The ad said the workshop would teach us how to carve a “mystical house” from a piece of cottonwood bark. I was surprised that there were no pictures of these “mystical houses” with the ad – just a general description of the techniques we would be learning. Well, it sounded like fun so I signed up.
When I got to the workshop, my heart sank. Examples of the finished product sat on the instructor’s table. Lovely, detailed, charming, breathtaking little houses with shingled roofs and tiny staircases leading up to hidden doorways. Funny windows and brickwork chimneys. Each one individually carved and each one of a kind.
“Oh boy,” I thought. “I sure am out of my league here.” It didn’t help when I noticed that several of the other participants had their own carving tools – not just one or two, but ten, twenty, plus wet stones and honing strops, and other bits and pieces I didn’t recognize.
I took my seat with some trepidation, put on the apron provided for us, and looked at the two knives allotted to me. They looked sharp. I figured that if I got out at the end of the day with all ten of my fingers, I would consider the workshop to be a success.
“Help yourself to a piece of wood,” the instructor said, pointing to a pile of blocks, each about 12 inches long by about 5 inches, some with bark still on them, some with interesting outcroppings and “rooflines” already in place. I grabbed one, not really looking at it. It certainly didn’t look like anything that would ever be a “mystical house”.
And so we started. Step by step, cut by cut. I found the initial stages hard going – for part of the time I was holding the larger knife the wrong side up – but managed to find a roof line and put in a few rows of shingles. Then, the walls of the house, the door, windows, steps… and before I knew it, a little “mystical house” was emerging.
I found myself looking at the wood, letting it show me where the next knife cut should be. Bit by bit, the wood led me to the house within.
“I fear an obsession coming on,” I told the instructor. I wasn’t wrong.
There is something profoundly satisfying in taking an ugly block of wood and finding the little house that is hidden within it. From a piece of dead wood comes something of joy and beauty.
And it occurs to me that life is like that, too. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” they say. How true that is! From the least likely sources we can find deep joy and discover new directions for our lives. That person we catalogued as “boring” turns out to have hidden depths we never suspected. It’s all about being willing to discover the hidden treasure within…
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