Fill your days with life, not your life with days

“Fill your days with life, not your life with days.” This was written on a sign I saw in a hunting cabin here in the woods. In the peaceful forest, filled with birds and mammals, large and small, sitting near a lazy fire, the words had a special impact on me.

Although I’m not sure I set a stunning example of this quote, the days have been quite full lately. Last month Fredrik, his brother Tobbe, and myself visited our friend Simon, a blacksmith who lives in Switzerland. The character of the landscape was frighteningly dramatic, with razor mountains set against soft Hobbiton hills. We ate an excess of good cheese, visited some incredible smithies, and met many nice new people.

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Fredrik, Simon, and Tobbe. And a castle.

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Two weeks ago was the celebration of Valborg, where Swedes light bonfires to honor the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It was maybe a little optimistic, as there has been intermittent snow and consistent cold for most of May! Still, a little green is showing itself on the deciduous trees and in the brown fields, and the light is coming back in leaps and bounds.

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Fredrik and Leia enjoying the blaze.

I have been helping a friend who is working at an organic dairy near here, enjoying the change of pace and learning about the cows. The work is always changing, and some unexpected jobs tend to appear: According to European law, all herd animals must be kept with at least one companion animal. So when a neighbour of the farmer bought a horse, he asked if he could borrow a cow for the summer as a companion. So we took an old cow who is retired from milking, put her on a lead, and walked around the lake to the neighbour’s land. Lucky that this breed of cow, the Swedish fjällko, is very friendly and personable!

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Emmie, Sunne, Frenja, and Mats.

In the forge I have had a variety of projects, both helping Fredrik and on my own. Together we completed another chandelier for a customer, this one quite large.

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It was difficult to take a good photo in the shop. If I get a better one I’ll replace it!

Fredrik showed me the process again for making a tvåflikig skäggyxa, or at least his version of this old viking design. It was an exercise in extreme patience, fighting the urge to forge any single part too thin or too long before the other was completed. It was quite a challenge for me, so all the more satisfying when completed!

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Photo: Hannes Thelin

There is an old tradition among journeyman blacksmiths. They traveled from master to master, learning and spreading knowledge about forging. When they left a forge that they liked, they would make a nail and hammer it into a beam. Thus was born the “nail tree,” a place in each smithy where different nails from journeymen were stuck. If you arrived at a smithy where there were many nails, of good quality, it was a sign that this was a good master to learn from. If there were not many, or of poor workmanship, then maybe the journeyman would move on quickly.

Fredrik is starting a nail tree in his smithy, so we can keep this tradition alive. So he asked me to make a nail for him, something personal and symbolic of myself or where I am in life. A fun project!

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Experimenting with new ideas is also important for me, finding the balance between form and function:

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Lastly, some picture from a visit to a woman who competes with Siberian Huskies in international dogsled competitions. Always good to be around energetic dogs!

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Balance

There is a phenomenon that becomes more apparent to me every day as I meet new people and visit new places. The more small differences I notice between folks, the more general similarities knit us all together. We talk, eat, work, and enjoy life in different ways. But many of our goals, ideals, passions, and hopes are the same. Seems to me that there is a comforting brotherhood in our shared sensibilities, while our unique traditions keep things exciting. Perhaps this is an oversimplified view of the world, but in my book it is a good place to start.

Spring has begun in an entirely unexpected way here in Sweden. There is that special something in the air that I can never quite put into words, the absolute certainty that we are moving into a new season. But never before have I listened to the birds singing their spring songs with snow still carpeting the ground, or while I jumped into the hole in the frozen lake during the sauna. Once again I find my certainties of the world shaken, and my viewpoint shifting to accommodate a new possibility. Maybe not a life-changing shift, but a life-enhancing one certainly.

Back in the forge we are moving full speed ahead. With both a full load of projects now, and a growing list of future possibilities, there is not much chance that things will become dull around here. For me forging is so much about the path to get to a certain goal, the process. So in the pictures to come there is a glimpse into this aspect of our work here.

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Components laid out for a pair of hanging candleholders.

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And one of them finished. Making this hang straight was a brain twister for sure.

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Fredrik and I worked together on this one. It was nice to have him do most of the thinking!

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The importance of symmetry.

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Legs made for two stools.

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…and finished. These are for a farmer, who should feel right at home sitting on these seats.

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Finding the right shape for tomahawks. Many more of these to come…

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Two knives Fredrik made. Once again using the process to dictate the final shape.

I have been able to continue enriching my life with other experiences too. The sauna, long walks with the dog, playing some fiddle here and there. Last week I visited a particularly inspiring farm, where they raise heritage pigs and cows for meat. And there were piglets!

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About one month old.

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A brave little one just a couple days old!

And to top it all off, Leia (the family bloodhound) was joined by her brother for the past couple of weeks. After all the playing together, sometimes a dog has to sleep.

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The Crankie

Before Christmas, my sister-in-law Gelsey and I embarked on a project. In a year when we didn’t really want more things as Christmas gifts, we decided on an experience instead. Going off her idea, we built our very own crankie.

Now I had never heard of a crankie before, but it quickly developed into an entire world of possibilities. A crankie is a sort of old-fashioned (I prefer traditional) storytelling device, kind of like a tv for those of us without electricity. You start with a long scroll of paper, and create images on it by painting or cutting out forms and gluing them on. This scroll gets rolled up on two cylinders and put in a box with a light source behind. By turning a crank on each cylinder, the paper is passed in front of the light, telling the story within. From the action of cranking comes its name, a crankie.

Folks often tell a story or sing a song to accompany the images, and we chose the music route. We (by which I mean Gelsey) found a perfect song, ripe with imagery. It the story of an incredibly strong pioneering woman in Appalachia, set to the striking shapenote song Fiduccia. It was the work of many days to plan, gather materials, sketch, draw, cut out figures, and build the box for it all to fit in. It was a sort of artistic cross-training, and although it had nothing to do with my usual work as a blacksmith, it was a refreshing break and revival of creativity.

I hope you enjoy the story, the light, and the music, which we present to you all in a relaxed and humble fashion. All the artwork, singing, and design is ours, although inspiration has come from many sources, near and far.

This is the story of Mrs. Whitmore: