Sunday, April 22, 2012

365 Jobs: The Inevitability of Ladders

Saturday, December 10, 2011

By this time I should be scared of ladders, but I'm not.  All that falling.  Or really, as a friend pointed out, it isn't the falling from ladders that hurts you, it's the landing. 
  • Landing upright on a concrete floor.  (The ladder slid.)
  • Landing on my wrist — unbroken — on a hardwood floor.  (The top rung of a wooden ladder buckled.)
  • Landing in midair — catching hold of a two-by-four half way down — bruised but unbroken.  (Lost my balance while tightening a bolt when the head sheared off.) 
  • Landing sideways in a pile of garbage in somebody's garage where the client had piled about three months' worth of household trash in plastic bags because he was too cheap to pay for collection.  (I forget why I fell, but it was a soft landing, garbage being like a smelly pillow with a few embedded nasty things.)
But it's not the falling or the landing.  It's the lumbar discs.  The twisting, the reaching.  A bad back made me finally swear off ladders.  For a while.

Then in December of 2011 at night during a winter storm, I awoke to a BANG.  Daylight revealed a clobbered rain gutter.  A branch nine inches in diameter had detached itself from a redwood tree.

The damage was up high. 

This is why we have teenagers: to help with this crap.  But my kids are grown with lives of their own.  The nest is empty.

So I hire Tom, a carpenter with a lifetime of experience.  Tom sets up my 24-foot fiberglass ladder, cuts the gutter and removes it.  But now it's revealed: behind the gutter, the fascia's rotten.  So that's how squirrels have been getting into the ceiling and raising a ruckus somewhere above my dining table. 

I just happen to have a 16-foot all-heart redwood 1x6 in my garage.  After 35 years of contracting, I just happen to have a lot of odd planks and old tools.

Tom points out the obvious: to install a 16-foot board, somebody will have to hold each end.  On separate ladders, 16 feet apart.

So Tom climbs the 24-footer while I climb my 32-footer, each of us holding one end of the board.  Tom nails; I nail.  Here I am: climbing, twisting, reaching, hammering. 

"Sorry," Tom says.  "Just what you were trying to avoid."

That night I ice the lumbar, then take a hot bath.  Next morning it's a little sore but not too bad. 

That's the  thing.  There will always be a  ladder chore.  You can't get away from it.

And as long as I'm needed, I'm not dead yet.

. . .

Note: this is the end of the ladder series and also the last post for a few days.  I'm undergoing a bit of throat surgery on Monday.  It's a relatively minor procedure and probably less painful than falling from a ladder except that statistically there's a one in a hundred possibility that I'll lose my voice, immediately and permanently, which would be an ironic outcome for a writer.  I'll be back as soon as I can.

Update 4/26/2012:  Hooray for steady-handed surgeons!  Voice fine.  Health good.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

365 Jobs: The Heroism of Ladders

Wednesday, August 11, 1993

The contractor was driving the family van with his wife and three kids.  Carrier boxes on the rooftop were whistling, crammed with camping gear.

The Interstate was brutal through Seattle and stayed bad through Olympia.  Farther south it was less hectic, a four lane highway.  After a gas stop, the contractor accelerated to what seemed to be the consensus cruising speed of 70 miles per hour, a strain for the old van.  

Ahead in a gap of traffic he saw a ladder fall off a pickup, which never stopped. 

The car in front of the van swerved, crowding into the left lane.  The contractor swerved to the right onto the shoulder, stopped, turned on blinkers.  More cars coming.  He got out, a dangerous move.  

"Please be careful," came a voice from the van.  The sun was bright and there was a dusty highway smell.

Dashing into the road, he picked up the six-foot sturdy aluminum stepladder and set it against a chain link fence.

Was he genetically programmed for this?  Or was he trained?  Was it just that he couldn't stand to see a good ladder wrecked?  Without hesitation he'd put himself at risk. 

