Walking Sticks

December 12, 2011

I’ve been carrying a Trekpod (camera tripod/hiking stick)  for about a year now when hiking off-trail or on rough trails and washes.  I recently decided that my everyday walks – partly on pavement and partly on dirt roads – would sometimes be easier if I had a stick.  In my neighborhood, many people carry one anyway, mostly for protection against unfriendly dogs.  A neighbor gave me a dried agave stalk that had tangled in a tree as it grew, so it had some interesting curves.  Like their cousins Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) and Yucca, agave stalks are light in weight, strong, and (usually) very long and straight.  They have sharp leaf scales and thin, papery bark that must be filed off, but the soft, long-fibered “wood” underneath can be sanded very smooth and takes a soft polish.  My stick is topped with a small deer antler that I picked up in the Empire Mountains and a hammered copper ferrule made from a piece of tubing.  The antler and stick were also drilled and fitted with a piece of steel rod to hold them together, so the handle is stronger than it looks.  I added an iron bell and antique African glass beads to decorate the forged iron loop on the antler.  Most of these things are “recycled” from other projects.  Below the ferrule was a hole that I drilled to hold a bell (this is the stick that I carried in the All Souls Procession, but it didn’t have a handle at that time).  I lined the hole with a piece of copper tubing to protect the wood, and now it can be used to hold all kinds of temporary decorations.

Agave Walking Stick

Agave Walking Stick

Here’s the agave stick with two other sticks that are a bit big for daily walks and are better suited for ritual use.

Oak, Agave, and Saguaro Sticks

Oak, Agave, and Saguaro Sticks

The straight one on the right is a saguaro rib that I’ve had since 1994.  It was a gift from a fellow Tucson artist.  The plant must have been a 200-year-old giant because this “cactus bone” is one of the biggest I’ve ever seen.  It was cut from the lowest part of the trunk, just above the roots (it’s upside-down in the photo).  Although heavier and more substantial than an agave stalk, it’s still quite light in weight and easy to carry even though it’s more than six feet long.  It has a substantial presence and I have never  been sure of how to use it or had the nerve to add anything to it.  That’s about to change, since I finally found a worthy stick to balance it:

The curved stick on the left is a root of Arizona black oak (Quercus emoryi) that I recently picked up on a hike in a rocky canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains.  The root had grown along the edge of the wash and had been repeatedly exposed by scouring floods and re-buried under gravel until all the bark was polished off.  The tree itself (about 50 years old) was still alive when it fell during a summer storm and shattered among boulders in the wash.  The root was torn out of the bank and lay bare and clean on the rocks.  It’s very heavy and twisted, with alternating cupped, flattened, and ridged sections that have weathered to show the coarse “braided” fibrous texture that seems to be unique to this species of desert oak.  This stick definitely calls for some kind of ornament at the top to hide the raw cut where I sawed off the broken end.

Now I have the two sides of a Gate to walk through, or simply two signposts that help define the way:  Earth and Water opposite Air and Fire; twisted oak root from a shaded mountain canyon opposite a straight cactus rib from a sunny desert ridge.

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2 Responses to “Walking Sticks”

  1. judithornot said

    These are beautiful, Lorena! I have a staff I made from a eucalyptus branch trimmed from a tree that got severe freeze damage. Unfortunately, I didn’t have access to a blacksmith who could cap it properly for me, so the wood split slightly on one end. But I still keep it. Eucalyptus reminds me of the trees that lined the orchards (once) in Southern California (where I grew up).

  2. ironwing said

    Most of the eucalyptus around here were severely damaged in last winter’s weeklong hard freeze. Only a few of the very biggest trees survived, and those had to be cut back to the trunk. They put out bushy new sprouts over the summer but probably won’t last more than another year or two.

    The copper ferrule was surprisingly easy to make. I’m forging a steel endcap to protect the “foot” of the stick but it is a LOT more work.

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