Yet Another Wood Pen Gift Story

Can one every have enough hand made wood pens made by friends from wood you have given them? I bet most to all of you never pondered this question.

Cori and I are currently sitting on the deck of the house in Strawberry, our first visit back since a year ago April when I left to live/love in Saskatchewan.

We have enjoyed doing next to nothing but relaxing. When we arrived Wednesday night, on the front deck was a small wooden box with the pen you see in the image for this post. The return address told me where the box came from. I knew it because Howard Rheingold had emailed a few weeks ago that he had finished this pen from a chunk of spalted Arizona Oak I brought him when I visited in December, 2018.

He had explained the reason it took long (sorry for the extra critters that came with the log, Howard). But what a gift to have this in my hand. It’s not even the first one he sent, I still use one he sent me in 2014– if I recall, it was some of my previous pen stories that inspired him to start making them himself (I hope I remember that correctly, Howard!).

This wood mailing thing goes back to 2010, when I had posted to flickr a photo of some wood I had cut up form an oak tree that I had taken down here in Strawberry.

The story plays out in the comments… but an educator I had known mostly through flickr comments as “Windsor Di” was horrified I would burn the wood when she thought they would be great for doing wood projects. So the natural thing was to get in touch… and I mailed a log to Windsor, Ontario. Yes it’s possible to mail a piece of wood. Or it was then.

Anyhow, months later I got in the mail a collection of the wood pens she turned.


Pens flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

There was more to it, as in 2011 when I made my round the US and Across Canada road trip, I made a stop to visit Windsor, and in the back of my truck was a box full of this wood for her (again, I am not sure how it passed the thorough inspection the border agents did in Victoria).

The story played out again in 2013- some messages back and forth with Andy McKiel who had posted photos of Arbutus trees he saw in Vancouver island and had reminded me of the Arizona manzanita. On learning Andy worked too with wood (you should check him out on instagram for his images of the wood bowls he turns)… it happened again. I mailed a chunk of manzanita to Andy in Winnipeg, and eventually got back pens and an ipad stylus.

My brother-in-law Skip picked up the habit too, and so I end up with a collection of Pens From Friends (and stories).

And I guess it keeps going with this newest one from Howard.

I guess I ought to be writing something pen-worthy. It’s on the “list”. But thanks again Howard, what a treat.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. I’ve made my way back here at last to say how much I cherish this story, as it connects so clearly to quilting practice that I watch among friends (I don’t quilt). I see how quilters share fabric, tip each other off about finds, pass things on that they don’t need. To have something made of your gift and returned to you is extraordinary. It’s made me think about how little I do that is with my own hands, other than tappity tap at a keyboard.

    And you’ve made me realise we all need to think more about wood. It’s the exemplary form of slow growth that’s in front of us all the time: easy to cut down and burn, and slow to replace. The big trees in this community make me think about how poorly we handle the idea of time, as we rush past them. We can’t just demand that a tree exists, in the same way that we can bring a building to heel. That’s a reminder that we need.

    Thank you both for this beautiful pen story. And your comment on Twitter really stayed with me and brought me here.

    1. This is the kind of reassurance that I am needing as it can fill like a simmering pot of sewage “out there”. It was always your soulful writing and even more so they way you converse in blog comments that led to a connection of walks in Fredericksburg and Thirroul. That weaving of talking in the bit space that leads to the real space is what keeps me going… That which holds together

      2017/365/330 That Which Holds Together
      2017/365/330 That Which Holds Together flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

  2. OK, I’m back once more, because I’m also thinking about a teaching practice that I have, and how to explain it. In the class where I teach narrative work, and listening, I give each student a small paper notebook and a pencil. I realise I haven’t ever fully explained this. But it’s about how distant we are from writing with our hands.

    Yesterday I spent a fruitless several minutes trying to position a signature jpg on a document. It’s a workaround for an unsympathetic university system, and I was trying to avoid walking to the printer, signing a print copy, scanning the copy, emailing it back to myself, and emailing it on. So this little bit of digital me was being endlessly haggled over, this scrap of proof of something which of course can’t be, and while at one level it’s my handwriting written with a cheap pen, at another level it’s just a picture. It proves nothing.

    I want there to be more space in our lives for the work and weight of pens, the way they press into paper.

    1. How so your students take to the pencil paper approach? What is asked of them? I do sense there is more gained from the tactile practice, there has to be more memory touch points from multiple senses being involved. Do we grossly underestimate touch?

      And I know the pain of those signatures. Ironically the one I have as a JPG is at least 15 years old. I know because the original file was named alan_sig.pct the old apple image format. I gave added it hundreds of times to forms, invoices, medical things, loan applications, and somehow it connotes something authentic when really it’s not.

  3. Congratulations for a nice collection you seem hooked 🙂 Personally I love a wooden pen and a fountain even more. For the two in the first picture the top has to be the best of all, far superior hardware compared to the one below don’t you think? Beautiful wood though, you never know how it will look till turned.

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