Monday, June 27, 2011

There's a Moose in my Meadow

The ongoing quest for photographs of the animals in our yard continues and this weekend it paid off.  He came sauntering into the meadow in front of the house from the north, leisurely ripping large mouthfuls of grass as he went.

 Then, directly in front of the front door to the garage, he stopped, finding a particularly delicious patch of foliage.  I grabbed my camera and slithered out of the door, keeping an old wooden barrel between me and him, praying he wouldn't spook and leave me naught for my efforts.

He saw me, but found me uninteresting and continued to munch while I was able to watch and snap to my hearts content.

This one I just caught passing through.  He wasn't nearly as interested in sticking around, and I wasn't about to try and entice him to change his mind.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Backyard Mekani King

Our daily transportation is a 1999 Suzuki Grand Vitara.  It had oodles of miles on her when we bought it, but it had been maintained well and seemed to have some life left so we paid the $3500 asking price. It has proven itself to be dependable over the past 3 years we've owned it and we have no complaints.

That's not to say it hasn't needed some maintenance.  In all respects, the work I've done to it has been fairly routine stuff, but living up in the skirting hills of Anchorage these past two years has really beat up the front suspension.  And with nearly 235,000 miles on her, she's covered a lot of ground.  So with a quick call to an auto parts mail order store I soon had both lower A frame members sitting on my garage floor waiting to be installed.

This weekend I had the time to get it done.  I blocked the frame solidly and got the front wheels off.  Auto maintenance isn't that difficult provided you proceed in a logical order, think your way through the process and have access to written manuals or online material for those times you get stuck.  This particular job would require a few specialized tools that you really couldn't do without - a ball joint separator or pickle fork and a coil spring compressor.  Also good to have along was a large hammer, pry bar, and lubrication, both for the backyard mechanic as well as for all those coroded frame bolts.  Good wrenches and sockets go without saying.

Having the front hub removed allowed me to see the part in its entirety.  The worn piece was the ball joint circled in the picture above.  It's a round ball encased within the cast A frame lower suspension arm and on this car isn't replaceable - unless you replace the entire arm.  But some finessing with some jacks, pry bars, and finally the hammer, I got it done.

It'll need a new alignment, but the front end should be good for another quarter million miles.  Wonder where those miles will lead us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Fractured Component of Compassion

Marcus Borg writes in "The Heart of Christianity;"

"The practice of compassion means both charity and justice.  The distinction between the two is important.  About a hundred years ago, a Christian activist and author named Vida Scudder listed three ways that Christians can respond to a growing awareness of human suffering: direct philanthropy, social reform, and social transformation.  Direct philanthropy means giving directly to those who are suffering, social reform means creating and supporting organizations for their care, and social transformation is about justice - changing society so that the structures do not privilege some and cause suffering for others.

The first two are about charity, the third about justice.  All three are important. Charity is always good and will always be necessary, but historically Christians have been long on the first two and short on the third.  One reason is that charity never offends; a passion for justice always does.  To paraphrase Roman Catholic bishop Don Helder Camera from Brazil: 'When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint; when I asked why there were so many poor, they called me a communist.'" (p. 201, HarperCollins Publishers, 2003)

Today I'm continuing to work at banding my wooden bucket that I started so long ago.  The willow is now much more pliable, and it's actually becoming a strong, tight band around the staves as the willow dries and shrinks.  The willow is split, and only one half is used for the band.  Riving the wood is a traditional method of splitting the wood along the grain, and larger logs would be done using a froe, or a handled wedge that could be inserted into the split and worked along the branch, prying it sideways to split the wood along its length.  These I simply get started with my knife, and then the thin willow splits easily by hand, adjusting the pressure between my fingers to steer the split down the center of the wood.

Pondering Borg's evaluation of the unbalanced nature between charity and justice, I would add that there can be no justice and therefore no meaningful charity if there is no initial separation from the system that capitulates to the injustice.  By changing the way I live, I am no longer manipulated by a society that is offering something I no longer want.  The control over me is lost.  A society that promotes personal gain and independence as the key to happiness is powerless to promote justice, but when I no longer believe that money is the road to happiness, that my pursuit of stuff will bring me peace - then I can understand that my charity needs to become something other than a check written to a benevolent organization, or a bag of toys dropped off at a goodwill center.  Then I can understand the value of relationship with my neighbor, my friend, my world.  My compassion then becomes a new perspective, a new way.

