March 29, 2011

The azalea bed

We moved out here when I was in the second grade. On the short list for us, as conscripted child labor, was the beautification of the front yard. The yard was full of sweet gum trees and small pines. My mother hates pine trees..

The first order of business was the leveling and filling in of the yard itself. Dump truck after dump truck came in with top soil and left what turned out to be one of the best places imaginable to play army, when it wasn't raining. There was no renting or borrowing of bobcats back then.. We had to do it all with shovels...

During this process my mother said something about azaleas. She wanted a bed of azaleas on the side of the yard. The prep for the azalea bed was my task. I went about gathering large stones and making a huge circle, then I filled it in with top soil. She bought some plants and proceeded to place them all about the circle. That was about 1974... Nothing has ever been done to them since, no watering, no fertilizer, nothing.. Every year they spring back to life and bloom bigger than before. We were walking a couple of weeks ago and she spotted a sweet gum tree growing in the middle of the bed.

"That needs to come out of there.."

Which is mom code, for remove that tree, sooner rather than later.

When I appeared a few days later with a saw, I noticed that a walking stick could be made from the tree.. I cut it down, brought it home and began working. Once the piece was cut and the limbs removed I sat it to the side and started the clean up. One of the extra pieces caught my eye and I cut it down to size. I decided to leave a few of the small limbs on it and carve it as it was.

When you can get each piece you make from the place you have lived for your entire life it makes each one a treasure. I have watched this one grow, just as most of the wood I use. To put what talent you have into something makes it that much sweeter but, with each piece I make, there is a bit of the history of this place that goes along with it... and that makes all the difference.

March 24, 2011

Magnolia hiking stick from Grandma Smith

I wrote a while back about my great grandmother, Grandma Smith. Here is an excerpt:

"Many years ago in the mill village of Sargent Georgia if you needed any sort of doctoring, medicine, or poultices for injuries, you went to see "Aunt Becky" down by the railroad tracks.

Aunt Becky was my great grandmother Becky Smith. She was my grandmother Zeddie Perry's mother. To direct family she was Grandma, to others in the family she was Grandma Smith, to everybody else, she was Aunt Becky.

Grandma Smith ruled the family as a stern matriarch, she was known to be unforgiving in her rules for behavior, yet she was a fair woman. She planted all sorts of herbs, flowers, and trees to take care of people. A strong believer in the healing power of the body and mind, she was well versed in herbalism and knew exactly what plants to use for anything. "

The other day I was walking down the road and thought about her as I stood and looked at the magnolia tree she planted in my brother's front yard. I had taken a couple of trees from underneath the magnolia, there are a few growing under the main canopy. Struggling for light makes them grow very straight and perfect for carving. I went back to my place, got the kawasaki mule and headed back over to get one more... I keep the kawasaki loaded with tools so that it's a "portable tree removal station."

I began carving the magnolia piece as thoughts of the stories of her life flew around in my mind. My grandmother told me that she loved to walk around out here in the woods and check on all the herbs she had planted. She had a main garden, but also kept several little "secret spots" all over the woods where she planted her best ingredients. I can hear granny telling me.. "She always said that you can mother the plants in an orderly fashion, but god knew how to take care of them best..."

Sitting on the porch carving I thought about what she would like as a walking stick to aid her in making her rounds through the trees. I never really talked to her, as I was very young when she became bed ridden from old age and illness. In those days I was afraid of her... I began to think about the types of conversations we would have.

I had a long, meaningful discussion with her while I was carving this piece and actually found myself asking her, "What do you think about this Grandma?" The response I could imagine was, "It looks good child, just keep pouring your soul into it and you won't go wrong..."

March 23, 2011

My fathers walking stick

It all started when I was in high school. My mother came downstairs and told me she had a few things she wanted me to do. One of the chores on her list was the removal of a dogwood tree at the edge of the back yard. I saved that one for last. When I set out to remove it I remembered her order, "Cut it as close to the ground as you can, I don't want to see any stump at all..."

I decided that I would just dig the tree up, roots and all, instead of cutting it down. Once out of the ground, I cut it off about five feet from the roots and knocked off all of the dirt... What I was left with was a rather cool looking display. I kept the tree, thinking it looked like a wizard's staff. I went down to dad's shop, debarked it, cut and trimmed the roots, then stained it. I've kept it all those years.

Periodically I would venture out into the woods, dig up other small trees and do the same thing. It was in this way that I began to learn the root systems of different trees. All of the other trees I did this to I gave away, but always kept this one...

Six or seven years ago I revisited my old hobby...

One Saturday during the Summer I was here hanging out when I decided to go look for a tree to dig up. I saw a limb on a tree that had some interesting twists in it, but was too short for a wizards staff. So I cut the limb down and decided to make a club out of it. I gave this to my brother as a gift...

I decided at that point to make something for everyone in my immediate family. I wasn't carving anything then, just finding interesting pieces, debarking, trimming, then staining and finishing them. I was hooked on the delivery... The looks in their eyes left me with a nice feeling.

When I made my father a walking stick I picked a really nice looking oak limb, climbed up the tree, cut it out, then went about the process... Upon delivery to my dad I was hoping he would like it.. He picked it up, walked around a bit then said, "It's too heavy... Can you get me one that's a little bit lighter?"

I went out and found a smaller tree growing out of a bank, with a good bend for a hand hold... I dug it out, debarked it, cut the roots off, sanded, stained and finished it.. I took it to him after several hours of fussing over it. He walked around with that one and said, "That one is better.. can you make me one with a face or something on it?"


The only thing I had ever carved before was a mushroom once in an art class in school. I had a nice set of knives, but rarely used them, and never for carving wood. So I set about attempting to learn how to carve a face. Several days, and pieces of wood later, I figured it out...

I was pleased with the result and several people showed interest in what I was doing.. I have been carving wood and making walking sticks ever since...

When my father passed away in 2008 my mother went over to the door and picked up the walking stick I had made for him and gave it back to me. I had never made him another one with a face on it. The walking stick sat propped against the door jam or his gun cabinet since the day I gave it to him. I took the stick home and hung it on the wall here in a place of honor...

The other day I was looking at the walking stick, noticing all the places I had missed when finishing it, the air bubbles, the runs in the stain... and lastly.. feeling a bit sad because I never made him one with a face.

So I took it down and started working on it.

I carved a face into it on Sunday afternoon sitting on the patio at his house by the table he used to sit at until the wee hours of the morning playing cards. Then I stripped it down, stained and refinished it...

I started to put it back up on the wall, then stopped myself.

I have felt guilty about this walking stick since the day I gave it to him, it wasn't exactly what he wanted. I made the decision that instead of keeping it, I would sell it....

I learned from him for my entire life, and watched him live the way he wanted to. It's time I moved on from the guilt and lived the same way.. The way I want to.