Monday, March 28, 2011

Dunya Din

The chaos of world events this past month has left me reeling in confusion and grasping for balance.  The devastation of the earthquakes in Japan, the uprising and slaughter of the people in northern Africa along with the military involvement of the west - all deeply disturbing and shattering.  It swept me into a low, hollow place in my own soul - a desperate place, churning with hopelessness for mankind and the earth; sorrow for all the suffering and tragedy.  It left me sitting in silence on a wobbly bench propped up against the outside wall of the garage.

Maybe I could build a new bench.  A bench for meditation and balance.  A bench of tension, solidarity, and harmony.  Today I began to place some ideas down on paper.  I have quite a bit of oak stacked in storage; it would be perfect for the project.

The original idea was gleamed from the Garden Bench featured in Outdoor Woodworking Projects, Plans, Tips and Techniques (p. 8, August Home Publishing, 2010).  I like the idea of splitting the legs in two and notching the stretcher into the uprights.  But I'd like to have the legs mortised into the top.  I'd like it to be simple, clean, and sturdy.  The bench will be 36 inches long, just right for two people to sit side by side.

The split legs could symbolize brokenness and separation.  Yet the stretcher would bring it together, revealing the similarity.  The top would span the openness, providing a place of support.

In respect for the events currently unfolding in the Arabic nations, I then thought of the Islamic principle of dunya din.  It's the simple lifestyle of balancing the spiritual with the physical - God and man.  Akbar S. Ahmed says it this way;

"A good Muslim must balance the world (dunya) with the principles of religion (din).  He or she must live in the real world but be guided by the principles of religion." (p. 27, Islam Today. I. B. Tauris and Co Ltd. 2001)

The idea of seeking guidance through our principles is a good thought.  It is there that we may possibly find a common bench, for the universal belief of truth, justice, mercy and compassion should encompass all flavors of religion, culture and race.

There is hope in that thought, along with much wisdom.  I'd like to carve it into the top of my new bench. 

I will build it.  Then I hope you will come and sit with me.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Beach Beauty

This past week we enjoyed a few days with nothing scheduled so we squeezed in a road trip to Homer for a change of pace and some relaxation.  Although we woke up to snow the one morning we were there, it soon cleared and we enjoyed an afternoon of sunshine on the beach.  Collecting has always been an addictive behavior for me, and this trip was no exception.

Once you get beyond the buoy's, there is so much natural beauty on the beach it doesn't take great imagination to find it.

Of course it helps when you have spoons on your mind.

The beauty is always there, it is simply waiting to be discovered.

driftwood root, decorated with wood burning designs, linseed oil/wax finish

Saturday, March 12, 2011

All Shall be Well

I've been thinking about amplifying my spoons up a notch - going a little bigger.  Something that can stick out of the pot a foot or so and scoop a pint sized ladle of chili in one go.  So yesterday I grabbed my hewing axe and some birch, and went to work.

It was not to be.

Both lost their handles early on in the shaping process.  I was using a new draw knife, which was working so well... maybe too well.  Or the wood was just too weak.  Or I shaved the handles too thin.  Or I just plain messed up.

Lucky for me a kind old wood spirit came along.  He told me everything would be OK.

Some days we all need to hear that.  

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
Julian of Norwich.

Spalted birch spoons, willow wood spirit carving, linseed oil/paraffin wax finish, polished with a stiff bristle brush

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Gift of Seeing

Lady's Slipper Orchid
Cypripedium guttatum
Unalaska Island

There seems to be a perverted connection in our new world culture between "busyness" and "happiness."  We link "frenzy" with "success," filling our days churning out proliferating quantities of activity - all in a frantic pursuit of that illusive horizon.  We're upset if the commuter in front of us is traveling too slow; it interferes with our "production."  Our lives become one endless train of events, each one simply a link to the next, our steps becoming a never ending chain stretching into our future with the fading hope of one day obtaining a reward.