Having split the wood, the bark is now stripped off the outside, leaving a white, smooth, half moon cross-section to wrap around the bucket.  After measuring the length, the ends are notched to lock together to form a circle.  The band can then be slid onto the bucket, and after a day or two of drying, the shrinkage produces a ring that can't be moved.  It's an amazingly simple process, but very effective nonetheless.

An example of this insidious societal influence is in a conversation I had some time ago with a friend that wouldn't answer my direct inquiry into a personal financial issue.  "I can't tell you that; it will change how you think of me."  That blew me away.  First, I think he believed that should I know what he had, it would make me envious and even possibly judgmental of him.  He assumed we valued the same stuff.  Secondly, and possibly even more disturbing to me, was his understanding that we would no longer be able to maintain a good friendship if we shared our secrets.  If I really knew him, I wouldn't like him.

He may very well have been reacting from experience.  Perhaps the last time he shared with someone he got burned.  I understand that, but it's sad.  It's a classic mutation of our society that births the idea that the more we have and the less we invite others into honest relationship the happier we will be.  A life lived with an open hand is definitely one of risk, and there will be pain, but the alternative leads to believing that life simply means money, and compassion is handing a portion of our cash to our kids or our underprivileged.  While this belief allows us to remain unfettered and maintain our distance from those not like us, it robs them and us of the other half of the equation, which is relationship.

It also effectively hinders any justice.

Gandhi has apparently said,  "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."   If this be true, then our own personal transformation,  be it social or spiritual, must first precede the justice we wish to see in society. By ignoring societies definition of success, by no longer hearing the siren call of self confirmation by trying to find ourselves in others or by accepting them solely on our own terms, we begin to see those around us as "a surprise we gladly accept."  (p.32, Jurgen Moltmann, The Passion For Life, Fortress Press, 1978). Then our compassion can ultimately become, through meaningful relationship, a celebration of humanity that can bring about the justice that makes our charity work.

Kinda like some shrinkage around a coopered barrel.

Spalted birch staves, willow band.  In progress.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A Knife for a Gift

This morning I decided it was high time to get myself back into the shop and let my hands get dirty again.  Lately my mind has been doing all the flexing and stretching, and it needs a break.

My sister is planning a visit to Alaska and has expressed some interest in trying her hand at carving while she is with us.  I'm certainly not a qualified teacher, but I am more than willing to assist her in whatever way I can to see what we can create together.  In that regards, while standing at my workbench and staring at a block of wood and a broken sawsall blade, I decided to make her a knife in anticipation of her arrival.

The block was an old piece of cedar and plywood, glued together for some other forgotten project, and looked like it might just fit the bill for a unique handle.

The grinder handled the bulk of shaping the blade, ensuring it kept cool by repeatedly dipping it in water so the temper wasn't lost.

A brief stop at the band saw and the pieces were ready for gluing.

Some sanding and woodburning and the knife was ready for finish.  A brass rod for the rivet and it was ready to hone.

Stropped and razor sharp it will now wait until Edith arrives and claims her new tool.  It's been a good day; I not only enjoyed being back at the bench, but I also hope my handiwork will bring a little pleasure to whatever she chooses to use it for in the future.

Cedar, Okume 4mm ply, tung oil, clear shellac and wax finish

Monday, June 6, 2011


Farewell my father; I pray your final days were gentle,
Your last breath drawn in peace,
your worries, struggles, and yes, anger,
like shackles; at last were shaken from your soul,
like the dust I remember you'd drive from your clothes
when returning from the fields on the farm.
Your time with us is over; the last crop binned and secure,
the equipment parked row on row, never to move again.

It will take me a while to let you go -
there's so much to remember and recall.
Memories of you flicking the visor down moments before
the splattering, sparking welding gun would erupt in your steady hand.
And standing, watching you oil the chains on the shuddering,
shrieking machine as the dry west wind would sweep through the trees
around the yard and you would predict the golden swaths
lying in the fields were dry enough to harvest.

You were a man mystified with mystery if it was not defined;
with ideas or concepts that could not be consigned to straight lines.
You measured all things in life; from spraying and fertilizing,
to mealtimes and magpies and marriages and money.
This too I will have to let go, as I continue to accept
that underneath the strength and structure and solitude,
you were a man that was human; a man that did what he could
to be what he would be; my father. Farewell.

J J Unger, May 13, 1921 - May 31, 2011