Mission Street, San Francisco, as we found it, first day of spring.

Mission Street, San Francisco, as we found it, first day of spring.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013 | San Francisco dispatch

We walked for miles, Adrienne and me. And always we were in the city. No gravity, no dissipation of sounds, not of the bleary horns, voices overheard. No end of streets. The three-story apartment buildings on and on. Walking easily, comfortably, another park with vista, another person, building to deconstruct. Occasionally the radiant, straight street, to fly forty-odd blocks along instantaneously, all the way to a green, dark pined hill anchoring the avenue end, lifting it, lit by a separate sun. As though San Francisco might be perfect, at some lucky nexus of climate and cultures, the only place to be.

We ate and drank what we bumped into. The only constraint in the wandering was that we wanted to be in the outside. We wouldn’t leave the air and light not even for one beer or sandwich.

We had arrived in rain in the early afternoon. From the train window, the city was all socked in, all the pastel hills introspective as Colma, city of the dead. By next morning, the sun came through. Spring sprung. The lilacs opened in the northwest corner of my sister’s garden. The sea roses pushed long, dark red leaves from pebbly buds. The lemon tree already had lemons.

The light was impossibly beautiful, bathing everything in a white clarity. Even a UPS truck double-parked on Mission Street looked photographic, out of time, worth capturing and eating.

Everything could be tasted. Nothing had to be had. The sleepiness and low buzz of the city bumped up against us, carried and lifted us.

There is always somewhere to go, for restorative baths, for the air, the light, to heal, for the material immaterial.

A vacation by definition transports, is a self-induced hypnotic. It is an exercise in letting go. And if you have enough money for a plane ticket, it is pretty easy, thankfully. But the one thing I can work on – will have to perfect – is the return home. Yesterday, back home, in the afternoon, in our own smaller, more typical American city, Adrienne and I were working in the shop behind the house, she up, me down, handing tools through the open trap door. We had all the doors of the house open. The air from the sound was entering everywhere, pooling, soothing. The neighbor’s cherry tree was blowing open bud by bud. I had a ladder under the birdhouse under the back stair, readying to clean it, to try a new spot for the season. My ear was still tuned to San Francisco. I was listening in the sun for that inaudible low buzz and not finding it. I was vaguely discontent. While I stood there, hesitating on the ladder, hearing my own emptiness, a pair of chickadees dipped down from the holly tree and into the hole. They flew out with mouthfuls of last year’s nest. All excited finally, I watched, saw the birds drop the old shavings, give them to the air to sift.


The alley behind the birdloft shop, with spring sprung forsythia in yellow.

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infinite mini, or three notes on a koan


What people see in the koan mini coffee table is a mystery to me. And maybe it is best that way. But from hunting the raw material, and from navigating the weird, truncated conversations with post-lingual men of the reclaimed lumber trade, I can, like an emperor’s attache, report back what I have learned. I understand that maybe all the rings, and just the counting of them, is enough. Or the pure weight and density of the thing. But there is more, more! And in this case, because it is a Friday morning, almost but not yet the weekend, I will limit this deposition to just three things:

The black vertical shadow is mineral stain from a massive bolt that passed through the beam there, where more recently my borrowed chainsaw passed, through space that is now part of the room. Awesome industrial evidence. In close, you can see that the rings persevere through the black. But in the black there is a granular, pebbling texture to the wood, from the way that it reacted with the steel, and to the rusting of the steel, over time. As though rust could be hot, if time could be compressed, and burn.


This beam was what they call F.O.H., or “free of heart.” The heart being the core of the tree, the sapling that was. Which actually, you can see in this koan, as negative space. The first ring is there, just barely, as the inside curve of year two. It anchors the koan, gives it its compositional gravity. But what they mean when they say FOH is, the wood as milled is of higher quality. And they charge more for it, because heart in the middle of a beam often makes it more prone to cracking. Not prone to failure. But aesthetically, and structurally, beams with the heart right out in the middle aren’t quite as stout as FOH beams. And comparatively anyway, to get FOH, you need a much larger tree. So the tree that this koan is from, a century or so ago they probably quartered it at one of four or five sawmills on Puget Sound, into four massive beams of this dimension – 11-1/2 inches X 13-1/2 inches. So you could say, this koan has three sisters out there in the world, maybe still doing duty, in a warehouse, maybe in a barn with horses.


The dark brown of the tabletop is from the process of oxidation over the years. It almost reads as bark, or as a hide. But initially, when the beam was first cut, the tabletop would have been the same light orange tone as all the rings. And as far as this dark brown goes, often people in the reclamation industry refer to it as a chocolate tone. It is amazing to touch, like it is now, after being burnished with steel wool and beeswax. Because it really does read as an exterior, both to the eye and the touch. But it is just air, elements and time.


So, there they are, three notes from an infinite koan mini. This one is on its way to Detroit. I crated it and sent it off yesterday. In a few days, a woman who rides horses will travel over the Canadian border to retrieve it from her brother’s house, and bring it back north.


