A Wonderful Year

Winter arrives.

As the year’s end quickly approaches, I’ve been reflecting on just how much happened over the last twelve months. In many ways, it’s been a momentous year for Emily and me.

In February, I took a multi-week course on beekeeping which allowed me to keep a hive that thrived through the spring and early summer. When we moved to Michigan, I decided to move the bees too. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to have fared well here and the last check in late October revealed a dying colony. I learned many lessons from the bees and find them to be absolutely fascinating creatures. However, with so many other pans in the fire, I likely won’t keep bees next year.

March took Emily and I through Kentucky bourbon country and to Nashville, Tennessee, where we enjoyed unseasonably warm weather and a night at the Grand Ole Opry. Emily graduated from her three-year nursing program at Ohio State University at the end of April and we celebrated her hard work (she’s still working hard). In May, members of the Columbus Philatelic Club invited me to speak to them about my book, The 1965 United States Dante Stamp, which has received favorable reviews.

Summer brought Midwestern travels to visit family and friends in Illinois and a family vacation to Leelenau County, Michigan, and the majestic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. While I’d made good progress on my skiff, Blue Moon, I wasn’t able to finish it for the vacation. Next year.

Hazy sunset over Sleeping Bear Bay.

With a job offer in hand for Emily in St. Joseph, Michigan, we embarked on the life adventure of buying a house. We found a place to make our own in the country a few miles from St. Joseph, Stevensville, Baroda, and Berrien Springs. There is plenty of work to be done on our old house and five acres of grass and woods.

Holly basks in the sunlight.

In November, we adopted a dog from the county animal shelter. Holly is a Labrador Retriever mix and has brightened our home with her very sweet and loving nature. We hosted my dad and his wife for the first Thanksgiving in our own home and Emily’s sister will be here soon for Christmas.

We have so much to be thankful for and so much to look forward to in 2019.

Shaker Oval Boxes

My completed Shaker oval boxes.
My completed Shaker oval boxes.

Aside from building a tiny plywood boat in 2012, most of my woodworking projects don’t feature curves. They’re all straight lines and right angles to make my life easier. This year, however, that changed when I attended a class on the making of Shaker-style oval boxes with the expert on the subject, John Wilson.

John’s shop is in Charlotte, Michigan, four hours from Columbus if you drive the most direct route. Since the first session of the class started at 5:00 PM on a Friday, I took most of the day to meander along scenic two-lane highways through some of the small towns and countryside of northwest Ohio. I passed through Marysville, Bellfontaine (Ohio’s highest point), Ada, Kalida, Defiance, Bryan, and a host of small towns I can’t remember. After continuing into Indiana and turning north at Angola’s lovely town square, I arrived at John Wilson’s workshop right on time.

My classmates and I spent the first evening exploring the history and techniques of Shaker oval boxes; preparing the wood; and heating, bending, and assembling the sides for five different sizes of boxes. It was a long night for me: five hours of driving followed by five hours in the shop (and after all that, I didn’t even sleep well at my hotel).

On the second day, we completed assembly of our boxes by cutting, sanding, and installing top and bottom boards. I finished in the early afternoon and, before hitting the road, bought supplies so I could make more of these boxes in my own shop.

John’s parting words to the class were: “Whatever you do, finish these boxes.” Five months later, I did just that with Old Fashioned Milk Paint and three coats of spray lacquer and I couldn’t be more pleased with the finished product. I suffer from a common problem among woodworkers: incomplete projects however, had I known how beautiful these boxes would be, I would’ve prioritized them.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a class with John Wilson, I highly recommend it. If you like the boxes but can’t make them, check out the Shaker Workshops’ offerings.

Gravelly Point

I recently moved back to the Midwest after living for five and a half years in the Washington, D.C., area. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting and reminiscing and my mind sometimes returns to Gravelly Point, one of the capital’s lesser-known attractions. From Gravelly Point I could see many of the things I loved about the city: the Washington Monument, the distant, gleaming white Capitol dome with the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building nearby, and the stately Potomac River speckled with sailboats. Gravelly Point was a place to which I enjoyed taking visitors and a place where I sometimes went just to be outside and have some time for reflection. It also happens to be one of the best plane-spotting locations in the United States.

I’ve always been a transportation enthusiast with an interest in ships and boats, trains, and planes. The first time I flew was on a hot summer day when my parents and I went to the “Fly-In/Drive-In Pancake Breakfast” at the Macomb Municipal Airport near where I grew up in Illinois. Demonstration flights were on offer and, though it’s hard to believe, my mom agreed to go up in a small plane. A few years later, we flew to New York and I still have photos I took through the window on my first jet flight as we climbed steeply over the railroad yards near O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Thanks to my grandparents, I was able to take a short flying class in Lawrenceville, Illinois, when I was 14, the culmination of which was fifteen minutes at the controls of a Cessna. In the summer of 2012, I had the privilege of going up with a friend of a friend, a former Air Force pilot and instructor, for a short flight over Annapolis and Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve never had a desire to get a pilot’s license, preferring rather to leave that to the professionals, but I’ve had a long fascination with flight and enjoy flying and learning about it. David Lodge summed up the feeling in his novel Small World:

To some people, there is no noise on earth as exciting as the sound of three or four big fan-jet engines rising in pitch, as the plane they are sitting in swivels at the end of the runway and, straining against its brakes, prepares for takeoff. The very danger in the situation is inseparable from the exhilaration it yields. You are strapped into your seat now, there is no way back, you have delivered yourself into the power of modern technology. You might as well lie back and enjoy it.

Summer of 1996, the Cessna we used for our flying class.
Summer of 1996, the Cessna we used for our flying class.

Gravelly Point is a place where you can experience that thrill Lodge describes from outside the airplane from a vantage that’s just about as close as the general public can get. Most tourists and travelers only see Gravelly Point as they land and depart from Washington National Airport (DCA) but it’s easy to get to on foot or by car and a few times I even jogged there from the Arlington Cemetery Metro stop. Gravelly Point is maintained by the National Park Service and sits at the north end of the airport’s runway 1/19, under the direct flight path of approaching and departing aircraft. The plane-spotting is prime when the wind is from the south. With that wind direction planes approach over the Potomac River to the north, bank right to line up with the runway over Gravelly Point, and fly low over the park before leveling off and touching down. A few seconds after the planes pass overhead, you can often hear the wind vortices swirling above.

Like those vortices, many fond memories of Gravelly Point have been swirling in my head. Shortly after meeting my partner, Emily, I took her there despite the cold, uncomfortable wind that day. I’ve taken family members there who were in town visiting and it makes me happy to remember the wonder and amazement the place stirred in them. And twice in the summer of 2014, when Emily had to take long trips for work, I spent time in contemplation at the park after dropping her off at the airport. Gravelly Point was a refuge for me in the city and gave me access to many things I love: water, boats and planes, green grass, and the limitless sky above.