Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big Buckets & Bass.

There’s a series of ponds, laid out like a puzzle. Gravel pits reclaimed from loader backhoes by snapping turtles, carp, bluegill, bass, and of course, the Boulder County Open Space & Mountain Parks.

Before that, they were the floodplain for Boulder Creek.  

Here at these ponds I’ve seen belted kingfishers chase each other’s chirps through the air like fighter jets, flirting with fate and gravity and each other; and have been harassed by an osprey to whose nest I was unknowingly too close for comfort. (It’s one thing to have one’s head dive bombed by barn swallows; quite another an osprey). Here, I have encountered the largest bull snake I have ever seen, faux rattling my nerves into almost giving up fishing for the day…almost; and here I have seen fox kits playing at the door of their den in the fading light of a late spring evening.

I love this place. It reminds me of home and prairies and flat ground. Of places where you can see. 

Banjo loves it too. Here he is welcome. Here he does not lose me, wading into the current. Here he sniffs and sits and digs into cool bank dirt, waiting and watching cast after cast as the line comes back fishless (I sense that he judges me for this). Here he huffs bass – sometimes, when we’re lucky. But It’s not as good as it used to be...you need more luck than you used to, I’m told -- told by a man who hates what it’s not - what it is now - because he loves what it once was. Without one you can’t have the other, love and hate. Without both of them, you have apathy…that tepid middle ground. Those who tell you (and believe me, they will), that love is not jealous, have yet to experience the real thing.

And you see, this and many other fisheries in the Boulder area have a problem – a problem of apathy, if you will  -- of five-gallon-buckets, stringers, and limits as anxious to be filled as Subway punch cards. And just why exactly is it that “limits” make us feel as though they must be met, anyway?

This past weekend at one of the pieces of the puzzle ponds, I kept an eye on large man (desperately in need of a belt) carrying around a white five-gallon bucket. His aim was clear – catching and keeping big female bass off their nests. I caught and released in clear sight of him -- yes, this made me feel good, and somewhat self-righteous, rubbing it it -- and it didn’t bother me one bit to do so. I told the ranger who was pulling up just as I was leaving that she’d be wise to go check on him, as I didn’t think the bass he was keeping were quite up to the legal limit...plus, he was wading. Not allowed. So call me taddletale. It’s okay -- an inherited trait – my mother scolds tourists for feeding chipmunks. And I’m proud of her.

Now, I’m not against keeping fish, but if you need to fill your freezer, go to the one of many state park lakes stocked with rainbow trout precisely for this purpose. I’ve done it once already this year. But the wild…the fisheries that aren’t put and take…

Leave them there.



You know, if I kept my legal limit every time I went out, very soon I’d be able to decimate local fish populations singlehandedly. Now multiply me by every other fisherman you see on the water (imagine one of those informational videos about population explosion), and you get the idea. If we all kept our limit, there wouldn’t be anything to catch anymore.

Many of our local bass ponds are emptied bucket by bucket. And then many those same people complain that the “fishing sucks.” Now…what is it that redneck comic says? Here’s your sign. The fishing sucks because of you, my big-bucketed friend.  

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The First Dip: or, Journeying in Small Steps.

Friday March 16th, 2012 - 6:45 a.m.

I live in two worlds this, and every spring.  Three-thousand feet make more of a difference than you’d think...than I thought when I moved up them. A hardy three months of difference on both sides of summer. Wildflowers won’t begin until June, and aspen change in September with harbinger cold nights of snow. Where banks have melted, where the avalanche victim Earth can at last breathe again, she gasps in grasses pressed down in wet soggy shades of brown -- like the bottom of a pond that’s been drained. Alpine meadow grass is covered still, in static swirled lines from almost eight months of winter, gestating spring; which, as any other birth, is highly anticipated.
And so I go down three-thousand feet every weekday morning, to work to live on my side of the mountain; down, to where daffodils are blooming, and leaves are budding in perfect mantis-green rolls; more every day as if someone is slowly turning up the color saturation knob, located in the city & county building, I’d guess.