He turned off the blinkers, pulled back onto the highway, made it through Portland listening to Beatles tapes.  We do indeed live in a yellow submarine. 

For his own contracting business at home the contractor had graduated to fiberglass ladders — for safety — three of them with different lengths.

That night in central Oregon the family pitched their tents among Winnebagos at Schwartz Campground.  It was a friendly place, mostly RVs in a field next to a dam and an artificial lake.  The old folks were out on lawn chairs under the Milky Way watching a meteor shower.  With each meteorite, everybody let out a cheer. 

The family built a campfire of store-bought wood and lay on their backs under the spectacular sky, watching not with cheers but with wonder, something akin to worship, feeling like tiny pieces of an awesome natural design.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

365 Jobs: Crucifixion by Ladder

(After posting 288 true* stories to the blog, this one is fiction.  It's from the first chapter of my novel Clear Heart.  I'm including it here because it fits with the ladder theme and because if you've read the previous four ladder entries plus an earlier entry called Impaled — all of which truly happened to me — you will know the origins of this fictional event as well.)

. . .

Somehow, each new day, year after year, the plywood seemed heavier while the quality seemed crappier—just like my body, Wally was thinking. 

Awkwardly balanced on the ladder, Wally pushed a raggedy four-by-eight-foot panel up toward the roof. Sweat trickled along the hairs of Wally’s armpits and dripped to the second-story subfloor fourteen feet below. He supported the plywood with the top of his belly, a splinter digging into his flesh, as he shifted his grip.

Standing above Wally, straddling two roof trusses, Juke was ready. While Juke took hold of the top of the panel and lifted from above, Wally pushed the plywood from below.

Laying the plywood over the trusses, squinting a practiced eye, Juke lined up the edge and set to work with the nailgun. Phap phap phap.

Wally slid the next sheet of 19/32 CDX ply up the ladder. 

With a final phap phap from the nailgun, Juke leaned down and grasped the top of the next sheet of plywood with his fingers.  He lifted.

And at that moment on that hillside where the frame of a house was rising among live oaks and wild oats with a red-tailed hawk soaring above, the world stirred. On this calm day, with neither Juke nor Wally noticing, clouds had formed. The oak branches bent. The oats flattened. The hawk shot out of sight.

Juke was just turning sideways when the wind hit. Suddenly, from out of nowhere a bolt of air was pulling the plywood—and Juke along with it—like a big, stiff kite.

Down below, meanwhile, Wally still had a hand on the plywood in addition to supporting it with his belly and, for one brief moment, no grip on the ladder. The updraft whipped the plywood out of his fingers and knocked his body off balance. Instinctively, Wally shifted his weight.

The ladder shifted, reacting to Wally’s sudden move.

Up above, Juke realized that if he didn’t let go he would be lifted to hang-glide into the sky under a four-by-eight panel of plywood. So he let go. The rough edge of the sheet ripped the tips of his fingers and sailed away. Juke fell back against the nailgun, which started to slide down the slope of the roof decking. Juke, with raw, bleeding fingertips, reached for the nailgun and at the same time saw that Wally had lost his balance on the ladder just below.

Their eyes locked.

Wally was fourteen feet up a ladder that was moving to the right while his body was twisting to the left. Juke lunged for Wally’s hand just as Wally, whose body had now spiraled a hundred and eighty degrees, was desperately reaching over and behind his head to grab the king post of the truss. Juke had the nailer in his grip. All three—nailgun, Wally’s hand, king post—met at the same moment.


For Wally, it was a moment of absolute clarity. He felt—and even smelled—the puff of compressed air, stale from a hundred feet of hose, that had driven the nail through his wrist. He felt Juke’s hand grabbing his own free left hand, the one that wasn’t nailed to the post. He heard the sliding of the ladder and then the clatter as it hit the floor below. He heard a mighty thud and a splintering of wood as the nailgun, dropped by Juke, struck the floor a moment later. He kicked his feet in a broad arc searching for support even though he knew that nothing was there.

