c. 1300, “to regain consciousness,” from Anglo-French rekeverer (13c.), Old French recovrer “come back, return; regain health; procure, get again” (11c.), from Medieval Latin recuperare “to recover” (source of Spanish recobrar, Italian ricoverare; see recuperation). Meaning “to regain health or strength” is from early 14c.; sense of “to get (anything) back” is first attested mid-14c. Related: Recoveredrecovering.

Unfortunately, centuries of Henry-Ford factorial specialisation and the ensuing technologies since have isolated workers from the natural unions we all once relied on. The emergence of increased specialist realms created a new form of tribalism in which physical work, so-called manual labour and laboursome work, lessened and fewer and fewer people worked alongside each other. Couple manufacturing with consumerism, economics and politics and you begin to see more, dare I say it, a toxic mix that excludes that union we physical workers once relied on to exist and coexist with. Woodworkers for the main part seem less and less to see any actual association between the wood racks filled with wood and the woodlands and forests the timber came from. Becoming a mere commodity to convert into money made linkage to the land all more a faceless unknown. In my world spending five decades looking at trees and leaves and then the wood resulting from harvests, its an outdoor, freestanding store house in stands needing no concrete walls and tin roofs. It’s the permaculture I rely on, seek always to be as much a part of possible, and indeed the permaculture of supply on the one hand, abundantly if cared for, and then a simpler form of demand. Permaculture is my place to shelter beneath branches when the rains come and the wind blows and a filter from the sun’s rays in heat or brilliance. Of course this is to a degree unreal to. I don’t live in woodlands. Not yet anyway but I have enjoyed decades of living in the countryside surrounded by the brilliance of wildness.

In my workshop these woodlands come with me in wellbeing and then too the woods I work, even just the thought of them, help me to recover my sanity by the working of my material, the replanting of trees, the working with my own hands and the power I find in using hand tools. By this I perpetuate the good I mostly only find hand tools alone give me. Permaculture as a conditional name was birthed in the 1970s by joining the word permanent with agriculture. Then too, and equally importantly, it’s the recovery of my craft in not only my own life but then too the lives of hundreds of thousands looking to regain their own form of recovery themselves. This is not the stuff of news reported by the media. They just need new wallpaper each hour of the day. No, what I am talking about is more gentle, a slower form of regeneration where piece by piece you replace, replenish, restore, recreate. A joint is formed to one corner and then another elsewhere, the union of parts begins to stand on its own feet and freedom seems to surround its very being. The composing of parts begins with grain; there is the shade of colour and the consideration of grain configuration. Composing the grain this way composes the mind. It’s no quick thing nor should it be. We place the pieces on the bench as we might notes to a music score. Our joinery too becomes part of the composition and we think thickness, alignment, weakness and strength. These things you cannot achieve with dowels and biscuits and dominoes: more skilless alternatives designed more for fastness, sheet goods and such.

Becoming aware, regaining our consciousness, means stepping out of a conveyor-belt mentality not just to work but to life itself. This year began with my deciding to no longer cycle for health but to use my vehicle less. It’s another step towards greater sanity and recovery. At aged fifteen I cycled to work on a worn out bike. I saw my owning a car as a sign of my maturing. Such was the time. Why, at 70, would I not cycle the two miles to work. Before this point I was cycling 10-15 miles in the morning for exercise but driving to work so that I would have access to the car should I need it. Now I cycle to work on a circuitous route covering the same mileage but now I combine exercise with my will to lessen my carbon footprint. Course it means wearing waterproofs leaving the house but I have to say it feels so good. The UK of course lends itself to cycling. The distances are shorter and there are extensive cycle paths if you can call some of them that (bit rugged in places). I can’t undo the damage done over the century but recovery never comes by complacency nor without effort. We just do what we can.

17 Comments

  1. Ben B on 8 January 2020 at 11:30 am

    What a wonderful discussion of the link between nature, work, and ourselves…and their interrelated health. Thank you Paul.

