The breath of wood

This morning I was standing at the drill press working on a batch of candle holders.  Shavings and dust spilled out of the hole piling at my feet.  Sometimes the shavings would come out in long crimped pencil sharpener ribbons .  Sometimes they coiled around the bit like an Elizabethan ruff.  The hot drill bit hitting frozen wood made clouds of steam billow out of the hole as though the wood were exhaling in the cold air.  The steam was like concentrated wood perfume and I was again struck by what a punch in the olfactory system it is to work with wood.  


Smell is a funny sense.  I can’t remember a smell.  Or a least I can’t think of a thing and retrieve the smell the way I can recall a song in my head or picture a face.  I’ve been told that in the mush between your ears, the wires don’t run that way.  When I try all I get is a feeling that I’m close and a pile of thoughts and emotions that I’ve anchored to the smell.  But the wires run the other way.  A familiar smell will often cause a cascade of memory and emotion.

And so it was that day, mindlessly punching holes in wood, all the while inhaling its steamy breath.  I made it into something of a game, trying to sort through all of the thoughts and memories and emotions that the smells brought to mind.  Siberian elm made me think of the stink of a horse barn.  Maybe horse manure or old wood.  Black locust smelled of black raspberries somewhat ruined by being cooked in a pie.  Oak had more than one smell.  Sometimes an unpleasant sour smell.  Sometimes that sourness shifted all the way to a fishy smell like the sea.  But then other pieces had a smell I thought of as wholesome almost like sassafras or rootbeer.  A smell I savor on my clothes sometimes.  One piece of box elder brought strongly to mind the childhood memories of a neighboring weedy field freshly mowed.  Crab grass, Queen Ann’s lace, ragweed and chickory.  The smell of an allergy attack.  It also made me think of the smell of a green stick with the bark freshly peeled off.  Another piece of box elder smelled of the rotten weeds and tarry mud that stuck to my shoes and socks in a swampy pond where I caught turtles as a child.  Walnut had an unpleasant  smell unlike anything and left a bitter taste in my mouth, but also brought a nostalgia and thoughts of highschool woodshop.  Eastern red cedar brought to mind the smell of a cedar chest at my grandparents house, and the smell of my other grandmother’s coat closet where she used hangers made of the wood, and of the giftshops in Petosky where boxes and trinkets made form the colorful wood are sold with “Petosky” burned into them in a curly script.  Sweet cherry smelled like old-lady perfume.  And like a “cherry scented” liquid handsoap we used to have at my last job.   It’s a smell that in other circumstances I’ve found cloying, but in the company of horse manure, weedy fields , and swamp muck struck me as wonderful.  Overlaying all of this was the smell of wood smoke.  Some from the woodstove.  Some from the bit scorching as the water  burned off.  The smells of ash and elm and maple and all the others are lost to me now, but it’s pleasant to think that recall is but a sniff away. 

Crooked Christmas Ornaments

Keeping with my habit of starting slow and gradually working my way into things I had my initiation into retail sales on Black Friday.  For those of you that don't know I am now selling at Art Is In Market at the Mall at Partridge Creek.  So, being my first time working retail, the realities of the job were a bit of a slap in the face.  For example, just standing for 8 hours is more work than working.  Smiling for 8 hours will actually make your face start to crack in half.  And you need some inexpensive stuff on your shelves.  Well, my legs and feet are just going to have to suck it up; I got some super glue for my face; and I decided to make Christmas ornaments for some painless impulse sales.  

So, after a trip to Michael's for some holiday stamps, Tractor Supply for a 1/4 mile of 14 gauge galvanized electric fence wire, and the wood shop for some branch rounds, I was ready to go.  


After a little tinkering, I decided on a hook shape I liked.  Then it was time to make a bending jig.  Which means welding.  I love welding.  I SUCK at welding.  BUT I'm good enough to make the metal I guess it's okay that it looks more like popcorn than a weld.    

Here's my first published video.  It's me making hooks.  It's a little less boring than watching someone paint a wall.  Maybe.

So, with a bucket of 300 or so hooks, it was time to sand, drill, install hooks, stamp and wipe on a coat of walnut oil.   I'll save you the tedium of that video.  But here's the finished, well, before I put the finish on.  .  I hope they sell.

The Crooked Stick Christmas ornaments.

Creepy Dude in the Corner

Setting up in Milford

Friday night Debi and I loaded up the trailer and two minivans and drove out to Milford to set up for The Crooked Stick’s first craft show.  For two hours we hauled everything I had in my inventory into the high school gymnasium and set it up.  Which is when I remembered something I didn’t know I had forgotten – carrying stuff sucks.  We had a wimpy dolly, but what could have been 6 trips on a Home Depot lumber cart was probably 30 trips.  And not short trips.  But whatever.  Sore arms were just part of the cocktail of sensations and emotions that evening.  I was excited. 


That excitement faded when I woke up the next morning to what has become normal Michigan weather:  claustrophobicly low clouds and rain.  So after an early morning scramble to make some behind the scenes display hardware and a short drive to Milford, I was in my booth with wet socks and a lot of items to price.  But no worries:  10 minutes before the opening bell I had two sales under my belt and my stand was ready to go. 

Mostly.  The display looked great.  But… well… there was one thing I hadn’t thought of.  Me.  Where the heck was I supposed to go?  And later, when Debi got there, the problem got worse.  Where the heck was I supposed to put two people. 

I shoe-horned a folding chair into the back corner of the booth.  Seemed like a good idea at the time.  You know, kind of out of the way.  Let people look at my stuff for awhile before engaging with me .  Right?  WRONG!!!  Four women in a row started to walk into my stand, caught sight of me and turned on their heal and went away.  Hello’s and Good Mornings ignored.  And that’s when I realized...I was the creepy dude in the corner.  I got out of the corner.


But that just left me with the same problem.  Where do I go.  I milled around a bit like the new kid in school trying to decide where to sit at lunch.  But after drifting around stupidly for awhile I tried the corner again.  I thought I would try something I've seen other booth owners do - act busy.  My plan was to work in a notebook and try to look busy.  Maybe that would be less intimidating.  Give newcomers a welcoming but distracted smile.  A quick "good morning".  Maybe a "let me know if I can answer any questions",  Then eyes down; pen scribbling.

It might have been marginally better.  I'm not sure.  I was distracted.  Some people walked in, but there was still this weird personal space bubble around me that people seemed to bounce off of.  I could have marked it's boundaries on the floor.  It wasn't subtle.

So, I tried putting Debi in the chair.  I thought maybe an extroverted woman in the corner would be less creepy.  

Meanwhile, I wandered off to look at other vendors to see how they solved the riddle of the creepy dude in the corner.  What I found was that the personal space bubble exists for everyone.  Pretty women, handsome men, cute old was exempt.  

BUT a few things did help.  The hands down MOST inviting booths were those where the vendor was busy with another customer.  People would sneak in without hesitation.  Personal space bubble compressed down to frat party level.  Another thing that compressed the bubble was some kind of barrier between the customer and the vendor.  A table.  A counter.  A cage.  It was weird.  But again it wasn't subtle.  If the vendor was alone and you could see his feet, there was 5 feet of open floor space in front of him.  

The Crooked Stick's booth

Back at my booth Debi was having the same experience.  Creepy dude in the corner.  Eventually we slid some stuff around and found a workable spot on the outside of the booth.  They could see me and I could talk to them without them bouncing off my personal space bubble before they made it 3 feet into my booth.  I got up and walked in to talk a lot.  It wasn't great, but it was too late to change the floor plan…and at least people weren’t running away anymore. 


Now to design a better layout…and a rickshaw to carry all of my stuff.