To get to birdloft’s home site,

For koan mini availability and pricing,

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out of the wet and raw

the long slow dry begins

the long slow dry begins

Was working with a chainsaw the other day, getting all wet, wanting to bring some material in out of the cold and rain. Harvested three koans and some massive beams of Douglas fir with beautiful sawblade imprints. They’ll all need some time to dry. And they won’t dry as fast in the woodshop as they would in the living room. But you can only test the bonds of marriage so much. And any test should always be with good cause. In this case, I am just excited. Cannot wait to see what is revealed as the wood dries.

One premonition – the length of beam in front with the two slow curves, the curves being wane, where bark and sapwood meet – I’m pretty sure the wane is going to be topside of a console. Two curves. At hip height. Soon enough will see, and who for. Meantime, plenty ahead in line on the list of things to do. No hurry. Temperature about 48 degrees. Murmurings already of spring.

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super virile wheel koan get its 15 clicks

birdloft's virile wheel koan

birdloft’s virile wheel koan

A collection of man-related juiciness created by a tastemaker in Singapore put birdloft’s wheel koan on the front page of etsy on Tuesday, pushing page views into the stratosphere – up from a daily usual of about seven views to 478. Amazing. No sales. But still, amazing, good exposure.

The collection: man at large, by Gavin. For the record, his treasuries are consistently beauties. View here at man at large

This was the second time, as far as I know, that birdloft furniture has made it to the front, or FP, as etsy people call it.

It’s also true that just about anything can make the front page of etsy. Maybe the views are less, if the product is less awesome, but the filter definitely seems to sometimes be off. Regretsy

Regardless, the wheel koan takes the much sought-after etsy FP button. Appropriate responses “Yay!” “Woo-hoo!”


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new year wreath

wreath of shavings

new year’s wreath of shavings

even when this old wood makes way for a drill bit it’s beautiful. from a book case coming together. the wreath-like composition existed for maybe a minute, before being wiped away to drill the next hole, just below. You can see the center point, marked lightly in pencil. Hole is 29/64s of an inch diameter. Wood is old growth douglas fir, about 1.75 inches thick.

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Winter workshop Remedy No. 834: Two hours in the afternoon sun

The Delta jointer sunning outside the birdloft workshops on Friday

The Delta jointer sunning outside the birdloft workshops on Friday

Suddenly it was dark in the workshop. But it was so sunny on Friday I didn’t even notice. I’d just flicked on the jointer, wanting to shave up a block, and the belt-driven motor groaned, burped, emitted a single grey ellipsis of electrical smoke stench and then quit. Didn’t know I shorted out the workshop and part of the house until my wife shouted from the top of the back stair, “The power’s out!”

Well, I panicked that I’d cooked my faithful old machine. I also was already unfaithfully wondering – only briefly – how much I might get in scrap for the heavy old bastard. Chastened though, mostly at the thought of a highly invasive repair, which would mean leaning heavily on the esoteric resuscitatory knowledge of  my friend old George, and therefore would mean several hours of listening to his beautiful, but highly extensive stories while eating frozen apples from his trees, I went into expediency mode. I used my brain to remember deeply, hitting upon another similarly unpleasant smell memory – the time I nearly cooked my screw gun will drilling massive holes for a stair balcony in San Francisco. Same impossibly thin ellipsis, same electrical stench. I had thought my drill was a goner then, but it wasn’t, and is still going. Maybe there was hope for the jointer.

So I walked the old machine from the back of the workshop out into the sun – by spinning it from foot to foot like stevedores used to roll barrels of herring across, the thing is too heavy to lift. It was near 55 degrees. Roofs were steaming. An old sodden cedar beam I had picked up from a dairy barn the other day was also steaming. The sky was blue. Chickadees were hitting the seed, the wren the suet. It’s been chilly the last few days, creeping below freezing, but the sun was out and it was time to heal and to eat, to breathe deep. For the jointer, it was time for a sunbath.

And sure enough, a couple hours later, the jointer fired right up. The job – a few bites of a stick of cedar, to get it just right to prop another block, so birdloft’s tireless, sole proprietor wouldn’t have to lean over quite so far – was over in less than a minute.

Nut of story: even if you can stand the cold in the workshop, some of your machinery might like a little warmth.

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implacable, delicious, beyond prediction


Oh dear, Another Year

Scene: January 9th in the afternoon, Seattle, train crossing in the industrial district.
How all good things begin – with a lurch, a slightly jarring disruption of flow, noticed or unnoticed.

This morning – just about 12 months later (yes, this is one more summation in the coming deluge of perennial summations), I eclipsed 900 miles of running for the year, third best annual total since a personal record-keeping obsession began eight years ago. Maybe less of a lurch and more stubborn shamble.

Related personal facts of January 9th, each contributing to the idea of how sea changes (like the subtler, unnoticed train crossings) realign our lives each year:
1. A and I still lived on East Helen Street Seattle on January 9th (we were out hunting lampshades that day).
2. Yellow Truck was sidelined and I was truckless, as I would be for three more months, the parts for the engine rebuild on their way from Australia.
3. I had logged 14 miles of running for the year so far, and the plan was to comb Seattle street by street on my runs of 2012, like usual but more deliberately. By May, as it turned out, I was running in another country, the city of destiny – gritty, dogged old T-Town!

Hooray 2012, another good one – implacable, delicious, beyond prediction.

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