polish and groom the pride of the Cove; Psyche. I spent a lot of time sitting in the cockpit as the 34-foot ketch swung at her mooring. People don’t believe me when I say that some of the best time I’ve spent on boats has been idly watching the water, the reflections, and the fish. Sailing is fun, but it can be a lot of work. Maintaining a boat was work too, but if you were smart, you took a moment, once in a while, to enjoy the sun, sounds of wavelets on the hull, and to watch the birds.
Lots of time, I didn’t bother keeping cleaning supplies near. Cora never came near the boat, my wife was phobic around boats, and the Cap’n was scarce every time you mentioned the word mop. I had cleaning down to a science. Sweeping, mopping, and checking the varnished wood. Once a week, I’d watch my reflection grow clear as I polished bronze and brass surfaces.
On occasion, one of the lobstermen in the Cove would come over to share a sixpack. That was how I heard that the Cap’n had been hatching a new “Let’s keep Wes in the Cove” program with my wife and Cora. According to Lowell, my boat maintenance skills had been praised to the skies by both the Cap’n and Spinney, a yard owner for whom I was the “Yaahd Cavah.” Spinney genuinely liked me and wanted to keep his source of billetheads, quarter boards, transom banners, and eagles close at hand. The Cap’n appreciated that his son in law was a useful source of free labor whenever there was a project. Cora wanted what was best for her daughter, and her daughter, my wife desperately wanted to stay in the Cove. I wanted to complete grad school.

That evening the scheme was introduced at dinner, then as now, many people from away owned boats that they were too distant from to maintain. Or they lacked skills or desire to take care of. Many wanted only to put on a smart cap, open a drink, and sit at a mooring while the exquisitely detailed boat impressed the visitors. This was the boating public I was destined to serve, maintained Cora, and my wife. It was true that swinging at the mooring on the ketch was not making me any money. Unlike many of the schemes dreamt up by my in-laws this one would make money; so I agreed.

The first thing I found out was that not all owners kept a tidy boat. Everything onboard Psyche got neatly stowed after each use. Generally, this appealed to both the Merchant Mariner in the Cap’n and my Navy training. Not so with other owners. Chain lockers and sail bags filthy, ice chests moldy, and bilges so sour that no amount of cleaning resolved the problem. After a while, on some of the worst jobs, Cora and my wife showed up.
The Cap’n showed up to supervise. Please don’t get me wrong the Cap’n knew how to do anything needed, and would when left to his own devices. Put him in front of a crew, though, and he’d pull out his pipe, and look off to starboard—Master Mariner at work.
We had a big job over to the harbor one week. It was going to be all hands on deck to clean up this party boat after two years undercovers at Spinney’s yard. Spinney said that one of the owner’s sons had made a right mess of it. After a quick survey, I agreed and quoted a price. Work began that Saturday. The Cap’n took up his usual place pipe in hand while the crew polished and cleaned below. It looked like it was going to be the normal routine. Then Lyman showed up. Lyman was the Cap’n’s baby brother. A man I admired greatly.
Lyman was a retired Chief Gunners Mate. He had it down. Nobody could stand around and look impressive like him. He had the Chief’s stance down cold – legs slightly spread against the roll of the ship, thumbs tucked into his belt, belly pushed for’ard, and a look on his face that says ” I ain’t taking any of what you’re dishing out mister. Now get to work.”
Lyman looked around at the debris-laden deck, picked up a broom, and threw it at the Cap’n : “Get to work, Frank!”

Then he uttered words that every Navy man has engraved onto his memory:
“Sweepers, Sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down both fore and aft! Sweep down all lower decks, ladder wells and passageways! Dump all garbage clear of the fantail! Sweepers.”

My Shop Is Not Instagram Ready

Yes, my shop is not Instagram ready. The basement shop where the bandsaws, table saw, planer, and such reside are OK; if you are interested in bare stone walls and equipment that everyone else has.
The carving shop, where I do most of my work, is only an eight by ten. It is not ready for Instagram. Part of it still serves as a greenhouse. In my part of the country, my large rosemary plants die terrible deaths outside; they and the figs live inside the greenhouse all winter. The remaining area is taken up by the workbench, tool racks, and lots of little storage units for small tools, adhesives, abrasives, finishes, and much more.
I moved this essential part of my operation out here because I can heat the small space to a comfortable level even during the winter. In the much larger basement shop, the howling wind whistles through a neverending supply of conduits to the outside that I can never block up.

A few other reasons apply as well: my cat likes the space in winter so I sometimes have her company as I carve; It also puts real size limits on the size of commissions I can accept -” downsized the shop. Can’t do that stuff anymore.” A final reason is that, in the winter when I am sitting in my little shop with a visitor, it takes me back to coastal Maine. I recall the hours of conversations with craftsmen and fishermen in similar small shops; it’s a link to other times and places on which I set a high value.
But, It’s not Instagram ready. The rows of small plastic storage containers would look much more “crafty” if they were shop made from wood. The untidy piles and boxes of extra wood, half-finished projects, patterns, and drawings should be cleaned up. Ain’t going to happen. At root, I don’t care if my shop is not Instagram ready.


You can buy fancy ones, or make them from scrap. This one is preindustrial. I first saw one like this in my mentor’s shop. Unlike most it’s a single piece of wood -a moments work on the bandsaw, perhaps four with a handsaw. It hooks over the bench or in a vice and holds small stock while I finish plane it. As old shops get cleaned out most of these are consigned to the kindling pile. But, as humble as it is, it’s as at home in an 18th-century joiners shop as a modern one.




A Cat Managed Shop

Mine is a well-regulated shop, as can be attested to by the Business Agent for the local pets union ( Teamster Affiliated). Pictured here is Xenia ( Empress of All She Surveys) on a recent tour of inspection. All were found in order, except that treats were not being stocked in the tool chest atop which is H.I.M is seen resting. The error will be corrected before the dog ( Shop Steward) files a grievance. I’ve asked repeatedly for a copy of the contract, but the cat just hisses at me and walks away. I’ve never been clear on how she can be H.I.M. and a union member, but I’m just the carver here.

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