Monday, August 30, 2010

Metallak Island

Just got back from Metallak Island, Maine.

It was great to get away from screens and news and all the noise we are bombarded with constantly.

Further, it was a revolutionary week in that we were all so connected to the material. While there was a cabin on the island, it was free of electricity and the only water came from a hand-pump. Obviously camping is a pretty standard way of getting in touch with nature, but the Metallak experience went beyond the typical sitting around the fire and listening to birds.

Alban invited me to Metallak. The trip is a yearly tradition of his immediate and extended family as well as other close families. The people who participate in the Metallak tradition are the most innovative people I have encountered.

One evening, we needed a cheese grater (I should note here that when it comes to food, Metallak is not roughing it. Though the cooking methods are primitive, the food is unrivaled.) So, Cousin John took a tin can... and made a cheese grater.

That sort of attitude is pretty contagious. For instance, there were numerous woodworking projects during the week (that I will not reveal now for reasons that will become apparent around Christmas) that took hours of our time, but rewarded us with visceral connection to the things we made.

In fact, if Metallak didn't show me anything else (and it did), it showed me that we are fully capable of making common consumer goods that are just as good or better than the mass produced stuff. I'm not saying we should all make the switch to tin-can cheese graters, but we ought to consider connecting to the things we use by making them ourselves. I'm talking about making our own furniture, sewing our own throw pillows or clothes, building our own houses, whatever.

The master woodworker on the island, "Uncle Tim," told me about the canoe paddles he had made and noted that he would be more ahead financially if he had paid someone else to build them and had spent the time at the office instead (he's a physician). "But," he said, "I enjoy working with my hands in the workshop. I get enough headwork at the office and it's good to balance those out."

I might have trouble making complex electronic goods like the MacBook Pro I'm typing on right now (all the more reason to distance ourselves from them), but I'd like to point out that this is not an "all or nothing" proposition. I choose to stare at this glowing rectangle and write this blog for a variety of reasons even though I'd rather live a life completely free of electronics, the internet, and all the things that go along with them.

However, I also recognize that this is the "digital age" and if I want to be a part of the conversation about how this world is going to progress, I have to go where the conversation is taking place (though John the Baptist might disagree).

Plus, another challenge is that most people don't have the time to chop a tree into a dining-room table. If you're working 80 hours a week you probably aren't in the mood for rushing home to the workshop (at least I wouldn't be). Downshifting is an appropriate thing to mention at this juncture (let's please re-evaluate our priorities), but the point I want to make is that any little bit helps. Building a home might be beyond the capabilities of most, but is making a rag-rug, or a quilt, or a bookcase, or a bird-house? Once someone experiences making things with their own two hands instead of using those hands to push a shopping cart through Walmart, they'll be hooked--I know I am.

I think two mantras would go well here:

First, every little bit helps.

And second,
You must be the change you want to see in the world. --Mahatma Gandhi  


  1. Nice, Cody. I love Uncle Tim and handmade items from Metallak! Glad you enjoyed your trip. :)

  2. Cody.

    Finally got around to connecting with your blog.


  3. I know those camping shorts. And have you studied Kibbutz (not sure what the plural is but it might be Kibbutzim). They're a Jewsih commune of sorts.