Monday, July 7, 2014

Zen and the Five-year-old

When we left for the boat many, many things got left behind. In addition to ditching cars, motorcycles, jobs, income, and flying, my little workshop out in the garage was disassembled and sold off piece by piece. Most of my hand tools came along, but there is no room for things like belt sanders and table saws. Any joinery work needed on the boat now gets done the hard way. Most cuts are with a saber saw, a versatile little cutter not famous for leaving straight, clean edges in its wake. Anything that needs to look even half way finished will require much filing and sanding. Quick work in even a modest shop, slow work sitting on a bench with a sanding block and a sheaf of 80 grit.

Such labor intensity is anathema in the USA today. Anyone trying to squeeze a living out of a skilled trade needs maximum billing for minimum time spent. Even then most of the money will go to managers, insurers, and investors who don't actually make, move, design, or fix anything. But I'm not trying to earn a living. I'm just working on my old boat. The goal is to make it as safe and livable as a modest budget, and what skill I can conjure out of these old hands, will allow.

So I get to do a thing no one in the USA gets to do anymore, take a seat in the shade and run my fingers over an edge needing care. Then shave the rough stuff away with a rhythmic scraping that doesn't disturb the ducks or raise an eyebrow among the neighbors. The song flows through the fingers, whispers ideas to the mind, and settles in the heart with a sigh. Boats flow past on the river, clouds come and go, and occasional insect buzzes by but rarely bothers. Maybe its the thin, hovering veil of dust they don't like? In any case not many people have the time to spare to spend afternoons gently pushing wood into a needed shape.


Is it machine perfect when I am done? Of course not. But it looks okay to my eye and becomes a part of my home that no one knows as well as I do. It also becomes a part of my life, an afternoon spent in quiet motion making something that didn't exist before. And, in this case, came with an added bonus. My grandson sat next to me getting his first coating of wood dust along with his first lesson in the Zen of the sanding block. I don't think he caught much of the Zen part. Five-year-olds wake up every morning with more energy than they can burn in just one day. But he did a pretty good job for all that.


No modern society can exist on goods made this way. I make no claim that slow and labor intensive is somehow better. It clearly isn't. In almost every way - quality, quantity, cost of production, close tolerances to standards - the most modern, machine intensive way is far superior to the efforts of the lone craftsman. But that isn't to say nothing was lost when the machines came of age.

I rediscovered a hint of it today in a simple piece of wood. A piece that went directly from my hands to making our life just a tiny bit easier.

2 comments:

Sara Deever said...

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Sara Deever said...

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