Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Tale Of A Tree And A Table. And Forty Five Years Of A Beautiful Friendship

Big black dog and beautiful black walnut table
We've taken many trips around the sun, Sloan and myself, since our dear friend Tom felled a massive but ailing black walnut tree on the farm where we lived.  Some 45 trips to be exact, because it was 1972 when that tree groaned from the bite of Tom's chainsaw, swayed slightly and then crashed to earth, raising a big cloud of dust on a crisp late September morning.  Chickens and ducks fled in all directions.  I suppose they thought the sky was falling.  
A few weeks later, as Richard Nixon took a second victory lap after promising to end the Vietnam War stat, Tom rough cut the dense heartwood from the trunk into two-inch thick boards and coated the ends with a paraffin solution to help prevent checking as the wood dried.  He stacked the boards in a shed, thin white pine chocks separating the boards so they would dry straight and even, and then left them to age in darkness for a few years. 
Fast forward to April 1975.   
The war had just ended and Nixon had tucked tail and slunk home to San Clemente when Sloan, Tom, Bird and Mack carried two of the now dry boards from the shed into sunlight and across the yard to a portable, gasoline-powered sawmill where they cut and planed them to use as floorboards in a contraption they christened Zytax Zymo, a slow rider of noble vintage and one the the more unusual vehicles to hit the America road during the wanderlust Seventies. 
As I explain in this excerpt from my book about the farm:
Zymo and crew
Bird, Mack and Eddie pitched in to buy a 1950s era International Harvester school bus that had once transported handicapped kids.  They painted the bus a hunter's camouflage mélange of browns and tans and converted it into a camper with bunk beds, seats, a table and kitchenette.  Zytax was a made-up word and Zymo short for zymology, the science of fermentation. 

As Bird put it, "We plan to ferment all over the country."   And so they did, finally ending up at the Slow Children House in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado near Aspen.   
A male and female Muscovy duck were culled from the farm flock, given the names Fucky and Lucky in the expectation that they would breed in Colorado, crated and loaded onto the Zymo for a grand send-off that was supposed to be on a Friday morning, but happily extended on through a Memorial Day weekend to a belated and semi-tearful Tuesday
Rasta Merriman
departure.  I still have a photograph I took just before their departure: Bird, Pattie, Eddie and  Mack are standing in front of the ready-to-go Zymo.
Several of us showed up at the Slow Children House later in the year. 
There were already a couple of dozen Fucky and Lucky offspring head bopping and heh-heh hissing around the place as Muscovys do in their slapstick way.  The Zymo had been converted again, this time into a lumber storage shed, and later made its last trip to the banks of the Crystal River up in the mountains near Redstone where Bird built a studio in it for a potter friend. 
Sloan removed the floorboards in 1978 or so, while the Zymo, as far as anyone knows, still sits on blocks on the banks of the Crystal.  I, meanwhile had made laptop writing pads for my sister and myself from scraps.   
The boards traveled around Colorado over the next four decades as Sloan built custom homes, became one of the first passive solar builders in the region and did stuff like cross-
Mr. Scary Box
country skiing off a cliff and landing in a ravine.  He was fine other than a few cracked ribs and head-to-toe bruises.
Calling himself Rasta Merriman, he also began hosting a reggae show on a rural public radio station, but that's another story for another time. 
Sloan and those peripatetic boards eventually ended up at a ranch in the high plains country near the 8,000-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Hovenweep in Utah.  His nearest neighbors, not counting lizards and coyotes, are about three miles away and Colorado another 30 or so, and he has to climb onto the roof of his house to get a sufficiently strong cell phone signal when we chat.  Or not. 
Sloan informed me recently that he had been making a table for us.  He didn't say what kind, but I was confident it wouldn't be a Chippendale knockoff.   
Completing an odyssey of over 40 years, many thousands of miles and returning to within a hundred miles or so from where is had once being an infinitesimal part of a once mighty tree, the table arrived at our place the other day cosseted in Mr. Scary Box. The FedEx guy was amused. 
The table is elegantly if simply designed, and the grain and growth rings are exquisite.  It also is artfully funky because the amount of solar-generated electricity Sloan generates is inadequate to run a high-powered furniture planer.  In other words, the table has character.   
We have promised to not attach wheels and use it as a skateboard.

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