In this installment of ‘My journey’ I want to explore the core reasons why I became interested in woodwork. As a psychiatrist I make a living out of having a reasonable understanding of how one’s childhood (to a large degree) shape the person you turn out to be. In my case it is just the same.
Possibly the single most influential factor came about as a result of my parents’ divorce when I was almost 5 years of age. My mother and I subsequently moved from a town infested by Blue Bulls supporters, to the area were the rest of the family on both mother’s and father’s side has dwelled for several centuries. This area is one of the most spectacular parts of Azania, with ancient hardwood rainforests cladding the Outeniqua mountains as it meanders along the southernmost coastline of Africa.
I therefore found myself separated from my father by roughly 1200km of National Party ruled territory. My father, who also grew up in these parts, spent most of his free time plugging away at some woodworking project. We therefore spent most of the precious little time we had together making sawdust, hence probably the positive association with woodworking. In particular I remember how we glued the Yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius) top of the dining room table that we still use on a daily basis, back in 1985. In fact I have done quite a bit of the writing of these posts, while sitting at that very same table.
Another influence came from spending quite a bit of time in the forests were the wood we used in the shop stood for 500 years or more. You might think I am exaggerating, but these trees generally grow very slow and end up extremely hard and dense. The forest belongs to the ‘Big Two’. The colossal Kalanders (also known as Outeniqua Yellowwood or Baster Geelhout or Podocarpus falcatus), some of which are up to 35 meters tall, has a stem circumference of up to12 meters (containing 30 square meters of wood) and rules it’s kingdom with graceful authority. The ruling powers of the Elephants that used to teem in the forest has weakened due to diminishing numbers. Only a few survive, but the thrill of possibly running into them continues to add mystique to the experience of roaming around the primeval forest.
If you want to know more about these animals I suggest that you look for the work of Gareth Patterson. He has made an in-depth study of them since 2001 and found evidence to suggest that there are at least 5 different females within the surviving group that moseys around the forest hinterlands. This seems to suggest that there is a good chance that they will not be lost to future generations as some authorities reported in the past.
One of our family fables has it that one of our earliest ancestors in this part of the world hunted these forest gods during the time when they were responsible for many deaths amongst the woodcutters. The story of these woodcutters is also a fascinating one. They were probably some of the toughest people who ever lived.
As a result of the close historic ties and personal experience of spending time in the forest I feel intimately connected with the wood that comes from it. For that reason I have religiously collected wood from these forests over the last 13 years, most of which was dried naturally. I feel a certain responsibility to produce something special with it out of sheer respect for it’s history and heritage.
This leads me on to my approach in the shop, but we will leave that for next time.