Our Deepest Sense


Words fall short of capturing the music of a lone Hermit Thrush breaking the stillness of a deep forest. Naturalist John Burroughs in his book Wake-Robin summoned all his skill as a writer to describe the songs of the Thrushes.

“The emotions excited by the songs of these thrushes belong to a higher order, springing as they do from our deepest sense of the beauty and harmony of the world.”

Now before you hop over to an ornithological website to dig up an audio file, give me a minute. An isolated recording won’t capture it. The sound of a hermit thrush must be experienced in context, part of a larger composition. Go to the woods in early May when the leaves are just beginning to unfurl in the canopy high overhead. The forest floor bleached gray from winter is sprinkled with saffron colored trout lilies and splotches of green emerging from every crack and twig. It’s quiet, not like the nearby meadow where sparrows and blackbirds chirp from every tuft of grass. Maybe quiet isn’t the word, stillness describes it better. Then the hermit thrush fills the air with music. Burroughs described it a second time as

“This song that appeals to the sentiment of the beautiful in me…as no other sound in nature does”

That’s at the core of the creative process. Striking that chord that connects with something inside us. If that sounds mystical and a bit hard to grasp, it does to me also. I think about how for many years I’d set out trying to design a piece of furniture. I’d start with a few ideas and maybe a snippet or two of hermit thrush music. A couple of figured walnut planks, or maybe some shape from nature that begs to be expressed in wood. How do you jump from a seed of an idea and put it together into a composition, something that has that connection?

That’s why I keep exploring this world of traditional design. It supplies me with a set of building blocks to assemble my ideas and make them into something true. This knowledge about contrast, proportions, harmony, forms, etc helps the pieces fall in place and allow me to see what my mind is searching for. That thrush song captivates because it contrasts with the stillness of the forest; each making the other deeper and richer.

Switching gears here, I’m very excited about several doors opening up to share this knowledge of traditional design principles. Some I can’t yet reveal, but I am happy to announce that I’ll be at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking for a three day design workshop on August 26th -28th. It will be jamb packed with “aha” moments and practical design skills you can quickly begin applying at your workbench. This won’t be a lecture series, but more of a “hands on” workshop to help you unlock your design potential. Hope to see you there!

George R. Walker


About walkerg

Woodworker and writer
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4 Responses to Our Deepest Sense

  1. Robert Kirkby says:

    George, love the blog and look forward to seeing the Apprentice Sketchbook. Can you advise where you obtained the round leg dividers which are in the photo in the latest blog entry and also in your blog banner. I have the Starrett flat leg dividers, but I can’t find a pair of the round leg dividers. Sourcing such tolls from Australia can sometimes be a challenge. Regards Rob K.

    • walkerg says:

      I believe the round leg dividers as you call them are still available through Starrett. Lie-Nielsen Toolworks also carries them. Not sure if there is a distributor in Australia that carries them though but one of the two might be able to direct you to a source. Another place is to locate them is in an antique shop. If you spy a machinist or toolmakers box, check to see if there aren’t a couple of sets lurking there. Chances are good you will find some. As far as the dividers in the header, those were loaned to me by a good friend who is a tool collector. Not sure the original purpose but the adjustable length legs are intrigueing. I was too bashful to ask how much a pair like that would go for. If you are interested I could ask how much he want’s for them. They might be for sale.

      • Robert Kirkby says:

        George, Many thanks for your reply. I have been way for a week’s vacation and web access was limited. I have checked the LN Australian site and they carry the small 3″ version. LN in the US carries the larger 6″.
        I am sure that Joel at Tools for Working Wood may also carry them. Thank you for the offer to speak to your friend the tool collector about the dividers shown on your website header, but I will resist the temptation. Thanks again. Rob

  2. Gumbo says:

    Good one – jamb packed – throwin’ a bone to the interior trim guys. Well done.

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