“Jesus fuck!” Juke shouted from above.

And there was a woman. Where she had come from Wally had no idea. Already she was lifting the fallen ladder, but she wasn’t strong and the ladder was heavy.

Inside the nailed wrist, Wally felt two separate bones grinding against the nail. Or maybe the nail had shot right through one bone, splitting it in two. He couldn’t tell. All he knew was that inside his body, bone was in contact with steel, that the bone and nail and flesh were supporting the weight of his body, that the flesh was ripping as he wriggled, that the nail felt solid and unforgiving, that the bone felt as if it was bending and would be torn from its little sockets and pop like a broken spring out of his skin. 

Weird explosive shock waves were racing up the nerves of his arm to overload and confuse his brain. Even more urgent, rising into Wally’s awareness above the flood of pain: He couldn’t breathe. The weight of his body was stretching the muscles across his chest so that only with a supreme effort could he exhale, making quick ineffective puffs. With rapidly de-oxygenating air in his lungs, he was suffocating.

Juke, still holding Wally’s left hand in one of his own, lay down flat on the roof decking and placed his free hand under Wally’s armpit. When he had a solid grip he moved his other hand to Wally’s other armpit, supporting all of Wally’s weight.

With an explosion of fusty air Wally exhaled, coughing, and then sucked a deep gasp of breath.

Juke’s face was now pressed up against Wally’s, cheek to cheek, stubble to stubble, sweat to sweat.

Wally was panting, catching up on oxygen.

Meanwhile, down below, the woman couldn’t lift the ladder. Whoever she was, she’d never before dealt with the unwieldy heft of an OSHA Type A Louisville fiberglass extension ladder.

Juke called down to the woman: “You—uh—you—”

Wally could feel Juke’s jaw moving against his own.

“You gotta—” Juke was trying to tell the woman how to raise the ladder but he was handicapped by his speech impediment—an inability to open his mouth without cursing. Juke’s personal law of carpenter etiquette wouldn’t allow him to swear in the presence of a lady. He might be rough but he was gallant. Or if not gallant, at least fearful: Juke still had nightmares starring angry nuns.

“Walk it up,” Wally said in a voice that sounded strangely high-pitched to his own ears.

The woman, confused, raised her face toward Wally. “What?”

For an instant, Wally stared. Her eyes, even at this distance, the eyes of a puppy, luminous and brown.

Juke, meanwhile, stared as well. He could see right down the front of her jersey. Nice rack.

“Grab one end,” Wally squeaked, trying not to screech, to remain calm, to ignore the electric buzz that was running up his arm. “Place the tip against the wall, and then walk under the ladder, lifting it higher as you go, keeping one end against the wall. Can you do that, please?”

The "please" came out a little higher than Wally had intended. Screechy high.

The woman tried. She raised the ladder half way, sliding it up the studs. A moment of extended arms, trembling. As she tried to shift her grip, she lost it. The side of the ladder bounced against her shoulder and then rattled to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” she said. Briefly she laid a hand on her shoulder, wincing.

“You all right?” Wally said.

“My God. What a thing for you to ask right now.” Already she was trying again. This time she seemed to get a better angle on it, walking the ladder up the frame of two-by-fours without overextending her arms.

With something like a ballet move, Wally was able to arch his potbellied body and swing his legs sideways while the woman slid the ladder until his foot, and then two feet, once again supported his weight.

Juke could now let go of Wally. There were bloody fingerprints on Wally’s arm. Wally’s body was blocking Juke’s access to the ladder. Juke whispered, “Now what, Boss?”

Wally spoke to the woman below. “See that saw? No, behind you. The Milwaukee. There. Yes, that. Can you bring it up the ladder and give it to my partner here? Carry it by the handle so you don’t touch the trigger.” Always Mr. Safety. “Make sure it stays plugged in to the extension cord. Okay?”

Oops. His voice had squeaked again on the "okay."

Juke whispered, “No, Boss. I ain’t cuttin’ your hand off.”

