Tales from the Wee Woods

©voyager. All rights reserved.

“Mummy, wake up. I think there’s someone at the door.”
I heard Jack stirring beside me, working hard to get his stiff arthritic body in motion. I turned over, put my hand on his back, and looked at the clock. It was only 7:15, much too early for visitors, but then I heard it, too— a small tap-tap-tap at the back patio door. Very curious, I thought, no-one uses our back door. It’s inside our fenced yard, but that was definitely where the sound was emanating.
“It can’t be a visitor, Bubba. Must be the wind,” I said as Jack stiffly rose from his bed and slowly limped out of the room. I sat up and reached for my fluffy blue robe, then slid my feet into the raggedy red slippers I kept meaning to replace.
Tap-Tap, Tap.
The sound was getting louder and more insistent. I glanced in the mirror as I followed behind Jack and softly chuckled at my hair sticking out in all directions and in definite need of a cut and colour.
TAP-TAP-TAP.
“Mummy, hurry, Gnorman is here,” Jack shouted.
Gnorman! What the heck is an elf doing here? My mind raced as I turned the corner. Jack was already at the door with his nose between the curtains and his tail wagging excitedly. I pulled back the drapes, and sure enough, there stood Gnorman in a tall green cap with a grey fur tassel, a long coat that reached to his feet and on those feet, a pair of shiny red boots with pointy toes that curled up. His round cheeks and stubby nose were red, but his eyes were smiling as he removed his cap and bowed to us in greeting. I quickly opened the door and waved him in, remarking,
“Gnorman! Welcome, please come in.”
“Thank you, Voyager. Hi Jack,” Gnorman said, going over to Jack and giving him a deep, long hug.
“It’s good to see you, Gnorman, but how did you get here,” I asked.
“I used the magic door, of course,” he said, adding, “and it wasn’t easy on this end because of all the snow piled up. I used a bit of magic to clear a path, but it should be kept shovelled!” He looked up at me pointedly, and although his merry eyes twinkled, I could see he was serious.
“Yes, of course, Gnorman. I’ll make sure to do that from now on.” I replied.

In all honesty, I’d completely forgotten about the door. It was given to Jack at the summer party the fairies threw to thank Bubba and me for finding Oma Trautchen and bringing her home. The door was custom-made and calibrated just for Jack and was presented to him by King Gunter. It came with a note saying,

Made with care by Sir Surly Badger, Wizard at Large
Maker of fine magical doors and latches, cooking pots, crystal balls, swords, pasta, weather vanes, and sporks.

The door allows Jack to travel from home to the fairy woods. He stands in front of the door recites the phrase,

Pizzlewizzle bag of balls,
I wish for you to make me small
So I may see my friends this day
and spend some time engaged in play.

Then blammo, whammo Jack shrinks down to the size of a mouse, the door swings open, and he walks into the tree and out of a distant tree at the fairy woods.

The fairy party where Jack first used his magic door. ©voyager. All rights reserved.

Jack started using the door in the autumn when his failing mobility began making it hard for him to get in and out of the car. He made almost daily trips through his magic door until the deep of winter set in, and his legs became unpredictably weak. It had been many weeks since Jack even talked about his fairy friends or tried to visit, and now here was Gnorman visiting us.
“We’ve been missing you, Jack,” he said. “I came to see if there is a problem with the door, but it worked perfectly for me, so I’m left to conclude that there is a problem with you.” He looked deeply into Jack’s eyes for a moment and then away.
“I see. We wondered about that, too.”
“About what, Gnorman?” I asked.
There was a long, loud silence before he spoke. “Voyager, I’m sorry, but Jack is entering his end time in this realm,” he said as a tear slipped down his cheek and disappeared into his whiskers.
I felt my legs go weak, and I sunk to the floor beside Jack. My eyes filled with tears, and I couldn’t speak.
“Mummy,” Jack finally said, “Gnorman is right. This old body is worn out, and I can’t stay in it much longer.” He reached over and kissed me gently, continuing, “The fairies have told me that I can come and live with them in a ‘spirit’ body, but it means I must leave here…. and you, forever.” He nuzzled his bowling ball of a head into my neck as I began to weep.
Gnorman reached over and put his small hand on top of mine and said,
“I know this is difficult, Voyager, but we will love and cherish Jack always, and he will be free of pain and struggle.”
“I understand. That’s what I want too,” I said. “When will you leave?”
Gnorman spoke up quickly, “the sooner, the better, Voyager. His pain is sharp, and his legs are weak.”
“Bubba, what do you want,” I asked.
“Mummy, I’m worried about you. I don’t want to go until I know that you’ll be alright,” he said, nuzzling close to me.
“Oh, sweet Jack. I’ll be sad no matter when you leave, but you taught me to be brave. It’s most important to me that you are not suffering.”

