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.

IMG_1190

Fredrik, Simon, and Tobbe. And a castle.

IMG_1193

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.

IMG_1256

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!

IMG_1300

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.

IMG_1236

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!

DSC_7726 (1)

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!

IMG_1202

IMG_1204

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

IMG_1282

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!

IMG_0849

IMG_1274

Advertisements

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.

IMG_0983

Components laid out for a pair of hanging candleholders.

IMG_1002

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

IMG_1051

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

IMG_1032

The importance of symmetry.

IMG_1011

Legs made for two stools.

IMG_1038

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

IMG_0995

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

IMG_1007

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!

IMG_1054

About one month old.

IMG_1053

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.

IMG_0978

Summer Days

Usually my blog posts have been inspired by a remarkable event or new work from the forge. However, the last month or so has been one inspiring experience after the next, and I haven’t taken the time to step away from it all and write about it. Until now…

That being said, I have very little to show for my work in the forge. I have a nice damascus billet welded and ready for shaping, as well as a tvåflikad skäggyxa in the works:

DSC_1747.jpg

The birth of a viking axe

We are preparing to travel to the Czech Republic in two weeks, to attend the international Hefaiston Blacksmithing Festival. There are a few projects taking shape for this as well:

IMG_0035

A dragon candleholder in progress…

The majority of my time, however, has been restoring a fence around a cemetery in nearby Hudiksvall. In this stage of the project I am just scraping off moss and rust, and painting. Not very glamorous  work, but hey, I’m getting a nice tan.

IMG_0106

300 meters finished, 250 meters to go. Give or take.

The real depth of experience has come from a few jaunts here and there. I headed up north to Tornedalen, a region just on the border of Finland, and crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time. There was a welcome party of several million mosquitos waiting for me, and they made sure I was never without company in the far north. I had a beautiful time paddling, fishing, playing board games and picking berries in the woods. An experience to be remembered for many years to come.

IMG_0089

Midnight sky, looking south. A stunning reverse sunset, and good fishing too.

IMG_0072

To my surprise, I caught something!

Just this past weekend, I attended the Urkult music festival in Näsåker. It is located near a river where people have been gathering for thousands of years, and the temporary community we built over several days felt like an echo in time. There is a deeply satisfying feeling that comes with involving yourself in an ancient tradition, even if it has evolved to fit our time.

IMG_0119.jpg

Messages left long ago, still visible in the rocks today.

I made a new friend in Mattias, a journeyman carpenter from Germany. He was inspiring to be around, and I traded some teaching in the forge for learning in building. We also had a blast riding the dressin (a three wheeled bike one rides on an old train track) at a friend’s summerhouse:

IMG_0107

As the moments rush by, I feel glad by the passing of time. To me this has become a measure of my happiness – to be content with the moments gone, excited for the moments to come, and inspired by the world just now. I wish for this inspiration, peace, and hope in all who strive along the path towards that unknown kernel of meaning in our lives, our purpose.

IMG_0047