Wooden Rings

A hand-carved wooden ring, you say? Actually it was one of my first commercial ventures as a woodcarver. When I was living in Ottawa my girlfriend wanted a ring to seal our deepening relationship, but I was much too poor to buy one. So being a carver I grabbed a bit of rosewood scrap that someone had gifted me and carved her a ring. Of course, it was just a simple ring. But it looked enchanting because it was rather lovely rosewood, and she was pleased to have her finger ringed by it.

It was the sixties, and everyone was into exploration, the natural, and feelings of the spirit. So I started making them on a limited basis for friends to give and receive. Unlike a metal ring, a wooden one needs a bit more heft to provide it with the strength it needs to resist splitting. Make it too thin, and it looks exquisite but not too durable. You had to ensure that the grain had a twist because this was one place where straight grain was not a plus. Grain that was too straight would split right along the grain.

Selecting wood was the key to making it as thin as possible and as lovely as you could make it. I liked very close twisted grain. I chose ebony, teak, and some burl woods that a friend provided from his pipe making.

The tools were a bit string to measure and mark diameters, a drill, a knife, and some gouges. The finish was with sandpaper, followed by steel wool and oil.

Wooden ring-making is still a thing, but I made maybe a dozen or two before moving on to earrings. Unfortunately no photos of that early work survive.

Circular

Different likes for different types of woodworkers. Elaborately figured wood is lovely on a cabinet. But kind of problematic for a carver. On the other hand, grain with no swirl or flare can leave you bored. So when selecting a board for carving, I look for a certain amount of balance; an attractive grain pattern without grain running in contrary waves or swirls.
Why avoid all the beautiful ripples, quilting, tiger, and birds eye patterns that look so lovely on a cabinet? Well, they obstruct the cutting and structuring of the carving. Tools run into them, snag, rip out, tear, and mangle.
I know you hear the legends of incorporating these into the carving, just like you hear the myths about studying the wood until you see what it wants to be. Hooey! I’m carving a commission for someone. I love that grain pattern in the cherry because it suggests water and cloud patterns in the sky. But I am carving a catboat, not an impressionistic masterpiece. I incorporate where I can, but that big knot? Firewood.

Firewood? Well, now we have another story. So much of the small cherry and ash wood that I carve comes out of the woodpile. And no, it’s not a matter of economy. It’s a matter of aesthetics. I run into beautiful wood that was not cut for commercial lumber for any number of reasons. I look over the pile while I’m stacking and select likely candidates for examination. These get tossed to a side, and later I open them on the bandsaw to see their potential. Out of this comes my blanks for spoons, some cutting boards, and a few for making into glued-up blanks for boat portraits. About twenty percent is useable, and the rest feeds the woodstove. Ash goes into the garden, so little gets wasted. Even sawdust winds up becoming mulch.

Mulch? Well, when I moved to this glacial remnant of a hilltop, the soil was as much gravel as loam. Over the years, compost, ash, charcoal, and sawdust mulch have turned the garden beds into actual soil for growing food.

Who’d have guessed that carving is a circular economy?

Coverings

I’ve never appreciated wallpaper. Growing up ” to wallpaper over” something was to hide it. You did it to conceal something you didn’t want to see, which was unattractive. So it made it challenging to appreciate fine art and designer wall coverings. These have about as much to do with frowsy old-fashioned stuff you strip off in layers as poorly slopped on varnish does to a beautiful buffed varnish yacht finish.
I know that it has its admirers. But I remember once dating a girl who asked me to help her select furnishing for a new apartment. After an hour of looking at wallpaper swatches, I knew we were not meant for each other. So I wandered over to the paint. A week later, she took offense to how I hung the wallpaper. I suggested that going without covering was more comfortable, and she indicated that layers were the way to go.
I shrugged, she got angry, and that ended the relationship.
A week later, we met for coffee to try to reconcile; she accused me of wallpapering over the differences in our respective personal styles. What could I say? I was interested in having everything bare; she liked to cover up. In more than one way, it was never going to go anywhere.

The Harvest has come

It’s pure, all natural, and he tells me it’s only catnip. Safe for my enjoyment, he says. I insist on proof of origin. Which part of the garden was it harvested in? The shade of the woods or the bright sun of the vegetable garden. The sun grown is more robust, with earthy tones of vibrant growth. The shade grown is more subtle. It calls out to other taste buds – slightly fruity, with a slight aftertaste of oak and maple from the rich woodland border on which it is grown.

At Chateau Xenia, we harvest no catnip before it’s time…it’s so hard being an epitome of the refined taste.

Ice on the hill

Well, maybe early winter. Or possibly just before Christmas. It’s hard to keep track of events when you’re doing so much weed. And it was why I decided to cut it off, can it, and not do it again. So there we were on top of one of the icy streets leading up Beacon Hill. Just a bunch of stone heads doing what stone heads do; be silly and idiotic.
One by one, we were slipping along the ice, seeing who could slip their way down to the traffic on Cambridge Street fastest. We cheered each other on as we fell, got up, and tried again. It had been a fast early freeze, so the city trucks hadn’t finished scattering salt and sand on Cambridge Street yet, and certainly not on the Hill. So it was a perfect frolic for a bunch of people who’d left their common sense behind in a hashish pipe.
Then Dutchy, followed by me, slid onto Cambridge Street just before a skidding MTA bus. Everything can seem to be in slow motion when you are stoned. But that effect seemed even longer as the driver attempted to stop, and we slid and grasped for traction. Time sped up suddenly as the bus glided past Dutchy’s legs, missing by mere inches.

