Windgrove’s future

August 18, 2018

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The staff

August 27, 2018

I want to talk about a walking staff.

Not any staff, but this staff. The one I carved for Paulus Berensohn after his first stroke.

The above image is from five years ago in May of 2013 when the staff was freshly carved from sacred huon pine wood and about to be mailed over to North Carolina and Paulus’s home near Penland School of Craft. I was testing it for strength to make sure it would not break upon his heavy leaning.

Also, I was holding it to sense if it “felt right”, as it had to come up to the high standards of the stature of the man himself.

Just before his death last year, a photo was taken of Paulus with the now well worn, constantly used, “never-left-at-home” staff on the hill at Penland School. He — dancer, potter, journal keeper and mentor and fairy godfather to many — gesturing towards the mystery of light that awaited him whilst holding onto his “grounding rod”, his third leg, his earthly elegance.

I had hoped, when Paulus was buried, that the staff be laid to rest alongside him.

But not to be. He had a green burial which forbade such items and put into the earth wrapped just in a shawl and little else. The poke weeds shooting strongly up from his grave certainly seem well nourished.

So I brought the staff back with me upon returning from America this July…

… and now take it with me when needing a walk up to the Berensohn / Lawrence memorial bench for a gathering of the spirits, memories and re-connection.

Axe Handles
One afternoon the last week in April
Showing Kai how to throw a hatchet
One-half turn and it sticks in a stump.
He recalls the hatchet-head
Without a handle, in the shop
And go gets it, and wants it for his own.
A broken-off axe handle behind the door
Is long enough for a hatchet,
We cut it to length and take it
With the hatchet head
And working hatchet, to the wood block.
There I begin to shape the old handle
With the hatchet, and the phrase
First learned from Ezra Pound
Rings in my ears!
“When making an axe handle
                 the pattern is not far off.”
And I say this to Kai
“Look: We’ll shape the handle
By checking the handle
Of the axe we cut with—”
And he sees. And I hear it again:
It’s in Lu Ji’s Wên Fu, fourth century
A.D. “Essay on Literature”-—in the
Preface: “In making the handle
Of an axe
By cutting wood with an axe
The model is indeed near at hand.”
My teacher Shih-hsiang Chen
Translated that and taught it years ago
And I see: Pound was an axe,
Chen was an axe, I am an axe
And my son a handle, soon
To be shaping again, model
And tool, craft of culture,
How we go on.

Gary Synder

The staff is neither hatchet nor axe, but the Gary Synder poem gives a hint as to how I feel when walking with it in the footsteps of Paulus.

I carved this staff for my mentor — who was the model at hand, in so many ways, at the time of the carving.

I now hold on to his memory which each grasp. Go to this hillside bench. And, if asked, will mentor others coming to sit with me.

“How we go on”, as Synder writes.

Who will hold the staff after I depart? That’s a question that will remain unanswered for a few more years.

I hope.


Two aspects within the hour

August 20, 2018

Don’t let the blue sky with its billowy white clouds — that appear to be floating serenely on a sunny afternoon — deceive you into thinking you might want to sit down on the Dropstone Bench and meditate quietly for awhile in perfect equilibrium with Nature.

In truth there is a howling gale blowing and the temperature near freezing. Those clouds were flying past, straight out of the south and an Antarctic low. It is winter here, you know, even though the trees and shrubbery are evergreen and are deceptive in such a photo; giving false clues that green foliage means summer warmth.

I had to huddle behind a tree to take the photo such was the force of the wind.

Within a few minutes of brisk walking, I was in the shelter of my veggie patch and came across a lone tomato clinging tenaciously to last summer’s vine.

Death was all around, but the blood red passion of hope prevailed; metaphor for what will cycle around again.


A Road Less Travelled

August 12, 2018

In May of this year I was invited to be on a four person panel discussing our autobiographical accounts on the topic: “The Roads Less Travelled”; part of a week long 50th Reunion celebration of the Harvard/Radcliffe class of 1968. It was held in a rather large lecture hall at Harvard’s Science Center with an audience of around 170 people. The best part — from a visual perspective — was the large 10 foot x 14 foot screen where our images were shown.

In a nutshell, I spoke on the journey my life took after graduation: Peace Corps@Korea, Apprenticeship in carpentry and cabinet making @Alaska, Furniture design and fabrication @Penland School/North Carolina, Teaching design @UTas/Tasmania and, for the past 25 years, my life @Windgrove: a Refuge for Learning

The common thread behind all of my life’s choices — besides being “unconventional”— was to be of greater service to the common good of humanity and the wider world. In Alaska I usually worked in the bush building homes, hospitals, schools for the native peoples of the region.

During the last week of 1990 I canoed with friends down the Arthur River in northwest Tasmania. While walking by myself after an evening meal and pondering what New Year’s resolution to make, I spontaneously knelt down and audibly said to the trees and river: “I am ready to be of greater service”. At the time I was living in the house I had designed and was a tenured lecturer at the University of Tasmania.

