Today I was feeling celebratory, having just completed compiling the photographs for my upcoming book being published by Chelsea Green Publishing this winter. Exactly 200 photographs, arranged by chapter and entered into a spreadsheet that gave their order, title and caption. This process has taken three days and was the culmination of the initial phase of writing the book. Tomorrow I transfer everything to a zip drive, print a hard copy of the text, and overnight mail all of it up to Vermont.
So I was feeling celebratory while driving up through the hill towns to get raw milk from the farm that was the reason my wife and I moved to the area, where I learned to farm vegetables and milk cows. I stopped at the local hardware store to buy chicken feed and twine to string up the pole beans. And on my way back down, I decided to swing by the Bullitt Reservation.
The Bullitt Reservation is where, for three years, I was the property steward for the Trustees of Reservations, a land conservation group in Massachusetts that owns and manages over a hundred properties ranging from tracts of forest to large mansions. The Bullitt Reservation is on the modest end, a refurbished farmhouse and barn surrounded by gardens that serves as a regional office. For three years, my job was to design and build the gardens, repair the barn, build trails and teach workshops.
I left that job to pursue spooncarving as a career, and that first year was hard. Not only was I not gaining any traction with the spoons, the young fella that was hired to take over my job absolutely BUTCHERED the gardens, cutting back stuff that should not be cut back and weeded out all the flower seedlings of self-sowing annuals that I had been carefully cultivating for the last three years. I was devastated, seeing all the careful spaces I had nurtured obliterated by someone's ignorance. I left and didn't go back until today.
Today I thought what the heck, I should visit the property because this was where it all started. Without that job, I wouldn't have gotten into scything, which means I wouldn't have gotten into spooncarving. I wouldn't have started teaching workshops, which means I wouldn't have started teaching one-on-one lessons. By leaving that job the way I did, I was pushed into using Instagram when I would otherwise have chosen not to, and it was through Instagram that I reached out to Chelsea Green and got the book deal. So this place, and leaving this place, brought me to where I am today.
So imagine my surprise when I pulled up the circular drive and noticed that the gardens looked GOOD. The lavender I planted and painstakingly bedded each winter was thriving on the south-facing retaining wall. The blueberry bushes were getting big, the grape arbor I built was actually started to being covered with grapes I started as slips shoved in the ground, the flower beds were crowded with salvia, poppies, clovers, daisies. The strawberries under the hydrangeas I planted along the walkway were still there and the hydrangeas were actually getting big. The willow entrance to the garden towered over the path, and the peonies I planted had so many blooms they were tied up to stakes.
On every side were plants that I HAD PLANTED. It was the space I had envisioned, slightly stripped down, but more complex by virtue of its very maturity. The woodchips on the paths were fresh. The lupines were blooming in the wildflower meadow. The orchard I had planted had mostly survived. The lily of the valley had spread.
I was overwhelmed with this sense of joy and surprise and gratitude, that this thing I had started was not only still here, but had come into its own in the ensuing three years since I left. And I was reminded that life is like that: where we are right now is the result of everything that has come before. We may think we are never, ever, EVER going to see the garden we dream of, or the skill we aspire to, or the success we pursue, but then we turn around and realize it has happened. Not through willing it to be so. Rather, time has done the work. We began something, and stick with it, even neglect it at times, but nudge it forward just enough, and time does the rest.
Guys, the garden is beautiful. There were tears in my eyes driving home, so I turned up the Brandi Carlisle and belted along.
This weekend I attended Greenwoodfest, the wonderful spooncarving festival put on by PlymouthCRAFT each year in eastern Massachusetts. I'm assuming you all know what this event is, at least in theory, and I don't need to explain it more. Let's move on.
I was nervous, attending. I've had mixed interactions with a bunch of people I knew would be there, and I was not sure how it would go, if meeting in person would help or hurt. I've been going back and forth in my head about how frank to be about all this here, if I should just do a generic "what a lovely event" type post and leave it at that. But the truth is more complicated, and it doesn't seem to me to be helpful to shy away from hard conversations. So here goes.
We (me and Matt White and Dwight Beebe were driving together) arrived late, and showed up as dinner was wrapping up in the dining hall. There is nothing like showing up after everyone has already bonded and not knowing what the deal is to make me feel like a kid just starting school again, but then Jane Mickleborough walked up to me and gave me a big hug and said it was so nice to meet me, and I was drawn into her table and out of my head. Thank you, Jane, for doing that.
I was on the dish crew, and so I had to wolf down some food and dive right into the madness of hundreds of dishes, loading trays and running them through the Hobart, and amazing industrial dishwasher that is a delight of modern engineering. After most of the dishes had been washed, Anne the head dishwasher told me that I could go, that she was being paid to wrap things up, but honestly I was nervous to go out and mingle with all these people who I have had mixed relations with.
I'm skirting around this, I know, and my hands are trembling in anticipation of saying all this, but here goes. I rub a number of the professional people in the spooncarving world the wrong way. I think it is a combination of coming off a bit strong, sharing my opinions a bit too freely, and acting on ideas in a way that seems premature or like who am I to be doing it.
Part of the mismatch here is cultural. The side of my family I see most often is the loud, brash New York Jewish side, the side that doesn't hesitate to expound opinions and disagree with things. I am increasingly aware that the professionals in spooncarving scene are most often from more reserved cultures.
The other part is timing. Because I didn't come to Greenwoodfest last year or the year before, I am making these face to face connections from an awkward place of having already started to walk a professional path, selling and teaching and communicating about my ideas. So there is definitely the sense I think of who am I to come in with so many opinions. Had I met some of these people earlier on when I wasn't so far along, it would have been easier to build relationships. As it is, I offered to show a lovely woman how I axe out spoon blanks, and more and more people stood around watching, and it felt like an impromptu class, which I think was great for the people watching but felt awkward with the professionals. That is just one of several examples.
This all feels scary to write about because we don't often share these sides of ourselves online, the parts where we feel like failures. It is easier to say that the event was amazing and inspiring and leave it at that. It is harder to come away wishing I had somehow done something differently, made a better impression. On the other hand, I honestly don't know what I might have done differently. I don't think I overstepped any boundaries by my own standards. I shared what I know and what I am up to when asked. But it I did get the sense that this was too much for some.
By far the most rewarding part of the experience was meeting all the amazing people who came to the festival from all walks of life. There were scientists, technologists, people with careers in woodworking and management, people who shrugged off their professional life as uninteresting but who were genuinely fascinating and lovely. Sitting down at a new table of people with every meal and asking people about themselves was just like those first days in college, before the groups and cliques formed, when you could introduce yourself to everyone and anyone and be open to it all. So I didn't make some of the connections I was hoping to make, but I did make connections, and that was amazing and worth coming back for.
Good grief, I'm still trembling writing this. I struggle with this side of myself, because it's a double edged sword. I know that my opinionatedness and brashness with just doing stuff bothers many people who maybe feel like it's not my place to put myself out there, like I haven't earned it or something. But I also know that it is these very same qualities that have gotten me to where I am today, where I have the privilege to make my living doing what I love and helping others explore this same path. So I guess I want to say two things. To the four or five people who I've upset (and who honestly probably will never read this), please accept my apology and know that I am working on these same qualities in myself to be better. I do take it seriously. And to all of the other people who were there this weekend, it was so lovely meeting you and learning your story. I hope we meet again next year.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.