Thursday, July 5, 2012

Working Hands

Dad's day card, 2011

My husband, like many people in his family, has enormous hands.  His dad is a carpenter, and his uncle, who also farms, makes dulcimers.  His mom, who has fine, delicate hands, makes the fluffiest loaves of wheat bread I've ever eaten, and she used to make bread for the local grocer when Tim was little.  Watching her knead and shape dough is like watching a potter at her art.  There is nothing quite like the busyness of her hands fluttering over the dough, shuffling flour over its surface, propping it up and then smashing it down gently, over and over, a hundred soft movements working the yeast through the flour and years of experience into one loaf.  She does it casually, never carelessly.  It is an incredible thing.  It is like watching something being born, and I find myself holding my breath at the end of the counter, marveling at her expert nonchalance. 

When I go to Tim's childhood house, where this bread is made, I feel like a Lego clicking into place.  Not because I have a lot in common with rural Ohioans, though I have a bit.  And not because I am fully seen and accepted for who I am, though I probably am.  I feel like I am home when I step onto the slope of my in-laws' land because I feel the sort of pace that can only be set by industrious human hands.

Last week, when Tim was out of town, I picked up a favorite book, Nikki McClure's Collect Raindrops - The Seasons Gathered, and read through its pages.  I wanted to visit its advice for celebrating the summer season, but I became most enamored of its introduction.  McClure writes:

Every year since 1998, I have printed a calendar noting the month-by-month change in orbit.  My first calendar offered small and quick gleanings with every month.  The calendars have now evolved into detailed, yet sparse instructions on living life where our hands matter.

I became obsessed with the phrase where our hands matter, and thought about all the ways I use my hands that make me enormously happy: baking pies - rolling out the buttery dough on our scrubbed counter top; writing letters to my friends - inking envelopes and pages with whimsical stamps; knitting - sitting up in bed as Tim snoozes or tucking needles and yarn into my backpack for an airplane ride.  Ever since I came across that phrase, and revisited McClure's images of the ways our hand-made impulses connect us as people, I keep thinking of the simple ways I craft little hobbies, and the sheer joy these pet projects bring.

This is the simple beauty I embrace these days.  

With love,



  1. a) love the new banner/art/pics

    b) what a beautiful description of your mother-in-law's breadmaking! fluttering & shuffling... i hope when you are there you are asking to apprentice!

    c) been thinking a lot about being *in our bodies* how important that is to process emotion, experience life, give. my friend shared a "so you think you can dance" clip with me today of a guy who perceives the pain and heartbreak of the audience, absorbs it into his being, interprets it into a dance, and then goes about transforming it--releasing that energy into the ether. seems doing anything with our body, our hands, has within it this sort of potential! so crucial!

    sending love,
    whitney xox

  2. Goose bumps reading about this dance! You must share this clip :)

    I have been spending just about all my time lately thinking about this idea of embodiment, too - not of embodying certain ideas, but rather letting my ideas come from my body.

    Also, I have apprenticed to this bread-making, and while I am light years away from matching the exquisite texture of aforementioned bread, the exercise itself is so relaxing...

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Yes, the concept is pretty incredible! And of course... link below!

    Hampton Williams X-cercist:

    And while it wasn't necessarily articulated in the same way, I think choreographer Pina Bausch did a similar sort of thing... so if you haven't seen the doc "Pina" yet, *must do* --

    Hmmm... I'm curious about this process of letting ideas come from your body. Tuning in to a different frequency of listening? Or is more physical than that? (Seems I also read something along these lines recently... can't remember...)

    It is always a pleasure to stop by here! x

  4. You have excellent form in that handstand, girl!!

  5. Thanks, Amelia! That's in Wilmywood - recognize the spot??

  6. I've tried many times to write about the hands and bread-making... something about the repetition of the activity seemed to lend itself to the sestina. Remind me and I'll look for this (failed) exercise. Also, I love the corn art!