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  • This journal is dedicated to the beauty, mystery and power of Numinous Nature, and is meant to encourage a renewed love-affair with the Wild as found in our forests, prairies, mountains, deserts and back-yards.

Quiet Signs

This knife represents for me both a return and an apex in my knife work. The return is twofold; being only my second knife in more than 15 years, and a return to working with my good friend Master-Smith Don Fogg and his inspirational work.

The apex, again for me personally, concerns both the artistic and technical. Artistically, for the last 15 years I have been attempting to move toward an aesthetic reflective of my deep immersion in the Vermont landscape. This piece, hopefully, captures a new level of that reflection; essentially I felt a new level of development, both in skill, and in bending that skill toward an imaginational vision.

Also, bound into the return and apex is the fact of this being the last pattern-welded blade to be made by Don. This blade is a superb example of combining pattern-welded steel with clay hardening to achieve subtle effects in the steel. Don pioneered this approach both with modern mono-steels and pattern steel, and this stands as a landmark achievement in the field of historical bladesmithing.

In keeping with the persona of a hunting knife, I chose to represent features of the Vermont woodlands that would be familiar to a skilled, observant woodsman. These include tracks of the Red Fox, leaves of Red Maple, Beech, and Red and White Oaks, and a feather. The feather was modeled from the Ruffed Grouse, but altered in shape and color to fit the surroundings. I chose a feather as a sign of passage, which in the case of birds, could be molting, conflict, flight or death. Feathers have such deep and subtle beauty. My wife Jean and I have a collection and I always wonder, when finding a single feather, what the story was.

The tracks, leaves and feather are all signs, marking activity and transition, the meaning of which is read by the skilled woodsman.

The metal feather resulted from study of the Ruffed Grouse. It’s an artistic rendition varying from actual feathers in color and pattern to conform to the handle form and color. The metals are copper, 2% shibuichi (alloyed for me by Phillip Baldwin) and 22k gold. Soldering the pieces accurately on this scale required a newfound technique in which the pieces are held firmly by an armature of waste of the 2% shibuichi that surrounds the perimeter of the feather. A hint of gold solder outlines the darker shibuichi against the copper. Once soldered, engraving and relief sculpting the feather form defined the rachis. The vein details were then painstakingly engraved, each one in three steps. It was then patinated using the Japanese niage process.

The bolster/spacer was made from British wrought-iron. It was shaped primarily by sawing and filing. It is engraved in a pine-bark scale pattern with details in 24k gold, after Kano Natsuo. The bolster top is engraved in end-grain growth rings, as though it were a piece of pine wood with bark on the side. The iron was rust patinated using a version of an old Japanese formula.

This project has been very satisfying for a number of reasons. I was touched and honored when Don gave me the blade to finish. I did not realize until the piece was nearly finished that it was his last patterned blade, which greatly enhances the meaning for me. Don is a legend in the smithing world, and rightly so. Apart from his technical innovations, he has an artistic eye, both for pattern and form, which is rarely, if ever matched. In addition, his Bladesmith’s Forum stands as an unparalleled online resource for beginning and accomplished knifemakers.

Symbol Of Faith

This work represents hope and faith in the regenerative force of nature in both symbolic and tangible ways. In a time of unusually prevalent dark forces, I believe it is incumbent upon me as an artist to not become overwhelmed and loose sight of the enduring beauty and energy reflected, not only in full-flowering nature, but also in that which is aged and decaying. My countermeasure to debasement is to seek truth and beauty and reflect that in my work.

In Japan there is a history of the decorative bokuto/cha-to sword, apart from the kendo version, sometimes called doctors’ swords or tea swords. I’ve felt for some time this would be an interesting format for my work using both wood and metal.

Cha-to of Faith  ~  wood sword

Discovering this piece of termite-eaten American Persimmon wood was key both in provoking me to make a cha-to and also in suggesting the theme of the cycles of life, death, decay and regeneration.

 

Initially I thought to make some quite dramatic metal fittings, but my thinking evolved to a simpler approach. The form of the Japanese sword is so primally elegant; my aim was to distill that to a single somewhat Platonic form with the termites’ movement and life-cycle providing interest within the form. I found the termite carved galleries stunningly beautiful and decided that my metal fittings should balance rather than intrude into that. I also decided to not make any delineation between the tsuka and saya of the tanto form, relying instead on subtle variations of line, and the placement of the menuki to imply the hilt and scabbard.

