Some days, the centuries collapse into a present that is rich with possibility.
As I worked in the print shop this afternoon, I realized that that particular moment brought together people and their tools across an arc of time that stretched from 1850 to 2019, from Massachusetts to North Carolina, California to Virginia. I paused to let it all sink in.
Pictured here are multiple human tools, each with their own histories, hand-marks, and elegant uses.
The text I’m setting is by Henry David Thoreau, from an entry in his journal in July, 1850, about cultivating one’s true work.
I’m typesetting from that text as displayed on my laptop, which is propped up by the shaft of my great-grandfather’s wooden scythe. The computer is new(ish) and sports a fingerprint-resistant metal case. The scythe is probably close to 150 years old—the wood smoothed by long-use, fissured by sweat and time.
Both my grandfathers were handcrafters who prized and cared well for the tools of their trades. My father’s father was a land surveyor, wood worker, and front porch whittler. My mother’s father was a carpenter, teacher, and army veteran. Both of them passed down to me a regard for the well-made, the joy and the worth of handwork, and also the pocket knives they each carried.
The Native American stone blade pictured above with my grandfathers' pocket knives (and my hand) may be a thousand years old or more. As a young girl, I watched it emerge from a red North Carolina clay furrow one afternoon, as my paternal grandfather drove the 1952 tractor down his garden’s rows. Someone had worked this land long, long before my family. Someone who made, used, and cared for their tools, too.
Now, I have the honor of doing the same.
From centuries-old implements to the latest digital tech, we wield powerful tools, friends. May we use them thoughtfully, and for a common good.
All my best,
St Brigid Press