In 2001 I worked as a wilderness guide in a wilderness recovery program in Utah. There I saw my first hand carved wooden spoon. It was a beautiful piece of woodwork being used by a fellow guide named Becky. She had been given the spoon as a gift from another guide where she had previously worked. I was an experienced cabinet maker, and had seen and done some nice woodworking, but I had never seen a hand carved wooden spoon before. It was made of aromatic red cedar, was elegant, smooth, and oiled to a dark red finish. It was love at first sight.
I began experimenting with my own spoon making abilities, and soon found that my years as a professional cabinet maker were helpful in becoming an expert spoon carver. I quickly found that instead of burning out the bowl of the spoon with hot coals, I could use a gouge from my wood carving set. That instead of smoothing the wood with a stone, I could use a small square of sandpaper, and in place of oiling the wood with peanut butter from the camp supply, a small amount of vegetable oil gave a nice, no mess finish.
I experimented with red cedar, which is a nice wood for carving. Then with Quaking aspen, the dry fallen branches worked really well. I tried Utah juniper, this was pretty, but more challenging, then really went out on the edge with sage brush. The bush may not be impressive, but the color and grain of the wood is amazing.
The clients I guided liked the spoons. I taught them how to make their own. Without years of experience and training as professional woodworkers, the client's spoons were often more utilitarian than elegant. Finding my spoons admired, I began giving them away as gifts to the graduating clients. I would write some personalized encouraging message on the handle, and give them the spoon as they departed the wilderness.
At Legacy, I met Derek, our field director, and saw a new angle on gifting spoons. Derek made a spoon for our first client, with the instruction, “I made this one for you, now you make a spoon for the next guy that comes in.” And so began the tradition at Legacy of clients with more time, making spoons for the new guy. But it didn't stop there.
Derek then introduced the spoon ceremony, which I think is brilliant. When the team of clients are aware of the imminent arrival of a newcomer, a spoon is carved, usually by one of the senior members of the team. Then within a day of the new arrival, a group is held, always in a circle. The new spoon is displayed, and then passed around the circle, while each team member holds the spoon in turn and tells of his own spoon ceremony. The fears he experienced, the concerns he had when he was brand new in the program, how he might have felt lost, or afraid he would fit in, or might not be accepted. He also speaks of the good wishes he has for the new guy, and symbolically puts those into the spoon. The spoon is passed to the next team member, who does the same, and so it progresses around the circle to the newest member of the team who receives his spoon with all the good wishes and welcome of his team mates.
The spoon is then used for eating meals, and also as a pattern for making his own spoons, with his own style and flair. It's a beautiful tradition, and one that I am glad we have at Legacy.
Originally posted June 2011