stories of special objects

I’ve come to appreciate stories over the years, even more than I did when I was younger. Stories about old objects, like tools and books are especially interesting to me, and some of the special objects in my life have accumulated some stories worth telling. 

Way, way back in a previous lifetime, in about 1997 or so, I bought a handmade knife at the Winter Arts Faire at the Mateel Community Center in Humboldt County. 

The maker was Michael Hemmer, from Corvallis, OR. He made knives out of old sawmill circle saw blades, and sold them through the mail, and traveled around to arts fairs like the one at the Mateel. 

I bought a nice medium sized kitchen knife from him, and also traded him some pear boards that I had milled for a small utility kitchen knife. That one was special to me, because the handle was made of Myrtlewood, from Myrtle Point, OR, where my grandparents lived, and where my dad grew up. And also because the pear tree that the boards came from was a very old tree from the original Early Ranch homestead near where we lived at the time, in Salmon Creek, CA. That knife was lost a few years later, but the larger knife was our main kitchen knife for many years. I also still have a few bits of that pear, and it has become part of a couple of small projects that I have made, too. 

Anyway, when Shannon and the kids moved to Astoria in 2007, that knife went with her, along with a cutting board I had made from a stunning piece of Claro walnut. The piece of wood was actually a kiln sample board from a load of lumber that my friend Dan had dried. A kiln sample board is a board that is measured and weighed as the drying process in a lumber kiln progresses, so as to keep track of how the rest of the kiln pack is doing. It was too short to be useful for much of anything in the cabinet making world, but it made a great cutting board.

As some of our friends might remember, a few weeks after Shannon and the kids moved to town in 2007, the house they rented was destroyed in a catastrophic fire that they were lucky to escape from. I spent a couple of days picking through the ashes salvaging what could be saved, and in the ashes of what had been the kitchen, I found that knife, handle scales burned off, sitting on the charred piece of Claro walnut. 

Of course, I saved it, but it sat in my shop for years because I didn’t have the confidence that I knew how to properly redo the heat treatment, and restore it. 

Last winter sometime, I dropped it off with my friend Patrick, who said he would take a crack at fixing it. I gave him an assortment of small pieces of lumber of various kinds to use as handles on the knives that he makes. 

This summer, I dropped by and picked up the knife, all fixed up and restored and even improved over the original.

Since this is all about stories, I have to mention also where this handle wood came from. 

In 1995, we sold our house in NE Portland and moved to …. well, nowhere for a while. We traveled for a bit in California in a 1968 VW van, and then lived for a few months in a school bus outside of Olympia, WA. While we were there, I bought my first sawmill, a 1995 Woodmizer, and started figuring it out as I went. My first real job was milling up the remains of a huge Big Leaf Maple that was removed when the Candlelight and Wine restaurant in Olympia was torn down. 

Old punk rock associate John Kangas sent that job my way, and it was an enormous undertaking that I was completely unprepared for. However, I and another guy managed to get it all cut up for the owner of the tree, and I kept a bunch of short boards from it, including some with some figure. 

Here’s a couple of pictures of two year old Alice, standing next to the main trunk of that tree in our log deck, and then on a stack of figured maple boards. 

(For what it’s worth, the truck that those boards are stacked on is still parked in my pasture today, with tags expired almost 20 years ago, and in constant peril of being overrun by blackberries. It’s got a few stories of its own… )

Alice and big maple log, 1995, Rochester, WA
Hippie child Alice, and figured maple lumber, 1996, Olympia, WA

Anyway, one board from that tree was in the assortment of wood that I had given Patrick, and that is now the handle of my “new” kitchen knife. Thanks, Patrick!

I think I’ll write up a few more stories like this in the future, about special objects and their stories. This was fun to write and dig up pictures for.

“how’s Greenland?”

I walked down the hill from the hotel to the harbor this evening, to sit at a picnic table near the docks and relax and have a pipe and a splash of liquor. Dunhill Standard Mixture, picked up in Norway at an exorbitant price, packed into a cheap Falcon Coolway pipe, and a flask filled with Famous Grouse scotch, brought from the Keflavik duty-free store. 

