Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Planing.

Friday, January 13, 2012

It’s early. 5:00 a.m. Banjo barks at the wind’s knock on the door. As comfort to his nerves, and reward for his attention paid, I cautiously open the door to what I confidently know won’t be there. He’s passed on -- down the canyon, knocking and then running away, like a childhood prank. The shovel’s once squared edges on walks and driveways now angle, evidence that indeed, he was here -- leaving erosion in fast forward, overnight. The drift outside my rocking chair’s window now has scalloped edges, and I’m sure it looks like a high mountain cirque to the vole family who lives in an old pine stump the drift has now enveloped as an igloo. I scattered some breadcrumbs for the birds yesterday and the voles tunneled to reach them, so as to not miss out. How did they know?

Over drinks with my nearest neighbors during the holidays, I mentioned off-hand, “The wind hasn’t been nearly as bad this year as last.”

“Knock on wood.” they said. Knock on wood.

And as a fisherman, I should have remembered -- you never mention the “W” word -- what everyone knows is there, but never speaks, even when it’s blowing so darn hard it takes your hat.

Driving up to Longmont, I keep two hands on the wheel. This kind of weather doesn’t allow for daydreaming...but I try to anyway.   


8:57 a.m. 

I’m greeted Goodmorning at the fly shop door by Jake the lab-pup and from behind the front counter by Mike, as I walk back to Frank’s shop. There, planing forms sit, waiting to be set. Paper printoffs with the taper dimensions hang above the workbench, to be written down on the forms. Frank shows me how to read the calibrator, adjusting the forms with a screwdriver and wrench, pulling in and pushing out. It’s confusing, like patting your head and rubbing your belly at the same time.   

My strips are all set out on the work bench. Waiting. Still bound with string to the metal form in which they were heat treated, Frank shows me how to cut the end of the string -- placing them against the planing forms, pulling, and rolling it loose -- the strips bloom out like the stretcher in a Japanese parasol my grandmother used to keep in a luggage trunk I remember as a kid, into which I always wanted to climb and disappear...to go on my own journey (but apparently, luggage trucks don't hold the magic of wardrobes, just in case you were wondering, and I'm sure you were). The string unravels perfectly. No tangles, just a ball of string in my hand.  

Before planing, I sand down the frontsides of the strips. First the nodes, and then the length with a finer grain paper, even-ing to lay in the form later. When all of the butt strips are done, I start planing them down to the first dimensions before sanding the tips.

Blades are sharpened. The form is set. This feels like a prime opportunity to screw everything up. You know, how in old legends and myths, there is always that one fatal mistake? The hinge on which the whole story and character could turn, or not -- and my mind runs away with this...  

Frank takes the first strip, sets it in the form, places the plane on top, and begins -- moving his arm forward, his body follows -- arm and elbow in a straight line; push more than press; momentum; make sure the plane clears the end of the tip; roll up your sleeves -- all of this, in one graceful movement. Planing is the rodmaker's version of a cast, I decide. There’s a technique to it, but once you feel it, it’s like dancing -- and it’s beautiful to watch.  

And now it’s my turn...for dancing...or screwing everything up. One or the other. Or, I suppose, both.

The plane stops and starts down the strip. One of the partners is off -- I know it’s me. And I also know that there isn’t any way to get “on” but to keep planing...to keep tripping over my toes. Muscle memory, as Frank says later.

Midmorning, a man steps into the workshop to say hello, “back here makin’ some bamboo rods, huh?”

“Yep,” Frank replies....“because we can.” I keep my head down, sanding, and smile. Sometimes the answer is as simple as that -- because we can. We don’t have to, we want to -- and we can, so we do. And no, it doesn’t always make sense. In fact, these sorts of things seldom do.

Curls of cane soon pile up on the plane and I push them off onto the workbench. But they come back.

“What always surprises me is the static of the shavings,” Frank nods my way.

“They’re alive!” I laugh, shavings sticking to my hands.

We both chuckle.


But really, all the while thinking, maybe they are... 
 

