12 Feb

Lao Tzu ( Tao the Ching) exhorted us to “bend like the wind”. Willow trees invariably survive violent storms relatively unscathed because of the properties of their timber;  light, fibrous and very flexible.

I made the stick above for a friend of mine – Willow Ferraby who has a very flexible mind, and who always seems to turn up at the right time.

The head of his stick is turned Yew from the branch of a tree, given to me by the Verger of a church in Derbyshire near where my mother’s ashes are scattered. The tree is very, very old in fact it has been alive since before the birth of Jesus. At over 2000 years old it has an enormous girth, and it’s aspect suggests that it has been repeatedly coppiced over centuries for staffs and long bow staves. This timber is part of my song line  (an indigenous Australian concept used to describe the way in which hunter gatherers  map vast landscapes geographically, temporally and psychologically – they literally sing things into existence).

I met Willow in a park in Sheffield ‘somewhen’ around 2005 when I was working as a countryside Ranger engaging local people in their park. The crowd consisted of Kashmiri mothers and their children and some young people and we were weaving a willow hurdle around a rustic bench I had made for them in Mount Pleasant Park. We were trying to make a wind break so that the mum’s could have a comfortable natter and all of a sudden Willow appeared in human form.

Bare chested, wearing only shorts, a well developed sun tan, long hair, fit as a lop, no shoes – he stood leaning on a stick with his right foot braced on his left knee, like a native Australian.

I believe that the first human tool was a stick – not a rock. I suspect that humans may have watched birds using them to fish for insects – like this Caledonian Crow picking ants off an aloe plant.


Birds may have used tools for millions of years before early humans had the nous to observe and copy them.

Sticks burn or rot, it is rare to find a truly old stick. Thus we can forgive the archaeologists for ‘sticking’ with flint arrow heads and bone fragments to describe and classify early tool use in human history.

Recently, I have been working on a new artistic concept – it  involves building bridges: between people, across water and so on, but using spring wood – coppice products like hazel staves, oak rods and bamboo (east meets west). I will need to apply for some money to get the idea off the ground, so I have invited some artistic friends to a meeting in my studio to contribute their creative talent in a kind of loose collective. After sharing my ideas with Willow over a cup of fine Keemun Tea from Tea with Percie he suggested that I simply give my collaborators a ‘stick of friendship’ and start the creative bridge building process this way.

Lay a big stick across a stream and you have a bridge.

2009, Limb Valley – Ranger Henk – chainsaw carving a walkway on a fallen tree trunk.

Big Stick Bridge Limb Valley.jpg

My ‘stick of friendship’ from Willow – is a bridge. I am looking forward to sharing the many types of stick bridge I have in mind with my creative friends, and entering their song lines for a time.

“Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.”

Tao te Ching




2 Responses to “Stick”

  1. Simon February 24, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    Your way with words is quite a talent. I do enjoy reading all your blogs, even the ones that touch on things close to heart. Thanks man, looking forward to another day in your workshop followed by pints of Sheffield’s finest. Chat soon and 🍻 For now

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