Sunday, June 01, 2003

Sweet Wood


Uncle Billy sat at his shavehorse for a long while, just to be out of the house on the first day of June. It was cool, cooler than it should be on a June day and he had pulled a flannel shirt over the thin denim shirt he was wearin'. Together they were enough.

The morning had been brisk and Uncle Billy started a fire in the wood stove. There was always a bucket full of shavin's from his barn beside the stove and as it lit you could smell the scent of several woods giving up their particular odor...cedar, maple, a little apple and lots of sassafras.

His shavin's were on everybody's list of things to take home when they stopped by to see him. He kept paper sacks full of shavin's in a box out the back porch door. End o' the sack were tied with twine and the sacks were tight as a tick - filled with aromatic shavin's Uncle Billy recommended to start any fire.

For that reason he always kept a piece of wood around just to piddle with. Sometimes he didn't make a thing on that ol' shavehorse. He'd just sit yonder with drawknife in hand and feel the blade slide down the length of a piece of maple. The curl of wood started almost like magic and would follow the drawknife as it slid to the end. Sometimes he'd just make shavin's. Funny how folks want shavin's.

The aroma of the wood always snuck out as the drawknife slid through the grain. No matter how dry, it gave up the sweet smell God gave it beneath Uncle Billy's careworn hands.

Earlier in the mornin' Uncle Billy, coffee mug in hand, left the warmth of the kitchen to step out and smell the clean air of the holler he lived in. Old Dog pushed through the screen door right behind him.

Just out the back door he stood and saw a doe stopping at the branch to drink. He kept a salt block there for the deer to lick. He never hunted there, though. Said it weren't fittin' to trick 'em into stoppin' near the house and then goin' after 'em.

The dogwoods were almost done with their bloomin' and the redbuds were long bloomed out. A few bees flew in the early mornin' mist. The mist was so think in the holler that the bees would be damp to the touch if ya caught 'em. Birds had been singin' for more than an hour. Uncle Billy always kept his window cracked a bit for fresh air. "Them dang birds" was his first comment most mornin's lately. They had nested in a holly tree just outside his window.

As he looked up the mountain he spied a big old patch of sassafras that he didn't realize was so close. A feller can't miss it if ya know what to look for. It has three "gloves" for leaves - a right hand glove, left hand glove and mitten. There is a sock too - a leaf that has no split or "thumb".

"Reckon I'll have to get me some sassafrass root for tea later today" he said to Old Dog. It will be just a short walk to the trees. Not hard for an old man or old dog.

He headed for the barn to put out his maddock for later. Uncle Billy sat down his coffee mug and pulled out the maddock and a saw to cut the saplings into lengths he could use on his shavehorse. Thinking of the sassafras saplings made him think of the fine sticks he put up in the winter. He pulled one out and reached for his spectacles.

As he looked over the stick he sat down on the shavehorse. It was natural for one leg to swing over and to sit at it. The stick almost fell in place in the clamp and his foot pushed gently on the bottom of the lever to clamp the stick.

Uncle Billy sat at his shavehorse for a long while, just to be out of the house on the first day of June. He looked at the stick for a while, listened to Old Dog snufflin' round the barn for that groundhog what was gettin' into the barn. "Get 'em Old Dog" he encouraged.

Finally he picked up his drawknife. The edge was clean and sharp like a straight razor. He wiped it with an oily rag and took both handles into his hands. The blade bit and he pulled ...real slow like. The aroma of sassafras oils released into the darkness of the barn made his stop for a moment. There is something magical when a man takes tools in hand and touches wood. It is earthy and elemental. It brings man into a circle of creation that no other creature will ever know. It changes a man when he crafts wood, or iron, or glass. It draws him and calls to him.

Uncle Billy knew all this, though he would call it "horsefeathers" if you flapped your ol' jaws about it to him. It was something ya just didn't talk about. A feller just did it.

"Yessir, I reckon I'll dig me a couple of sassafras roots today. Them saplin's will make good sticks to work." His drawknife moved on, the wood curled behind it and followed the blade to the end.
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