“Cut the post,” Wally said.

And that’s exactly what Juke did.

Wally walked on his own two feet out of the house and straight to his truck, his hair powdered with fresh sawdust, his left hand cradling an eighteen-inch piece of two-by-four Douglas fir that was still nailed to his right wrist, trailing blood…  

 . . .

*True:  Based on fact.  I frequently change names or other details to protect people's identities and avoid lawsuits by billionaires.  Occasionally for ease-of-storytelling I'll combine two characters into one, or I'll compress a time line or use other implements of the trade.  I've been wearing a novelist's tool belt just as long as I've been wearing a carpenter's, so it comes naturally now to reach for the handiest chisel, or pliers, or plot device.  I'll smooth the rough spot out of a messy story just as I'll rub a little sandpaper over a piece of wood.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

365 Jobs: The Speculation of Ladders

Fri, Oct 25, 1985

It was a comfy old ranch house in Menlo Park.  The elderly couple wanted a platform built in the garage above where they parked their Lexus.  They wanted to store suitcases and Christmas decorations up there.

The carpenter climbed a ladder to look around.

The old woman was wearing a flour-dusted apron over a calico dress.  She said to her husband, “Eugene, you’d better move the cat dish from under the ladder. We wouldn’t want the man to fall on it and hurt himself.”

Not budging and in no hurry, white-haired Eugene stared first at the loft area.  Slowly he lowered his eyes to the floor. “If he falls,” the old man said, “he’ll hit the beam up there and break his neck. Then he'll hit the water heater and the washing machine.  He’ll be dead long before he reaches the cat dish.”

“Oh,” his wife said. “All right then.”

The cat dish remained, unmoved, under the ladder.

(True story, which became a passage in my novel Clear Heart, Chapter 29.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

365 Jobs: The Loneliness of Ladders

Wednesday, October 14, 1981 
Quoting "Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by William Carlos Williams
    According to Breughel
    when Icarus fell
    it was spring
The electrician was standing at the maximum extension of an aluminum ladder in an automobile body shop.  This was in the industrial section of Sunnyvale, California — a town less lovely than its name.
    a farmer was ploughing
    his field
    the whole pageantry

    of the year was
    awake tingling
It was a steel building with a concrete floor covered by puddles of water.  Men were banging sheet metal.  Brt brt of pneumatic wrenches.  The roar of engines, gas and diesel, the smell of smoky exhaust.  A radio blasting rock and roll. 

The electrician, a beginner, did not have the $300 it would cost to buy a fiberglass extension ladder, though he was hoping to have it soon.  He had set the rubber feet of the aluminum ladder on a tarp as an extra precaution against providing an electrical path while he was working with live wires.  He was not a complete fool, and he knew how to handle live wires — cautiously — replacing ballasts in fluorescent fixtures.  The owner of the body shop did not want any circuits turned off, did not want any interruption to the flow of body jobs.

The electrician could have refused to work with live wires.  In that case, he would not have been hired at all.  Forgive us, somebody, please.  The things we do for money.  The chances we take.  As it happened, electricity was not the problem.
    the edge of the sea
    with itself
Without warning, the ladder dropped.  There was a pipe to grab.  The electrician reached for it — got it — but he had already fallen four feet and the momentum of his body broke his grip.  He was falling toward the concrete floor.
    sweating in the sun
    that melted
    the wings' wax
I'm going to break my leg, he thought.  And there's nothing I can do about it.  That was the electrician's only thought during free fall.  That, and waiting for his leg to break.

He hit the concrete simultaneously with the ladder and somehow — he never figured out how — a rung of the ladder fell on top of one foot and beneath the other.

The painter nearby looked up from his paint gun, pulled down his mask and said, "Hey.  You all right?"

The electrician was standing upright.  Like a gymnast sticking a landing amid the clatter of aluminum on concrete, he had held his balance.

With all the din of a body shop, the other workers hadn't even noticed his fall.