 
Suddenly, I feel bad for the fibers curled up in front of me. Though they wanted, they couldn’t stay. They don’t get to be the end, but they were a part of the journey, part of the history of this rod -- but that, some would say, holds the meaning. With a mindset of finished products, stories are left unfinished. And even though we live our lives to their end, our stories go on ever-after -- sometimes happily, sometimes not. We’re never truly done. Never complete. Never a finished product, or closed book. And yes, I know I’m anthropomorphizing here, but I take solace, remembering Kathy Scott’s reasoning that this is okay as long as it’s “mixed with a self-deprecating smile” (Changing Planes, p.150). So I grin as I continue on...

 
.….planing, until the butt sections are done, the sun has set, and the shop is closing.   


Saturday, January 14, 2012 -- 8:30 a.m.

Not as windy today, and I spot a red-tailed hawk sitting high in a cottonwood over a tributary of Boulder Creek as I drive across on 119. Another fisherman. The creek being frozen-over for the most part, perhaps he’s waiting for a rabbit to be flushed from the tangled thicket below, with a beagle’s sense knowing that they’ll always double back.

In the workshop there is music -- blues and bluegrass and Dylan.“I used to wear headphones, but couldn’t hear the cane, so I stopped.” Frank says. “It’s important to hear it...”

Tips wait to be sanded and planed, but first I pick out a replacement butt strip. One of yesterday’s didn't turn out like the others -- it's usable, but still has a noticeable groove above one of the nodes, which might be hard to fix, even with another two planings. We can do better, Frank says. And so having some spares, we do.  

Mike comes back during a break from customers to show me the rod he built with Frank a few years ago. It’s beautiful. A blonde. “They have more fun, right?” he says with a grin. I give it a few lineless casts, and still have a hard time believing that all of my splits will actually turn into a rod. Right now, it’s nothing but pieces I’ve torn apart form a whole, only to spend hours in putting back together again. Splitting apart, sanding smooth, planing off excess and scars, and so it goes. In life too. And eventually, with enough time and heartache and hard work, it’s put back together again. Different than it was, but maybe into what it was meant to be all along. And so perhaps rodmaking is just a further exercise of this faith → that being in pieces does not necessarily mean broken, certainly not beyond mend, and that, in fact, it’s necessary for growing into life itself.  

 
I try to match my planing sound to Frank’s. Long, even, and sure.“That was a good one” he says, working on planing of his own, his back turned -- listening. Today, my muscles are beginning to remember. I’m not tripping over my toes so much.  

I loosen my shoulder, push forward, and take a step to the end of the form. It feels good. All day. It feels good to feel and hear the cane, and smell its faintly sweet scent of burnt marshmallows, s’mores even, as it planes off.

Gillian Welch begins to sing I’ll Fly Away, and the evening comes. I can see the sunset, even out the eastern window. The clouds across the plains catch last rays reaching over Longs Peak, and I think to myself that sometimes, these reverse sunsets, just like alpenglow of morning -- are more beautiful than that which they reflect. Yes, I could lose myself looking out a window such as this. Or perhaps, I already have -- but no matter, I very much like where I’ve ended up. 

60 comments:

  1. What a fun serial read to defeat those winter doldrums. Thx for that! Mike

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    1. It's certainly keeping me out of the dumps too! Cheers.

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  2. Great read. Looking forward to the next.

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  3. So nice. I appreciate your ability to see the layers of meaning in what you're doing. And it's nice to be reminded that being in pieces means you just aren't finished yet, that you are yet to be what you were meant to be. I can't wait to see the finished rod (not trying to rush you); it's going to be beautiful.

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    1. Oh, I can't wait to see the finished rod too! But I'm very much enjoying the journey. :)

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  4. I too am anxiously waiting to see the finished product. Thanks for taking all of us with you.

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    1. It's a pleasure to have you reading, Howard.

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  5. I am entranced by your prose and the elegance of your use of the English language. I started building a rod a couple of days after you with Frank, and your story makes the experience even more special. I don't have the unique abilities you do to coin a phrase and spin a tail so your story provides me with a way to share my rod building experience with my friends and family. Thank you for sharing your experience in such a unique heartfelt way.

