When I am about to tell a story, I cannot help but think about how everyone else will tell the story as well and this is because, in some sense, there is no way to get any story straight. When four thousand people gather in one place, there are just as many narratives weaving themselves together and fraying at the ends. This is not the same as saying there is no truth however, and the truth is, that for most of us Handworks 2017 was an uncommon delight.
I can only weave one thread, so this is where it began for me at the Millwright and Blacksmith shops. I stopped by early to touch base with a few people before the crowds flooded in. At that point, it felt like a slow, lazy morning for about thirty minutes before everything let loose and people began pouring through the door.
I almost didn’t make it out of the Millwright shop in one piece.
Up to this point I had not yet located the Festhalle or Greenwood barn and so I decided to follow the crowd up the hill and when I arrived, there was still a line out the door. I found myself in that line next to a fellow North Carolinian – an affable man wearing a flat cap and a grinning mustache. He was pretty entertaining. Someone should really give thus guy his own television show.
Another truth is that I could go on like this for a word count that would far exceed its welcome. I met so many wonderful people and had so many encouraging conversations that I really just spent the whole of the two days overwhelmed with gratitude. Gratitude for this community. Gratitude for the people who work their butts off everyday to build something. Gratitude for and to the Abraham family for the monumental effort (and love) they put into making this all come together. Just plain thankfulness. For all of it.
When I am in observer mode, I am often startled by questions and as I wandered around the booths yesterday, someone caught me off guard with these two:
“What’s a skep?”
And, following my brief definition that a skep is (in technical terms) an “old-timey beehive,” he asked another very important question: “Why a skep?”
I had only two words to offer: Industry and community.
My father-in-law kept bees for a long time, and many of my parishioners do as well. I have always been captivated by the unmitigated creative energy in a hive – all of the bees, together, making something. As someone who hates to just sit around, and who always needs to be working on something, this speaks to my soul.
But a hive is not made up of one bee. A hive is a community. A living thing. A shared task. A shared story.*
That is what I experienced in this weekend here in the middle of Iowa. Well, that and a little more. To use an untranslatable German word, what I found was gemueltlichkeit – a state of warmth and friendliness, belonging, peace of mind and social acceptance. This weekend was about tools, techniques and tall tales, but it was mostly about people.
Well, people and stickers. Everyone had stickers.
And one of the proudest moments for me, was when I tried to hand my very last “Daily Skep” sticker to Jameel Abraham, and he asked me to go ahead and stick it to the front of his traveling tool chest. He humbly described the chest to me so that I could find it (as if it weren’t burned into my mind from the cover of Popular Woodworking), and at that moment I feel as if I finally understood the image of the skep fully. This arcane symbol wasn’t just about industry and community, but also the selflessness and humility that underpins all of that. Folks, we’re in this together. You and I might have different ways of telling it, but it’s the same story, and that’s the truth.
*The original name of this blog was supposed to be The Co-Worker but (amazingly) that was already spoken for.