chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

the patience of wood…

my father's workshop ~ the wood shelvesSpanish missionaries were the first to plant native Brazilian orange trees in Southern California; by the time of the gold rush the broad sprawl of the San Fernando Valley was quilted with groves of orange, lemon and grapefruit trees. But in the post-war boom of the 1950s, the groves were mowed down, the lots cleared and the trees gave way to houses. It took decades to get rid of all those trees, evidence of their presence remaining as backyard citrus…and my father’s woodcarvings.

Citrus trees are not huge, not suitable for lumber, but the wood is hard and golden, with tight, smooth grain that rarely splinters. Occasionally, on weekends, my father would drive over the Sepulveda pass into the Valley and cruise around looking for downed trees left at the roadside. He’d return home with a trunkload of wood — straight or curved or branched — and begin the long tending that might eventually yield a sculpture.

He removed the bark, checking for pests, painted the cut ends, and marked each piece with the date and place he’d found it. Then he stacked the wood in a special open bin in the cool, unfinished basement of our house and there it would stay. For at least seven years.

He would visit the wood there, examine it, perhaps turn it to see if a future sculpture had begun to suggest itself. Sometimes he’d sketch a few lines on the wood with a black china marker. But mostly he’d leave it alone to dry undisturbed.

After that long wait, a piece of wood might find its way into his workshop in the garage — sometimes directly onto the workbench, but more often onto another set of shelves, where it became a more active participant in what he described as waiting to see what the wood had to say.

Even once he’d begun to carve the wood, there was nothing hasty about the process, each tap of the mallet against the chisel a commitment of intention that could not be undone. Each stroke of the rasp, each with-the-grain caress of the sandpaper another word in my father’s long conversation with a piece of wood.

4 responses to “the patience of wood…

  1. Eric Solstein May 10, 2012 at 9:05 am

    I hope my sons have as rich and warm memories of me as you do of your father, though yours will definitely do for the meantime. Thanks.

  2. jik May 10, 2012 at 9:12 am

    thanks, Eric…I hope so too and I’m betting in favor…jik

  3. Andrew Shattuck McBride May 10, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Dear jik,
    Magnificent phrasing and a marvelous post. “… the patience of wood.” “… waiting to see what the wood had to say.” Wow!
    My Dad was a woodcarver, too.
    Thank you for this.
    Blessings, Andy

  4. jik May 10, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Thanks so much, Andy.

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