    Steve Anderson

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. It truly means a lot and fuels my writing, knowing that it, in turn, is read and meaningful to others. Perhaps we will cross paths at the shop someday! Thank you again so very much for taking the time to read and comment. And all the best to you in your own rodmaking journey!

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  6. No rod has ever had a more eloquent description of its birth.

    I had a lineless waggle with a couple of old can fly rods the other day, hmmm, maybe -one day : )

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    1. Thanks as ever, Dave. I think perhaps one day you shall...you have the heart for it. :)

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  7. Lovely stuff Erin. Many thanks.

    Will

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    1. Thanks, Will...for reading and taking the time to comment! All the best, E

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  8. Listening to the sound of the bamboo will tell you when you need to sharpen the blade . . when the whisk disappears . . Good Luck

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  9. Erin, I like the connection we have, working the cane like "building" our lives, correcting our mistakes and moving on with it...

    thanks, Doug...

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    1. The whole process is very therapeutic. :) Many thanks, as always, Doug!

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  10. I think your readers are getting more pleasure out of this than you. If that's possible?

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    1. I'm not sure if it is, but that's quite the compliment (myself knowing the pleasure I derive)! Many thanks.

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  11. "I loosen my shoulder, push forward, and take a step to the end of the form". Erin both you and your bamboo are on life's journey, becoming "formed". You are getting closer to finding the rhythms in life. Oh and in your dance you must sometimes let others lead (for a man-woman that is at times hard).
    By the way, I can't think of a better music genre for letting go and finding your rhythm.

    Hallelujah by and by...I'll fly away....
    sgb

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    1. I opened a store door for Jay last night. He thought that was weird. ;) *follow, Erin, follow...

      And I can't think of a better genre either. Quite fitting. Plus, it makes me think of you and Grandma Ida. Some glad morning...

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  12. Suddenly last summer, oh no, a different love...
    Dearest Erin, Suddenly I am not receiving emails to alert me of your latest inspiring essays. Have my pompous witterings marked me. Have you decided enough is enough and excommunicated me. I am a good boy, honest, and go to mass almost every Sunday. Please have me back, I beseech you old sausage.
    Or is there just a ghost in the machine?
    Bertie, my brindle English Bull Terrier, was a faithful friend and still the memory of him cuts through all the other stuff. As I mentioned to Zimmerman, 3 or 4 fingers of irish helps me straighten the mind warp, if you get my drift and I know you do.
    Chin up and all that.
    Regards
    Alan

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    1. Oh my. No no! You have not been marked...'tis the ghost! 'tis the ghost!!! I went into the program/widget thing (which I don't understand) that sends out the alerts. Your email is still there. I do think there is a lag time between post time and when it sends out the email...so let me know if you get an alert later today. Otherwise, perhaps try subscribing again? Sorry about all that. Cheerio (And fingers of Irish, eh?) ;)

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  13. As a sailor and a motor biker before becoming a fly fisherman, I used to have a much simpler relationship with the "W" word. I still find that my enjoyment of those experiences is proportional to the speed of the crisp air wrenching tears from my eyes and throttling down my lungs. I used to fully embrace the saying, "Whatever it is, it's better in the wind."

    Then I started fly-fishing and... things got complicated. Too much wind equals too many wind knots, among other things.

    But still I never hesitate to at least step out in a gale, just to feel whipped around at the mercy of the winds, my shivering brain channeling the ghost of Dean Moriarty chattering "Blow, man, blow!" to the great tenor man in the sky.

    Like you said, these things seldom make sense. But I personally find that's when I step back and analyze from afar. Try taking a few steps forward further into the thick of it, and it becomes self-explanatory.

    Thanks for these dispatches from the thick of it.

    Cheers,
    Daniel

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    1. "W"...she is a complicated one. Although in my previous equestrian life, she was equally dreaded. The great Spooker of Horses, she is. She is fun to stand in though...I wholeheartedly agree! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Much appreciated!

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  14. I do a little woodworking in between other responsibilities and diversions and in spite of a garage full of power tools I always find myself enjoying the planes and chisels. With a sharp blade and a properly tuned tool you can cut shavings so thin that you can read through them. Frank's right, the sound will tell you much about what you're doing.