We all stood there for a moment, lost in our own thoughts, when Gnorman finally spoke up, “we can be ready by tomorrow for the ceremony. King Gunter and the fairies have been preparing for this time. Jack is one of our own. He came from the spirit realm, and we will carry him back to it.”
“I’m ready for tomorrow,” said Jack.
I couldn’t speak. A knot had taken hold in my chest, and all I could do was reach up to stroke Jack’s ears. Tomorrow was so soon, and I realized at that moment how difficult Jack’s life had become for him to make this decision.
“Ahhh, Voyager,” Gnorman put his tiny hands around mine, “I know this is hard for you, but I promise you that Jack will be safe and loved.”
“That’s all I want.”
“Then, so it shall be. I’ll return tomorrow at this same time, and I will help Jack through the magic door for the last time. He won’t be able to return, but you may keep the door as a memory holder.”
The rest of the day passed in a fog. Jack and I reminisced about our many adventures and spent the day holding each other close. The hours flew by, and I wanted to scream at the universe that time was passing too fast. Jack., though, was calm and steady, and I could see in his eyes that he was already letting go of his life here. That night, I slept on the floor with him curling my body around his.

Gnorman and Gmary were back at my door at first light, both dressed in long silver robes with white fur and carrying lanterns lit with a bright white light.
“Are you ready for your return to the realm of the spirit, Jack?”
“Yes, I am. Mummy, I love you. My love will always be with you. I have had a wonderful life here with you, and the bond we share will live on.”
My tears were flowing freely, and I hugged Jack close. “Will I ever see you again,” I asked.
“No, but you will feel me. I will live in the wind that rustles the trees and makes the flowers dance. When you’re tired or lonely or sad, I will be beside you and whisper my love in your ear. I will speak our devotion to the birds, and they will carry it in their song, and your love will nourish me through all eternity.”
A million words ran through my mind, but all I could speak was, “I love you.”
Jack nuzzled close for the last time and said to me quietly, “I hear all the words you cannot speak, Mummy. Please don’t stay sad. You have much love inside of you, and it’s important to share. You will find new things to love and hold close, and our bond will survive always.”
And with that, Gnorman and Gmary raised their lanterns and led Jack toward the magic door. Jack took a long lingering look back and finally, with a heavy sigh, spoke the magic words and said, “I am ready.” The door opened, and in an instant, they were gone. The door heaved a heavy sigh and snapped shut with a finality that made my heart skip a few beats.
“Goodbye, my sweet Bubba. I promise I will listen for you in the wind.”

Crowblocked!

I have a fifty tits of grey post lined up, but a quick interlude about predators, social birds, and cooperation.

I think I didn’t mention it here, but this winter, I started leaving walnuts out for the crows – leftovers from years past that we found in the storage room, but still good. To be honest, this started when I noticed a ragtag group of corvids (crows, jays and magpies – not explaining the word ‘corvid’, all three were members of this loose affiliation of walnut aficionados) eating the few nuts we had straight from the tree. It was a small crop anyway, so I don’t feel too bitter about it…

Getting rid of the evidence on the neighbours’ roof…
(c) rq, all rights reserved

Thief, caught red-beaked. (c) rq, all rights reserved

Just taking a stroll… (c) rq, all rights reserved

Anyway, I started feeding them through the cold snowy months, and while the jays and magpies haven’t been sticking around, there’s a small flock of 4 or 5 crows (family group?) that regularly cleans out the (much cheaper, if buying) peanuts.