But up in my canyon, at over 8,600 ft., there is still snow, still ice, still wood fires burning into the night. We’re still in black and white. We still wave at each other as we pass on the roads. And yet -- yet, there are signs of spring -- dripping, shedding, and bird songs before dawn; and the sound of water again, running down the canyon neatly tucked between the pavement’s end and the other side of the canyon’s beginning. It’s the first thing you hear when you get here, although you might not realize it at first (that sort of constancy you don’t truly appreciate until it’s gone), but it never leaves, you do; it’s always there, still mumbling during the winter months under its breath, out of earshot behind closed windows and doors. Old Neighbor Tom told me there are trout in that small stream, when he walked across the road the day I moved in to warn me against cooking bacon with my windows open “bears’ll smell it and come a runnin’,” he’d said. Now for the record, I have cooked bacon countless times with the windows open, and have yet to even see a bear, let alone have one coming running and tearing into the house.

I haven’t found any trout in that small stream yet, but just because you don’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Jay says that if an old timer - one of those salty, grumpy, wise old ones -- says there’s trout....you believe them. That’s what Jay says. And so I still believe something’s there. Maybe one day I’ll see the flash of a rainbow’s belly.

Or maybe not.

As I drive down the canyon, I think -- there’s no off-switch for that (cell phones, I believe, are truly not as distracting as my thoughts). Months ago now, before I began work on my rod, I talked with Kathy Scott. About writing books, about rod making; about being librarians and fly fishermen. I read all of her work. And through the static phone I heard a smile grow on her face as I talked of the beginnings of my own bamboo rod. She said, “It’s all about the journey...”

It’s all about the journey.  

Having read all of the books about bamboo I could get my hands on, I expected that phrase. From what I could tell, there was something nebulous about bamboo, something no one really could quite put their finger on, and yet once and if you try (once you pop the top), you can’t stop. An addiction. Like meth. Or Pringles.

Never for once did I doubt she was right, but you can’t even begin to imagine the journey before you start, and if you do, if you try, you melt underneath the heat of details. I know, because I tried. And I learned that life is not, in fact, about the destination; because for all of us, that’s death; it really is about the journey…and about the trails that will be washed out, the wrong turns, and the times when you’ll be saved from yourself and reaching your destination. Like a cat’s lives. Over and over and over again.

What I had doubted was whether or not I was ready for the journey. I felt ill-prepared and under-packed. And so I didn’t focus on the destination at all (or as I said, I would have melted); instead, I took one step at a time, concentrating hard on that and only that -- like I used to do as a kid, walking through forests and pastures at night, heeding my mother’s instructions of heel-toe...heel toe. Quiet. Careful. And you will see.

When people have asked me what comes next?, I haven’t been able to answer – I didn’t want to be able to answer. Every day when I came into the shop, I waited for Frank’s instruction and explanation…for my charge. And then, I stepped into that comfortable small space in which I could move and think and feel my way through. It was my way of controlling myself, of managing my thoughts and anxiety. I couldn’t worry about what I would be doing tomorrow, or next week -- because I didn’t know….and so I focused on what was before me. These past months are the first time I can honestly say I’ve lived my life in the present -- in the moment. I felt like a toddler most days, seeing something for the first time, and thinking it was absolutely the coolest thing in the world. Amazement and true thanks that such things exist as puppies, ice cream cones, and bamboo rods. This wonderment of an empty young mind fills rapidly, and as we grow our vocabularies and index away word meanings, we lose that wonderment fast, because we know what’s coming. We know that the exuberant mass of fur waiting for us at the door every night is our dog (somehow though, our dogs manage to keep the wonderment of us). I don’t actually remember it, that wonderment. I don’t remember being amazed (in a good way) by the world.

Until now.

8:59 a.m.

I turn into Frank’s driveway, and ring the doorbell, looking at the elk rubs on the bush next to the walkway.

“Hey! Come on in…”

Moving boxes are stacked like wooden building blocks, toppled over. “I’ve got to re-arrange things….so I can re-arrange them again.” Frank chuckles at himself.

“I know how that goes...trying to get the feel of a room right.” And most often, I don’t. I don’t accessorize myself or my home for this reason. Keeping it simple, everything feels right in my bones.  

