I am writing this while sitting on the large screened porch of our friends, Bob and Jan. I am writing by candlelight. It is 9:00 PM and pitch dark, as there is no moon tonight and their home sits at the bottom of a holler, smack dab in the middle of 80 acres of forest. Candles and oil lamps provide light on the big porch when necessary, as there is no electrical wiring to it.
Bob and Jan are off to Minnesota for a few days to visit family, so I am house-sitting for them and taking care of their dogs. They built their home themselves, by hand, which took them over two years of weekends to complete. That was twenty years ago, and they have made many additions to their place since then – the barn, this porch, the back deck, the coop, the sheep pen, even a pool. It is all well-made and quite a spread.
Bob and Jan have a deep appreciation for things handcrafted. They believe it has an integrity, quality, and character than cannot be found in the mass-produced. Jan is a fiber artist who has created her own yarn in the past, shearing her own sheep, spinning and dyeing the skeins of wool herself. Bob brews craft beer and is a skilled carpenter and stone mason. He owns and operates his own landscaping business, and together Bob and Jan create extraordinary gardens for their clients.
Bob and Jan understood early in their lives the value of craft, and embraced a life different from the rest of us. They are much richer for their choice.
Their love of craft speaks to me. I think about how the best people I know seem to be handcrafted, not mass-produced, and I’ve concluded that handcrafted is the best way to be formed. While I was a student at ESM, I was keenly aware of how tiny a school it was, compared to the education factory I attended in my undergraduate days, and how superior the small was to the large. The handcrafting of students was the educational model at ESM, and was as much about formation as it was education – a human component that molded you, a component missing at “Factory U.”
Sitting here on the porch, I realize it is easier to house-sit for Bob and Jan today than it was about three years ago. Back then, they had sheep, chickens, and five dogs. It was a real circus at feeding time. Today, the sheep and chickens are gone, and among the dogs only Jack, Stella, and Skookie remain. They are known collectively among our circle of friends as “The Gang”.
As Buddhists, Bob and Jan are vey gentle with their dogs, and when one dies they mourn its loss like a family member. To memorialize their lost dogs, they planted a flower garden with a statue of the sitting Buddha just outside the screened porch beyond the hummingbird feeders. Their dogs are good dogs because of the handcrafted way they are raised, with personal attention and compassion. I think about how I can take a lesson from them about how to handcraft my relations with other people: with personal attention and compassion.
I should note that I am writing the first draft of this post by long-hand. It’s really the only way I can compose: by hand. Perhaps this might be my entrée to handcrafting my own life.
Well, if you will excuse me, I’m going to have a handcrafted beer now.