About Right

For those of us who live north of the Equator, in climes in which water freezes in winter months, now is the season of preparing boats on the hard. “On the hard” for those who may not know the language of sailors and such, is the antonym to “in the water.” It is, indeed, a sweet season.

Yesterday my wife and I were down doing a little work on Santa Maria. Last month I put in a new water tank since the last one was filling the bilge as fast as I could fill the tank. Water issues have shown up in other places as well, and so my wood-worker wife opted to rebuild a couple of walls that had been ruined. She works wonders, and her carpentry skills were put to task. Yesterday we put these walls in place. She also plans on varnishing the hatch boards, which we have been staining, and while she cut a temporary hatch (so we could take the regular boards home) I cleaned the hull.

I like cleaning the hull. It brings me a deep joy. When my mother (whose blessed memory I honour today!) had me clean anything as a child, I would never have described the experience with the word “joy.” But yesterday I found myself grinning as I wiped away a winter’s worth of grime. As I washed and polished, I wondered about this pleasure: why this joy? Perhaps it is because I do so much work that brings so few concrete results that I see. Perhaps it is because the action itself is a cypher signalling changes in the season. Perhaps it is because I simply enjoy being outside, or the gentle curve of the boat, or the back and forth with my wife. It is probably all of these and more. But as I worked I thought a little bit about the gift of physical labour: how it puts us in touch with our bodies, how it teaches the gift of patience and perseverance, and how it reminds us that those who preceded us knew nothing of the many luxuries we take for granted. There was no heat without wood being hewn, and no food without laboured fields and snare set trails and animal husbandry. Of course, food is still worked for but most of us are distant to the physicality of this truth.

But to return to the mystery of my smile, above all I think this task takes me back to my parents, who valued hard work and meant to teach their children that it is a gift. Of course, I do not want to sentimentalise labour – remembering that many ache from bodies broken by harsh conditions. But still, I am happy for the occasion to remember those who tried to teach me to find some pleasure in work, and so to know that sweat on the brow can be a blessing as well as a curse.

As I caressed Santa Maria with water I imagined the one, after whom the boat is named, caressing her own beloved child, and finding joy in her work. Then I thought on God too, who most certainly – from time to time – cleans this ship that we are, and so I imagined God with a gracious grin and wet hands and a deep joy, and that seems to me to be about right on Mother’s Day.


Steeling for Snow

I shoveled the walk
yesterday, leaving my snow
blower to rest, warming
up to its summer
hibernation. I settled
on the old fashioned scrape
of metal against concrete –
content with the push and pull
of these two, their force
felt in the vibration of
the wooden handle,
occupying my hands.

This steel shovel, so much heavier than its burden,
is a solid reminder of the days before plastic
when we lived a little closer to the earth.

The snow blower was
bought to hedge my
bets against heart attacks
and such. It is much
appreciated and yet some
days the nearly silent to and fro
of shovel sits well with
the serene snow about to go –
even though it only just arrived,
from far too far for me to
put it back from whence
it came.

Restore, Recycle, Remember Revisited

Some of my readers expressed interest in the results of my “Restore, Recycle, Remember” project.  So here it is! Unfortunately, I only took a “Before” picture of the credenza.  You see it in my basement, not quite yet full of sawdust- although it was more sandingdust since little sawing was involved in this project.



The desk was in rougher shape, but both were basically wounded and worn.  My guess is that they had not seen any varnish, oil or care for some 30 years.  Here is the credenza in its new home.


What you see is the result of furniture stripper, sanding, light staining and Tung Oil.  I first tried varnish but was not happy with the results.  I am pleased with this look, which seems fitting for my office.  Below is the top of the desk.  Check out the beautiful wood choice by the artists/woodworkers who first made this.


Below is a bit broader picture of the desk in its setting.  You might not see, but I have left the desk for books, and made a little computer table for the side.  It is made of a piece of glass found at Goodwill for $5.00 (Canadian!  Cheaper in the USA!!).  A set of legs was found at the Restore (an arm of Habitat for Humanity) for $ 15.00.  On the ledge behind I have set another piece of glass (this one $ 3.00) sitting upon ten four inch cylinders of wood.  These cylinders are slices of a large branch that came down from our maple tree in the ice storm this last December.  This allows me the luxury of stand up computing without investing hundreds of dollars in a desk with adjustable heights.


This was a most exciting and invigorating way to spend my July.  I learned a lot, much of which does not admit expression, but allow me this single summary:  honest work that taxes the body sometimes salves the soul.