I glance down, and there is a black marker lying on the kitchen counter. My rod is nearby. Today, I’m going to sign it. Claim it as my own. Tell everyone that I, Erin Block, am its maker. It’s somewhat like the point of surnames, really – declaring who belongs to whom. Today is something of a christening.

“Here’s the marker…and a practice piece of cane….” Frank says, “it can be weird writing on the flats…”

So I write carefully, practicing, making lines and archs into letters, into words, as you do so mindfully in preschool -- penmanship only degrades from there.

And then I switch out for my rod, and write my name very slowly, and thoughtfully on the flat below I pen the length and weight and taper. My hand begins to shake a little bit. Then the month and year -- I’m nervous -- whereupon I have the secret hope that several hundred years from now someone will find this rod in an attic, or woodshed, or closet with a secret door, and will wonder who Erin Block was -- maybe they’ll Google me once or twice, if people are still Googling in 2413  -- and then they’ll marvel at how long ago 2012 was. That is what I hope – that this rod, that these words, will someday prove that I existed. That I lived and loved and lost. And died. And that I was glad to go, but sad to leave.

Out in the garage, Frank shows me how to sand the wraps. Very carefully (remembering Hal’s warning), until they’re frosted like root beer float glasses A&W puts in the deep-freezer. Then I steel wool the blanks, and rub them down with mineral spirits to clear the dust and fingerpritns.

“We’ll do these one at a time” Frank says, grabbing one of the tips. There’s a method to this madness of dunking a rod in a PVC tube-bath of varnish. Timed. With a stopwatch, stopping two minutes at each guide to blow the varnish off and out.

“And make sure you don’t touch the rod...” Frank says.

I nod, although his back is turned towards me….as I always wave goodbye to the person on the phone.

Frank brings up photos of bugs and big browns on his computer at a desk next to the far wall. “Look at this one…this was the day when…wait...don’t….I’m distracting you.” And so from that point at each two minute break, Frank shows me photos. We’re both excited to start fishing again, I can tell….to start fishing the high country again.

Time’s up. Two minutes.

I start the pulley motor back up and re-set my stopwatch. At the next guide, the rod has spun around so that the guide is on the back side. Reaching around to blow the varnish off the guide, intently concentrating on that and only that, the nail of my pinkie finger touches the blank.


Frank turns around. “It’s ok….we’ve got to dip it again anyway…..but don’t do it again.”  

And I remember back to what Jay told me this fall when we were cutting and stacking fire wood – keep your eye on the chopping block, don’t focus on the piece of wood….if you do, you’ll miss completely. You’ll chip it. Keep your eye in the moment -- in all of the moment -- not on the destination; on the means, not the end. Keep your eye on the journey.

A few hours of timing and waiting and looking at browns later, all three pieces of my rod are out of the varnish, hanging by string and masking tape to dry. And as I get ready to leave for the day, I glance back up and look at my name, printed by my hand, and smile...yeah, I’ll claim that as my own.

Listen to the story:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the Power of Reading.

There is a sound, slightly out of time with the clock’s ticks above the kitchen sink, where a clock always should be, my mom says. And a calendar on the wall too. And 20 Mule Team Borax in the basement by the washing machine. Being out of time bothers me – the car radio and windshield wipers, for example…never together. But in more ways than rhythm, you could say, am I bothered. For I dislike being out of time for conversation, to finish a chapter of a book, to run one last errand – which as a child, I used to think was a misuse of my good name -- and so also, being out of time in a day. When my eyelids heave, gasp, and lose themselves into dreams; when I have run out the hourglass.

There is that sound, out of time, but I want to read a book. Early afternoon sun shines calico on the carpet, and Banjo has spread himself out as stretched as he can, for more surface area absorption – a geometry word problem waiting to be written and solved. But…there is that sound. And I know it isn’t a good one. I’ve already scooted Banjo over though, forcing him to share, and have already read the first line…“The interior life expands and fills; it approaches the edge of skin; it thickens with its own vivid story; it even begins to hear rumors...”

Who could stop after that?

Yet still...the sound.


