Sunday, September 17, 2006

Mora in May. We arrived in Mora on prom night after a long drive from Nääs. Mora is an industrial city at the heart of Sweden. After finding a hotel, my traveling companion Jim and I went out for a walk and noticed that there were scores of old American cars from the 50's, 60's and 70's, in varying degrees of restoration, from pristine to works in progress. The one that impressed us the most was a Chevelle from the early 60's with a 396 engine and slicks. We first heard the very loud and prolonged screaming of tires on pavement, and then were blanketed in a thick, acrid cloud of burned rubber.

When we told new friends in Nääs that we would be driving first to Mora and then to my conference in Umeå, they were somewhat incredulous. It would take so long, they said. Evidently the great American roadtrip is uncommon in Sweden where gas prices are about $7.00 a gallon.

On the way to Mora, we drove through beautiful countryside, largely unihabited forest and lake shore. When we found "loppis" or "Loppamarknad" (flea market) advertised in the small towns, we stopped to look for antique Sloyd knives. Of course the ones I found and bought were marked Mora, as that was the city in which they were traditionally made, and where they are still made today. So, our journey with Sloyd at its heart through the heartlands of Sweden was made more complete by our arrival in Mora, a small city on the shores of one of Europe's largest meteor crater lakes.

We asked at the hotel, about the surprising number of old American cars. One hotel clerk explained that it was prom night and that instead of renting limosines as in the US, they ride around in old American cars. Another clerk explained that in the darkness of the long winter nights, the people have to have something to do, so for many, fixing up old American cars is a passion. They fix them and then the first nice weekend after the ice melts on the lake, they drive. For some, like the young man with the Chevelle, the driving is wild. My last view of his car was headed down the highway with the hands of his companions holding their vodka bottles out the windows on both sides.

Prior to the industrial revolution, when Sweden was primarily a farming country, men and women sat by the fire on long winter nights crafting things that were both useful and beautiful in which they took great pride, and which provided a source of revenue from their local communities. The industrial revolution changed a few things. The abundance of cheap but well made consumer goods eliminated the market for the hand-crafted goods that were previously bartered among friends. So, the farmers, bored with long winter nights learned to make Vodka. Does this sound like a fairy tale? Perhaps by Brothers Grimm?

You can see this same scenario played out in third world countries today. There are things that happen to people when the value of their heritage is lost, and when the deeper values of their own work are obscured. In fact, you can find the same phenomenon here in Arkansas where lives are destroyed by alcohol and meth.

There is a saying that using firewood to heat your home warms you twice. First there is the warmth (you might call it sweat) that comes from cutting and splitting, and then there is the warmth that comes from burning it in your stove.

Making something from wood serves you twice, first in the making as you discover your creative power, and then when the object takes its place of usefulness and beauty in your home. When you have become experienced in the making and know the feelings of empowerment that come from your own creativity, you will know that the making is even better than the having. To give up our role as makers to become mere consumers of an endless chain of meaningless objects is tragic. It could drive you to the desperation of making your own Vodka.

But, things can be changed and made right. Make sure your children get to spend some time with scissors, knives, hammers, saws, wood, clay, or even cardboard. Have tools available so they can take things apart when they break and learn how things work and maybe fix them. It may ultimately serve them better than struggling for an extra point on the ACT. We are beginning to understand the role of the hands in the development of intelligence, and your children with the right tools and understanding may surpass the dreams you have for them.

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