Tuesday, March 13, 2012



A lesson in learning how to learn

The wise man of the forest had been hailed by the people of the land, the eager pilgrims, to teach another lesson in the ways of nature. “Speak to us on the ways of the willow, oh kind sir,” asked one of the pilgrims. “The people are in great need, and it would benefit them greatly to learn the secrets of the prolific willow.”

The wise man listened intently, and told the pilgrim that he would teach the lesson on the morrow, and that the pilgrim should bring the families to the spot in the river where the willows grow around mid-day.

“Oh thank you kind sir,” said the pilgrim. “We shall be there, eager and ready to receive your lessons.”

On the following mid-day, the wise man was at the willows early, as the pilgrims began to trickle in.

It was a cool day as the pilgrims gathered around the riverbed area, near the tall and drooping willows.

“Oh, kind sir,” asked the elder pilgrim. “It is so chilly in this area. Perhaps we can build a small fire to warm up before you begin your talk?”

Without speaking, the wise man of the forest collected a long straight piece of dried willow. It was about as thick as a pencil, and about a foot and a half long. He took another dead and dried piece of willow branch, about as big around as his fist and maybe a foot long. As the pilgrims watched, the man of the forest first took his large knife and split the branch in half, and then further split the half so he had a flat rectangular piece of willow. All the pilgrims watched carefully as the wise man made a little triangular cut into the edge of the wood, and then he began to press the pencil-shaped piece of willow onto the flat piece. The wise man pressed hard, and begun to spin the willow drill onto the flat piece of willow, and soon smoke flowed from the friction. The wise man continued to spin thusly, and smoke poured out from the drilling. Soon, there was a red-hot ember in the dust that the wise man created.

The wise man quickly collected a bunch of dried willow bark from a dead branch, and scraped it with his knife to create a fluffy bunch of thin bark. He deftly placed the little ember into his nest of fluffy willow bark, and carefully blew on it until it puffed into a flame. He then placed it into a circle of stones, and added dry willow sticks so that the fire could grow and the pilgrims could warm themselves.

The wise man then began to collect his thoughts for his talk, when the leader of the pilgrims spoke up again.

“Kind sir, I don’t want to trouble you, but we have an elder here with pain in his legs. He cannot stand or sit comfortably on the floor. Is there something we can do for him?

The wise man nodded, and then proceeded to cut some of the dried and dead willow branches, those that were the straightest. He also peeled some long strands of the willow bark and put it to the side. First, the man of the woods created a square from the willows, and securely lashed the square. He then carefully measured, and then cut, willow branches that he then lashed to the square like legs, and the square because the seat of a chair. Taking a few more thick willow logs, he split them so they were flat, and secured these to the seat of the make-shift chair.

The wise man then helped the elder into the chair, cautioning him to sit carefully.

By now, the pilgrims had warmed some rice and vegetables on the fire, and one lamented to the wise man, “Too bad we didn’t bring forks and spoons.” The wise man whirled around back to the willows, and carefully trimmed pencil-thin twigs about 10 inches long. He passed several pairs of these to the pilgrim, saying only “chop sticks.” The pilgrims eagerly took these and began to eat their vegetables and rice.

By now, much time had passed and the sky was darkening.

As the wise man considered how to deliver his talk on the virtues of the willow, another pilgrim spoke up saying, “Kind sir, I have a terrible headache. Is there anything that I can do to help?”

The wise man nodded, and then carefully peeled off some fresh willow bark. He put the shredded green bark into a metal can, added water, and set it into the coals of the fire. After a few minutes, the wise man poured the tea-colored water into the pilgrim’s cup, and asked him to drink it. “The willow bark is nature’s aspirin,” he explained.

By now, the sky was darker, the children restless, and a cold wind began to pick up. The leader of the pilgrims looked about and decided they should depart for the day. As everyone was packing and getting ready to depart, he spoke up loudly for all to hear, saying, “We are all so thankful that the wise man of the woods came here to teach us about the wonderful willow, but we are very sorry that there was no time for him to teach us anything.”

The wise man tried to conceal his smile as he walked out of the canyon with the pilgrims.


mousiemarc said...

Nicely done.


foxfanatic13 said...

Wow I can't believe how many uses willow can be and how this wise man lead all these Pilgrims to aid.

loweyesah said...

I too know a wise man like this, he teaches classes on Saturdays in the Pasadena area. Thanks Christopher for teaching me/us about willow!

John D. Wheeler said...

I absolutely love the teaching story.

Unfortunately, my favorite use was left out: soaking the crushed shoots and using the water to stimulate rooting in other cuttings (not that there was really any place for that in the story.)

William Hunter Duncan said...

I have made a bow with willow, to shoot arrows I made of redwood, thread and goose feathers. The bow string I made from store-bought braided string that my girlfriend at the time braided in turn for me. This post inspires me to work with the willow some more, to see about making a bow and arrow using nothing but wild materials. Blessings. I've been enjoying this blog.