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.
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.