I had noticed him at the farmer's market for several years. He was not like any of my grandfathers--who would have all been loathe to be called a "hippie"--but he was grandfatherly, despite his long hair. And, each Saturday, he sold handmade walking sticks from the back of his pickup truck.
I never did more than look. The walking sticks were beautiful, but--as I reminded myself just about every week--I had no use for one. Until we got chickens.
It will seem strange if you don't own "herd" animals, but the crook that a shepherd carries is not just for decoration. Sometimes when you're herding chickens into their coop at night, you just need longer arms. While a broken shovel handle was sufficient to start with, I was tickled to have an excuse to finally buy a pretty walking stick.
I showed up one Saturday, late last summer, expecting to plunk down my cash and return home with a stick. But the eventual process ended up being almost as difficult as buying my house was.
After carefully measuring me the first Saturday, the man told me he didn't have any sticks the correct height and I needed to come back next week.
The next week, there was one that was tall enough, but he could tell I wasn't thrilled with the pattern of the bark. "Come back again next week and I'll have more to show you," he said.
It was only at the third week that he finally allowed me to give him a $10 deposit on a walking stick. He carefully recorded my name in a battered notebook pulled from his front pocket, and told me to come back in two weeks for my finished stick.
A family vacation intervened, and it was a month before I got back to the farmer's market. When I showed up at the man's stall, I began to reintroduce myself. He politely shushed me, rummaged around in the back of his truck, and then--carrying it horizontally with two hands, as if it were the crown jewels--he presented me with my walking stick.
"Stand there and let me make sure it's right," he instructed. I froze in place as he examined...the angle of my arm, maybe? Whatever it was, he pronounced it good, tied on a leather strap, and consented to take the remaining $20 I owed.
It's just a stick, it's true. But every time I use it, I think of the care that man put into making it. Even over my trusty rake and shovel, it's my favorite garden tool.