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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Your hands know

Want to make bread? That’s fine.
Want to make bread? That’s fine.

This is a column about the respite of things.

The respite of doing. The respite of hands and tasks and distraction.

I’ve written about the wonder of making concrete before. About the math and the magic of clapboard — how, to this day, there is one strip of clapboard I cut on a particular freehand angle to match a roofline, and every time I look at it, there snug in its place, it makes me smile. I’ve written, too, about the riches of having firewood and a full freezer, about simple, tactile pleasures.

So it may surprise you that I took two of the biggest and best round logs of maple I had this year — real bruisers, special wood through and through — and just plain gave them away. I just watched them get loaded into the truck of a Toyota sedan.



One, to become a much-needed chopping block for a young man with a shed filled with round fir and spruce that needed splitting and a stable work surface to set those rounders on. The other, to a family member with a lathe and a wood shop and a keen eye for what hides in logs, and the touch for how to pull it out of hiding.

The lathing log was a beauty — splitting it would have taken time and careful axe-cunning, and I would have enjoyed every thunking minute of it. With the vent turned low on the woodstove, it alone would have heated a house for the night.

But that’s OK.

Because these are important times for less-than-important tasks. And it’s important that we help other people do them.

We can all spend plenty of time worrying about when we’re going to get the COVID-19 vaccine, and what’s going to happen to those we love in the meantime, especially those who are far away. For many of us — besides trying to deal with the sudden and inexplicable death of someone we love — this is probably one of the most helpless times we have ever experienced. There’s nothing we can do to speed anything up, to bring anyone home, to solve any number of problems, from finances to children struggling in a vastly different world of education to just plain loneliness.

There simply aren’t solutions in reach.

There’s a song by the group Madison Violet about a father trying to come to terms with the death of his son — and the only thing he can find to do is to depend on his hands. “Now your father’s building you a box … Down in his wood shop” the song goes. It is one of the saddest songs I know. It is, to put it bluntly, gutting. It is, also, precisely that sad because it is also so completely accurate.


... these are important times for less-than-important tasks. And it’s important that we help other people do them.


When things become insurmountable, our minds short-circuit and head to the practical things we can control. And those things can be remarkable, resourceful, or sometimes, just comforting.

It’s OK to default to the things that you know you have full control over.

Remember early in the pandemic, when flour ran out and yeast became scarce because everyone was suddenly baking? It’s like that.

Maybe, you plant potatoes or garlic. Maybe you just shovel the snow more frequently or more thoroughly than you ever have before, paying attention to every spot where melt bleeds out of a snowbank and later turns to ice.

So make bread. Turn wood. Make mead. Knit hats for every single person you know. Heck — calculate a successful angle, and revel in it for the ages.

And if someone needs a log? Well, there’s nothing wrong with sharing. And giving someone else’s hands a necessary thing to do.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in SaltWire newspapers and websites across Atlantic Canada.


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