The electrician studied his feet.  At that moment, he wished — aching — to smell a wildflower.  To hear his children laugh.  To touch a woman.

What he smelled was paint.  What he heard was brt brt thud clang.  What he touched — what he felt — was raw banging pain.

The electrician lifted his right foot off the ladder.  He pushed the ladder off his left foot.  He wiggled his toes.  They hurt — bad — but they moved.  Already they were swelling.  He thought of the cost of an x-ray.  A doctor.  No insurance.  No time.  A day's wage, quickly gone.  Family to feed.  At home.  Waiting.  Milk.  Cotton sheets.
    off the coast
    there was

    a splash quite unnoticed
Pain is an electrical impulse.  No more, no less.  That night, his feet would be purple.  "Yeah," the electrician said.  "I'm all right."
    this was
    Icarus drowning
The painter slipped his mask back over his mouth and nose. 

The electrician raised the ladder back into place, setting it at a higher angle this time.  You have to get the proper slant.  He had used this ladder hundreds of times.  Only once before had it slid.  This tarp was too smooth.  Sometimes, precautions cause new hazards.

Slippery base, he thought as he climbed again higher, rising gingerly, rung by rung, to his job. 

("Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" is from Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems by William Carlos Williams, a wonderful book by a wonderful man — doctor, poet — who wrote poems between delivering babies or listening to hearts, a man who understood the nature of work, and the work of nature.  I hope I have honored him here.) 

Monday, April 16, 2012

365 Jobs: The Revelation of Ladders

Sunday, December 8, 1980

The father was fourteen feet up the aluminum extension ladder in his own house when he felt himself go.  There was no warning. 

He had the sensation of floating.  One moment he was standing there getting ready to drill; the next he was floating.  Falling.  Flying. 

He dropped the drill and grabbed for a ceiling beam, a four by twelve.  He couldn't reach the top of the beam but somehow managed to grip the bottom.  The wood was smooth except for one notch in the side: a termite hole.  Just the size of a thumb.
    Bless you
    dead termites
He was holding his weight with only his thumb, bent at the knuckle.

The ladder crashed to the floor.  The drill struck the cast iron kitchen sink and broke into six pieces.  The father would be next.

The mother came running.  Lifting almost beyond her strength, she hoisted the ladder and held it while he swung his feet to the side — swung his body, a hundred and sixty pounds — until the feet found the ladder, and he was safe.

When he got to the floor, he was out of breath.  Between gulps of air he said to his wife: "I was hanging by my thumb."

"How could you do that?"

"I couldn't."  He shook his head, amazed.  "But I did."

A child was crying.  The mother went to comfort him.

The father cleaned up the broken pieces of drill.  He could buy a new one.  He lowered the ladder and carried it outside.  Next time, he'd brace it better. 

Sometimes you discover a power that is hidden, dormant, in your body.  Sometimes you amaze yourself.

The thumb was sore for weeks.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

365 Jobs: The Hum of Ladders

Thursday, April 30, 1976

A young man bought an extension ladder at Sears Roebuck in San Francisco.  Besides the ladder, he bought two gallons of paint and a box of jelly doughnuts. 

Tied to the roof of a Volkswagen Squareback, the twenty-foot ladder hummed aluminum tones in the sea wind as the young man drove along the Great Highway by the Pacific Ocean.  He needed the ladder for a cottage he was refurbishing, a nest where at that moment his wife was four months pregnant with their first child.

Next to a sand dune, he stopped for a cheerful hitchhiker who had a bushy white beard.  While stopped, the young man checked the ropes holding the ladder while the hitchhiker studied the tags still attached from the store.  "You just bought your stairway to heaven," the old guy said.

The hitchhiker was your basic 'Frisco derelict: half-blind, half-deaf, fully-inebriated.  An old salt in bad health who gladly accepted a jelly doughnut and then half-recited, half-sang a poem — or song — who could say which? — harmonizing roughly with the humming ladder.  He seemed to be composing on the spot.  It was about an Irishman who fell off a ladder and was offered a glass of water. 

