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Dodging Swallows

Posted May 21, 2015

It’s been five days so far in the boat shop, and although I haven’t personally done any serious woodworking, I’ve gotten good at sweeping the dirt floor, deciphering the boatbuilders thick Iwate accent, observing, and dodging the barn swallows that dive in and out of the workshop throughout the day.

I came to this project with few expectations regarding how much I would actually get to touch the boat. After all, I am the deshi no deshi (the apprentice’s apprentice). I mostly take notes and photos, and help translate when topics diverge from the technicalities of boatbuilding.

Murakami-san working on the boat, with me observing. Photo credit: Douglas Brooks
Murakami-san working on the boat, with me observing. Photo credit: Douglas Brooks.
It’s been incredible getting to spend time in the builder’s workshop and neighborhood. Two sides of the shop look out onto rice paddies, so I get to watch spring arrive one row of rice at a time. Today red tractors crawled through the deep mud, dropping bright green blades of grass into the soil. The little rice plants finally arrived at their destination, after being zipped around the windy roads of Tohoku with the wind in their hair, like wide-eyed children on the back of a pickup. 

During break time, his wife always serves us green tea and snacks. We have been served mochi balls seasoned with the leaves of a wild plant (yomogi), snails caught in the nearby harbor, and today conbu  (kelp), which had washed up on the shore. I can imagine all of the American localvores drooling at the site of their lifestyle. But for them, it’s not a political movement or a conscious effort to push back against modern consumerism, it’s just how they’ve always lived.   

Murakami Toshiko cleaning konbu. Photo credit: Douglas Brooks.

Two barn swallows share a nest in the workshop, and there are three former nests built on the sides of ceiling timbers. They fly in and out throughout the day, surprising visitors, but not the boatbuilder, Murakami-san. He said he doesn’t do fire-bending (yakimage) in his workshop because he doesn’t want to smoke out the swallows. Although a sweet gesture, they still have to put up with the regular scream of the circular saw. They don't seem to mind though, and Murakami didn't get fussy today when he found swallow droppings on his sumitsubo (inkpot for making straight lines). Their liveliness and dramatic exits and entrances are enough to make them a welcome presence in the shop. 

End of the day with Murakami-san chatting with a friend outside the workshop.