  2. Tom Bittner on 8 January 2020 at 11:59 am

    Even when I was working I made the time to walk a few miles through the woods in the back of my house every morning. Last year I started cycling again and found out quickly that you need to use a whole different set of muscles! Our roads are not safe enough to ride or walk on but we have “ linear trails” otherwise known as old railroad beds that run for hundreds of miles. They are loaded with historical markers and you really learn how people got around and lived. Unfortunately we don’t have bike commuter lanes, there would be a much healthier population if we did. Most people who cycle ( not all) drive to the local gym and ride stationary bikes.

  3. nemo on 8 January 2020 at 3:03 pm

    “[…]is more gentle, a slower form of regeneration where piece by piece you replace, replenish, restore, recreate. ”

    Had typed a long reply on how this post struck a chord with me, realized my reply was longer than your actual post and deleted it. Wholeheartedly agree with what you’ve written.

    The main point being that that particular line stood out for me. Bit by bit, slowly, continuously improving. The tortoise vs. the hare. Walking vs. running marathons or sprints. After all, Rome wasn’t burnt in one day.

  4. Chris G. on 8 January 2020 at 4:50 pm

    Last August I made a life choice after a medical scare. I started walking for health, practiced moderation and awareness of my food intake, increased my sleep time. As I improved I realized I needed more time to walk further. I made the conscience decision to stop commuting 37 miles to work, and opted for the commuter bus. This allowed me to walk to the bus stop in the morning (0.8miles), from the end-of-commute bus stop to work (1.0-1.5miles depending on the route I chose), an extended lunch period when I power walked for 30 minutes (~2.0miles), then the reverse at the end of the work day. This gave me 5.0-7.0miles a day, and then I would put in a 3.0mile walk on Saturdays and Sundays. This did not include the walking I gained while at work and at home or shopping. Not only has this created a 40.0+mile walk-week, I am saving several hundred dollars on gasoline per week, and reduce my carbon footprint. I feel better physically, mentally, and spiritually. It allows me time to myself, pondering life and wellbeing.

    What you wrote strikes a chord with me. Thank you Paul!

    • Paul Sellers on 8 January 2020 at 5:33 pm

      It’s the small things that make the biggest difference. Corporates hide in their anonymity and pretence-speak but we smallies obey our consciences in actions.

      • Andrew Churchley on 13 January 2020 at 2:20 pm

        Corporates is a neat expression for them. Even in our present “civilised” age, they have been getting too strong, impersonal and blindly arrogant. I read some Henry Ford by the way. He wasn’t all bad, did some good. For example he liked to employ the handicapped in suitable tasks, finding they worked hard and took it as a challenge to outdo their fully-capable colleagues, which they frequently did!

  5. Roberto Fischer on 8 January 2020 at 5:47 pm

    The only sustainable way of moving is to ditch the car. In the US, in some, (maybe most, maybe all?) private vehicles are the biggest source of pollution. More than mass cattle raising, more than industry, more than energy.

    Younger cities aren’t built for this though. They are built to drive, and to park.

    Once you realize how much wasted space, how many acres of nature have been destroyed, so that people can have room for their vehicles in every place they wish to go to… you can’t stop seeing this wasted space anymore everywhere you go.

    All the houses sprawling into wild land. All the people commuting tens of miles. I think sadly there’s no reversal. Not in the so called first world.

  6. Jozsef Emmert on 8 January 2020 at 6:44 pm

    My recovery is to be a woodworker. I’m a 34 year old musician but after twentyeight year of music I’m tired of it and want new impressions.
    As an absolute beginner with all of the faults while sawing or chiseling I love every moment of it!
    I want to thank you to inspire me! 🙂

    • Paul Sellers on 8 January 2020 at 8:05 pm

      Jozsef, Did you become a musician because you wanted to be one or because someone else wanted it for you? You must answer this yourself honestly. Then ask yourself what is your calling if music is not. Life is filled with sound textures, shape textures and colour textures. Woodworking takes on all of these including sound textures in tones we hear in the wood as we work it. Vocational calling is important. Voca, voice. We answer our calling according to the voice we hear saying this is for you.

