Eger is a three-time winner of the Wisconsin Regional Writers Jade Ring Contest. She has self-published six books that are available at Amazon. Her work has appeared in Anchala Studio’s The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memories, Runcible Spoon and various online journals.
Carving Out a Dream
The sun was breaking over the hill as we entered the woods. Tyler Wagner’s back beckoned me to follow, a pair of work gloves shoved in his rear pocket.
“What are we looking for?” I asked.
“The spirit of a tree.”
He explained, “I try to find the spirit of the tree before I make the first cut. Even a down tree has a spirit. I’ll try to take a down tree before I take one that’s up. Sometimes I take a standing one, one that no one else wants. A logger wouldn’t want a split top. Logger’s like trees that are tall, full of straight board feet. I like trees with character, knotty, choppy, and full of individual spirit. It makes my work more interesting.”
He stopped in midstride. His neck bent back as his eyes trailed upward. “See that? Lightning took that one. It’s a white pine. Took it high enough so that it’s still good for carving. Wonder why she didn’t fall?”
He reached out, touched the tree, and closed his eyes. After awhile he pulled his hand from the tree. “I know what I’ll carve from this one.”
“How do you know?”
“I asked. I also thanked the spirit of the tree for the opportunity to work with it. The pieces that come from it will be beautiful.”
“So what will you carve?”
“There’s an eagle in this one. Sometimes I get a run on eagles. I think it’s because the tree spirit has been locked up so long they want to pull up their roots and fly. It’s a personal thing.”
Tyler turned and headed down the hill. We stopped at three other trees and he placed his hand on each one and closed his eyes. He settled on the tree hit by lightning along with two other trees.
We walked to his van and climbed in. It smelled of wood. “My partner and I will use a cant hook to turn the logs so we can trim off the branches. Then we’ll stack the brush into piles for the rabbits, squirrels and quail. We’ll keep any thick branches that look like they’d make good coat racks, bedposts, toilet paper holders or towel bars. We like authentic, rustic pieces for our trademark, TNT Woodcrafting.”
He shifted the van into higher gear and went on. “We use log tongs to bring the logs out of the woods so we don’t hurt any of the other trees. Sometimes we can get a truck deep into the woods, but since we’re not loggers and don’t take many trees, we usually end up hauling them out by hand. Sometimes the two of us can get the log out, but sometimes if it’s too big we have to get someone to help.”
Tyler got his first carving saw in 2003, a little electric Husqvarna with two interchangeable carving tips. The tip on the larger blade is the size of a quarter, the tip on the other is the size of a dime.
“I still remember my first carving. My mom wanted a mushroom for her garden, but I wasn’t sure how to make one. I looked at the two-foot chunk of dried pine for a long time before I made my first cut. Then I cut away everything that didn’t look like a mushroom, and there it was. I’ve been cutting away at logs ever since. I now know that the pause before cutting is the most important part. I know that the spirit of the tree is speaking to me, somehow, and I know what to cut away. It’s very gratifying to see what emerges. No two are alike.” We pulled up in front of his workshop located in Wautoma, WI.
“Do you have a favorite thing to carve?”
“The first thing I ever carved was a mushroom, so they’re my favorite. I’ve developed a technique where I can make a spiral stem that looks like a corkscrew. They’re very decorative. When I feel restless I’ll take the saw and carve out a mushroom and I always feel more settled when I’m done.” He placed his hand on a rust-colored mushroom with a cap that looked like a top hat. We walked toward the workshop and he pulled open the heavy door to reveal a room filled with his art.
“Lately I’ve been working on a series of signature benches. You wouldn’t think there would be a spirit in a bench, but there is. I’ve taken to naming each one. Sometimes the name comes right away, sometimes I’m halfway through, and other times the name doesn’t come until days after the bench is complete. I’ll walk by the finished bench and it’s like it shouts its name to me, and then I know. We burn each name on the underside of the bench along with the company logo. Some people like benches for their gardens or their porches, but others put them in their house at the foot of their bed, near the fireplace, or to take their boots off when they’re done working for the day.”
I wandered among the rows of benches, oohing and ahhing, touching the ones that called to me, and he smiled. “It’s amazing how they whisper to you. I’m a roofer by trade, but I must admit, my heart is in the carving, in the wood. I love being outdoors, working with my hands, and feeling the sun on my back.”
He sat himself down on a copper-colored bench named Penny. “I like taking something from the woods and putting it together in a different way so it’s custom-fit for someone’s house. I think my benches would feel pretty comfortable in just about anyone’s home.”
The next day I visited the workshop to choose a bench for myself, a bench where I could sit and take my shoes off when the day was done. I picked one with wide sturdy legs made of knotty pine.
“Good choice,” Tyler said. “Want to know her name?”
I nodded. He tipped the bench over and I smiled. Her name was Knottya.