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I Watched A Man Dance With Creation


Tahn L.:
I Watched A Man Dance With Creation

  This is another story of my youth, up in the Colorado mountains. Sometimes I think that the mountains bring out the magic and wonder of people better than the flat lands do but that could just be due to the fact of the times, which was the early 70's. A time of peace, love, freedom and adventure, at least for those of us lucky enough to not be hunkered down in some damn foreign war.

 Now my wife and I were living in a 18' tipi up four mile canyon, above Boulder. It was a fine lodge, Cheyenne style and life was good, except when we had to walk or hitch to town through a couple feet of snow or drag firewood back to the lodge for warmth and cooking or haul water up a thousand feet on my back. Even those experiences, though seemingly difficult at the moment were exhilarating in their simplicity and pureness.

 Down at the bottom of the trail to our lodge was the remnants of an old mining  town called Summerville . Maybe a grand total of a dozen citizens lived there, although around the mountains in the area lived maybe a hundred more. Never did count them because they were all characters who deserved to be counted as unique among the peoples of the planet. Individualists all and each one worthy of their own story.

 But this story is about Alan the goldsmith. Now to just call Alan a goldsmith is like calling a master of all blades a knife fighter. It just doesn't begin to describe him, although that was his primary trade. Not his primary goal in life, which was living free, nor his primary avocation which was getting by with the smallest effort. And it certainly wasn't his primary pleasure, which was drinking but it was his primary trade and he was a master at it. I mean with the simplest of tools, many that he had made himself and with the most ingenious of methods, Alan could create beauty that would awe, that is, when he wanted to or it was forced upon him by the need to buy more food and whiskey.

 Now before I tell you of the day I saw him dance with creation, let me tell you a bit about the man. He was part viking with a beard and a fierce countenance and part leprechaun, whose eyes could light up with mischievous pleasure at the drop of a hat. He was not a large person in stature but he certainly was in the way he treated those he liked and those he didn't. You did not want to be the latter but if you were the former, you considered yourself blessed and usually entertained and always welcomed. Well, unless he was passed out or so roaring drunk that he wouldn't have recognized his own kin. Best to just pass on during those moments and hope to catch him at another and better time.

 Alan had a small three room cabin that he heated with a large coal stove in his main room and cooked on a small wood burning cook stove in his tiny kitchen. He would usually gather up dry wood from the mountains around for his meals on the cook stove but his main heat for the cold winters was coal. He would send a message by someone traveling down the mountain to ask the coal man to stop by with a ton or so and he would have the money ready when the coal man showed up.

Except this winter he didn't have quite enough money for his normal winter supply of coal, grub, booze and working material and was in a quandary about how to make it through to spring. He knew he needed a certain amount of beans , flour, salt, fat back, canned goods and such. He didn't eat a lot, being on the small wiry side but what he did eat he needed. He also knew almost exactly how much whiskey he needed for the time when the Earth sleeps. Down to the gallon anyways. And he also needed a certain amount of raw materials, as in silver and gold. The winter is a grand time to hunker down and create rarities and objects of beauty. A time of creation and tranquility and one long drunk. Staying drunk till spring was not just a euphemism to Alan or many other mountain men I have known. It's a fine time to hibernate and pickle up your insides.

 But this season, he had almost missed Christmas, a time when a lot of folk want to order something special for their significant sweeties. He had some sales but mostly spent his time enjoying the season, rather than making money off of it. So now, here he was with hard winter coming on strong and short of funds. Oh, he had the materials money and that for the food and of course the whiskey, yes he had that covered. But he didn't have enough for the normal amount of coal he needed to heat his small cabin. Now what to do?

 Well, you get a drink and think about it of course. He got to thinking, what he was heating and why? Well, he was heating his bedroom, the kitchen and the main room, which is where he also had his Jewelers bench and studio. His outhouse didn't need heat so he didn't have to take that into consideration at all.

