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The longest winter | No. 5

This morning I filled my coffee cup too full and it spilled over the edges. Wasted coffee washing over brownish-black glaze. I thought nothing other than, “dammit, less for me,” but now that I am sitting and writing this I feel the urge to use it as some existential metaphor for the time we find ourselves in. Though I’m not sure I have the energy to make one up.

Sitting on top of the Sheepshead Peninsula looking out over Bantry Bay and the Caha mountains of the Beara peninsula.

I do, however, keep finding myself in an over-filled state these days. Not with activities and responsibilities as I would probably prefer, but with the lack thereof. It’s an odd thought that you can be full of a lack of something, but that is how it feels. I keep complaining about how there is nothing to do, yet when she reminds me that I could go out and do some more carving, I make up an excuse not to do so. It’s too cold. I have to leave the shed door open in order to have enough light to work and the rain flies inside when the wind picks up (which is always here in West Cork). I keep finding reasons not to do things even though all I want to do is something other than sit inside, but I don’t know why.

Maybe I have built a habit over the past year of being stuck inside. Maybe I’m frustrated by the lack of space for me to keep my workspace organized. Whatever it is, I have to keep reminding myself of a few things in order to keep moving:

  1. We are very fortunate. I made enough money over the past many years to just stop working for quite a long time. In a world where the average person has less than $500 in their savings account and is living paycheck to paycheck, I would definitely call that privilege. (Though I should point out that my partner is still working full-time and her income has supported us even more than my savings.)
  2. We have actually done quite a lot. An utterly non-comprehensive list would include:
    • Packing up a small amount of our lives into a tiny blue VW Lupo named Leonard and moving to France for three months.
    • Subsequently moving back to the UK and living in a garden cottage in exchange for caring for three (very annoying but also cute) dogs, one horse, two budgies, and a dangerous parrot for four months, all because I was not yet an Irish citizen and had to exit the Schengen area before 90 days had elapsed.
    • Re-packing a growing number of belongings back into Leonard and moving back to France for another six months.
    • Spending cumulative weeks of our lives looking at french real estate websites looking for a property that suits us while also navigating insurance, mortgage, and residency documents in a language neither of us previously spoke.
    • Driving the length and width of France (multiple times) to check out new regions and houses, including staying overnight in the bed of a woman we’d never met in a house we thought we might have liked to own on a very rural hillside in the mountains of southern Aveyron, only to find out that the woman lied about the quality of her house in many ways and then berated us for wanting to renegotiate the agreed sale price.
    • Started a new business (this one) as a creative outlet for a new skill but also as an experiment in sustainability.
    • Many proposals for new books brought into being by the deft illustrative and writing skills of my partner.
    • A final decision that France was too much to handle at the moment for various reasons.
    • Another packing up of Leonard and moving back to the UK for a short time, then moving on to a holiday cottage in the farthest corner of Ireland that we had chosen purely based off of some grainy photos and the promise of a plethora of seascapes and starry skies.
    • Starting work with a local arborist only to find out that what the job actually entailed was carrying branches cut unreasonably large for the health and safety of ones joints to be chopped up by a wood chipper that would certainly reduce ones hearing by half after a single day, even with the proper PPE.
    • Waiting to apply for more jobs so that we could travel back to visit family over the holidays, to try to create some normal in our lives, only to have that half-exploded by the UK government’s constantly changing rules (though, honestly, I don’t mind any rule that keeps people safe and alive).
    • And all of this while managing the stress from a global pandemic, trying to learn a new language, being far from one’s family, and the worst financial crisis since before the second World War.
    • Oh, and carving a few hundred items and selling (most) of them.
Some turkey tail mushrooms in a forest we visited over Christmas, for pause.

In other, more abrasive words, the last year-and-a-half has been quite the cluster-of-fucks. And constantly having to remind yourself how fortunate you are while also really struggling to feel like you are anything but unlucky is exhausting and infuriating. And yes, other people have it a whole lot harder than we do right now, but that does not mean it is not okay to feel like the world around you is doing everything in its power to destroy the plans that you worked so hard to achieve.