 Grave markers, Dutch Harbor
I think that is why sailing as well as working with traditional hand tools can become so appealing.  They both offer a forced curriculum where the participant can learn a new perception of time - a lesson where finally the eyes and heart can be opened to the moment.   Robert Cushman Murphy, a naturalist aboard a whaling ship in the early 1900's, writes sympathetically about this lack of seeing among his fellow crewmen while becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: 

"Why, after all, should these equatorial children take delight in the experiences that will somehow carry me through until you and I are once again together?  Their comfort is far less than mine, their work more arduous, their privacy nil.  In the face of unfamiliar food, they remember only their palmiest days ashore.  Hope of money, all too likely to dim with experience, is their sole lure.  Their thoughts and desires are centered on whales - whales and a port.  They follow the calling not for its own sake, but only for what it may bring - the lay, one-hundredth, one hundred-and-fiftieth, one two-hundredth, or whatever the humble cut may be.  They are poor observers of things in general.  Living creatures interest them when they can eat them or boil them down to oil, but they are as unconcerned with the dazzling plunge of a tropic-bird as with the glowing, luminescent waters of a Caribbean evening.  Sunsets, and the constellations of night skies, they do not appear to see.  Perhaps their first thought of a star will come when the Daisy, her hold filled, turns her bow away from the southern ocean.  Then we shall all be gazing nightly toward the line until changeless Polaris pops up to guide us home."  (p. 11, Logbook for Grace,Time Life books, 1947)

Petersburg, Alaska

The subtle difference between Murphy and his shipmates is in the emphasis of what the moment could do to them instead of what it could do for them.  Quietness and solitude have very little to offer the mind seeking another notch in the belt of individual profiteering, but the heart longing to be changed will find the moment of stillness invaluable.
Midnight Sun Cafe, Anchorage

Because the true reward is always before us now, not in tomorrow.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

An Alaskan Life

There is something intensely gratifying in having your days begin with a cup of coffee next to a wood stove that is quietly radiating a soothing calmness into your soul.  It's a quiet time of reflection, introspection, and contentment as the sun lightens the stunning vistas across the valley.  The uniqueness and the quietness of Alaska is utterly breathtaking.  And it is those qualities that bring me to fall in love with the state over and over again.

We sailed into Alaska on June 20, 2005 arriving in Ketchikan at 1530 local time.  The Dixon Entrance crossing had been uneventful; relatively calm with only some leftover north-westerly swell from the low pressure system that had earlier swept through the area.  Little did we know then that we were standing at the doorstep of a lover that would woo our hearts for years to come.

It's easy to understand why we would become so captivated by Alaska.   With 34,000 miles of shoreline (some are now estimating that with more accurate GPS mapping the total is closer to 44,000 miles), it's easy to become lost in a world where only you and beauty exist.  The entire state records a population of less than 700,000 people - and almost half of those live in Anchorage, the largest city situated at the head of Cook Inlet.  This is for a state that covers almost 600,000 square miles -  almost three times the size of Texas, or one-fifth the size of the contiguous United States.  In other words, there's a lot of open country with very few people. 

It would only be natural that such a unique state would foster a different slant on what life looks like.  You can find many examples of where value is measured by what you can do for yourself - necessarily so.  It is estimated that there are six times as many pilots per capita as anywhere else in the United States and 16 times as many airplanes.  That equates to roughly one pilot with aircraft for every 61 Alaskans.  Dog teams are still actively a part of the winter landscape - and not only during the Iditarod festivities.  Denali National Park uses the only sled dogs in the United States to patrol a national park during the winter months, logging an average of 3000 miles every year since 1921.  Dutch Harbor is home to an enormous fishing industry where the next largest, Louisiana, is a very distant second with one quarter of its volume for seafood landings.  In 1991 Dutch Harbor offloaded "in excess" of 731.9 million pounds of seafood - and Unisea, one of four large processors on the island, is capable of processing over 130,000 lbs of seafood per hour at it's peak capacity.

The statistics simply continue to baffle the mind.

More than 3,500 bald eagles gather every fall along the Chilkat River near Haines to feast on salmon.  Over 20 million shorebirds pass through the Copper River Delta near Cordova every spring.  The rufus humingbird finds Alaska its destination on its 2000 mile migration every year.  Warblers travel over 6000 miles to arrive in Alaska from the jungles of South America.  Pacific golden plovers arrive from Hawaii and Polynesia, and Arctic terns that have been observed wintering in the Antarctic regularly nest in the Alaskan arctic, an annual 20,000 mile round trip.  The state also records almost one million caribou, thousands of muskox, and hundreds of thousands of bear, moose and deer.  It has recorded three of the largest top ten earthquakes in the world, two of which were in the top three.  It has over forty active volcanoes.  Over 5000 glaciers.  Three million lakes over 20 acres in size.  And when the sun rises in Barrow on May 10th of every year, it won't set again for nearly three months.

It's no wonder the views continue to swell my heart and soul every morning.  Sometimes it seems too much to take in.

My only regret is that Canada didn't have a spare 7.2 million kicking around on March 30, 1867.

statistics taken from,,