A weekend morning in a Walden woodshed

For weeks now, CBC Sudbury web editor Wendy Bird and I have been plotting her family Christmas photos. Before I had even been to the place, Wendy had suggested Anderson Farm Museum in Lively, just west of Sudbury. A visit to the former dairy farm location for a remote broadcast of our morning show convinced me that it would, indeed, be a lovely place for a photo shoot.

And so it was, and I’m really hoping Wendy is happy with her family photos. But that’s not what this post is about. It’s about what was discovered before and explored after the photo shoot: The Walden Pensioners Woodshop.

I had curiously peered through the open door of the small brick building prior to Wendy and family arriving. After my photo subjects had left, I did what I do best and rudely smushed my face up against one of the windows, peering in like a mischievous five-year-old. It was then that I was invited in. Intended purpose of face smushing: accomplished.

As I suspect is often the case when one enters a woodshop, my first remark was based on the smell of the place. I thought it smelt great, though was later told the scent was largely that of varnish, and that by liking the smell I’m probably predisposed to become hooked on sniffing some chemical. That beloved varnish smell mingled with that of sawdust and paint, an alluring cologne, its label titled “why yes, I did make this with my own bare hands.”

Workshops of any sort are like a wonderland for me. I’m the type of person who has to look at everything, touch everything, and, in turn, share what I see with everyone else. Yes, I was that irritating toddler in childhood home videos that insisted my parents saw everything I was doing. I just really like discovering things I think are neat, and don’t want anyone else to miss them. Including you folks.

Before we continue, a slight but still somewhat-related digression.

While most DIY destinations appeal to me, I’ve always had a particular soft spot for wood working. When I was in grade seven and eight in Timmins, my middle school had the most wonderful requirement that involved us being enrolled in a wood shop class for half the year. Some of my most fond school memories came from shop class. The class was run by Mr. Laurila – a wood shop veteran and a great teacher. In looking up the spelling of his last name, I came upon his obituary, a sombre reminder of how short life is and how old I’m getting. To me, it takes a special kind of person to manage a horde of 14 and 15-year-olds under normal circumstances, not to mention when you add in spinning blades, burning soldering irons, and flying wood chips. I will be forever in gratitude of Mr. Laurila’s patient and understanding nature in a class that I truly believe kickstarted my love of creative, hands-on work. Anyways, in my time in shop class I made many things: a small coffee table, a maple leaf-shaped clock, a business card holder for the lawn consulting company my best friend and I were operating out of her basement crawlspace, numerous really tacky rings (during the plastic work portion of the grade eight class), and a decently sized bat made of balsa wood which, for whatever reason, still sits in the top drawer of my bedside table. The whir of machines and the hum of wood shop ventilation always bring me back to the extra lunch hours spent in the shop, which is where we resume our present day story.

I spent the next two hours in the wood shop, where two of its members, Dave and Greg, were patient enough to answer each and every one of my questions, even going as far as to look in photo albums and old documents when the answer to my inquiry wasn’t accessible in their brain banks.

Greg, proving that you are never too old to goof around

Though no document provided a conclusive date, the consensus seemed to be that the wood shop had been around since 1981. Today, the shop operates as a club, where senior gentlemen can sign up as members for $50 a year, thereby being granted access to the shop’s many machines, from wood planers to bandsaws. Though there is the annual membership charge, Greg says he hasn’t paid it for the majority of his 10 years as a member. That’s the case with most members, apparently – the shop also operates as a community repair/project destination, and members can subtract the paid manual labour they do for non-members and apply a certain amount towards their yearly fee. Greg completed two of these off-the-street projects during the short time I was there.

A lot larger than it initially appears, the woodshop extends into the attic, where scraps of wood are kept in the old barn loft. Dave is kind enough to show me around, and I breathe the aroma of leftover cherry and cedar and maple wood. I touch a few of the blocks, an unsplintered bliss.

I love writing about discoveries like this, although here’s an insider look at how I work…Personal narratives are easiest written when I’m actually living them. I’m at my best when I’m exploring some formerly unknown place or talking to some new person, frantically scrawling notes across paper as fast as my hand will take me. In the case of the Walden woodshed, I had foolishly gone into the morning without my usual notebook-stuffed bag, my head cold muffling the part of my brain that would normally remember such important things.

There is little I like less than finding myself in an interesting place, only to encounter an inability to properly document my surroundings. Luckily this time around the writing gods decided to do me a solid. Reaching into my coat pocket, I found a tiny piece of paper I had used the day before to write down an address. No more than two inches by five inches (and not completely rectangular because there was a squiggly edge and diagonal bit that ate away at valuable corner space), that piece of paper became my Moleskine for the morning. Messiness ensued.

Scribbles

I could describe more of the woodshed to you, but I think I’ll let the pictures do the talking. I’ve already rambled for about 700 words too many, as always seems to be the case. In fact, I think you’ve probably all stopped reading by now, anyways. Workshops are excellent photo spaces, particularly for someone with a penchant for organized clutter, clean lines, and geometric shapes.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend.

Lies!

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