    Tell me, sweet lass, in a job so risky
    How far must I fall for a glass of whiskey?
The young man dropped the jolly folksinger among the house-boxes of Daly City and would never see him again.  Now he wonders: To what subdivision of heaven did the old man climb?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

George Nakashima: The Soul of a Tree

In preparing my profile of James Adams, James mentioned that he was trying to follow in the path of George Nakashima.  Naturally, I had to get my hands on a copy of Nakashima's The Soul of a Tree.  I've just read it, and it's changed my life.

What an inspiring man — both for the life he lived and the works he created.  I've written before that the Shakers were a source for my woodwork and for my method of writing.  Now I add George Nakashima as a spiritual guide, a man who once joked: "I am a Japanese Shaker."

He is best known for his tables made of large wood slabs joined by butterfly joints.  The tops are smooth while one or more edges are the natural rough edge of the tree.

I'm fascinated by his two-legged, leverage-defying conoid chairs, which must have fantastically tight joints:

As with poetry, a reviewer can best let the book speak for itself, in word and image.  Here is George Nakashima:

On resurrection: "This slab was cut from one of the great trees of England...  A deep furrow remains, giving its surface a sculptured look.  The usual market for fine timber would not find much use for such a slab, practically a reject of nature.  I have sometimes rescued these great slabs from the dump heap and sometimes, with luck, seem to give them a second chance at life as good furniture.  The natural forms with all their bumps and 'warts' survive.  To fashion such a piece of wood into fine furniture is almost an act of resurrection."

On cutting: "Usually, cutting across the crotch produces the finest figuring [on left].  This cut also provides the greatest usable width.  Cutting along the crotch [on right] results in a somewhat triangular piece of lumber with less surface area to work with.  The figuring is less intense, too.  At the point where a tree branches freely, three or more crotches may be found.  The result in the lumber can be truly extravagant figuring."

"I make any number of preliminary drawings in chalk to get a feeling for the proportion of the object we are creating.  It's easier to make a final decision where to cut if there is something to see on the board." 

"There is drama in the opening of a log — to uncover for the first time the beauty in the bole, or trunk, of a tree hidden for centuries, waiting to be given this second life."
"The key man in the process of cutting logs is the sawyer, one of the great craftsmen of our age with steady nerves and experienced judgment.  It is necessary to have an almost silent dialogue with this sawyer.  Few words are spoken, but thickness, the direction of the cut, the positioning of the log — all must be decided with precision."

On the soul of a tree: "When trees mature, it is fair and moral that they are cut for man's use, as they would soon decay and return to the earth.  Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth."

 "Each flitch, each board, each plank can have only one ideal use.  The woodworker, applying a thousand skills, must find that ideal use and then shape the wood to realize its true potential."
Rough design, bookmatched walnut root
Finished bookmatched walnut root table
"The object is to make as fine a piece of furniture as is humanly possible.  The purpose is usefulness, but with a lyric quality — this is the basis of all my designs."

On hand versus power tools: "Our approach is to realize a synthesis between the hand and the machine working as a small unit."

"As much as man controls the end product, there is no disadvantage in the use of modern machinery and there is no need for embarrassment...  A power plane can do in a few minutes what might require a day or more by hand.  In a creative craft, it becomes a question of responsibility, whether it is a man or the machine that controls the work's progress."

A butterfly key of rosewood joining two pieces of walnut.

On nature: "Once I was pulling a fairly large branch and it suddenly gave way, knocking me breathless to the ground.  As it fell, two long shards of wood broke off, each fifteen to twenty inches long and as sharp as a spear.  I was wearing heavy rubber boots with leather tops.  One of the shards pierced one boot's heel, while the other slashed through it.  Lying on the ground, I waited for the pain to start, for it seemed as if I'd been crucified.  But as my senses returned, I realized the wood had gone through the boot, but not my foot: all I had were scrapes on my sole and heel.  Nature is compassionate."