I get up -- too quickly for low blood pressure – a friend studying to be an EMT once told me, as he practiced taking my blood pressure for a test, that if he’d picked me up on a call, they’d think I was on my way out. “So, my body is almost dead?” Judging from my blood pressure, yes, he’d said. I suppose that’s good to know.

My hand on a wall like a ballet bar, mirrored self reflection in the picture windows my sister says make the cabin feel more like a nature observatory than a home (keeping in mind, of course, that being open, living without curtains, I get to see; but so also, I am seen) – balancing, I get to the kitchen. Above the small window by the sink, there’s a leak.  And I know why: the roof above the kitchen doesn’t slant quite as much as it should, and snow has piled up, overflowing into the gutters, which are frozen, bent down. I’ve shoveled off the roof before, but not since the last 40 inches.  I have to. Today.

But my book waits.
My reading.
My sun spot.
They wait...

I abstractly listen to my thoughts, whining, letting them go on…and on…convincing myself that the roof, the drips, the leak, can wait. The book, however, cannot.

Looking out the window over the deck, snow melts and water falls in a veil off the gutters, like a spring thunderstorm; out the picture window though, all is clear, underneath the peak, pushing runoff to the sides. North and South. When I was a child, I remember this happening more often that you’d think: sunny in the front yard, rainy in the back (the facade of doing alright), and I would run from the front, through the house to the back, where I would sing in the rain, splash in the puddles; then dance muddy footprints back out front to dry off. A magic trick of which I never tired. Who the magician was, didn’t matter.

Drip, drip, drip…

I shudder, thinking just how many hundreds of pounds of snow and ice there is on the roof right now. I lie back down, squeezing into my spot Banjo had reclaimed. All’s fair in love and war and sun spots. I read on. Shouting, as Whitman and his poetry over the drone of Manhattan streets, the voice in my head getting louder and louder until I can hear nothing but myself -- and nuthatches landing, scratching on the window screen, waiting for their turn on the suet.

I remember when I learned to read, letting the voices be in my head. On an open brown stucco porch, the Green’s porch with fake turf laid over the cement floor – the kind that tickles the arches of your feet, but not the pads – we spread out on a summer afternoon, all five of the Green kids and my sister and I, underneath the shade of a locust tree. Messy trees, old men complained. But I always loved them, playing music, rattling with their pods in the fall; or prying them open, and using their seeds as currency, bartering for old jars, or pans for mud-pies, or erasers in the shape of stars. But, on that porch with fake green grass under the locust tree, I was annoying. My voice read aloud, as Megan, the oldest, having already learned to read to herself, tried to tune me out. All I knew was my mother’s voice reading me bedtime stories, and my own as I sat alone, reading out loud. Doing voices. The whole shebang. “Can you please read to yourself?” I remember her asking. But I am

“You know…silently?”

No. I did not know. Just how does one do that, exactly? Megan explained that I should move my lips and whisper, for a chapter or two -- and then after awhile, I should stop whispering. Eventually, I’d get the hang of it, she promised, and went back to her own book.     

She was right. Slowly -- slowly I could hear the words as I hear my own thoughts. It excited me – liberated me to read under the covers with a flashlight when I was supposed to be asleep. No one could hear me now…my mother would never know. Reading became mine – when and where I wanted. In Sunday church services, I didn’t have to follow along with the pastor, I could read the interesting stuff, the book after Ecclesiastes, the stuff he never preached about. I cloud read walking down the street, or sitting on a bus. I could read in a tree, or when I got bored watching TV. I devoured words and ideas, too old, at times, for my understanding. But I gobbled it up anyway, knowing I would need it someday -- like storing up fat for winter -- you don’t need the extra weight in August, but come February, it’ll make you just a little bit warmer, and you’ll be glad of it. And I was, decades later, remembering back to these stories and characters, and finding that loss and failure were not uniquely my own. I wondered, what do people who did not read as children do in times like this? I can’t imagine.