I have long admired the combination of rustic iron and refined gold in the work of Kano Natsuo and others. The poetic dialogue between the two seemingly disparate materials has always struck a chord in me, and seemed entirely in keeping with the overall feeling I was aiming for.

Expressing a contrast to decay, I chose a butterfly and the butterfly’s food, a perennial kind of hopeful symbol, presented on simple fan-shaped forms. The flower is Chicory (Cichorium intybus) and includes a small, unopened bud in silver. My friend mentioned that in Switzerland the roadside Chicory flowers are seen as symbols of women waiting for their soldier men to return; another poignant overtone.

 

In addition to the simple fan-shaped menuki I chose to add a single visual balancing addition of mini-chasaji (tea-scoop) on the saya end. The symbolism of this is an allusion to tea as refreshment from the dusty, quotidian world. The engraved Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) seed furthers the hope for new life, as well as referring to the butterfly as the milkweed plant being the primary food for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar.

A Place of Heart

There is a longing these days for something unequivocally good and worthwhile. What better than to present children (and adults) a realm to explore their connection with Nature and hence the Numinous.

Please support EarthWalk in whatever way you can.

EarthWalk Vermont

 

Please enjoy this video:

EarthWalk Heart – YouTube

 

And some  recent photos:

Regardless of perils at large…

Another way I brace up to abounding foolishness is to visit folks who have admirable goals and who wrap their lives around them. A goal, perhaps the gold-standard of goals, to me is sustainability. Can things done a particular way be passed on for generations with the plot of earth they’re done on remaining no worse for wear?

The Hewitts; Ben, Penny, and their sons Fin and Rye walk this particular talk as much as anyone I know, the bottom line being producing something like 80% of their own food through growing, wild harvesting and barter. They also live in intimate relationship with their surrounding wild lands, deriving food, shelter and fun from same.

Ben is also a really good and prolific writer, and Penny a fine photographer with a lovely tuned personal eye, and all are fine and skilled at crafts, giving the lie to the particular conceit that farmers must be somehow lacking in intelligence, refinement and aesthetics.

Their skills can be seen here:  Ben Hewitt Blog

Their photos and writing describe a life that to my mind would be a tonic for much of what ails us these days. Not least on the list would be a childhood with the promise of a rich and varied initiation into adolescence and adulthood, drawn from deep connection with the land.

Seeing the Hewitt life choices, I think many people react thinking it is based on a survivalist mentality and that they must endure hardship and deprivation from the usual societal needs. I can tell you their pleasures are many and varied, and I believe it when they say they would choose this life regardless of perils at large.

I don’t mean to imply there is no hardship or moments of exhaustion in their lives. Reading of blog posts reveals freely admitted thorny paradoxes and an evolving philosophy.

Technology holds out the carrot of an earthly reality that can never be: endless supplies of a magical energy to power itself. The irony is of course that Gaia has it worked out, if we can but merge with it, rather than impose some sort of power-centered, wealth-creating hallucination.

I take heart in watching these guys…

Photos are roughly in order of newer top/earlier bottom:

 

 

 

 

 


 

Embracing Beauty

It’s been a little tough the last months to find a lot to be encouraged about. The centuries-long trajectory of linear, reductionist thinking aspiring to be a legitimate world view seems close to clunking to its own demise. The major thing I do to keep grotesque worldly shenanigans at bay is to keep doing the stuff that has reliably filled my tank over decades.

American Indians say “Walk in Beauty”. What this means to me is to attend, in what ever way you can, to the underlying Infinite Mystery. For me, in terms of practice, one major part of this is being in Nature as much as possible, and working at the conveyance of that experience through my art/craft.

I don’t hold to a narrow, glamorous, contemporary urban view of beauty. Give me the forest floor with all miraculous life forms giving themselves up to soil-building, and the perennial wealth flowing from that. Admittedly my taste runs toward the dry; what the Japanese might term wabi or sabi (please note: these are two terms having two different meanings. It’s not correct to think of them together as one word).

Please embrace the beauty in your life whether it is dry, wet, sensual, austere, auditory, visual, conceptual, imaginational or any of the ten thousand manifestations. As to giving into fear, none of us have that kind of time.