Sunday, March 29, 2015

Robert Frost

Something I feel I haven't expressed enough in the stories I write to you is how lucky I feel to get to do my job. Not just because I have the opportunity to hang out with my dad, which is something I hadn't done much until I started working with him, but because I get to meet some truly amazing people. The folks who trust me to build them a guitar are pretty much the best people I have ever met. The neat thing is that I get to know people beyond our mutual affinity for guitars and ukuleles. A shared love of To Kill a Mockingbird, appreciation for how much we love our dogs, or goats or catfish...To me, building someone a guitar is a very personal business. I attempt to meld what they imagine with what I want to make for them. Small custom touches, however, require me to know something inherent to my client's character. I like to think it is a trust in me to appreciate what I am told enough to turn that into a tangible part of the instrument I am making for them.

A specific example of one of these personal touches comes in the form of a tiny acorn that I inlaid on the fingerboard of a guitar now owned by a fellow named Mike. He told me that his most cherished book is a limited edition copy of a book of poems by Robert Frost, and stamped into the cover is a small acorn.  He hoped I could incorporate the design in his guitar somehow. Upon hearing about his admiration for Mr. Frost's work, a memory bubbled into my conscious thought; I recalled a face full of snow as I attempted to walk on snowshoes for the first time, which happened to take place at Robert Frost's house.




Robert Frost Farm, Ripton VT
During my time at Vermont Law School, I served as an intern for the Green Mountain National Forest. One of my favorite days while I was working with the Forest Service was the day I rode along with one of their law enforcement officers. After tracking some tree poachers, testing to make sure the correct trees were cut during a logging operation, and slipping down a snowy hill clutching to maple saplings in order to dig through illegally dumped trash, my reward was to visit Robert Frost's cabin. That February in Vermont was still a bit snowy, so in order to navigate the several feet of snow that covered the ground, Officer Mike (not the guitar orderer Mike) strapped my boots into snowshoes. "Go give em a try!" he encouraged. I took one step up the bank toward Robert Frost's house and due to the unwieldy nature of snowshoes, I promptly fell face first into a 5 foot drift of snow. I don't even think Mike laughed half as much as I would have had it not been me upended in the snow, struggling to right myself. Anyway, after practicing a bit more, we walked around the property and checked out the house. The property reminded me of home and my Granny, holding the same magic quietness of Rugby. I thought Robert and I probably would have had similar ideas of an awesome spot to hang out.



Testing out some snowshoes. It didn't turn out well.
When I delivered the guitar I made for Mike, he gave me a copy of that book of poems he referenced during our first phone conversation. The books are so pristine I have been reluctant to mess them up, but the other day I decided to carefully remove the delicate packaging and see what poems were in there other than the popular ones I already knew. While perusing the beautiful prose, one poem jumped out that solidified my suspicion that Robert would have loved hanging out Rugby. This particular poem, the power of which nearly knocked the breath from my lungs, is called Ghost House. (I have included it at the end of this post.) For me, the words paint such a vivid picture of loss and time gone by; I can't help but see my Granny's house become clear in my mind, once full of life, but it now sits lifeless, letting nature retake its claim on the land.

Frost's line, 'The footpath down to the well is now healed' especially reminds me of summertime with my Granny. Every time I visit now I search in vain for the path behind her house nestled between two hills that lead to the reservoir of the spring, the water from which is directed into the house. The path I am thinking of was barely wide enough for our feet. I remember walking one foot in front of the other, pretending to balance like a tightrope walker, careful to stay only on the dirt, avoiding any grass that leaned in my way. There was a black pipe sticking from the ground bubbling the overflow water from the spring's reservoir. As we sat recovering from the uphill climb, my Granny would always say, "That there is the best water there is. It is even better when you drink it straight from the mountain." We would both take sips from the pipe, savoring the cool clean water that really does taste better than any water I can remember drinking. I would lay down, my face pressed to the large cement slab that covered the reservoir and just listen to the water gurgle far below. The cement would always be warm, having been heated by the sun all day. Though it isn't anything of consequence, it is a fond memory. I am thankful for Mike for providing the kindling to spark that little memory from happy summers past.

I know in business folks who purchase the goods I provide are called clients. That doesn't sit quite right for me though as I really consider each person who trusts me enough to make them something that hopefully will remain part of their lives, to be passed down to their children, a friend. With each instrument I make and send to someone, a little bit of me goes with it. There is no way for me to separate my work from myself, so to me, business is extremely personal. I take comfort in the fact that I gain a new friend with each instrument I make and I want to make sure you all know how thankful I am that you allow me to have that opportunity.

Ghost House

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
   And left no trace but the cellar walls,
   And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
   The orchard tree has grown one copse
   Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
   On that disused and forgotten road
   That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
   I hear him begin far enough away
   Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
   Who share the unlit place with me—
   Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
   With none among them that ever sings,
   And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.








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