Wool. Wood. Whiskey. I started this blog a little more than five years ago, mostly as an outlet for my writing and as an expression of my interests — on the internet and out in the world beyond. From there it’s taken on a shape of its own design, fanning out along vast, varied and sometimes random corollaries in directions that sometimes even I can’t predict.
Recently I realized that what it’s really about is the search for a different kind of life. One that’s simple and timeless, rich and true: The Good Life. Greater minds than mine have whiled away days in the pursuit of it, seeking the same kinds of things. It’s a tradition of sorts, the idea that it’s possible to cut away all that’s unnecessary and get back-to-basics while soaking up the best things in life.
Time. Fun. Meaning. Adventure. Dirt under your fingernails. Sea salt on your skin. Freedom. Rope swings, fire pits, good hard work, epic meals, winter surfing, road trips, music in the morning, the wind in the trees.
Call it what you want — I’m convinced it’s out there, and this is my search.
Three winters ago I was riding the train down to Boston and had a happy accident. I was playing around with my new camera and happened to shoot a video just as another train rattled past. The result — completely blown out because I had no idea what I was doing — resembled a stop motion view of a small New England town from behind the curtain.
It just so happened that a few weeks earlier I had come across an album by a band whose name I could really get behind: Small Sur. I really didn’t know anything about the guys who played in it, but I was instantly hooked on the quiet, contemplative mood the music and lyrics captured. Whoever the guy singing was, we both like the ocean, woods and wide open spaces, and that was enough for me.
I ended up playing around with editing the footage I captured on the train that day and set it to a song on that Small Sur album. It wasn’t really meant to be anything, and I figured I’d drop the band a line to say “Hey, love what you’re doing, I made something with one of your songs” at some point or another. Then, without really thinking I just posted it here on WoolWoodandWhiskey, which wasn’t necessarily the coolest move on my part.
Then, out of the blue, Bob, the singer and songwriter behind the band, contacted me to say that he liked “Maine By Train” and that he’d be up here come summer. Fast forward a few months, the snows of winter inverted into hot nights here in Portland, and Small Sur pulled into town.
Live, these guys burnt it down. It was the kind of folk music that feels a little bit punk because it’s so different and so good. I mean, why growl when you can harmonize, right? After their set I stepped outside and Bob and his band mates, Andy and Austin, were playing badminton on a jury rigged net stretched across an alley. Down to earth dudes, to be sure.
We exchanged pleasantries and I was surprised to find Bob to be sort of the opposite from how I expected him to be. Far from the wilting wallflower folkie-type, he was sipping rye straight from the bottle and smiled easily and often through the tangle of beard that stretched almost from his eyes to his shoulders.
I probably fanned out kind of hard, who knows, but we quickly got onto the topic of surfing and he asked if I might not mind taking him out in the morning. Typically, I don’t make a habit of loaning wetsuits or boards to pretty much anyone — especially wetsuits, which are just gross to start out with. Bob seemed to really need a fix though, so the next day I set him up and we waded out to surf some small waves at the local beach together.
Throughout the course of that session I’d learn that it had been six years since he’d surfed, but he got right back into it. In his words, he’d been “over sported” enough in high school to retain some semblance of muscle memory, something to which I could relate. And I’m pleased to say that I think we set the hook good and deep that day, because now, two years later he’s got his own suits and boards again and thinks nothing of driving appalling distances from his home in Baltimore to score the odd little peeler.
The point of all this is to say that I’ve have the pleasure of watching Bob work now as an artist across the span of two summers. He just released a new album, Labor, and I can tell you that that’s an accurate title. Like anyone working to do something they love, flexing their talents — very real ones in Bob’s case — in this day and age, he’s fighting for it. You can hear that on this record, the earnestness with which my friend approaches everything from hammering nails to riding waves.
Score this record now, buy one of the limited edition LPs, the one with my wife’s artwork on the back — you won’t regret it. Then make sure you come out and hear Bob the next time Small Sur comes through, and maybe catch him trimming down the line at one of our state’s lovely beaches this summer. It’ll all make sense then, I promise.
