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The (spoon) horse | No. 2

It seems that if I don’t immediately start writing down my thoughts early in the morning, I lose hold of them within a few hours. From migraines (not mine), to people in cars rushing past, to needing to break to consume sustenance, the things seem to pile on top of the clarity until they’ve buried it beneath the earthworms.

I will need to learn to prioritize my mornings, as this one was spent organizing the titular graphic below, when it probably should have been spent writing down the thoughts I was having before they disappeared. My excitement frequently leads me astray.

A few days ago my partner and I visited our friend, Michelle, at her tea house. It had been over six months since last seeing her but she smiled brightly at us from beneath a mask as we tumbled into the shop from the sweaty pavement. It seems the best friendships I have are the ones where you can instantly fall back into rhythm no matter how long it has been since you last saw each other. We discussed the last half of a year under lockdown, what had changed, what had been accomplished, and we drank hand rolled tea from hand made mugs that had both been made with care.

Every time we visit the tea house we both feel an underlying sense of calm wash through us. One might think it is the caffeine steeping out of the leaves and into our capillaries, but I believe it is due to the feeling that Michelle has managed to create within her space. The white walls and wood-topped tables don’t call for attention, they are humble. And the wall of stainless steel tea tins, each labeled with a type of hand made tea from small growers throughout the world, give a gentle focus to the reason you are there: Tea.

Michelle and Rob are kindred spirits in many ways, having experienced highly corporate jobs and then deciding they’d rather do something different. They travel the world searching for small tea farmers that care about the plants they grow, the ecosystems they are a part of, and the communities they support. They take the time to understand not just how these farmers grow, harvest, and prepare their teas, but also why.

Very few people today seem to take the time to ask that very simple question. They see an opportunity to make money and they take it, without considering other reasons as to why they should or should not go down that path. But Comins Tea has not made that mistake. They have virtually flipped it on it’s head, focusing on the people before the money (though I’m sure they’re quite skilled at both). They have even started teaching other businesses about their teas and the farmers who grow them, and how to educate their customers about why it matters to know where the tea you are drinking comes from. If you own a café or small shop, you need to check out the Comins Tea with Purpose program.

As my hands began to jitter, I laid out all of the work I have made over the past few months for Michelle to see. We went over which scoops might be best to scoop tea, which might fit best into their British made tea tins, and we admired the wood, the curves and grain, and how natural each scoop felt in the hand. It seems simple, when you think back to the millions of years our ancestors spent using wooden tools, that wooden spoons and scoops should feel natural to use, but it is also easy to forget how difficult it is for many people to think back further than their own lifetime.

Michelle eventually settled on three tea spoons, three tea scoops, and two butter knives, all of which you will now be able to find at their stores in Sturminster Newton and Bath. After clearing the table of my work, we sat and talked a bit longer, and then picked fresh figs from the tree in the courtyard of their shop, which we ate for breakfast the following morning. Thinking back now, and comparing that experience of “doing business” to how I used to have to interact with people within Amazon and Microsoft, it is glaringly obvious to me that modern business lacks more than just ethics and transparency, it also lacks humanity.

Something I made recently

Since we left France, I haven’t had an actual space to work. I had been using a small “summerhouse” (aka shed) in the back yard of our cottage to carve, but we left that behind after deciding that we wanted to give Ireland a try before deciding on a place to live. Lacking a workbench, I did some research on what other people use to carve. From lap mules, to shave horses, to treadle lathes, there seemed to be a hundred different ways of turning wood into tools to carve more wood. I decided that all I needed was a simple, small workbench that had a vice attached to it, then I set out to make one.

I called a number from a sign we had passed down a small lane near our AirBnB and asked if they had any straight hardwood. I set up an appointment for the following week and arrived to an ancient, rumbling excavator being operated by a man with long blonde hair and a few missing teeth. He was picking up logs off of five meter tall stacks and rearranging them into different not-so-neat piles. I waited at a safe distance for him to finish and then wandered with him to find the right logs.

I think I may have expected him to have a better sense of what I needed than I did, though I’m not sure why, but he quickly put the onus upon me to point out what I wanted. I climbed aimlessly over enormous stacks of logs looking for something I could identify and eventually ended up pointing out to him one straight chunk of oak and another of sycamore. He fired up the digger and pulled the sycamore off the very top of the pile, revealing another fifteen feet of log that I couldn’t see from my vantage point. He skillfully rested it on the ground and released the claws, then called for his friend to get a saw. I asked for forty inches of each log, which he then took as forty eight out of courtesy, and then I insisted on forty, which ended up being the exact size that would have fit across the tiny back seat of our VW Lupo.