[Read more…]

Bumblebee Rescue!

The weather has been a rollercoaster these last weeks, with 20° four weeks ago and light snow over the last few days. What’s more, the weather changes every 10 minutes and 500 metres. And all of this while the first bumblebees are out, seeking nectar from the first flowers. Then they get hit by the snow and almost freeze to death. If I find them, I take them in for a snack and some warmth. They are gentle creatures and will snuggle in your hand.

Click for cute!

Look at that tongue! Like a flying ant eater.

Good News! Partially.

Today I took my father to the hospital for six-week-long radiation therapy. From that, you can guess that he is not going there with a nasty cold. I do hope his prospects are good, the tumor is well defined and there are no signs of it metastasizing anywhere in the body. There are several problems though – his age, his heart, and his overweight. I won’t be particularly well-off, mentally, for the whole time probably.

But the genuinely good news is that my mother got today her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine and is scheduled for her second shot in three weeks. Our government seems to be slowly getting its act almost together at least on this issue and the vaccinations are starting to roll more than just a few people a week.

Another good news is that my sister has had Covid without even noticing it. She was tested due to an unrelated health problem and it was found that she has antibodies. She was a high-risk person (autoimmune disease, severely damaged lungs, asthma), and she had a really, really bad bout with the 2009 pandemic swine flu. She was isolating as much as possible and wearing a mask whenever she could, so probably she caught a very low dose of the virus – not so low as to not develop immunity, but low enough to not cause anything more severe than a runny nose for a few days.

So my worries are at least a bit alleviated with regard to two members of the family.

Not a Mistake, Just a Smaller Knife…

… but by no means a small knife.

Harvesting firewood from my coppice is a yearly task that requires a lot of chopping off thin branches and twigs. Currently, I am using an old chef’s knife for that, but it is getting pretty warped and worn-out because it was not meant for that kind of work. And a hatchet is too unwieldy for it.

So two years ago I tried to make a machete. And I failed completely, the blade warped in quench and subsequently snapped when I tried to straighten it. It broke near the handle, so I had a relatively big chunk of straight blade left, but I did not know what exactly to do with it and I had better work to do anyway, so I have just used it for various experiments – for etching and tumbling tests, etc. I learned a lot from the piece for my future projects, so it was not completely wasted. But it was still big enough to make a knife, and the surface was so pitted now that it was no longer suitable for tests. So I have decided to make a knife out of it after all.

I annealed about one-third and cut the tang out of it, then I have put the now 17 cm long blade in the tumbler with fine sand and let it run for a few days to clean the surface of most of the corrosion, although the pitting of course remained. I did not polish the blade afterward to remove the pitting since that would make it really thin. Instead, I have dunked it overnight in tannic acid (or, as per Marcus, Oak Drop Soup). It got a nice dark-grey-blue coating that way and a really mean rustic look. In combination with linseed oil, it should provide moderately durable and strong corrosion resistance. Only I forgot to etch a logo in it before doing all that, and now I can’t, so the blade is unsigned.

The handguard is from bronze and old bone, the handle from pickled black locust. When I am making sheaths, I will make one for this too. I must confess – I did not do a very good fitting job on the handguard, I did not want to waste too much time on this. And I have decided to let the bronze get a natural patina over time for the same reason. But since this is a working knife for me, any flaws are not a problem since nobody ever will complain.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

I think it looks kind of nice and I am considering adding this type of knife to my repertoire as a bushcraft knife, with only slight changes in construction (full-tang instead of hidden tang). I am also considering adding a lanyard, although it is secure enough in the hand with this handle-shape.  I have already tested it for its intended purpose and the blade coating is resistant enough to withstand wood-chopping. And if it rubs-off, it is easy to reapply. I really like how this turned out and I am glad I did not simply toss it on the scrap pile.