    By the way, did he tell you that the tool you're using in the picture is a "block" plane?

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    1. There is just something very satisfying about them. And "Block"...kind of fitting, eh? ;) Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. Things are alive when you write Erin.

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  16. These posts are a fitting tribute to a new friend. It's hard to build heart, but you are managing just fine.

    Wonderfully done as always.

    Cheers

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    1. Many thanks, Sanders. And I do hope to do the whole process justice! Cheers, e

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  17. I like the cut of young Daniel Silverberg's jib. He cuts a pretty straight wake...

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    1. For sure, Alan, and I think you'd enjoy his writings as well:
      http://backcountrygentleman.com/

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    2. Thankee kindly, Alan, for your generous compliment. It's sometimes easy to feel like one is drifting in the doldrums rather than leaving a purposeful wake. But when under way, I love the implications of measuring the angle of your wake off the stern in order to adjust course for leeway; that is, you must keep a watchful eye on where you've been in order to better plan where you're going. As Antonio Machado said, "Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar," or roughly, "Wanderer, there is no road, only wakes upon the sea."

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  18. I think I understand Gierach more when he says that fine cane rods LIVE when I hear it from you.

    Gregg

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    1. Gregg - I'm definitely understanding it all much better too.

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  19. I'd say something here, but it would just be filled with jealousy. Such things are not polite.

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  20. Erin Block...you are a fine writer. This stuff is gold.

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  21. Planing on Friday the 13th. Bold move.

    "...that being in pieces does not necessarily mean broken, certainly not beyond mend, and that, in fact, it’s necessary for growing into life itself..."

    I think Jay's onto something.

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    1. Steve Z. - You know, that superstition didn't even dawn on me until now. Probably a good thing. And thanks so much, as always, for stopping by (and the vote of confidence in my writing...and Jay's opinion!)

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  22. The bamboo chronicles continue and we are left waiting for the next installment. I found myself imagining what it would feel like to make the sound as if I too were sanding the cane. maybe someday :)

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    1. d.nash - The sounds of it are fantastic...I hope your "someday" comes. :)

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  23. Yum! Like a ice cream sundae... never enough, it always let's you thinking of your next.

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    1. FlyFishingCrazy....with a cherry on top? :)

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  24. I have only ever owned a couple of cane rods and hated them both, perhaps if i made my own that would change.................. something too think about!

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    1. Tom - I certainly do think it adds something to the rod...however it turns out, I'll love it. ;)

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  25. Hi Erin;

    I really didn't develops a true relationship with the plane till I started planing my second tip. It was the last section I worked on and turned out the best. Once the plane and I became one, things went much faster/smoother, plane stayed sharp longer and planing went from challenging to just plain fun!

    How about you?

    Wayneb

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    1. Wayneb - For sure...today's planing felt much different (better) than last week's. There's a flow, a groove to it. Feels good.

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  26. It must be fun to build your own cane rod, kudos to you. I hope you get as much enjoyment from the rod as I have with my father's cane rods. It's such a pleasure to cast a rod that gives one time to think, and measure the forward stroke, eh? The life one feels in the action, the years behind your cast, when other's have cast the same rod, taken the same satisfaction of feeling the rod load.It'll be the same with yours, a new rod has the memory of bamboo long past. I can sense my dad at times, telling me to take my time, keep the rod higher on the forward cast, wait, wait. I still hear his grunt of satisfaction when in later years he couldn't fish, watching me set a hook. You will have a gallery of viewers of the past, watching. Approving.
    Good fortunes, Erin.
    I watch the winter snows coming down, and am glad I'm back.
    Cheers,
    Mike

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    1. Mike - Thanks for those words. I can already feel the weight of history...and it's not a burdensome weight at all. And I am glad you have found your way back home...enjoy that snow...

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  27. I found that my connection to the rod was established during the planing. Everything t hat goes into planing, sight, sound, feel, that's where the bond is formed.

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    1. Marv - I would definitely agree with you on that! In all the hours, and all the senses involved. Thanks for reading!

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