Sunday, March 1, 2009

Free Spirits

I recently received a welcome e-mail from a reader who had a question regarding the making of wooden willow whistles. He said that when he was a boy his grandfather taught him how to make them, and fe felt the time had come for him to pass that knowledge on to his own grandson, but all of his recent attempts at whistle making had failed. He said he had forgotten some of the details including how to remove a large area of the willow twig's bark without damaging or destroying it.

Several times over the years, I have mentioned these whistles. On one occasion I wrote a published article that contained complete step-by-step instructions for making them. Perhaps the time has come for me to see whether or not I can still practice what I preach. It won’t be long until spring and the “sap will be up,” the time when willow twigs are the greenest and most tender and in ideal condition for whittling wooden willow whistles.

When spring finally arrives, if I can find the time (which should not be too hard) and the ambition (which may be more difficult) I will go out and select a nice straight unblemished willow branch. After sharpening my jackknife, I will cut off a 4-inch length, then whittle the mouthpiece and cut the sound hole. The next task is to make a girdling cut around the piece, making certain to cut all the way through the bark. Then, holding the knife by the blade, the handle of the knife is used as a hammer to bruise the area of bark I want to remove, loosening it from the wood. If everything goes as planned, this area of bark can be slid off the wood in one piece. After whittling away more of the bare wood, the bark is slid back on and, hopefully, we’ll have a willow whistle that whistles.

Who knows, perhaps the whole whittling experience may bring back a few precious memories and at least a bit of that wonderful feeling of freedom a boy felt each spring when he no longer had to attend school. In the woods or in a field or pasture, and armed with his trusty jackknife and perhaps a BB gun, he could be a pioneer, a mountain man, or a cowboy. He was free and the world was his to explore and to enjoy.


A small boy sitting on a log
Reached out to pet his faithful dog
Both content as
The warm summer day passed by

The boy said, “Shaggy little hound,
No matter where I’ve looked around,
I’ve found no friends
Who are close as you and I.

”If need be, we’ll forage for food.
If forced, we can act crude and rude.
No one’s ever
Accused us of being shy.

”Like me, you can act brave, small hound,
Bark loud and throw your weight around.
We won’t look for
Fights, but we won’t pass them by

”No one can guess, or much less, know
In this world, how far we will go.
We’re much alike,
Friend, as far as I can see.

”We’re kind of like a pair of strays –
Rough, tough, and real set in our ways,
And I know that
You lack a real pedigree.

”At heart, we’re a pair of free souls,
Without any real long-range goals,
Kind of taking
Life the way it comes and goes.

”If fate presents a real tough test,
We won’t just come in second-best,
We’ll rely on
My sharp wits and your keen nose.

”I‘ll bet no one will ever see
Two friends loyal as you and me
Together, we
Make up a real winning team.

”We both find the fresh air so grand,
Out here in nature’s wonderland,
A place we can
Dream the impossible dream.

”But right now, we will have to go.
Lengthening shadows tell me so –
By now, Mom has
Supper ready. Come, let’s run!

”I’ll fill your food bowl to the brim
To maintain your vigor and vim.
Come morning, we’ll
Come back here when chores are done.”

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