Plant a Seed this Holiday Season

It’s an unusual thing to be a woodworker. My daughter Katherine says her friends give her the strangest looks when she tells them I make furniture for a living.

“It’s like I told them, ‘Yeah, my dad’s a court jester.’” Katherine said.

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Thankfully, I know that some of the 20-somethings in Katherine’s cohort will turn to woodworking for work, as a hobby or for survival during the zombie apocalypse. To make that happen, however, it’s best to plant a seed.

For me, that seed was children’s books. Especially the books of David Macaulay. I checked out his books from the Fort Smith Public Library over and over as a child. I knew exactly where they were shelved and would regularly pester the librarians about why “Underground” and “City” were always checked out.

These books show how the ancient world was assembled by people. Each book is a fictionalized account of the construction of a massive work, such as a pyramid or a cathedral. The story was always good, but what I adored were Macaulay’s intricate line drawings. I pored over every drawing to understand how an ancient cistern functioned. And I always looked closely at the details of the drawings. Macaulay might morbidly hide a skull or a dead rat or a human hand in the debris being dug up for a subway, for example.

If you have children in your life, I urge you to at least give these books a look. And consider giving them as holiday gifts. Even if the child cannot read, the illustrations are mesmerizing. They educate children about the built world. What is behind the walls and below the floor, and it shows how everything goes together and works.

My only gripe with the books is that Macaulay made the Welsh the villains in the book “Castle,” one of my all-time favorites. Macaulay was born in England so it’s understandable. But c’mon – the English are clearly the heavies in this tale.

Oh well. At least I know how a gardenrobe works now.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. Someday soon I’m going to have a real-life Macaulay-gasam and visit Château de Guédelon, a real-life castle being built near Treigny, France, using 12- and 13th-century construction techniques. Work began in 1997 and continues to this day. There was a similar attempt in my home state of Arkansas that disbanded.


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