Thursday, 27 October 2011

An Experiment!

Remember that back breaking piece of hazel I dragged in from the bottom of the garden a few weeks ago? Well once I'd cut it down I ended up with one lovely staff sized piece and another bent bit that might have made a staff for a hobbit. I could have made a walking stick, but I wasn't in a walking stick mood. Besides, I like a challenge.

So...I had a root through my box of odds and ends. In there I keep all the odd little pieces I don't know what to do with but are too interesting to want to let go. Most are odd shapes and not really usable for a staff but there, lurking at the bottom was a piece of driftwood about a foot and a half long. Hmmmm. Could I do a bit off staff surgery?

Faced with two pieces of wood, neither long enough to do much with on its own, I set about joining the two. I loved the pale colour of the hazel and also the darker colour of the driftwood (its a fruit wood of some sort I think, possibly cherry) and I didn't want to lose either colour by staining. But how was I going to join them with out it looking a bit...well, wrong?

This is what I came up with. And I love it. Varnished, the hazel has a look of ivory about it; and the rich colour of the driftwood glows. The natural beauty of the wood shines through, cracks and all. I like that. I haven't tried to hide the joins, its as honest as it comes. What started out as something of an experiment has turned out better than I could ever have hoped for and I learnt so much in the process...Result!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Just Drifting

Yesterday I went beach combing for the first time in what seems like ages. It was just on a whim really. We were on our way home from doing the shopping. By that I mean my wife was doing the shopping. I'm not allowed in the supermarket. She thinks that's her idea but was in fact the result of careful planning. I didn't have to 'participate' in very many shopping trips before she stamped her foot at my antics and confined me to the car :) Now I get to sit in the car park with a book while she plays dodgems with the trolley and competes in the 'checkout wars'. Besides, it all adds to the magic of her kitchen mysteries if I don't get to see the basic ingredients.

Anyway, we were on our way home when I suddenly decided to take a different turning and go to the beach instead. We couldn't stay long, not with a car full of frozen food, but it was great to walk along the sand again. I've avoided the beach, pretty much, over the summer. I don't like its sanitized, high season feel. But now the holiday makers have mostly headed home, it is peaceful again.

There is nothing like picking my way through the sea weed to make me really appreciate how lucky I am to have all this on my doorstep. Whenever I start to take it all for granted the smell of the sea comes along and clips me around the ear and reminds me that life is good. We didn't have time for a good root around but I still came home with a couple of really interesting pieces. I think they will make fantastic carved tops for staffs, but I'll give them time to dry out properly and then see what they have to say.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Holly Wand

I was lucky enough recently to be given a beautiful piece of wood by my neighbour. My first thought was to create a staff (albeit a little short) from the stunning shaft of, nine years seasoned, holly. But the longer I looked at it, the more I felt it, the more I was sure that was wrong. It didn't want to be a staff.

I feel very strongly about working with the spirit of the wood and this one had very definite ideas about what it wanted! I spent night after night just sitting with the holly, running my hands along its satin smoothness; taking in all the detail of the tight grain and knobbly features and slowly an idea took shape.

When I first said I was going to make a wand my wife looked at me with absolute horror. I had over four feet of beautiful holly and all I was going to do was make a wand! I think she thought I was mad. (Hmmmmm, she'd be right about that. But that aside...) Yet this wasn't going to be any ordinary wand. This piece of holly had something special in mind.

And this is the result.

Holly Wand- Sheathed

I've never made a wand with its own sheath before and it was quite a challenge to hollow out the shaft to take the wand smoothly but I think it was worth the effort.

Holly Wand- unsheathed
The rich colour of the wood has developed through repeated waxing to both protect it and enhance the detail. And it feels wonderful...

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Long Way From Home

Every so often Dartmoor calls me. It whispers in my dreams and I cannot ignore the call. And so it was that we found ourselves, in these glorious days of an Indian summer, high up on the moor once more.

I learn so much each time I visit; about the land and about myself. I become so much more simply by breathing in the air, by planting my feet firmly upon the land, by raising my eyes to the skies and by feeling its heart beating in time with my own. Dartmoor, for me, is a deeply spiritual place.

But as much as I love the stillness and the wild, it is a place too for people. Some live in happy harmony with the moor as farmers or artisans, some make their living providing for the many visitors who come to be overwhelmed by its beauty. For others still, the moor must seem a very bleak place viewed from the confines of that dark and brooding institution that is Dartmoor Prison.
H.M Prison Dartmoor
Designed by Daniel Ashe Alexander, Dartmoor Prison was originally built to house French prisoners of war captured during the Napoleonic Wars. Work began in 1806 and took its first inmates in 1809 but by  1812 it was also home to American P.O.W's. When both wars ended in 1815, the prison had outlived its usefulness. It was re-opened as a men's prison in 1850 and is still in use today. During WW1 it was used to house conscientious objectors. It is now a category C prison housing non-violent inmates although for many years was a high security prison and looking at its foreboding walls it is easy to see why.
It is at Dartmoor the charity Storybook Dads is based. Their aim is to 'help imprisoned parents maintain meaningful contact with their children'. By enabling inmate parents to record a story onto C.D it helps to improve literacy and be involved in their child's development. For children finding it difficult living without a parent just to be able to hear their voice whenever they want on a storybook C.D, the trauma, stress and sense of loss is easier to deal with. Such a simple thing and yet it does so much good, for both child and parent.

So when we saw a 'chain gang' collecting money on  their five mile hike across the moor we were more than happy to dig deep in our pockets.  Last year they were able to produce over 2,600 C.D's to make children smile. This year they hope to top 3,000.

But the chain gang weren't the only unusual sightings that day on the moor. I think these Highland Cattle are a long way from home!