Literature teaches us that others have passions and doubts too, disappointments yet somehow still hopes; marriages and divorces; and hatred which sometimes in the end finds love -- but not always. Literature teaches us that there are not always happy endings (read the original Brothers Grimm), and we imagine ourselves within the experienced covers of lives already lived, which sometimes become closer to our own than we’d ever imagined they could. And this imagination in literature, J.K. Rowling says, teaches us empathy -- learning to place ourselves in a foreign world, learning to feel and love, learning to understand another whom we might actually think despicable. When people stop reading, when a culture stops reading...stops telling stories...the mind -- the heart -- starts losing this ability. When someone says, reading is boring -- what they’re saying, down at the brunt of it, is that they don’t care about anyone’s story but their own. They cannot empathize, and therefore it has no relevance.   

Banjo leaves, panting, getting too hot. These sun spots, his sauna, which he stands as long as he is able, alternating between them and the cold pine-wood floor in the kitchen – I remember doing the same thing with hot tubs and pools the few times I’ve stayed in hotels and mustered enough courage to get over myself and into a swimsuit.

Laying back, squinting eyes, moving the book up as the sun travels down. The pines outside the window are too tall to see the tops of, and there is bird poop on the window. I leave it there, like those black silhouettes at nature preserves, to remind the birds that it’s solid. The summer I moved in here, my mother cleaned my windows. And that’s the last time they were. I remember my grandmother doing this for my mother every time we moved when I was a kid -- clearing away the grime, cobwebs, and dead insects, helping their children to see -- for that, is what mothers do; it’s humbling, like they’re washing your feet -- with windex and newspapers, crosswords as complete as could be considered done. And as soon as my mother had finished….whack! A rufous hummingbird lay on the ground. But they’re quick, even when they’re stunned. And before we could get out the door, he was gone, back to sipping nectar like a dervish. All’s well that ends well; yet still, I leave it there, for a reminder. Just like I leave dried wildflowers on the mantle -- a reminder, that they’ll grow again this spring.

I look over to Banjo, who has come back to his spot. The sun has moved, and so we’re closer together now. His eyelids flicker, possessed by a dream.
Warmed, the words melt sweetly like chocolate on a dashboard…and an hour later, I wake. I wonder if this is very close to the feeling of being born. Face flushed and confused. Not knowing what exactly just happened, but knowing you want to go back -- to sleep, to the womb -- because what’s ahead is cold and big and unknown. It is not your mother.

There is no more dripping. Only the sound of the clock passing, never really keeping, time. I tell myself that it was the power of reading that did it, the power of making time for a book…but really, I know that a few hours have passed and now the sun is setting, the temperature is falling, and the rain has stopped pouring off the roof on two sides. Icing up again. And so I get out the ladder and shovel and climb up onto the roof, chipping and pushing off ice chunks seven-inches thick, making my window views look even more like arctic wastelands than they did before – all the while, still reading thoughts, still telling stories.

And still, warm from the sun.   

Listen to the story:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tying the Curmudgeon Crumpler.

"The Curmudgeon Crumpler may be the best trout dry fly you have yet to hear about. The “Crumpler” was originally created in an attempt to mimic large, gangly crane flies hatching in the high lakes of Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness Area…but soon morphed into a more compact, hardy fly resembling a cricket or small grasshopper."

~ Jay Zimmerman 

You can read the rest of this post as well as get the tying instructions, from Jay Zimmerman on his blog, Colorado Fly Fishing Reports.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Salt On Watermelon; or, The Problem With Varnish.

Friday, March 2, 2012, 5:13 a.m.

I lie listening for the plow, knowing it was snowing when I went to sleep. The few cars (on their way to “the flatland” so it’s called, where nearly everyone in this canyon works), drive by at a clip, and so I reason that the front petered out, losing steam over one of the many passes. Later, I learn, it picks up and turns into the Midwest's first tornado warning of the season.

Light in shadows, move towards me as their makers go away. Counter-intuitive....like salting watermelon to bring out the sweet. Annie Dillard wrote of these shadows as ghosts, and maybe they are…or at least the principle is right: the body and soul going their opposite ways at the end.

