It has been a difficult five months for my family and I. Not that we have been sick (thank God for that) or struggling financially (we get by) or that anyone close to us has died. The reason for the difficulty has been the decision, after over twenty years living and working in the Grande Prairie area, to move back home.
Home for us is Saskatoon, a pretty prairie town of 250,000 in the middle of Saskatchewan, in the middle of Canada, likely also near the middle of North America. Home is where my wife's parents live, where she was born and raised, and where I also lived for half a dozen years during my university years. It's where I met my wife (she says SHE met ME :-), and where we were married. It's where my eldest son was baptized. It is only two-and-a-half hours from our summer cabin at Turtle Lake. It is as home as home can get!
This story has many sides: my wife's, my sons', and mine. It is my side of the story that I wish to share with you in this letter.
Twenty-one years ago I arrived in this area to serve as a Pastor at a local Lutheran congregation about 20 minutes north of Grande Prairie. After five years in the parish I was on the verge of burnout, and decided to leave the parish temporarily, during which time I thought I would try carving for a living. "Temporary" turned out to be more or less "permanent".
Sixteen years has passed and I am still carving, having built a solid reputation as a local carver. I have also managed to build a reputation as a carving instructor. Most of my students have been with me more than five years, and two have been with me more than twelve years. I guess this means I have succeeded. I enjoy my carving and classes, and my students enjoy them too. Most of them have become friends.
It is in Grande Prairie that I had my first gallery show, taught my first student, built my first studio (and second) and received my first commission. It is in Grande Prairie that I created my first web page which was destined to be the very first carving-related web page on the internet. It was here that I started the Woodcarver Mailing List, and the Woodcarver E-zine. It was here that I received my first invitation to teach at a week-long summer carving workshop. It was here that I wrote my first book, and later my second. It was here that I started writing for Chip Chats and later for Wood Carving Illustrated. A lot has happened here, for sure.
So last night I announced to my Thursday carving class that my family and I are moving to Saskatoon. It was near the end of the evening class in which my most experienced students were gathered. It was strange to observe their reaction to the announcement. At first they weren't sure that I was serious. I've been known to "feed them a line" from time to time. But when it became apparent that it was true, their first words were those of encouragement and appreciation for the time we had shared together. "You will be missed", they said. "You have to look after your family first".
During the remainder of the evening we found ourselves talking about what these classes and our friendships meant to us. We talked about what it meant for each of them to be able to carve. For most it was more than a hobby. For some it was a passion. For others it was weekly therapy. For still others, it was a sacred time, jealously guarded against all those activities and pressures of life that compete for their time.
But most of all, it was the unusual combination of students, teacher and craft that made it special. It was a place where new carving ideas and techniques could be tested. Rarely did any student bring an idea for a carving project to class to have it refused. Somehow we found a way to carve the idea, most often with amazing results. Even the novice students were amazed as their carvings emerged slowly from the wood. It was as if there was nothing that we could not carve. Some nights the finished results were simply exhilarating.
Moreover, our carving classes were a time and place where we could collaborate on each other's projects, brain-storming and suggesting our way to a agreeable result. Our silent rule was "encourage the positive and eliminate the negative". I cannot remember a harsh or critical word being spoken in these classes. It was as if everyone there had agreed to make this time safe and pleasant for everyone else.
Over the years we have shared each other's burdens along with the joys. Every week was an opportunity to poll the class for the latest installment of their lives. Some weeks were more eventful than others, but every week had its highlights. The week we found a "gold mine" of precious Alberta White Birch for our carving projects. The week one of our "grandpas" was bucked off a horse and broke a shoulder and three ribs. The week one of our classmates died. The week one of our classmates became a grandparent. Divorce, new jobs, unemployment, sickness, injury, successful surgery, marriage, birth, promotion, retirement, faith... we shared them all together. Family!
"The time is short" I told them last night. "In fifteen weeks these classes will end." In fifteen weeks I will start packing my equipment, tools, patterns and books. Soon thereafter, the studio will be empty to the walls, and its contents will be traveling en route to a different city, a different home. "Let's make use of the time to enjoy what we have before it is gone."
It's true that we generally don't KNOW WHAT WE GOT TILL IT'S GONE, or going. But now that we know the time is short we will take time to cherish what we have shared. It will be a special time. A time to remember. A time to laugh. A time to regret. A time to say thanks to each other, and to affirm that what we had was very, very special. A time to slowly, gently, gratefully... say goodbye.
Note: Just in case you are wondering, at this point, what will happen to the Woodcarver E-zine and the Woodcarver Mailing List, ...relax :-) I will simply manage them both from our new home in Saskatoon. Nothing will change in respect to them because of this move.