Exploring. I do lot of it. On foot in the high mists or behind the wheel of my truck taking on some rock-strewn and rutted clay road, I’m out there in it all the time. I am living in, performing photography and writing about Ecuador. This is a portion of my grand scheme for an exciting life. My purposes are multi-faceted but, suffice it to say, I see the places and meet the people that most people miss.
In doing so, I find that even though the places I traverse are vastly different, by character and humanness, people are not. There’s a version of a quilting bee in the countryside of Ecuador, people like to meet along the road to catch up on news and folks like birthday cake and ice cream wherever you go! Really, we all like and do things that are similar. Little additions and subtractions to basic behaviors by various cultures just provide a more interesting backdrop for me.
So, as Edie and I were padding silently along a muddy roadway recently, I wasn’t really too surprised to take in the sight of a man, seated on the porch of his adobe casa, with a piece of eucalyptus in one hand and a time-worn knife in the other. A formidable pile of shavings lay at his feet. A quickening of the breeze created a little whirlwind that carried most of the shavings into the air. The swift circular flow engulfed the man for a moment, sending shavings through his open collar and onto his hat and clothing. Just as quickly it reversed, traveling back over him and removing the deposits from moments before.
He looked up for a moment and the strength of the Andean sun shone hard on his lower face. He glanced toward Edie and smiled. His dark bushy brows and some silver hair were visible under the broad brim of his patterned hat, one side of it was rolled up and snapped in a jaunty fashion. His face was open and friendly.
The man’s years confirmed his experience with the knife he held in his right hand. As boys or girls, children from the country come to know the blade early on. The quantity of hand-made toys is only limited by the artisan’s imagination as the valley is wealthy with wood to whittle.
In understanding youth and their relationship with whittling, consider this excerpt from a poem by John Pierpont.
Projectiles, music, and the sculptor’s art,
His chestnut whistle and his shingle dart,
His elder pop-gun with its hickory rod,
Its sharp explosion and rebounding wad,
His corn-stalk fiddle, and the deeper tone
That murmurs from his pumpkin-stalk trombone,
Conspire to teach the boy. To these succeed
His bow, his arrow of a feathered reed,
His wind-mill, raised the passing breeze to win,
His water-wheel, that turns upon a pin;
Or, if his father lives upon the shore,
You’ll see his ship, “beam ends upon the floor,”
Full rigged, with raking masts, and timbers stanch,
And waiting, near the wash-tub, for a launch.
Whittling; a pastime that allows people to order their thoughts. A way to create miniature objects. A manner in which a person learns to use a pocketknife. Is that it? What else? No one seems to know when someone first picked up a piece of wood and a sharp edged stone and took off some bark and a few slivers. Rest assured, it must have been many millennia past.
Whittling as opposed to carving only involves the use of a knife. The act can be artistic, in that small objects are created, or slivers can be shorn away, a few at a time, to simply provide relaxation. Add a piece of wood to that knife and you’re equipped, for the most part, to begin whittling. The thumb of your knife holding hand will take the most damage in early attempts at learning proper blade pressure and control. Wrap it in a little duct tape or use some heavier leather gloves when getting started. Keep your knife sharp so it can take smooth purchase of the stock you’re whittling, it’ll be less likely to slip and trim flesh in lieu of wood.
When you’re out and about, west of Cuenca, keep your eyes peeled and have a sharp knife and a piece of chocolate down in your pocket. If you see him, he’ll invite you up to sit and he’ll give you a hunk of eucalyptus to help you order your thoughts. When you find him, send me a pic, I’d like to see you two whittling. Get out the chocolate. Tell him you know Brian and Edie.He’ll give you a real big smile when he hears that and you might get a cup of coffee and a sanduche de queso too.