To Touch Wood

Old men like to tell stories.  At least this old man does. I – my knowledge, joy, “wisdom” – come from long experience and my stories are a way of explaining myself to the world.  To reminisce is an increasing urge among baby boomers of whom I am a precursor.  Hence, for instance, the proliferating memoirs genre.  I don’t need to write one.  Telling stories to my golf buddies is enough.  However there is some knowledge that I will regret never fully expressing and passing on.

I have no children. The lore that I might naturally impart to my children will die with me.  The particular category that I have been thinking about lately is woodworking.  Though not a master by any measure, I have done a fair amount of furniture making and building in my lifetime.  I know how to design for rigidity and natural expansion.  I know how to hide a joint, how to glue up a panel, how to finish with oil, how to use tools safely, but most importantly I know how to touch wood. I can feel the mis-sharpened saw pull to one side, the chisel edge resist the end grain.  My finger tips feel the grain, the sharp edge of a corner, the resistance of the chopsaw as it cuts through a know.  My fingers, tendons, muscles, even feet balanced on the floor, ache for me to touch the wood and this particular joy will die with me.

Since this is a math blog, I suppose I ought to try for an math analogy.  Maybe seeing the story in a formula, all the dependencies of an equation or the form of a well-structured proof provide a visceral feeling akin to touching wood.  Maybe providing a flowing mathematical argument.  Or not.  Woodworking is physical and immediate.  Mathematics can be thought to be a  set of nested analogies starting with the physical and moving quickly to abstraction.  I experience joy in woodworking and mathematics – same sensation from very different realms.



About jrh794

I am a sixty-five year old math instructor at Southern Oregon University. I taught at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed California for twenty-six years. Prior to that I worked as a computer programmer, carpenter and in various other jobs. I graduated from Rice University in 1967 and have a MS in Operations Research from Stanford. In the past I have hand-built a stone house and taken long solo bicycle tours. Now I ride my mountain bike and play golf for recreation.
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1 Response to To Touch Wood

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