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January 26, 2022 / philosophermouseofthehedge


vintage children at a table. (1873. St.Nicholas mag./USPD artist life.

This was so not us on weekends. much to my mom’s distress. Her expectations had to be whittled down during weekends on the farm. (USPD/

Whittling: an underappreciated art

Intransitive – like so much – “action not passing over to an object” (in a time when so much objected to)

Summer porch sitting activity to me: paring down a stick into small slivers with a pocket knife while talking about this and that. Not really done mindlessly as it is a knife after all – always slice away from you with stick pointed down. Small thin white curls like mare’s tails clouds if you do it right.

Yes, We had pocket knives even as elementary kids. And we threw rocks at stuff, dueled with sticks, and walked barefooted in the sand.  A busy organic, tactile childhood.

Relatives figured that things forbidden lured, so provided and taught proper use – with plenty of supervision.

Opportunity was provided on porches.

To sit and learn. About all sorts of stuff. As local neighbors paused on their drive up or back down the dusty red road. People used to do that then. Just stop in and sit for a spell. No AC, but lots of lemonade.

And talk.

Topics ranged and rambled like the cattle.

Might be simple observations. Those still manage to breeze by sometimes – this morning’s grin would fit right in:

Attention news media: Journalism 101.

“If some say it’s raining and another says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both.

Your job is to look out the window and say what’s true.” 

Down to earth. Whittled.

two children playing in the dirt.(image Haartmut Schmidt Heidelberg/

A more realistic depiction of us. Never met dirt we couldn’t dig in. (Hartmut Schmidt Heidelberg/

Then there were the corny jokes and shenanigans.

We wrote secret messages in lemon juice “disappearing ink” which would show up later on the paper only if passed over a candle flame. (Yes, we did.)

I think this modern version shows great promise. Offers all sorts of possibilities….for Valentines or Get-even-times?

A quick application of tape, spray on Rain-X Original Glass Water Repellent, and the voila! The outside image on the glass disappears unless it’s raining.

Talk about ghosting.

Instructional video below:

Graffiti art on buildings may be so yesterday.


Now you have something to share while whittling away the time. (Or there’s always organizing a snipe hunt)

Gotta be sharp to keep amusement from being transitory

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

The whittling Boy. (Winslow Homer painting. USPD. reprod of PD art, artist life/

Winslow Homer managed to glamorize the rural art of whittling. Maybe gave mom hope. (USPD/


  1. shoreacres / Jan 26 2022 6:58 am

    Lemon juice? We never knew about that. We used milk. Maybe that’s why our messages never stayed secret. Now, as for that Rain-X trick… Are you sure you ought to be publicizing that? I can foresee every sort of shenanigan with that. (Of course, I’m so far outside the loop there’s a lot I don’t know about, which may be better.)

    Funny that I’m working on a porch-sitting post. Funny that on a porch no one ever was isolated. Besides, where better to learn embroidery from Grandma, read a book in summer, or snap beans? We need to bring back porches and get rid of fences.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. easyweimaraner / Jan 26 2022 7:41 am

    we rarely had tea time in white dresses with cookies and scones… our dress code was wellies and the oldest jeans and sesame street t-shirts LOL


  3. disperser / Jan 26 2022 8:11 am

    I remember the disappearing ink trick (with lemon and milk) and look forward to trying the Rain-X version (I’ll first have to remove the existing coating from my car windows).

    As young as I can remember, I had a knife. The first I can remember is a knife from Venice, in the shape of a gondola (the raised ends made it easy to get a good grip).

    I never whittled proper (meaning never just sat and made wood shavings just because) but I did use my knife to make arrows, slingshots, swords, and lances. There are fast-growing types of a bush with straight(ish) branches that I remember as abundant and ubiquitous that were perfect for the activity because of its wood was relatively soft with a soft core (useful for getting a really sharp point) which, once the bark was removed (scoring it made it easy to strip), hardened and made it durable.

    Because the bark was easy to score and selectively remove, I used to ‘decorate’ my weapons with intricate designs.

    . . . I might have been channeling my Māori skills from a previous life . . .

    . . . I wish I knew what type of plant it was, but I’m sure kids here would find similar offerings and similar uses for it . . . if they were allowed outside, with a knife, and to make pointy things to throw and play with.

    And, yes, I was also pretty good at rock-throwing. A polymath, I was, when it came to fashioning weapons from all sorts of things. I would read something, and then see if I could replicate a facsimile to make do until I could actually buy one.

    You should have seen the atomic bomb I built out of leaves and sticks!

    Yes, that last one is humor, but the rest is how things were. I still have a knife I had back then, from my pre-teen years . . . it’s the one under the other knives, just below the swiss army knife at the top of the photo. That knife dates from somewhere in the early 1960s and I still use it when in the yard (it has a leather sheath).


  4. pIEdTyPe / Jan 26 2022 10:00 am

    Didn’t know about the Rain-X trick but certainly did everything else. Along with whittling sticks, I carved soap. I grew up in a house with a huge front porch. Was delighted to find this house, with a porch! I’d about given up on houses having porches, but many on this street of 20-year-old houses have them. Sad thing is, nobody sits out on them anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. RAB / Jan 26 2022 10:01 am

    I read somewhere that replacing the front porch with the back deck was a major contributor to the erosion of community in America. On my street in a smallish Connecticut town I’m one of two houses with a front porch, the other being my next-door neighbor. We don’t sit out often (my porch just barely holds a bench, a planter, and a bit of walking space, and my neighbor has a busy life with busy children), but Hallowe’en is festive with candy and loitering children and chatting, lightly tippling adults. We’ve talked over a lot of personal, local, and national issues in impromptu chats from porch to porch over the driveway as we take in the mail, take in the paper, wait for a delivery or service-person, rest from yard work, or just enjoy a good patch of weather. We both also have back decks but don’t spend much time on them except to cross them on our way into our back yards to spend more-active time. Back in a New Jersey town In my childhood I learned to read (at age 3) on the porch, sewed doll clothes, learned to knit, gossiped with the many other kids who lived on my street, sat up on hot summer evenings with adults from the neighborhood, waved to boys riding by on bicycles or playing tennis in the street, and got to know my aunt better. My mother rocked my colicky baby sister on the porch glider for untold hours while I sat quietly daydreaming nearby. I never was a whittler, although a few boys in the neighborhood were; but I would agree with that article I read, that front porches and the casual low-stress socializing they encourage contribute to the health of a community. Thanks for reminding me of why when I was suddenly enabled to buy a house I told the realtor “It’s got to have a front porch.”


  6. Kate Crimmins / Jan 26 2022 2:37 pm

    I learned a lot in this post. I must have been a deprived child. Never wrote secret messages! We had front porches that people congregated on after dinner. Ours was a popular one. People stayed until dusk all summer long. No wonder I like summer best. It was the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Helen Devries / Jan 26 2022 3:43 pm

    Secret messages, yes….using a knife to cut elder stems to use as blowpipes….but no porch. Maternal grandmother worked on the principle that little pitchers have big ears, especially where it came to her neighbour, who had a very salty tongue.


  8. cat9984 / Jan 31 2022 8:45 pm

    I was never able to whittle anything more impressive than a sharpened stick. Very disappointing.


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