Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A spirit is born

After recently twisting my ankle while running I've been grounded to crutches, canes, and occasional crawling. Cabin fever finally got the best of me today so I grabbed my greenman cane, a few carving tools, and my fanny pack then went for a short walk into the woods. I was looking for the perfect tree.Up the hill then over to the ridge line of a valley watershed I found my tree, a little oak that was only about 1-1/2" diameter at its widest section. The tree was low in the forest and being greatly shaded by a canopy of taller trees but this was exactly what I was looking for my project.

My little woodspirit was about to be born as I scraped the outer bark away with my pocket knife. It was only about a foot off the forest floor so I had to lie on my side while carving in about as cumbersome a position as I must form when greasing the bearings under my truck, but I managed just keeping my eye on what was forming. As you can see in the above picture I hit a nice streak of very dark wood just below the surface giving great accent to the deep cuts in the eyes and sides of the nose. It usually don't work out like this but sometimes I get lucky!

I went on to round out the face and was pleased with my progress and that is when I heard the sound of shuffling leaves in the valley below me. I stopped carving and let my eyes penetrate the opposite hillside about 30 yards away when the wobbling brown furred body of a big ole groundhog showed itself. Around these parts of the Appalachian mountains the local farmers call them "whistle pigs" and it took me a couple of years after moving here to finally understand what they were talking about. Most of the farmers don't like them because they burrow, dig, and plough up good farmland but this little pig wasn't doing me no harm today and I enjoyed watching him without a hint of him knowing about my spying eyes. Sort of a neat moment.
Finally I was back to putting the final touches on this new guardian spirit of the woods lying low on the forest floor. With such a small carving I didn't try to put in a set of full eyes and went for the "squinting" eye look but since he was only a foot off the ground I just figured that this would help keep his eyes clean with all the debri that could splash his open eyes during a rain.

I swatted a few mosquitoes but they must not have been too thirsty for blood since they mostly stayed at bay and I went on to seal the spirit with a protective coat of Sikkens Cetol 1 finish that is originally meant to be a high quality finish for the exterior of log homes. Colin Partridge, a chainsaw carver from Ontario, Canada first led me to this wonderful product and although it's expensive it's the best stuff I've ever found for preserving outdoor carvings.
So there it stands all proud and overlooking everything that might pass it's way through the forest. At only a foot above the ground you'd have to be looking down and looking hard to even see it but I can assure you that it is there. After this first coating of Cetol 1 is dry I will return in a day or two to apply the Cetol 2 which is the final protective layer of the Sikkens finish. Colin Partridge explains that when carving into live trees, applying the finish correctly is like putting a band-aid on a cut finger... it allows the tree's wound to heal without any permanent damage. Colin also warns not to carve more than 1/3 the diameter of the tree and try to make it a more "shallow" carving than you normally would carve. I carved one other woodspirit into a live tree, a persimmon tree, about 4 years ago and that particular tree is thriving well. I will now keep an eye on my new forest friend as the years pass by. I think that he'll be just fine.
I thought that the picture above was quite revealing and I put a red circle where the finished woodspirit is located. So now you can probably better understand why he'd be so hard to find unless you knew exactly where it was at. I guess that he will be my secret friend and I'm sure that I'll get many years of amusement by return pilgrimages. I know, you ask why would anyone carve something way out in the woods and far off any beaten trail that no one but me will probably ever see? Carving things in trees is something that I've been doing ever since I was a kid and I still get just as much contentment from this engagement today as I did forty something years ago. It's so therapeutic akin to spending hours working the soil in a vegetable garden, I renew my own spirit by spending some quality time alone in the woods. It's just what I do.
I packed the following things with me: Of course I always have my Flexcut Carvin' Jack but I also brought along my small palm Swiss-Made u-gouge and v-parting tools, a small can of Sikkens Cetol 1 and a small model paint brush and paper napkin. A nice afternoon it was and another spirit is now born.


  1. Well done! I love the idea of carving woodspirits in trees and leaving them in place. Gives the woods character. Might also give someone a thrill, coming unexpectedly on a face staring at them from a tree.


  2. Thanks Mack! Sometimes I wonder just who comes across some of these carvings that I leave in the woods. I often leave woodspirit faces in found wood at parks and other public places and often wonder just who finds them. It does provide some kind of mysterious thrill that I like.

  3. Hey Dave -

    I LOVE this woodspirit and I've been toying with carving simple woodspirits into found wood and leaving them in the woods of Storm King mountain across the street from where I live. Maybe I'll leave an email address or my Blog address carved in and ask folks to email me if they find them. Cause I too would be curious who found them and what they thought coming on these guys out in the middle of the woods.