Magic in the wood
I recently found a box of wooden toys, hidden away in the attic. Memories of watching my father making them from an ordinary block of wood, came flooding back.
‘This wood is perfect for making toys as it doesn’t break easily and doesn’t contain harsh chemicals,’ my father told me. ‘And the great thing is they will still be around long after you have finished playing with them.’ And they are!
I can still smell the wood my father took hours and even days to chisel and shape. He would sit at his bench and smooth the timber just as I would smooth the cat and all the while he chewed on his old pipe, probably one he had made himself.
Sometimes he would let me have a go and sometimes it would end in tears.
‘You’re too heavy handed,’ he used to tell me and then he would spend hours talking about when it was once a tree. He would sit there and smooth the wood almost as if he was sorry it had been cut down.
At the age of ten I knew the names of all the trees in the woods around us and I was taught how to respect them. I remember the story of the Wishing Tree, where people hung ribbons and rags from the branches in the hope that good luck would follow. And the World tree, with its roots in the earth and its branches stretching up to the sky, uniting them together.
I would sit and listen, my hands tucked in my lap, as my father talked about trees. He talked about folklore and religion and how, in Burma, the Talein will pray to the tree before cutting it down and in Africa, a woodman will place a fresh sprig on the tree before raising his axe.
These stories were told in the perfect setting of my father’s workshop, tucked away in a forest. Watching him make me a whistle or a doll from wood was like watching him perform magic!