A small rant, and I’m out of coffee. Maybe another is in store for this morning (coffee, not rant, maybe…). It feels good to release some of this into words, because I try very hard not to let it outwardly bother me in my day-to-day life. I hope that all of you who are reading this can also find some (healthy) way to release the pressure that may inevitably be building inside of you. And I especially hope that you can also come to the realization that the world sucks right now, but that there is nowhere to go but toward a more positive future. If you need any help, don’t forget that there are always people around who feel similarly to you, or who can at least empathize, including me.

Spring is coming, buds are about to burst.

Something I made recently

It has been a slow couple of months for making, reasons being the above. But I have managed to finally begin working on a new collection of products that I’m really excited to start sending off to people. I decided to buy an old Stanley carpenter’s brace and bits so that I could start hand drilling holes. Partly inspired by the work of Sophie Sellu but with more of the natural character of the wood left intact (and working from green wood rather than dried), the result is a unique line of bud vases, all made from sustainably harvested (pollarded) wood, that range in shape and size based on the individual traits of each branch I use to make them.

I’ve decided to group them into general shapes and name each style after influential ecologists and activists who have pushed, or are pushing, for a more sustainable future, and a more responsible relationship between humans and the planet we inhabit. It will be my first foray into trying to repeat general shapes and designs, and though I had been intentionally avoiding doing so, it has become apparent that (for now) it is something that I should pursue. Making, photographing, and uploading individual products to our site that cannot be replicated is a very time consuming process, and though I will continue to do it, I also need to have some more regular work that doesn’t constantly require me to be at the computer.

I have also decided to post new products and start sending this newsletter on the first Monday of every month, to keep myself to a schedule, and also to give myself the headspace to just put my gloves on and carve for three weeks at a time, then photograph, upload, and post new items in the final week of the month. There are a few more new products that I will be uploading today that I didn’t get around to over the weekend (due to some exciting job interviews), so check back in to the site soon if you’re looking for some larger cooking spoons.

Anyway, here are the new bud vases:

The Marjory bud vase in ash

With a duality not unlike the fights of the woman it was named after, the Marjory bud vase will leave people staring. Using the point where a smaller branch takes off from a larger one, I create two vases from one by hand-drilling straight down the pith of each branch and then tapering the wood toward the openings. I love utilizing the nature of the tree to make something unique, so this is definitely one of my favorites.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was not only a suffragette, but one of the most influential voices in preventing the destruction of the Everglades, a rich and unique tropical ecosystem in Florida. Used copies of two of her books, The Everglades and Voice of the River are available on World of Books (a used-books B-Corp).

The Wendell bud vase in ash

One of my favorite writers, Wendell Berry is a farmer, philosopher, and writer of fiction and non-fiction about our relationship with and dependency on the earth. The most recent collection of his work, The World-Ending Fire, is a deeply thoughtful read that will have you marveling after every essay because of the poignant points he makes and because of the fact that he wrote many of them fifty years ago (or more). It will leave you furious that people weren’t listening to him (and countless others) decades ago, as well as optimistic that there are different, less destructive ways of being.

The Wendell bud vase is probably a bit more standard then Berry’s writing, but it suits him due to the fact that it is made using quickly renewable resources and without killing the tree that it is made from. It would suit a coffee table next to a few stacks of books, or could even work as a centerpiece on a dining table in the larger sizes, accompanied by some locally trimmed foliage.

The Greta bud vase in ash

She needs no introduction, really. One of the most outspoken voices in modern ecological activism, and almost certainly the youngest, Greta Thunberg has become a beacon for the generations whose futures have been stolen from them by unchecked capitalism. You can read her book, No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference, or check out some of the others written about her.

The inverse of the Marjory vase, the Greta bud vase uses the two branches as legs with the vase opening on top and is reminiscent of the arches and grottos left in eroding coastlines throughout the world. It is sturdy because of the width of the two legs so can handle relatively tall specimens. A bookcase would love to have one of these on it, I imagine, or maybe a small one on your desk to remind you to glance around and pick a small bit of foliage each week on your walk to work. Or, more relevant to these times, to remind you that there is still an outside world.