I helped him get up. Our friends stood by the corner, silently watching. Then, being young, immortal, and stupid, we cheered the bus driver and slipped into the Harvard Gardens for a beer.

After the second beer, we got quiet as what happened sunk in. Then, in a show of bravado, we began to talk about doing it again. But we were eagerly distracted by the hockey game scores, and somehow the moment slipped thankfully away. Instead we finished the process of getting totally bagged on beer.

We often remember it as a great adventure but never found an opportunity to repeat it. And I soon afterward stopped using.

Notes

Somewhere, buried away, are the masses of field notes I took as an anthropologist on the projects I was involved in over the years. There are field notes on Coastal Maine, on Italian and Portuguese gardens, and notes on Saints festivals. There are notes on the breakup of my first marriage.
In short, there are notes on consequential things that deserve recording for later analysis.

Every once in a while, while tossing junk, I rediscover some notes that have lain fallow for years. There I’ll sit for an hour or more. Then, I am carried back to an event forty or more years gone.

The note-taking continues, but I’m no longer working as an anthropologist, so the notes are on carving projects – the successes, the failures, and the progress from one to another.

And no, I am not a person who keeps a diary, no Samuel Pepys here; my notes have always been pretty pragmatic things, even when writing in a personal vein. I have a memory that is a great storehouse, but the index is poor. The notes are my index. My card catalog, just like in a library. To remember later, I make a note.

Creative Food

I am being careful and trying hard not to distract myself from the important stuff. I have hit a nice pace. I am creating product and producing it at a rate I can sustain. I know that the warm weather helps. I’m in the shop – door open- dog wandering in to check on the status of any possible treats, and wondering why I am so fixedly gazing at the plank – it’s not food.

Well, it’s a sort of creative food – Feeling optimistic about the creative juices flowing. I’ve found that creativity begets creativity, so keeping in the flow helps. You don’t want to get stopped, distracted, or pulled in too many directions.

Yes, I know that it’s five in the evening, and you and the cat need to be fed…OK.

You can’t create on an empty stomach…say the cat and dog.

Stink!

Scent is very personal… We take immediate dislikes to people whose scent we find repulsive and wish them sent from the room, preferably the continent. When feeling charitable, we might offer them the chance to bathe and try again…but don’t count on it.

It’s a bit delicate. So sometimes, you might wish to drop a few cents on getting them advice on proper scenting. But hey, not on my dime!

Can’t

My father was a problematic sort of guy: a former Marine, Merchant Marine engineer, the guy who could fix anything, and bad-tempered. So growing up, I was the navigational fix for the bad temper.
When I got old enough that physically punishing me became a dangerous sport (thanks to years of Judo), he relented and began doing what he should have done years before – talk to me.
I became the recipient of years of experience he’d accumulated at sea and in foreign ports. I was taught how to read a street scene while standing by a lamp post. Gauging the hang of a punks clothing to see if he was “carrying”? Sure. How to walk confidently down a street even when I was lost? Elementary. But most of the instruction came in the way of sayings, proverbs and phrases that he regularly repeated. But there was one that was drilled into me at a base level – ” Louis. If you can’t make it in New York City, you can’t make it anywhere.”

So, sorry to say, there reached a point when I decided that I just plain didn’t want to make it in New York City and left. You know what the first words out of his mouth were after I called from Boston were, right? ” Louis. If you can’t…”

It took him two years to realize that I needed to make it on my terms in my chosen locale. Eventually, when I settled into a settled life, he enjoyed trips to Boston to visit, but he still would preface Boston and New York City comparisons with his favorite phrase.

The City itself was undergoing some heavy-duty changes, and my father and mother moved. First to Yonkers and then further up in Westchester county. After the move there was a lengthy discussion about crime in the City and how it just wasn’t what it had been.

I’m sorry, I was raised as my father’s son, I couldn’t resist. After he went on about the conditions for I while, I broke in and snidely said, ” Well, Dad, if you can’t make it in New York City, You can’t make it anywhere.”

If my father could have reached through the telephone and throttled me, he would have. But, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Fish

I had zero reasons for resenting the bird that stole my fish. In truth, I hate cleaning fish. I hate fish guts. That derives from filling bait bags for lobster traps one summer when my in-laws thought it would be a great idea for me to work as a stern man for a lobsterman. That didn’t last. I had zero aptitudes for even simple things like using the gauge correctly.

In fact, I’d prefer, well, almost, applying bottom paint to a boat than filling bait bags. So when the bird stole the fish. I felt little pain. Dinner would be fish and chips at the local restaurant, and I was happier for it.

So I quickly zipped up my bag, walked into town, and had a great dinner looking out on the harbor. When asked what luck I’d had, I said, “ Zip, Zero, Zilch.” Some days are better than others.

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