But a month and a half later a bush fire took out my home. Total destruction.

Inwardly knowing that I was ready for a different life — another road less travelled moment — I quit my lectureship, bought 100 acres of barren, degraded land next to Roaring Beach, and began the 25 yearlong journey to find out what I meant when I said “I wanted to be of greater service”.

The most obvious sign of what I’ve done is plant trees.

After Harvard I gave a slightly longer presentation on a hilltop in North Carolina to a small group of Penland friends. Surrounded by tiki lamps and a mellowing sunset, while the image below of me smiling was up on the desktop screen, I asked the rhetorical question: Why was I happy?

The answer I gave was this passage from the Marge Piercy poem:

If they come in the night

Long ago on a night of danger and vigil
a friend said, Why are you happy?
He explained (we lay together on a hard cold floor) what prison
meant because he had done
time, and I talked of the death
of friends. Why are you happy
then, he asked, close to

I said, I like my life. If I
have to give it back, if they
take it from me, let me only
not feel I wasted any, let me
not feel I forgot to love anyone
I meant to love, that I forgot
to give what I held in my hands,
that I forgot to do some little
piece of the work that wanted
to come through.

In late 1975, after I decided to quit a well paying job as a foreman on the Alaska pipeline (and a relationship) to study art in Wisconsin, Paul Simon recorded “Still Crazy After All These Years”.

We’re now in the year 2018 and I’m-Still-Planting-After-All-These Years. Another banksia put into the ground three days ago means another flowering delight for someone in ten years time.

The poet Rilke speaks to me when he writes:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

None of the past 50 years has been all sugar and honey. As much as I felt honoured to have been invited to speak at Harvard with the resultant heartfelt applause from the audience after my slide presentation, over the years the multiple personal decisions to walk a path “not the norm” has been full of personal pot holes and is still full of pot holes.

But one thing is certain, and well worth the price:

Perhaps those who find the thought of dangling over the precipice a bit too harrowing, well maybe they aren’t the ones to ever be asked to be on a panel “The Road Less Travelled”.


It’s that time in my life to now give ample and fearless consideration to what it means when one’s physical capabilities are diminishing, but one still wants to be “in service”.

For inspiration I look to poet Mary Oliver.

Lines Written in the days of Growing Darkness

Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
world descends

into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
And therefore
who would cry out

to the petals on the ground
to stay,
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married

to the vitality of what will be?

I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do

if the love one claims to have for the world
be true?

Mary Oliver

The line most ripe with meaning is: “…the vivacity of what was is married to the vitality of what will be.”

The two words that ring out within this line: vivacity and vitality.

In other words, as I approach my 72nd year, I can inspire and impart vitality to the next generation of people following in my footsteps by remaining full of vivacity in my later years to the very end.

I can do this as mentor and elder.

And it is not just young people who, through my vivacity could become vital in their later years. It is the earth itself. Let me continue to plant — literally and figuratively — seeds of growth for future generations of trees and all forms of life forces.

And here’s another Mary Oliver poem that offers encouragement — to anyone of any age — to live a vivacious life.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measly-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver


Two hearts beating

February 4, 2018

At 7AM earlier in the week, I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water from the jug that sits next to the window far right of the sink. At the bottom, huddled in 35mm of water, was a shivering “Little Pygmy-possum”.

I picked up the very scared tiny creature who, most likely assuming that I was about to eat it, tried to escape from my hands. It’s fur was totally saturated and the little guy would, certainly be suffering from hypothermia. I grabbed the towel off the stove handle and wrapped it around the squirming ball of wet fur. Next, I walked over to the reading corner, sat down and opened up the towel enough to put the Pygmy-possum directly against my heart and skin warmth. Within a few minutes all was quiet beneath the towel and my hands.

I sat for an hour this way. I meditated. I thought how six months earlier I had the first of two total knee replacements with the second TKR operation just three months ago. Following the second operation I started to have severe bouts of atrial fibrillations of the heart lasting up to 13 hours. The short story is that I’m now on beta blockers to keep my AF under control.

The Pygmy-possum is pressed against my heart. Two sentient beings of this earth wanting to live a life more-or-less stress free.

Ever so slowly I began to feel movement so I opened up the towel to take a peek inside. Tiny bulging eyes peered at me. Then it started licking itself; doing what it knows best when wet. From nose to tail it cleaned off excess water, even turning over onto its back to lick its belly fur while occasionally turning its head in my direction eyeing me eyeball to eyeball, mammal to mammal. Eventually the Pygmy-possum moved over to a slightly dryer part of my hairy chest, curled up into a little ball and started to sleep now that it felt safe in its little cocoon of human warmth.

At 8:30AM, I carried him/her over to the kitchen counter and said my good-byes as it nimbly scurried over to find a new hiding place behind the cups and bottles.

The photo above was from some years ago when a similar thing happened, but whether the same or different Pygmy-possum, it was still pure delight to hold and provide warmth and protection to something so small and precious.

At 9AM, my heart felt in the best shape ever.

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