Now Alan gets to sipping and mulling and comes up with the idea that he doesn't really need his bedroom, cause he has a good sleeping bag and can just sleep in the main room. And the kitchen, he only needed that when he cooked some food and when he cooked, in that old wood cook stove, why it heated up the kitchen just fine. He just had to worry about his canned goods freezing, so he moved them into the main room also and lined the walls closest to the coal stove. There, two rooms closed off and a lot of coal saved but he still didn't figure to have the coal to heat even this one room and for him to still keep warm enough to work. Well, you just have to do what you have to do.

He ordered the amount of coal he could afford and started scrounging up some boards to make a platform. A building he goes and by the end of the day, he had the darnedest platform built that would sit directly over the coal stove on tall log legs. It had a ladder on one end, his jewelers bench on top facing the window and where he walked and was also wide enough and long enough to lay down on. His bed. With an old swivel chair up there during the day, he was by golly, a king on his throne and looked down upon his domain and any visitors who chanced by. I think he quite enjoyed his frugality, ingenuity and view.

 Alan had figured out that he didn't have enough coal to keep his one room warm at floor level but he would have plenty to keep it warm, above the coal stove and could make the amount of coal ordered work fine for staying warm and toasty, perched or sleeping on his platform on top of the stove. Problem solved. Of course he couldn't build a real big or hot fire but he could keep a small one going, day in and day out just fine

 I have often thought of Alan's solution many times in life, when faced with choices. Sideways thinking I call it. Creativity encouraged by necessity. Finding a solution that is not the obvious one.

 I just wanted to give you a glimpse into this man before I related the day he danced, before my eyes, with the god of creation. A dance I was invited to when I stopped by one day to visit, although when he asked  if I would help him in a project and I said sure, I didn't really have any idea what was to happen but about twenty minutes later I sure did. After the dance.

 Now Alan could make jewelry most any way there was to make it but once in a while he liked to cast some gold in a mold, using wax models that he would spend hours on, doing intricate carving and molding. He would then put the wax model on a wax stick a few inches long and hang it in an old tin can and pour in his plaster or investment as he called it. The plaster would harden with this wax model inside of it and the can. He would then sit the can in his wood stove and get it hot enough to melt the wax and it would run out and smoke up the place plenty but leave an exact hollow image inside of the ring model he had carved and also a channel into the model in which to pour the gold. He called it a sprue hole.

 Now this had all been done when I arrived. He had the original can with the hollow cavity inside and had wrapped wet newspapers around it and placed this inside another can that was larger and all rigged up with three wires tied thru three holes, spaced evenly around the open top of the larger outside can and woven together so that these three wires formed one heavy wire about 6 or 8 foot long with a handle on the end.

Do you have this picture? One can filled with plaster with a hollow cavity, wrapped in wet newspaper and inside another can on one end of the wire and a handle on the other.

He had cleared a space in front of the cabin in about a 20 foot circle. Lets just call it the dance floor. Now he had an antique gasoline plumbers torch, the old pump up kind and a crucible with a 10 inch shaft and a wooden handle. The crucible was to melt the gold in and get it liquid before pouring it into the sprue hole so that it would flow into the hollow cavity. The plumbers torch was to get the gold hot and melted and also to keep the plaster in the mold warm so that you didn't have hot gold hitting cold plaster. It was a two handed job, just to keep the torch playing on the plaster and the gold, keeping the plaster mold hot and the gold melted and liquid.

Turns out, that was my job. He went over it several times, explaining that I would melt the gold and when they were both hot, I would quickly pour the molten gold into the sprue hole in the plaster can, being very careful to pour smoothly and directly into the sprue hole. He would then twirl the can rapidly above his head to use gravity to force the gold into the hollow formed when he had previously burnt out the wax.

OK, I melt the gold and keep the torch playing over the molten gold and then pour it into the sprue hole, right?  “Right!” “What do I do then”, I innocently asked. “Just get out of the way”, he says and starts in doing the melting and heating. We've got to be quick he says. I looked around quickly and removed his double bit ax from where it was sticking in a stump just behind me, one blade out and just to be safe, tossed it over to the side.