The Wangari bud vase in ash

Similar to the Wendell vase but stripped of its bark and tapered at the bottom, the Wangari bud vase shows off the inner beauty of the tree. It is pear-shaped and feels of a similar weight in the hand (at the medium size), as if you could mistake it for something sweet and edible. It would look beautiful on a counter-top next to a bowl of fruit or on a bed-side table filled with dried forget-me-nots.

Wangari Maathai was a glass ceiling breaker, a nobel prize laureate, and the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an environmental organization based in Kenya which empowers local communities to conserve the natural resources of their regions, in turn leading to better livelihoods. She dedicated much of her life to encouraging people to plant trees and to care for the natural world, while also establishing methods to pay people to do so. You can read more about her work founding the Green Belt Movement in her book, Unbowed.

The Suzanne bud vase in hawthorn

I remember the first time I listened to Suzanne Simard describe the underground workings of mycorrhizal fungi. I was completely lost inside of her words, partially not able to believe her, partially blown away that one of my favorite parts of the film Avatar was actually true, and entirely awestruck by the weight of what we still must not know about the world we live in.

Suzanne is a professor of forest ecology at the University of British Columbia and in the Radiolab episode, From Tree to Shining Tree, she describes how she discovered that trees can actually communicate with and share resources between one another. That was where I first learned that a dying tree will pass on its nutrients to the young trees on the forest floor beneath it through pathways of symbiotic fungi. The fungi borrow vital sugars that only the tree can provide through photosynthesis and in exchange they give the tree trace minerals that only the fungi can provide through chemically mining the rocks beneath the soil. There are countless other revelations in the episode (and Suzanne also has a book about the topic coming out soon), but that was the one that likely began my obsession with nature and my desire to start living in a way which did not destroy it.

The Suzanne bud vase is reminiscent of the trunk of a tree, an ode to her work, and though it can’t communicate with mycorrhizal fungi, it can sometimes come with spalting, a type of discoloration of the wood that results through colonization by bacteria or some type of fungi. It is a tall shape, made from a single branch, and lends itself well to being filled with single, interesting specimens.

Small, sustainable business of the month

I’ve been looking for a very long time for socks that don’t contain any synthetic fabrics. They are impossibly hard to find, but I’ve now found a perfect source, Kate Irish Tweed Store, based in Co. Kerry, Ireland. I recently got two pairs of her 100% organic wool socks and couldn’t be happier with the warmth and quality.

I’m always looking to find locally made and sourced products and Kate seems to share those values. All of her products are made in Ireland from Irish wool and are worth every euro spent. She also sells a range of shawls, jumpers (sweaters), scarves and other work. Few of you are based in Ireland, but you’ll still be able to find and purchase Kate’s work through her Etsy store.

They are also great for Birkensocking™ out to the compost bin on rainy Sundays (see below).

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

The best news for me lately has been the not-so-seamless inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. To be able to watch the swearing in of the first female and person-of-color Vice President of the United States was both an honor I will never forget and a solid reminder that we really haven’t come very far in the past few hundred centuries. Two hundred and forty-five years to elect a woman to the role of Vice President? Progress, yes, but far too slow of progress.

Meanwhile, we have the perfect example of why women and people-of-color have been held back for so long and an entire political party, supported by nearly fifty percent of the people in the United States, which refuses to stand up against a literal attempted coup and regular attacks on the constitution which they so frequently like to say they are fighting for. It has been an incredible and atrocious few weeks.

But there is one thing, regardless of your political affiliation, which you must listen to, and that is a report by the Washington Post podcast Post Reports which documents the insurrection and domestic terrorism that occurred in the US Capitol building on January 6th. It contains audio from the capitol police officers who were fighting back the terrorists that day and is an absolutely harrowing listen. I was disgusted by the news of this happening, but it wasn’t until I listened to this episode that I became heartbroken for the people who lived through it on the front lines.

Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green, Socialist, it doesn’t matter, what the people protecting the US Capitol and representatives lived through is nothing short of horrifying. You need to listen.

Viewed through a door’s broken glass, National Guard soldiers line up outside the U.S. Capitol. (Shawn Thew/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Thank you for reading

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