Part of my feeling of kinship with the man comes from the remarkable facial resemblance between him and my own father, who was neither Japanese nor a woodcrafter.
George Nakashima
On personal history:  "Then Pearl Harbor broke, and all of us of Japanese descent were put in concentration camps.  My wife and I and our newly born daughter were sent to a camp in Idaho.  This I felt at the time was a stupid, insensitive act, one by which my country could only hurt itself.  It was a policy of unthinking racism.  Even Eskimos with only a small percentage of Japanese blood were sent to the Western desert to die."

After relocating to New Hope, Pennsylvania: "After a year of doing general farm work, it was quite clear to me that chickens and I were not compatible."

On building his house in New Hope:  "At no time did we have more than fifty dollars in cash, but by scrounging materials, gathering stones off the property, digging foundation by hand, and working evenings and weekends, I was able to build a rough structure by Thanksgiving. …  Our first winter in the house was bitterly cold, and the faucet froze in the kitchen."

"We built, quite literally, on the principle of laying stone upon stone.  We had considerable stone on our land, and it was simply a question of hauling it by wheelbarrow to the building site."

On architecture:  "There is a wonderful feeling to be had in erecting a stone wall.  There is a sense of order and permanence.  A good wall will last for generations and even millenia."

"The decline in quality of modern furniture is probably due in part to the use of the quick, easy and cheap dowel joint.  The decline of modern domestic architecture can be traced to the popularity of the stud wall put together with hammer and nails, a type of construction calling for no joinery at all.  By contrast, the early American house and barn with their excellent joinery still represent the best we have produced and will greatly outlast contemporary buildings."

Nakashima built several innovative structures at New Hope, blending traditional Japanese and American styles with modern materials.  This photo shows the interior of the Minguren Museum, which has a roof that is a hyperbolic parabaloid.  "The span of the room is thirty-six-by-thirty-six feet, but note that there are no trusses or beams." 
Ceiling, stairs, Minguren Museum
"The stairway is made of three-inch thick oak planks cantilevered twelve inches into a fieldstone wall."  I wonder: With one end anchored in stone and the other hanging in free air, how much do they bounce?
The reception house
On local salvage:  "I call our reception house a sanso, or 'mountain villa,' in Japanese.  I built it … entirely with materials cast off from my workshop.  Castoff though the building materials were, they were quite unique since the rich and rare woods that I normally use are not generally obtainable.  The floor, for example, is made of red birch and walnut boards with extraordinary figuring.  Most of the outside construction was done with a single dead elm.  This elm, about five feet in diameter, could not be lifted by one huge forklift, but required two.  The elm had been cut into two-and-a-half-inch-thick boards.  Once cut, there seemed to be no client demand since the wood was light in color and not unusually grained.  So, we happily used it in the reception house."

There's so much more:  Drawings by Nakashima's own hand.  Chapters about species of trees, their spiritual and practical uses.  Pages about where to cut, and why.  Architectural commentary.  Gorgeous photos of Nakashima's stunning original designs that are so lovely, you'll want to run your fingertips over the paper.  Slabs of trees that make a woodworker's heart race.  A genius of a man who enriched our lives, even if we never knew him.  

The original edition of the book is out of print (I borrowed mine from the library).  Used copies are fetching enormous prices (as are his furniture), but a new edition of the book has been released by Kodansha.  I've just bought the Kodansha version and am pleased to report that it's of excellent quality.  The man deserves no less.  

Note:  If you're interested, here's a link to the Kodansha edition at
The Soul of a Tree: A Master Woodworkers Reflections.

For more about George Nakashima, here are some links:

Links to some other books I've reviewed:
Religion in Wood: A book of Shaker Furniture by Edward Deming Andrews and Faith Andrews
The Mind at Work by Mark Rose

Monday, April 2, 2012

365 Jobs: A Hard Day's Haiku

For this STINKING job
I buy a red box labeled
Screws All Guaranteed