The second day was better. I’d had a night with my trusty companion, the lizard brain that whispers, “Your suckiness is beyond all suckitude ever” and I realized–”You again?”– I didn’t want this coming on this vacation with me. So I plowed into Day 2 determined to muscle my way to the power tools, to charm these strangers, and generally throw myself into the experience.
I ripped eight-foot boards of plywood (cut them on a table saw, running the saw along the wood’s grain), whacked boards to the needed length using the chop saw (cut them across the wood’s grain), and rocked the router (groovy little hand-tool that carves little gullies into the back of the cabinet so the backboard can fit in all nice and snuggy). I measured and measured and wondered if all those school fractions from a hundred years ago would come flooding into my brain and help me out. (They didn’t).
At lunch time I offered that I was going to walk across the road to see the swimming hole mentioned at orientation. Two classmates came with me, both Vermonters well-versed in the ways of this particular country. A “private property” sign greeted us, so Classmate Greg went to find the owner and see if it was OK for us to look around. He waved us over to meet a couple sitting in lawn chairs under the trees and wearing pink shirts.
When I got there I saw that the couple was naked. The woman was well-fed, her ample bosom calmly cascading over her gut, while her hirsute mate got up, his man-bits bumping between his legs, to leash the dog. We followed their directions to the swimming hole, where half a dozen nude people lounged on the rocks in the flowing river.
Once upon a time, when my family lived in Canada in the swinging ‘70s, my mother and I stumbled on a nudist beach. I remember the sight of pale pink bodies draped everywhere, utterly imperfect and completely OK with that. When you go to a “clothing optional” spot, you are not going to see Sophia Vergara and Orlando Bloom. You are going to see Santa Claus and the missus without their suits.
And I was OK with it. The classmates chatted with the nude couple, about the weather, the dog, the water temperature, and I marveled at the casualness of it all. We walked back to class, leaving these jolly folks enjoying nature au natural.
That afternoon we made “biscuit joints”–not a southern waffle house but a way of aligning two boxes using little “biscuits” shoved in tidy slots made by the biscuit cutter, a hand-held tool the size of a coffee bean grinder. It belched smoke and black dust as it dug small ditches into which we tapped the little biscuits. Then we learned about the different kinds of wood glue and the time limits they give you to get your job done before they set and blam, whatever you wrought is fixed in time whether you like it or not.
The instructor told us he’d been a student of a famous woodworker/artist who took valium before she applied wood glue, the pressure to get it right was so great. So we moved quickly, painting the glue into the divets, shoving in the biscuits, then gluing everything together within five minutes. Then out came giant clamps for the corners and the mid-section, to make sure that glue knew what it was supposed to accomplish.
At 5:15pm I was aching to go back to the tiny house, soak my tired feet in the brook, and make myself a gin and tonic. (The plan to be virtuous and treat my body like the temple it is by abstaining from alcohol, chocolate, and cheese evaporated after that dusty drive over the mountain.) And then the instructor announced that it was time to learn how to sharpen tools.
I vaguely remember something about barbers “stropping” their blades against leather bands–this is what this part of the course was about. The careful, almost holy process of sharpening a chisel, using your full body to scrape the tool along the smooth surface of water stones. My bleary brain absorbed the necessity of having “beater chisels” and “fine furniture chisels,” one for the pedestrian stuff and the other for art. Then all I could think was that my feet hurt, my back hurt, my arms hurt, and I just wanted to sit in the cool water.
That night’s dinner: roasted yellow beets and purple carrots with freekeh, topped with a poached egg. And a book.