All winter and summer I have been cutting, carrying, collecting, unloading, logging, splitting and stacking wood. Come the dark nights and cold mornings of the coming months I will be comfy and content in the flickering flames of the fire in the heart of the stove, as it warms the house and heats the water. But, there comes a point where a rest is needed, as one log starts to look like another and the grains begin to blur, the hands ache and fingers no longer have a firm grip.
So, close to completing the job for the year, I took a break, and wandered the rain splashed streets of old Dublin, looking at faces, catching eyes, trying to detect a flicker of recognition followed by a smile, with the inevitable coffee and chat that would follow. I walked, I browsed, I lingered, I sat down to eat and then, refreshed, returned to my ambling. Aimless at first, I strolled to the Chester Beatty library and then on to Collins Barracks, a favoured haunt. I walked across the parade square imagining barked orders, the stamp of feet, the clatter of rifles and military kit, cigarettes smoked in sunny spots when the day was done and the general hum of life – Ghosts lingering, clinging to the stones of the building, and watching the living pass by.
I moved up the stairs, through the corridors and exhibits, finding the 3rd floor and my intended destination. There was the Leitrim Chair by Jack Surlis, ancestor of the late, great John – sublime, elegant simplicity from the hands of a master of his craft. As I mooched about I noticed something I’d never noticed before on all my visits. In a case was a small wooden spoon, beautifully carved, perfectly formed and with a grain in the bowl that was mesmerising. I stood and stared at it for quite some time, imagining who used it, the small home they lived in, and, most of all, who had carved it. Was it for their use or a gift for a loved one? Whoever made and used this spoon took great care of it, obviously treasuring it – it looked fresh as the day it was released from the bough, with only a warm darkness to the wood to indicate its many, many years of life in service.
As I returned to work for the final push to fill the log shed my mind wandered back to the spoon. Each log I split I became more and more attentive to the grain, the shape, the flow, and the condition of the wood. Ash, White Thorn and Black Thorn passed under the axe and onto the stack – some of it spalted. Finally, at long last after what seemed like an age I laced the last log on the pile – there was future comfort and warmth!
I picked up the axe, cleaned the head and then noticed the little pile of split logs sitting to one side; Ash and White Thorn with some beautiful spalting. I smiled, picked them up and carried them to the workshop, and closed the door. I had a plan.
Before I could put the plan into action I had a couple of long overdue jobs to do, small but vital; one of which was to sort out the low rumble that had started to develop whenever I drove the Landrover. Mindful of the last time I ignored these early warning signs I set to work. The solution was simple – undo 8 bolts and swap out the front driveshaft and then tighten 8 bolts. On the face of it this should have been a very quick job, but in the end it took most of the morning, during which I was on my back under a ton or so of dirty metal, being helped, or hindered, depending on your view of things, by some very curious and very forward chickens – eye to eye with them, at ground level, staring into those inquisitive eyes, it’s easy to see they are descended from giant raptors of the distant past – laughing loudly to myself I was glad they were friendly and not ravenously hungry.
Finally, my serious jobs done, I could play. I intended to spend the entire day in the workshop seeing what happened. I picked up each of the logs saved from the fire and looked closely at them contemplating the many items held within waiting to be released. However, in this instance I only intended to release the inner spoon. So, I honed my small axe and picked up the first log, a wonderful piece of White Thorn and started to rough out the shape.
It’s been many years since I carved a spoon so I was not holding out great hopes for my results, and I fully expected to discard many beautiful pieces of wood before I got close to something resembling a spoon. The chips began to accumulate, the chickens rummaged and I hacked away. Normally spoons are carved from green wood where the fibres are soft and pliant and the knife moves easily through the wood – I, however, was using well-seasoned wood, so the going was a little tougher. No matter! My knife was sharp and I was enjoying myself.
My initial efforts resulted in this:
Not what I had envisaged, still I was pleased with the result – I followed the grain and fought a long battle with some of the areas with major spalting where the wood fell away before the blade delivered the coup de gras. I dressed the spoon with Walnut Oil and set it to one side as I considered it. Then I reached for the next log, axe, Drawknife and Opinel and set to work.
This time I got this:
It was intended to be a soup spoon, but I got carried away and ended up with more of a small Kuksa with a long handle.
Next up was a lovely spalted Ash log and within was a big spoon, perhaps more of a shovel, but something that will certainly find a use in the kitchen. It may be more useful for tenderising large steaks (it certainly is heavy and big enough), but I’ll use it for stirring soups.
I stopped for a brief while to stretch and take a walk round the fields, fully intending that to be all for the day, but couldn’t help popping back into the workshop before the sun set and the light faded to make one more spoon. Again, spalted Ash, but a little smaller:
None of these will win a prize at Spoonfest, or even pass muster with a serious spoon carver, but I’m pleased with them. I learned quite a bit during the day and I fully intend to make more – maybe even managing to make something that someone else may want to own and use – who knows? For now I’m content – while not the finest looking spoons, or even the most useful, but, to paraphrase, the wonderful George Smithwick, “They hold soup! What more do you want?”