 He got them to about the right temperature he wanted which started the soaking wet newspapers to steam, helping to hold the heat and then hands the torch and crucible to me, observing for a second if I was making the right moves between the molten gold and the mold and then he runs down to the end of the wire and grabs the handle. “Keep them both hot” he yells. “Are you ready?” “Yes”, I says. “Pour” he yells and I poured the liquid gold into the sprue hole, while keeping the torch playing on it. Fast but cautious and hot. “Finished” I yelled.

I was so concentrating on my four jobs, the torch, crucible, mold and the gold, as they are all extremely hot and hardly realize when he immediately jerks the can wildly from its temporary stand and starts to twirl it around his head. I sure do realize it the second it passes just under my nose on its trip around. It was like a hot comet had just passed within inches of my face. By the second twirl I was laying flat on my back, with a hot crucible in one hand and a burning torch in the other and watching Alan dance and swirl and twirl and holler some primitive song of creation  I didn't understand the words but I sure did understand his passion. He was completely into the moment. He had worked hours on this model and this brief moment, this last dance meant success or failure and he was dancing and singing his prayers for success.

 Now you would think that a man with hot gold on a wire and swinging it around his head would have a firm stance, a two legged stance for support but not Alan. He was dancing, first one foot and then another, in tune with his swings and his song and his passion. I don't think he was dancing alone. I wasn't there to him anymore, my job was done but there was something there, dancing with Alan. Some powerful being of creation, some ancient force that alchemists and smiths and other artists have also discovered. He was dancing with creation and enjoying it. To the limit of his being he was enjoying it.

 He started slowing his twirls while wrapping up the wire to make it shorter. He had to get  it shorter because he wanted to dump the whole thing into a bucket of water, without letting the can bump anything. When he had it down to maybe 2 feet long he let it just swing in front of him, back and forth for just a minute while staring and smiling at it, silent but intent. I have seen the same look on my friends faces after they danced with the girls of their dreams.

 He drops the whole thing into the bucket and a loud steamy hiss erupts as the hot mold and metal hits the cold water. And then he just sits down, right on the ground and stares at that bucket for a minute or two, saying nothing. A bucket of white goo, now that the plaster was getting wet and falling away and dissolving. He finally reaches in and pulls out this white glob of thing and starts washing it, swishing it around and the plaster starts falling away from a dull yellow mass of metal with a small sprue of gold on one end and magically, a gold ring on the other. Oh, it wasn't a shinny gold ring like you would see in the finished item. He would need to file and polish and finish it before it would look like that but you could tell exactly what it was and after he had brushed it a bit with a stiff brush to get the smaller bits of plaster off, you could see the beauty of the design, his creation.
 He noticed me for the first time since he had yelled, “Pour”. He tossed it in his hands a few times and then silently hands it to me, still smiling. “Easy as pie” he said. Now I have never been a pie maker so I'm not sure and maybe it was to him. Another pie, fresh out of the oven but to me, looking on in wonder, it was a miracle of creation. Come to think on it, so is a pie. But Alan's creation was not a pie, something to be enjoyed and consumed but a gold ring, that would last generations and show beauty and artistry to the world for years to come.

 But wherever that gold ring travels throughout time, whoever wears it or enjoys its beauty, they will never have the experience of seeing it born as I did, twirling around the head of its maker, a mountain man, a hermit goldsmith, dancing with creation. Thank you Alan!

I keep finding spelling errors.

Dang that was good!  Thanks for sharing Tahn.

Tahn L.:

--- Quote from: knobster on January 18, 2018, 03:07:02 pm --- Thanks for sharing Tahn.

--- End quote ---

My honor and pleasure knobster. Thanks for sharing all of yours!

Tahn,   I   did   hunker   down   in  some   damn   fool    foreign   wars,    Sir,    but   enjoyed   your   story....thank   you..../    maybe   i'll   share   one   of   mine   some-time.....casca,   out.

Tahn L.:
casca, I'm glad you enjoyed my story and very glad you made it back from a foreign war. I will look forward to your stories Sir.


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