Volume 2, Issue 6
Carvers' Companion Gateway
by W.F. (Bill) Judt
I have a brother-in-law who is an avid hunter. Every year, as fall arrives, he eagerly gathers together his hunting gear, especially his rifles, and heads out to shoot ducks, geese, deer, elk and antelope. He's trained his Chesapeake hunting dog to retrieve birds that have fallen into prairie wetlands. He knows where to hunt and when. He feeds his family with what he kills.
My brother-in-law has some pretty strong ideas about hunting and those who denigrate it. Our family was gathered together one evening in Saskatoon, when he related a story tp us about a visit he recently made to a local mall one day. Apparently he was wearing his down-filled camoflage hunters coat, as is his custom in autumn, when he went to the food court in the shopping mall to order a hamburger. As he placed his order, the young lady at the counter commented, perhaps with a little disgust "Oh, you must be a hunter. I could never eat an animal that someone killed."
My brother-in-law, who is rarely lost for words, retorted that the hamburger she was serving her customers came from an animal that was killed by someone. The young lady replied self-righteously (big mistake, folks!) that she would never kill an animal and eat it.
Not one to lose an opportunity to educate non hunters to some of life's realities, my brother-in-law looked her in the eye and said "You know, the fact that I eat what I kill makes me a predator, and I'm proud of being at the top of the food chain. But the fact that you eat only what others kill makes you a scavenger." With that he took his hamburger and walked away.
When we had stopped laughing at his recollection of this event, he suddenly turned quite serious and said "You might think that this is a little sentimental, but every time I go hunting and kill an animal, it has a powerful effect on me. It causes me to feel as close to the environment as a person can get. As a predator I become an integral part of the food chain. I hunt. I kill. I eat. I don't waste. I value the animals I hunt. I try to be a good steward of the resources of the land and forest. Its a feeling that runs deep in my soul." He said "I don't know if you can understand what it feels like to be a hunter".
I replied that his comments struck me as oddly familiar to the feelings I have towards the wood that I carve. Just as the harvest of wild animals connects him to the natural world around him, so working in wood that I have harvested from the forest connects me to the cycle of nature. I get angry when I see people in my area use white birch as a firewood. That's all the use they seem to use it for. They chop down trees that take decades to grow, cut them into 16" lengths, split them with automated machines and stack them to dry for the day that they will be thrown into the fireplace and consumed. The birch I treasure is reduced to fuel that is sold by the pickup load for a small fraction of what I have to pay for it as lumber. What a waste.
So I told him about my feelings for wood and the connection I have through it to the forests around me. I told him of how I recently found a new supply of white birch, my favorite carving wood. A local forester was in the woods harvesting spruce and pine for the local lumber industry when he came across a stand of birch. He logged the trees and hauled them into town. Then he called me on the phone to let me know that I could see the logs at a local sawmill where I could arrange to have it cut according to my specifications and purchase it.
My brother-in-law listened as I described how I saw the logs stacked along side the saw mill, a huge pile of them each ten feet long and measuring 36" in diameter, and how I was struck by the massive proportions of them, their sheer weight and the number of growth rings they displayed. They had been, only two days earlier, standing upright in the forest filtering the air, providing shelter for birds and providing shade and food to countless other species. Now they were laying at my feet, cold and rigid.
To see these massive logs laying there, and then to be able to instruct the sawyer as to how I wanted them cut was a moving experience. I was participating in the cycle of nature. I was being a good steward of the resources given to me to use, manage and enjoy. The fresh cut boards were a sight to behold, like long, hard, heavy slabs of butter as they emerged from the end of the bandsaw that cut them. They were damp and sprinkled with sawdust, some with wane-edges that looked like white almond chocolate. They smelled of the forest in the morning when the dew is heavy. Their life in the forest had come to an end. A second life as the medium for my relief carvings lay ahead.
The lumber was delivered to my shop where I carried each board inside. They were carefully stacked in one corner and stickered for ventilation. There they would sit quietly for two years till they was dry enough to carve, all one thousand board feet of them. In that time I would become accustomed to them, anticipating the day, two years hence, that I could begin to use them for relief carving.
In the past, when I thought of deer I thought of Bambi. When I thought of hunters, I thought of the guy who shot Bambi's mother. When I thought of shooting wildlife, I was thinking "camera", not rifle. I was thinking "film" not "shells". I was thinking "prints" not "supper". Because of my brother-in-law I think about hunting differently than before.
I hope my brother-in-law also thinks differently about wood and those who harvest it for use. Perhaps he now sees logs as the raw material of lumber and lumber as the precious material of the craftsman. Perhaps now when he thinks of cutting wood he thinks of the carver's chisel rather than the logger's chainsaw. I certainly hope that when he thinks of carving he thinks of it in terms of a gift, a calling, a talent to be used and a reason to be a good steward of the forest.