Friday, November 19, 2010
A Beaver’s miscalculation
My grandfather, Pete Frolander, was a carpenter, who built wooden boats, log cabins, and the kind of furniture you might find today in faux-rustic condos. With a dusting of sawdust on his cap and a pencil behind his ear, he smelled good to me – like pine trees and lake water. While he worked and I was a little girl underfoot and not interested in dolls, he allowed me to hammer nails into scrap lumber. When I was done he proudly displayed them in a corner of his shop the same way I now tape my grandchildren’s colored works of art on my refrigerator. My hours of pounding, bending nails, dinging up the board, no rhythm or pattern – just spikey works of juvenile miscalculation and effort.
I’m not sure why finding a large poplar tree felled toward the shore of Pike Fish Lake in Superior National Forest reminded me of him. Until I walked over to it, I assumed the wind had taken it down. As I examined it, I had a smack-the-forehead moment. There were incisor marks on the stump and piles of chips all around it. This was the work of a beaver. After looking at it I realized this rodent woodcutter had neglected to stand back and see that a picnic table was going to be very much in the way of his project. Still, I was impressed; it was almost a work of art.
I guess that’s when I thought of Grandpa who often said “Measure twice cut once.” There’ve been countless times when I thought I had everything measured and under control and pressed send or pulled the trigger only to learn, no, it wasn’t quite right. It all landed on the picnic table not in the water. But he also said to be a good carpenter you can’t be a perfectionist. You always need to be fudging, repurposing, working the angles, and saving this or that up as extra for another day. No longer being a child did not necessarily reduced the number of mistakes I made, which could be a downer until, and even to this day, I go ahead and remind myself that most of them are not cause for panic and they might even have an upside such as an increase in patience with both myself and my environment. More on this later. (I’ve been on vacation.)