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