Before I began my last post on the life and work of Roy Underhill, I tried to write an essay about Robert Frost and Aldo Leopold. The single stanza of Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mudtime,” that Shirley Showalter included in a recent post sent me down this path, but connecting these contemporaries through the idea of vocation has been much harder than I expected. In any case, I am convinced that both writers understood something about work, and the direction it was headed during their lifetimes, that sheds important light on the modern world and what we are called to do in it. Continue reading
The first time I ever saw anyone use a hand plane to work a piece of rough-sawn lumber into something useful was in Tanzania, on the island of Ukerewe, in 1998. I was part of a decidedly unskilled — at least with regards to building construction — team of newly sworn-in Peace Corps Volunteers helping with a local Habitat for Humanity project while on our way from Dar es Salaam to our sites around Lake Victoria.
The house we were helping to build was made from red clay bricks that were recently fired. The kiln was built right next to the house using soil that was dug from a large open pit. The master carpenter overseeing the construction was incredibly patient, not to mention gracious, as he taught us to lay bricks. The first exterior wall that we tried on our own needed to be taken apart and rebuilt by the crew of skilled masons working on the project. Our eight weeks of Peace Corps training had prepared us for a lot of things, but laying bricks was clearly not one of them. Continue reading