To be good at something, and I mean really good at it, requires feel. There are people with tremendous amounts of talent who lack feel, which has something to do with understanding subtlety, and the power of subtlety, to inform a work. It’s more than that, of course. It might even be magic, who can say, but we know it when we see it. We have a good friend here who builds all of the furniture that we care about. He has built us tables, chairs, a gun rack, and bookcases. He uses only barnwood in his work and he is, indisputably, a master craftsman and an artist. What distinguishes our friend and his work from every other craftsman we’ve seen who makes barnwood furniture? I’d call it feel. An appreciation for the character and the history that resides in the wood, for light and shadow, for nuance, for timing. Sometimes it’s just a dash of old barn paint that he leaves in the finished surface, or old saw marks that graduate up the side of a trim piece and carry the eyes along a line. Set his work beside any mere craftsman, and the feel that resonates from his work soon makes the other piece disappear. Care and craftsmanship, I believe, can be taught. I’m not so sure about feel. I can point to any number of things that I am reasonably good at in this life, things I have learned to do along the way, but there are very few of them, maybe only one or two–and that I know to an absolute certainty, at a bone-marrow level–for which I have feel. Of course if this thing is ignored, or left undeveloped, or even misused, feel doesn’t do us any good at all–it may even be harmful.
Work here on the Figure 8 began early this morning, as we are ripping out more trees and prepping the ground for an arena build, and as I was watching our friend Dave push forty foot ponderosas over with his Mustang, and stack them perfectly in a log deck, or rip boulders out of the ground–work that would take me days and no shortage of frustration using the same equipment–I understood that he has feel in the job he does, a true feel for the art and possibilities of his machinery. He told me a story last night, as he was powering down after a long day, about a time he was using a bobcat on a forty-five degree slope, and began to roll, and how in a moment the world slowed down and he was able to use a log in the grapple like a walking stick to prevent himself and the machine from rolling downhill to what would have been his death. I think what saved him was more than just experience, or quick thinking. I think it was also feel. I also think that it is all around us. The best horse trainers have it in spades. The best pilots have it. Cesar Milan, tv dog guru, has it. The scraggly young gal who works down at the Pumphouse gas station, where I buy my Copenhagen, has it. Hers is a feel for customer service, and if I owned a Fortune 500 company I would immediately hire her, have her teeth fixed, and plant her outside my office. I’ve seen her deluged by waves of arrogant Subaru-and-kayak Portlandia types on a busy weekend, and watched her ride above them and turn them out the door not knowing they had just been artfully bested by a natural. We’ve all seen it, and we know it when we see it, and on the flip side, we can almost always tell when we are faced with the absence of it, which in most cases is much more obvious.
Do what you want with that musing. I do have some actual news to report, and I am also aware that many of you were hoping for some other content in this post–never fear, friends, it is coming–but I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words for Harry Dean Stanton, ranch cat. It is with great sadness that I must report HDS missing in action. We fear the worst. The coyotes have been very active around here lately, and he has not been home in four days. It is very likely that HDS has met his end. This was always a possibility, of course, because he was an adventurous type, some would say a rake, and did most of his work at night. The risks in our forest are great and many for young cats. But if the alternative was to lock him up inside, well then, that was no alternative. He was born to be outside, and that is what we let him do. He had turned into a promising hunter, and would come home at intervals for rest and recuperation, occasionally showing off a rabbit he had snagged. He was never the friendliest cat, and he was demanding, but we loved him.
Of course, if by some miracle HDS wanders in tonight, tired, beat up, pissed off and hungry, those shouts for joy you hear will be us. If his ears are ripped off, we will get them fixed. If he was just out teaching us a lesson, we will do our best to learn it. We don’t know what has happened to him, and even the dogs show signs of missing him, but come what may, we will leave the light on for him.