There’s just the tiniest few drops of rain, harbinger of more to come, later tonight and tomorrow. But for now, it’s the perfect amount of barely damp. 

Boats all tied up and quiet for the night. Kids out playing all over town, and especially at the container dock, which is pretty empty right now, and makes a good place to ride bikes, and throw balls for dogs. The concert venue made of shipping containers from last weekend has disappeared; many of the containers left on a small ship a few days ago.

The sign at the entrance to the dock that indicates that children are not to play on the dock seems to be pretty much ignored.

Two boys go past tearing down the hill on a bike with low tires, no helmets, lights, or anything else. Two more boys go past up the hill on a tiny scooter with a bad engine miss. 

Beautiful evening colors, dimming light, and a relaxed, mid-week evening vibe around town. 

Pipe done, I came back up to the room after walking around town a bit, for a dinner of some dried capelin fishes, crackers with Danish camembert and some Tuborg Guld lager. 

People ask, “How’s Greenland”? Which can be pretty hard to answer sometimes. 

But that’s a little of how it is, right now, right here. 

Changes…

OK, so what about those big life changes that I vaguely alluded to in the introductory post?

OK, then…  

The “Big D”:

My marriage has always been pretty challenging and difficult, as those who are at least sort of close to me know. And, after a long, long time, almost 27 years, it finally came to an official end in early 2018, although it had been functionally over for a while before that. Basically, after years of stubbornness and extreme loyalty, fear of change, and a heavy indulgence in the Sunk Cost Fallacy, I finally stopped fighting to stay married, and just let the chips fall where they may. And where that ended up was in a breakup, followed by a long, sort of awkward co-habitation, and finally separation and divorce. 

We did manage, in the end, to pull off a fairly non-combative, amicable, DIY divorce, that kept costs and drama to a bare minimum. 

If you’re friends with Shannon, you’ve known about this since it happened, and probably even before, actually, because she has been much more public about it than I have been. I’m a pretty private person for the most part, and honestly, this wasn’t something I was super excited about. It felt like failure on a grand scale, and not something I really wanted to go around yakking about to just anyone. And I definitely have not been super excited to run around in 2019 announcing myself as “single”. Ugh. I haven’t been “single” since I was younger than my oldest kid is now. The elder George Bush was president, the first Iraq War hadn’t even happened yet, phones were still connected to the wall with wires, and Nirvana had just come out with “Bleach”… lol.

But, there you have it. From November up until mid-April, I was sleeping in a 10’ camper in my own driveway, and otherwise living in my shop, cooking and making coffee on a Coleman stove. Back in early spring, I was considering whether or not I was going to move, and if so, to where. I looked at places all around NE Washington state, a little bit in Idaho, and even looked around a bit in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But I ended up keeping the Skamokawa place in the divorce, so now I’m staying there, at least for a while, anyway.  It’s nice to live indoors again…

Whew… There are only a handful of people who I have talked to about this, up until now. 

Columbia River Kayaking:

Another project and set of relationships and partnerships that finally came to an overdue end in the past 12 months was my involvement in Columbia River Kayaking. I had been doing that job since 2004, and was one of the founding partners of CRK, LLC in 2007, and the financial and operations manager, kayak guide and coach, etc etc for over ten years. 

Again, heavy on the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and heavy on stubbornness, loyalty and fear of change. My exit there was also overdue, and unfortunately, not all of my personal relationships there survived the transition intact. Live and learn, I guess. 

I still like to paddle, although I’ve spent more time in canoes recently than in kayaks. I’m also still available for paddlesports coaching and instruction, and I just started the process of bringing all my certifications with British Canoeing up to date, and I also finally joined the ACA as well. After a year or two of not being sure what to do with my paddlesports career, I ended up deciding that I just had way too much time, energy and money invested in that skill set and career path to just let it go completely, over a partnership that didn’t work out. 