I took the logs back to my partner’s parents’ house and began dividing them up into halves and quarters using two old hatchets and a sledge hammer. I had never split wood this long, aside from splitting firewood, and was surprised at how easily they came apart. I then stripped the bark off of them and began fashioning one half of the oak log into a size that would fit the old British made vice I had purchased from Ebay.

I really had no idea what I was doing, having never built anything from timber rather than lumber, so I just started drilling holes here and hacking off pieces there. But by the end I had managed to fashion together something that was not just a perfect workbench, but also entirely portable (aside from weighing about fifty pounds).

I spent a total of ten pounds on wood, sixty pounds on a vice, forty pounds on a draw knife, and about eight hours of my time to create something from two logs that were just lying around an old farm. Now I will use the bench over the next many months as a creative space, and hopefully (since it is portable) take it to a few markets where I can demonstrate how I carve all of our products by hand and sell those products to people who will appreciate having seen how they were made.

There seems to be an inherent joy in knowing how something was made and who it was made by. We should pay more attention to that.

Small, sustainable business of the week

Instead of adding a new business this week, I’m going to give an update on last week’s small, sustainable business. I finally ordered and received my stamps from Get Stamped earlier this week. The artwork was created by my partner, and then I sent high-resolution scans to Noah. He responded quickly with the proofs that I requested and then laser-cut the eco-friendly rubber, applied them to custom cut oak handles, and shipped them one-day post with the stamp pad I also bought through their website. I am blown away by the quality of the stamps for the price I paid.

I ordered a total of three stamps. One of our logo, one with the details I will hand write onto a recycled kraft paper card (made in Britain) that will go into each order, and one with a short message about the 100% recyclable and 100% home compostable nature of all of our packaging. The ink pad I ordered is a standard Onyx Black pad made by Versafine. I chose this pad as Get Stamped offers a refill for it so that I don’t have to throw away the pad once it runs out of ink. Another way that they are thinking about taking care of the planet! Admittedly, the refill does seem to come in a plastic bottle, but they say it is recyclable, so hopefully it is made from one of the types of plastic like PET which is easily recycled in most countries today.

A piece I love from our shop this week

After ordering a few items from my favorite (new) tool shop, Niwaki, including a folding Japanese hand saw, I went down to a small wood near where we are staying and scavenged for some fallen wood to carve. I ended up finding a small stump of spalted wild cherry that was sticking up out of the ground by about a foot. Someone had seemingly cut it down, probably to clear its small, reaching branches from traversing the pathway through the wood.

Cooking spoon | No. 76

Later in the week I split the log and took it back to the wood it had come from. I sat in the shade not far from where I had found it and carved two cooking spoons from each side. The resulting grain and colors are unbelievably beautiful. It is difficult to understand how nature can make something so varied and unique. And my mind wanders to the nature of growth and death when looking at these spoons, because the only time spalting takes place in wood is when it is infected by parasites, bacteria, or some other pathogen that will likely lead to its demise.

Cooking spoon | No. 76
Cooking spoon | No. 76

The fact that I can take a saw to that process, carve something useful from it, and effectively pause the decomposition and decay in a state of perpetual beauty, that is something that I don’t think I will ever really understand.

Some good news/journalism (because there never seems to be any)

At a time when ocean life is being decimated by rising temperatures, overfishing, illegal fishing, and the waste we are constantly pouring into our seas, I think it is also good to try to remember the sheer beauty of the other fauna we share our planet with. I saw this video on the BBC of a chance encounter with a young humpback whale on the Great Barrier Reef, and it left me feeling many things. Mainly, a sadness that so few people recognize we are in the middle of the sixth great extinction on our planet (let alone that it is caused entirely by us), but also with an ever-deepening awe for the curiosity and power of this animal.

Thank you for reading

This week, I think, will include much thinking about my future, about our shared future in this world, and in what ways we can all do something to make it a better one. It will also include a lot of positivity, as I’m a firm believer that we can’t get things done if all we do is worry about them. Sometimes, we have to put our worries aside and keep moving toward what we desire, and intentional positivity is a really helpful tool for picking yourself up and moving along.

If you would like to support our small, sustainable business, you can buy one of our unique, handmade products or sign up for our monthly newsletter! You can choose the free newsletter or you can become one of our paid subscribers (not required).

Our paid subscribers have one-week early access to our newest products, get access to occasional sales and discounts that no one else does, and get their choice of one free hand carved item from our store per year (at the supporter level of $100+/year).

I hope you enjoy hearing from us, and don’t forget to talk to your friends about how to live a more sustainable and local life.

—Nick

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