The fore-casted six inches overnight, left me with only a dusting; grey, growing white in the aging half-light’s blue and black theatre set. It’s getting light earlier and earlier, with every day a few minutes buffered on each end, and I can see clearly now before 6:00 a.m. I dread springing forward in a few weeks when I will not be able to – when my six will be seven; and light will be dark. I look up, out the window past a half eaten block of suet, to see if it’s clear, but it’s at just that time that you can’t tell whether or not there are clouds. It’s hard up here; there’s no horizon. There’s no line of reason or balance; everything’s jagged, uneven, and unsure…trying to trip you up; get you to fall. With a limited view, you make an educated guess – it’s clear -- and move on. But you grab an extra jacket anyhow. Because up here, weather sneaks, you hear its leprechaun laughter just as you see it, crossing the ridge -- you’ve been had; caught -- with your guard, hands, pants down…as my sister had the habit of doing with camera in hand on childhood camping trips.

8:59 a.m.

It’s cold outside. Blue. Pure morning firmament loosely hung by outgoing clouds, piling up as a shar pei’s skin over the plains. My rod sits on the workbench, laid out. The wraps are still on, beautiful, rough, and ready to be sanded. I am an anxious person -- the dangerous mix of a busy mind and high standards -- and recently, I’ve had dreams wherein the wraps would not, in fact, still be on this morning; instead, I’d find do-overs...like the life Billy Crystal promised...waiting, do be done again the right way – the way intended before I screwed it all up. Unreasonable fears. But reason or not, they exist. And that’s fact.

Three x-acto knives and sheets of 1000-grit sandpaper are laid out neatly, as if I’m going to be performing surgery. I’ve never had steady hands. This worries me. Yes, I’m anxious. Last week while wrapping, Hal the cabinetmaker had warned me, “now, be careful when you sand those wraps...”
Frank had chuckled, “He...was a little heavy handed...”

“Had to re-wrap,” Hal said in the good humor that comes with time...“just be careful...”  

And after Frank had demonstrated scraping away varnish that had seeped onto the cane, cutting away bumps, and finally sanding until the varnish looked frosted, like windowpanes in January, he looked at me...and I knew...be careful...

After planing I took a deep breath, thinking I had passed the hardest, most nerve-wracking part; but then I had to sand the tips, and after that thought the same. And then there came wrapping. And now, there’s x-acto knifing a varnish glaze over silk thread. Rodmaking deals its hands, trump upon trump.

“Well.....I’ve been having some varnish problems,” Frank says a little shyly, into silence. “One of those things rodmakers don’t like admitting -- the first time it happens, you feel awful...a failure...” Your world falls apart. But everyone has them, varnish issues, and if you haven’t, Frank says, well then, you just haven’t built enough rods. Just like in a relationship -- if you haven’t argued about something yet, either you haven’t been together long enough or you’re just desperately boring and hold no opinions of your own. Once, a man and I stayed up a good part of a night trying to disagree. We knew it was coming, sooner or later, and so it might as well just be gotten to, dealt with, and moved on from -- together or separate as the case may be.

“Try me...” he’d said.


“The overturning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Your thoughts…?”

“Damn....you don’t go slowly....do you?”

“Nope...well, what’s the point in wasting time?”

Eventually we did find something, now I can’t remember where or what about, and it turned out he was still there the next morning.  

Disagreement...varnish issues...will come along in good time, after the honeymooning has worn off the white gold plating. But that, is when it gets interesting...for better or worse.

“There are two things we obsess over,” Frank says, “varnish and cork.” And now was the time for the former.

Early that morning, Frank adjusted the temperature of the PVC tube full of a new batch of varnish, and tested it out on a blank. Perfect. But the others, dipped while I was still sanding, turned wavy. “You see, the faster the engine pulls the rod piece up, the thicker the coat of varnish...but it’s always a toss up whether it’s the speed or temperature to blame.”

I must be staring blankly.

“It does make sense...eventually....”   

Counter-intuitiveness, again.

Salt on watermelon.

Looking out the window, eyes adjusting for cracks like dust on my glasses, past the medical marijuana dispensary and the Wal-Mart parking lot, to the sky -- which has seized up, into the color of an angry sea -- sudden sickness, practicing spring’s bluebird mornings and raven afternoons. Reminding me that soon, there will again be a time when I will see that color creeping over a cirque. At that time, it’s dreaded; but now, it’s longed for.

“Maybe that snow is coming...after all...”

Frank turns to look, then puts the visor of his magnification glasses back down.