 

Bobbin Lace, Pandemics and Christian Morals

You may be justifiably baffled about the title – what do these three things have in common? And, understandably, you probably can’t guess the correct answer. Because that answer is my maternal grandmother.

I have never met any of my grandparents, all except my grandfather died before my parents even met, and my grandfather has died when I was merely three years old. So I know very little about any of them, except for what my parents have told me. And today I would like to share a story about how the bobbin-lace-making tradition started in our family. It is not a nice story.

My grandmother has broken her leg during play when she was four, she fell from a haywagon and her leg got between the spokes of the wheel. Her parents wanted to take her to the hospital, but her father’s mother has refused to pay for it, saying that God will take care of things. He did not. In fact, it got worse to a point that when they finally did go to the hospital, it was too late and the leg was beyond repair. It stopped growing and no attempts at mending it worked, including a graft of healthy bone from the other leg.

A few years later, when my grandmother was seven years old, the Spanis-flu pandemics has broken out and her mother got sick. She was delirious from fever and kept hugging my grandmother saying “My poor child, if I die, I want you to die with me, they will torture you when I am gone.”  Unfortunately, she died and…

From what I gather, my grandmother’s father was a mild-mannered man. A gamekeeper who preferred the quiet of the forests to people. He was not very keen on religious practice, saying that he meets with God in the forests and does not need to go to church. But at home, he was completely in tow of his abusive, miserly, and religiously devout catholic mother, who ruled the family with an iron hand. They lived at a homestead, and that means a lot of work needs to be done on daily basis. Oftentimes hard work even for healthy people.  And everyone was expected to do their share. My grandmother had three healthy sisters, and she was constantly shunned and mocked for not being able to work properly. At one point her grandmother has refused to “feed the cripple any longer” and when she was eleven years old, she was sent to a cloister.

A cloister that was adjacent to a castle and has provided a lot of free-child-labor to the said castle. My grandmother was of course not suitable for many works, but she was very apt with her hands, and she learned several useful crafts there. Including bobbin-lace making – the cloister made bobbin-lace for the countess. She liked those crafts, but my guess is she would probably like them better if they did not come with a sidedish of beatings and hunger as a punishment for not meeting the daily quota of work.

At seventeen years old she was poised to become a nun, but this is when her luck finally broke for better. An employee of a mask and wig lending shop from a big city was shortly at the cloister and she noticed the exceptional skill of my grandmother. And she asked her if she would like to come to the big city to work at the company. And she did. But she was not of age yet, so she needed consent from her father to go.

The parish priest had a bad conscience with regard to her, for not putting pressure on her grandmother to send her to hospital in time. And one nun has liked her and wanted for her a better future than the cloister. So they conspired to prepare the paperwork and catch her father at the marketplace, where he went alone without being supervised by the abusive family matriarch. And he signed the papers without arguing.

And that way my grandmother escaped abuse and finally got to live on her own. Two years later her bad leg had to be amputated, but she got on to live a happy (for the times – WW2, then totalitarian communist rule etc.) life. And she kept making bobbin lace and passed the craft onto one of her daughters. Who passed it onto me, where it stops.

Today, my mother has finished another of her masterpieces. A round tablecloth, 80 cm across. She worked on it for 220 hours and has used 1530 m of thread. It is beautiful and I do wish I had a cheerier story to tell with it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

 

The Art of …

… the nude, by Balthus

Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (February 29, 1908 – February 18, 2001), known as Balthus, was a Polish-French modern artist. He is known for his erotically charged images of pubescent girls, but also for the refined, dreamlike quality of his imagery. (wikiart)

I was looking at cat art when I found this, and the posture of the woman is so feline-like it spoke to me. Also, the cat is smiling.

Nu au Chat, 1949, Balthus. Image from Wikiart