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Leon Buckwalter: surroundings

by on 5 Jun 2011

Guest poster: timber framer Leon Buckwalter of Hinsdale, New York. An old friend and longtime Guild member, Leon recently served on the Boards of Directors of the Timber Framers Guild, the Preservation Trades Network and the New York State Barn Coalition. He is currently an instructor in the Building Trades Department at Alfred State College of Applied Technology in Alfred, New York, and Director of the College’s Historic Restoration and Renovation Institute.

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Saturday, June 4

It’s another gorgeous day in southeastern Poland. Yesterday afternoon’s rain shower cooled things off temporarily, but the heat is back this afternoon. Progress continues unabated, however, and the second group of students is getting in the swing of things even as the first arrivals further refine their skills. We’re now a group of about 65.

It’s quite an impressive sight, whenever I take a break from the action to stretch or take a breather, to see such a variety and scope of activity unfold. The hewing field is still the center of activity, and every available ax is pressed into service. Jim Kricker remarked that the best way to document the action would be to attach a red light to every ax-head and shoot a video at dusk.

Most impressive of all has been the conversion I’ve seen in such a short time, of a group of tentative, wide-eyed college girls to determined, chips-flying-through-the-air, ax-wielding young ladies landing blow-for-blow with the timber framers on site. I’ve seen more than a few of them, hands covered with blisters that would take the wind out of my sails, taping them up and going doggedly, cheerfully back for more, placing their ax-blows with amazing accuracy and power.

I’d be hard pressed to imagine a more picturesque site than the setting here, hard between the steel derricks and machinery of the oil-field museum and the thatched-roof log buildings of the Skansen 20 yards from the hewing field. Yesterday morning’s 8:00 AM roll call was interrupted by a grey fox trotting into the field between the logs, then looking back as at least 2 young ones followed her, chasing each other in circles in high spirits, not bothered in the least by our group less than a hundred yards away. A bit later 2 storks were spotted flying overhead, and someone reported a sound “like a cuckoo clock”, which is the call of the bird responsible for the concept sometime in the Middle Ages.

If one stands at the upper edge of the site and looks beyond the action, in the middle distance across the San River is the town of Sanok rising up a small hill. At the hill’s crest are the twin steeples of the Catholic Cathedral, which is currently receiving a shiny new copper roof. To its south is the Market Square lined with cafes, and on the other end the Icon Museum reputed to be one of the best in Europe, its enormous roof also prominent in the view from the Skansen. Admission, 1 Zloty, or about 37 cents, give or take.

We’re becoming accustomed to a view of food a bit different from what most of us considered standard. Firstly, bread in some form appears to be the primary food group, and has been excellent in all of its many forms and flavors. Breakfasts are perhaps the biggest deviation from the norm, most commonly featuring, what else, bread! Bread (or rolls) with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, bread with cheese and/or cold cuts, bread with jam, bread with honey. I had never considered hot dogs to be breakfast food, but what we occasionally get resembles and tastes like them much more than sausage.

Lunches started out to be very basic, heavy on the bread, and a piece of fruit. I suspect someone put a bug in the cook’s ear, and things have definitely improved, still bread but with the addition of salad, more variety and quantity of fruit, and once an enormous pot of a delicious soup. Supper has always started with soup, never the same and always excellent. Things have sometimes gotten more unfamiliar from then on, but we haven’t gone hungry and are being well cared for by our cooks. There was a bit of excitement the other day when what appeared to be sweet rolls came to table; imagine our surprise when we bit into them to discover they were filled with, not jam, but pork! We have been thankful that at least someone in our group speaks Polish since the cooks speak no English. If anyone expresses a wish it’s quite likely be fulfilled the next day.

I’ve had a bare introduction to the surrounding area, with hopefully much more to come. A week ago Thursday we were bused to a nearby historic wooden Catholic Church and spent the morning clambering up the steeple and through the attic. Tomorrow (Sunday) a synagogue tour is planned by many of us; another group is going camping in the mountains tonight and for a 13-14 mile hike tomorrow. I’ve opted for the more restful of the two. I’ve had plenty of walking each day back and forth from the campground, and occasionally an evening walk the mile or so into town to the hotel where the rest of the group is staying or to the supermarket near there. The short trip to the Ukraine that had been set for tomorrow was called off, hopefully to be rescheduled later. There are so many options and so much within a relatively short distance from here that at the end of our stay I’m sure there will still be unfulfilled wishes and options for the next trip to Poland.

Leon Buckwalter

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