But for the past two years, almost all of my income has been coming from teaching WMA courses, and very little to none from kayaking or managing a kayaking business. It’s been slightly terrifying, making that leap of faith and stepping away from the kayaking income, even though the kayaking income in recent years was pretty small. But making slightly terrifying changes has been a theme lately… 

Other Stuff:

In the past year, I’ve lost about 30 pounds. Looking to shed another 10-15 or so, too. My weight finally snuck up on me last summer, and it looked like I might have to buy some new pants, and that’s what finally did it. No way was I going to give up and be a 38” waist kind of guy… So, I started on the intermittent fasting thing last August, and lo and behold, the pounds started slipping away. For a while I kind of plateau’ed out at 20 pounds down, and then had to step up the walking and exercise a bit, and even more tightly manage the food thing as well, and I slowly dropped another 10 pounds after that. 

To the point now, where I am thinking I might have to buy some new pants, because the ones I already own keep falling off if I don’t have my belt pretty tight… lol.

I went through a massive line of credit shuffle, paying everything down to almost nothing, and then bought a “new” truck, and have also now been fixing up my crappy 42 year old doublewide into a somewhat less crappy old doublewide that I can stand to live in for a while. It’s been in desperate need of either tearing down or remodeling for a long time, so I’ve spent pretty much every spare minute since April that I have not been working, painting walls, fixing floors, replacing all the kitchen cabinets and the island, replacing the wood stove and I’ve also gutted the front bathroom all the way down to rotten studs, replaced a bunch of framing, and when I get it back together it will have a new sink, toilet and shower. 

The barn is finally going to be getting electricity and eventually a concrete floor, too. The shop, however… Ugh. That’s still a mess, but at least it’s not currently being destroyed by rats. 

And, there it is. Big, crazy, paradigm shifting changes, that I have mostly been keeping pretty damn quiet about, but at this point, a lot of people already know about these things, and in the spirit of the blog and life reboot, I’ll see how it goes sticking this kind of personal stuff out there in this format. Not my usual thing, but then again, neither is any of this stuff, and here I am anyway… lol.

Reboot

The past couple of years have been pretty crazy and filled with big changes in my life. I’ve been reluctant to say very much about any of it other than to a few people, especially on social media, because, well, social media just seems like a hot mess these days, and I generally find that having a handful of people liking a few pretty pictures every now and then is about the highest and best use of those platforms, for me anyway. And, keeping in touch with a few people who I would not be in touch with otherwise.

I basically stopped blogging in 2016, right around the time I was starting to WANT to blog again. But, my timing wasn’t too great, since my urge to write about my first international travel and my first trip to Greenland coincided with the 2016 Election, and most of my friends, or at least people I would hope would read the blog, were busy completely losing their minds and freaking out about The End of Everything, etc. Looks like that isn’t stopping anytime soon, though… 

So, over the past few months, as I’ve become increasingly annoyed and disgusted by social media, I’ve been thinking about re-booting the blog and website, as an alternative way to be online with pictures and words. An alternative that isn’t completely subject to the whims of a couple of massive, Silicon Valley tech firms to make all the decisions about what will, and will not be seen, by who, and why. Of course, this will be an imperfect effort, and something like talking into a windstorm, but I’ll make the effort anyway. 

So here it is, the early stages of the reboot of the website and blog. Coinciding with a pretty major reboot of my whole life, really… more on that in subsequent posts.

What used to be a hand coded, Web 2.0 website that was kind of an “about me”, and the things I used to do, plus an old WordPress blog living in a subdomain, is now gone, and I just installed WordPress in the root directory and will create the new website and blog off of that. The old blog still lives in the same place, at http://blog.redalderranch.com. [ database problem is now fixed ] There are still a few articles there that I continue to share links to when people ask, mostly kitchen projects. The Incident Report from LW 2011 is still there, too, and continues to get a little interest from time to time.

The new blog will have pictures, of course, posts about travel, kitchen projects, hunting and fishing, projects on the land, both at home and up on the mountain, and probably even a little political stuff from time to time. And whatever else comes to mind. Might go weeks or months with nothing, and then there will be some flurry of activity, and then nothing again. And this time, I’m going to try not to stress out about it… lol.

If you’re in to this kind of thing, follow the blog. I’ll make sure and set up an easy way to subscribe to an RSS feed in the near future. And, of course, I’ll still put links to these posts on FB, too. 

More later…

Mark
Qaqortoq, Greenland