There’s just something so right about a good shed roof. Simple, versatile, great for skiing off of into deep snow and nice to look at, too.
That singular angle, it’s perfect. Cabins, modest homes, whatever — the shed roof has you covered. Then again, as long as something looks even vaguely like a cabin, I’m pretty ok with it.
It’s kind of far from the weekend for this kind of talk, I know — sorry about that, but see, there’s this thing we surfers do when we’re looking at waves but we can’t surf them. It’s called “mind surfing,” and basically just involves putting yourself there, on the face of some amazing wave that’s just out of reach. Henceforth, I’d like to introduce the notion of “mental cabining.” Pretty much the same thing, you just retreat to a cabin of the mind for bit.
A little less than 18 months ago I started writing a book. It’s about the pursuit of the good life, otherwise known in these parts as the back-to-the-land movement.
Is it still out there? Can you really achieve it? These are the things I wanted to know, and those questions have taken me all over the great state of Maine. I’ve sought out and seen second generation back-to-the-landers on homesteads, farms and everything in between (there is a difference, but where the dividing line lies is up for debate), and learned a lot about what it takes to live outside the box and away from urban areas. It’s all happening out there in plain sight and the trips I’ve made in the past year and half have helped me to form my own opinions about whether or not you can actually get away from it all in this day and age.
These shots are from my final photo trip for the book, completed last Thursday. 366 miles in one twelve hour day, up to the Blue Hill peninsula and back. If there were waves there, I’d move up in a heart beat. I’ve heard shadows of rumors about mysterious peaks poking their heads out between the offshoots of land and islands, but I’ll believe it when I see it — preferably underneath my own two feet, moving down the line at a brisk pace.
California Conservation Corp crew boss John Griffith just BURNS IT DOWN on this clip, because that’s how it’s really done.
Dude also wrote a book for kids 10-and-up about conservation issues, called Totem Magic. TOTEM MAGIC! I’d buy that based on name alone!
Back when the Olympics were in Lillehammer, I fell a little bit in love with Norway. It was 1994 and I was just a youngun’, but still, I was already obsessed with the outdoors. “You know, here in Norway,” an announcer on TV said at one point or another, “they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” At the time one of my favorite evening activities was walking out to the middle of frozen ponds, collapsing onto my back in the snow and staring up at the night sky for hours on end. Bad clothes — yeah, I could see that.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I’ve still never been to Norway. I’m sure I’d like it though, because I mean, how can you not like a place where there’s a TV show about firewood? And according to this New York Times article, this isn’t just any TV show, either. In the first place, it’s based on a book on the same topic, “Solid Wood,” that spent more than a year on the nation’s best-seller list. And like all great programming, the show has inspired some pretty heavy debate among its audience, centering mostly around wood pile density and configuration. So awesome.
‘“What I’ve learned is that you should not ask a Norwegian what he likes about firewood, but how he does it — because that’s the way he reveals himself,”’ says the author of “Solid Wood. ‘“You can tell a lot about a person from his firewood stack.”’
Yes. You. Can. Check out the article in its entirety, it’s worth a read.
I talk a lot of game of about the merits of simple living and downsizing your life, and here’s your chance to see how we measure up to all that blabbering. My sub-600 square foot Maine apartment is featured in the most recent Anthology magazine, a beautiful little publication out of the Bay Area. The piece was super fun to put together, and working with Seth and Kendra Smoot (the photographer and stylist team) was a total education. For more info on where/how to score a copy, check out Anthology’s site.
The Planet Money crew over at NPR just put together this very illuminating chart of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Take a good look, and then remember this the next time you’re in the fish market scratching your head at $23/lb scallops.
It’s hard for most of us to grasp, but the people who harvest our food (and firewood/lumber) are actually risking their lives to do so. This point was driven home for me when I saw this story about a scallop boat out of Portland that went down off the coast of Massachusetts just before Christmas.
And I thought my best friend and I were starved for skate-able stuff growing up in the suburbs in the late 80s. Wait for the tail blunt, that guy needs to have his head checked.
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