    • Hank Edwards on 10 January 2020 at 4:44 pm

      Jozsef! Play music when you wish. Saw and chisel when you wish. The two go together. String a box with old guitar strings for an Aeolian harp. Tune a set of dowels for wind chimes. Or put another way, old flames still burn no matter how much one loves the new one.
      And bear in mind, there is a difference between musician and music. The music changes so over the years, as does the musician, but not always in the same way.
      As for myself, Tomorrow, Saturday, I am going to finish changing strings on my guitar and try to pull some dents (50 years of finger tips, not finger nails) out of a lovely rosewood fretboard.
      Then I shall go on to carve a new spatula, since a wee mousie got at the fancy store-bought one. (Thanks for the instructions, Paul!)

  7. Jurandyr on 8 January 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Me here, locked between four walls from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, leaning over an endless stack of papers, facing the computer and answering the phone every five minutes. I’ll stay until 2:00 am sawing to relieve the stress.

  8. Rob Ling on 9 January 2020 at 9:47 am

    I’m facing a change of work circumstances which is going to double my weekly mileage in the car to get to my new office.

    My solution? I’m looking at leasing an electric vehicle which replaces my 18 year old petrol car. I used to cycle a couple of times a week the 8 mile round trip regularly until my son started school and have got unhealthy with it.

    Given the opportunity I’ll look to cycle the 25 miles into work at the new office on occassion although I’m not looking forward to crossing the humber bridge on a lightweight bike.

    Woodworking is now topping up my exercise an Paul’s maxim of “it’s not what you make but how you make it” has spilled into many aspects of my home and work life

  9. Dave Alvarez on 13 January 2020 at 12:29 pm

    I, too, am a bit haunted by the amount of hardwood lumber, the forest, whose murder can primarily be laid at my feet. But I like, and find comfort in your last line; “I can’t undo the damage done over the century but recovery never comes by complacency nor without effort. We just do what we can.” And you, Paul Sellers and co., are actively doing so much, especially in battling the complacency and ‘anti-effort’ life style that seems to hold so much sway these days. Keep up the good work, Paul, and know that it is not without effect. On the contrary…

  10. Chris Plotts on 13 January 2020 at 6:16 pm

    I think about the connection between nature and the materials I use often. I know it isn’t possible for many, but I made the investment in a small bandsaw mill that I now use to make all my own lumber. There’s a woods at my parents’ house and when a tree dies or is dying, we take it down and respectfully turn it into usable lumber.

    I’m also a year-round bicycle commuter in Michigan, which gets tricky in winter with all the ice and snow and roads that are not accommodating to people like me. But I made the decision a few years ago that I wouldn’t drive to work, so I ride the 10 miles a day no matter what.

    I find it interesting that though making these decisions to try to minimize our impact are not easy, that they also have so many other benefits. Rather than driving to the gym, I get exercise taking down dead trees, making things for my wife and kids, or riding to work on my bike. But other people can’t seem to see the reality that there are ways to do things other than the ones we’ve been sold by advertising and modern culture.

    I really appreciate all the hard work, Paul and team. You’re doing a great job.

    • Gerard on 13 January 2020 at 10:50 pm

      This cyclist in Auckland – who sometimes takes a bus or car on a rainy day – admires your commitment. Cycling and woodwork have some similarities: both physical activities requiring concentration, yet leave your mind free to wander while doing so. I fly gliders and tend to find my mind fully engaged on staying up.

  11. James McCarthy on 14 January 2020 at 2:33 am

    Well said, well said! I am retired after about 30 years in a laid back profession known as Nuclear Power! I joke, of course, nothing laid back in Nuclear Power! But now I can go into the garage, turn on my music and do some wood working. If you were to stand at my door you would hear me talking to myself and maybe even slipping into a W.C. Fields impersonation but I would be having a great time, which is what it is all about. Then to, you may hear me whistle a tune from the infernal nonsense H.M.S. Pinafore!

    I would love to take a walk in the woods and you know what, I am going to do just that. I live in phoenix and will have to drive a couple of hours to get there but I am going to make some time to do just that next week. Stay tune for some pictures from an Arizona forest and no, I do not intend to go to the petrified forest.

    Jim

  12. David Lindsay Stair builder 80 years of age Newcastle, Australia on 16 January 2020 at 9:35 pm

    I agree with all the above. Thank you for bringing sanity to the struggles of life

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