Thanks to the ear plugs, I was able to sleep in until 6:15. What a luxury. A converted morning person and burgeoning tea drinker, if at the end of six weeks I wind up a decent stone carver I'll hardly be able to recognize myself. Welcome changes all.
And then there was one. Though I was eager to get on to the next challenge, I enjoyed the warm-up act of the last few stems. The mysterious carving muscles are beginning to remember the program and the chisel glides with greater ease. Carbide passing through stone is a surprisingly pleasurable feeling, as percussive reports of conditions at the living edge are transmitted through the meat of the hand, up along the sequence of bones and into the brain. The whole process is powered by this repetitive light meeting of metal tools in each hand: a loop of electric information passing through the body with each tap. A growing kinaesthetic awareness is one the delights of these early days. However I could live without the unreachable knot behind my right shoulder blade, thanks to my new high-rep low-resistance workout regimen swinging a one-pound mallet a few thousand times a day. It's starting to affect my sipping shoulder.
I finished the 33rd stem around mid-morning and instead of laying out a row of crescent forms Nick handed me a photocopy of an alphabet he had designed for a memorial project. After a few days of kindergarten I was told to report to junior high.
I've only ever carved my own letters. An early attempt to copy and transfer an inscription by Eric Gill didn't quite make it onto stone, which is probably for the best. So even when I've enjoyed the occasional run of inspired technique, I was still stuck looking at my homely and malnourished letter forms. JHB said something to the effect that good carving can't save a bad layout, while bad carving can't ruin a good one. Today I began putting that sentiment to the test.
Once the letters were transferred and the carbon outlines spray-fixed to keep them from smudging, I went to work. Liberated immediately from the vertical by the thick slant of the A, I slightly overcooked the depth of the v-cut. And I put in a crooked crossbar, which Paul fixed for me with a few deft taps. As a lapsed archaeologist and collector of histories Paul is sort of the shop professor and Keeper of the Tools. He's also Nick's self-appointed one-man pit crew whenever Nick goes all Formula 1, keeping the wheels on the JSS pace car with a good word or a timely jest. With his encouragement I bounced back with a capital B. The C and D that followed were equally satisfying. As the clock struck four and I laid down my tools, I looked at my work and had something of a minor epiphany: Um, I think I might know how to do this.
I can remember not being able to imagine carving a clean gray plane; actually, it wasn't all that long ago. Early challenges of sharpening chisels properly and knowing the behaviors of stone seemed insurmountable. Now I feel like I'm just beginning to clear the tree line. Plenty of mountain left, I tell you what. But to me this view is worth a picnic.