Spooning with nature
By Kit Pancoast Nagamura
The nip in the autumn air always makes me crave the peaceful rhythm of hands-on creation. Working on something by hand puts one in touch, literally and figuratively, with the eco-system, so it's no wonder that in fall, people tend to make things to preserve warmth.
Cooks select apples and pumpkins, choosing by hue and heft, fragrance and origin, the best produce. Knitters select yarns by feel, checking for lanolin in the wool or softness in cashmere, then opt for shades that will fend off weather chills. Each hands-on activity connects the craftsperson to both season and nature.
Unfortunately for me, most domestic creative projects such as sewing, knitting, cooking, etc., are simply not my forte. I once threw pots, but ever since my sensei moved away, I've been a creative ronin.
The other day, however, I took friends to visit a park featuring Edo-era, thatched-roofed farmhouses. That day, guilds had gathered in the open-air homes to spin silk, weave fabrics, dye cloth with indigo, and saw logs for furniture. As my group and I wandered in sunlight streaming through spotted persimmon leaves, enjoying air pleasantly smoky from irori fires, I got it into my head to carve something. Something simple and seasonal, I thought, like a wooden soup spoon.
I begged one of the sawyers for a chunk of wood that I could whittle. This initiated a flurry of discussion among the elders, followed by a long wait as they ran off somewhere. On return, with grand ceremony, one gifted me with a small log of cherry wood he had collected on Mt. Fuji. I thought to myself, "This is either going to make the world's largest spoon or I'll die carving it down to human size," but I accepted it gratefully.
My friends thought me silly, carrying a log home on the train. Strangers, on the other hand, struck up conversations about it. Hearing that I hoped to carve the cherry, one said, "Save the chips for grilling cause they'll give your food a marvelous taste." Another tapped the bark, pointing out an insect hole. A third jumped in to say that cherry will darken beautifully with age, so I was lucky to have such fine wood to work on. I began to cradle the log with increasing respect.
Currently, I have laboriously carved off the glossy thick bark, (saving the chips, of course), down to a pale, gleaming grain. An artisan friend of mine has just written to inform me while many woods are poisonous, cherry thankfully is not. I've also discovered that seasoned cherry wood is hard as a rock, and more obdurate in one direction than the other. My fingers cramp as I carve, but the scent is pleasing, and I love the way feathery shavings curl over the knife.
Truth be told, I might produce a Really Ugly Spoon; my son has already laughed at its current Cro-Magnon shape. Also, if I slip with the knife, I could end up with a spork or a hospital bill. Still, the process is surprising meditative and educational, and a nice way to reconnect with a branch of nature.
Shukan ST: December 3, 2010
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