“You know, the first time I heard one of the big-time rodmakers say they were having varnish issues, it was encouraging --- man, that sounds bad...”

“Nah, I understand, completely...”

“Just that...well, they’re human...after all!”

“Yeah...they have squeaks too....”

Squeaks -- the sound of fingers on nylon strings, sliding up and down and across -- caused me a great deal of grief and self doubt and wet lolling teardrops in college. They weren’t in the recordings of competition winners or touring artists, digitally re-mastered and airbrushed to have a perfect complexion. It was the musician’s version of the self image paranoia of young women -- unfortunately, I got to have both. Sitting in dark recital halls, light enough you could still see who was and who was not there, I would let out little sighs of relief at the squeaks and at the mistakes...sighs at the beautiful parts too...and now with 20/20 they’re one and the same. Humanity sneaking out -- rays of light behind a storm cloud - beneath a life practiced to perfection, polished until it’s too smooth to hold on to anymore.  

As a realist, I say perfection never happens; but my token optimist gene (passed down from my mother) says rarely. As creator, you know...you know where the mistakes are; even the ones no one else could ever possibly see. George Black wrote an entire book on the pursuance of it in this craft. Yet the pursuer is never quite able to catch their prey -- elusive in dress and definition. It’s always just a bit out of reach. Clawing away tufts of fur from time to time, making feathers fly here and there, but still -- we’re left hungry. Waiting. Wanting.

We keep on hunting…..perfection

…which, it strikes me, just might be the agnosticism of striving. Believing that details matters, even if you are the only person to see, because eventually, there’s the possibility that it will be gone over with an Eye like no other (The one in Lord of the Rings comes to mind); but you just don’t know, and so you aim at perfection, with doubt thrown in for good measure.

And I go back to Frank’s “it’s handmade” ethic; it is not a dismissal of perfection, but rather a very real assessment in defense of human hands. Their work may not be perfect, but it is real and true and good. My hands may not be as accurate as the lasers my sister builds, that go through flesh and steel and glass, but damn it, they have soul. And the wavers speak to its status.

In a linoleum floored classroom -- dirty cream, the color interior decorators like to call “eggshell,” with blackboards still on the wall instead of the web -- classes started at ten-past the hour, and there I learned about the philosophy of aesthetics. A few years after I’d taken that class, a man looked directly into my eyes and said, “Your face is crooked…do you know that?” (And that, dear men, is a way to ruin a moment, in case you were wondering). Yes, now I know that my face is crooked. Yet, I also know that nature’s crooked tree limbs, bent blades of grass, asymmetrical rock sides, and wandering rivers, are things we call beautiful. And I know that when people get “work done” it doesn’t look natural or beautiful – it looks symmetrical, even, and obvious. Uninteresting. Lines, marks, scars – these make tree bark, they make a face, interesting. These, hold the stories; the beauty, the truth, is in the nuances. The unobvious. That which you have to seek to find. Hollow chocolate Easter bunnies really aren’t fun unless they’re hidden behind grandma’s rose bushes.

A man named Jack comes into the shop, bringing me out of my head, needing to arrange pick up for his order of cane, to buy a ferrule, and to lament the status of the world’s cork.

“I’ve started using grade B…it ain’t that bad…you know, it works.”

“I suppose it’s under your hand most of the time anyway, huh?” I say, stopping to look up from the knife blade.

“Yeah,” says Frank, “but your name’s still on it…”


And this, is why anonymity breeds inconsistency and half hearted attempts. It’s scary when people know who you are and to what and whom you’re attached. If no one knows what you’ve done, no one will know what you’ve failed. There’s much less pressure that way, un-named. Yet that is why we are – to be called out to at our heights and out of our depths. We need both. And that, is why we sign our names onto a piece of cane, varnishing into permanence. Anchoring us to a time and place and purpose.

Frank calls me over near the drying cabinet, “look at these…” In the right light, I see the variance in texture as he points, “I think we should wait…let me get this all ironed out…and save you the time of re-sanding.”

“Sounds good.”

Safely anonymous.

Until next week, when my name will be on it. When I will write it, as I’ve known all along I would; which is why, details matter.   

Listen to the story: