I don’t know his real name, but around here they call him The Stickman. I’m pretty sure he’s some kind of superhero.
I first heard of The Stickman at Huckleberries Online, an internet gathering place for residents and friends of the North Idaho and Eastern Washington regions, where he and I are both regular commenters. He’s a colorful local personality known for the beautiful walking sticks he creates and gives away, and he can be found most days of the week at his home near the quiet end of the Tubbs Hill hiking trail, sitting and crafting in his garage workshop in an open invitation to any and all comers who might like to stop by and visit for awhile.
Yesterday afternoon, I took the kids to meet him.
As we drove by his house looking for a place to park, there was no question in my mind that I’d found the right man. He was sitting in a lawn chair, surrounded by sticks of all sizes and shapes, from small ones sticking out of pots on the floor to giant, twisty ones adorning the walkway leading from the front door. Still, as we walked up, I asked tentatively, “Are you … The Stickman?”
“That’s me,” he said, and with a smile beckoned us to come closer and see what he was working on. It was a small log, about four or five inches in diameter, hollowed out and decorated all over with hand carvings and stipples of paint in a lovely, native design. “This,” he explained, “is a didgeridoo. Have you heard of it?” We hadn’t, so he gave us a demonstration, explaining that it was an instrument made and used by the aborigines of Australia, and then holding it up to his mouth to create a long, deep, haunting note that seemed to hang in the air after he was done. I instantly recognized the sound from movies I have seen—Crocodile Dundee and Quigley Down Under. He also showed us a bullroarer, another aboriginal instrument, a flat piece of wood, elliptical in shape, decorated and attached to a long cord. When it is swung in hard circles by the player, it emits a low frequency, vibrato sound that is difficult to describe. It was beautiful.
The sign over the entrance to The Stickman’s workshop says “Sticks and Stones”, and it is a fitting name. The table inside was covered with small wooden bowls, each filled with polished rocks and shells. The kids squealed and shared discoveries as they looked through them, taking what they wanted at The Stickman’s invitation. He also encouraged us to choose our very own walking sticks from among the dozens lined up in a long, gleaming row against the garage wall. They were sanded smooth and soft, and decorated with an assortment of shiny stones. As we each picked one, he asked us why we’d chosen it. Katie selected hers for the deep reddish-pink stone on the end of it, while I chose one made of a gorgeous oak wood. Caleb’s was just the right height for his small frame.
The sticks and stones come from all over. The Stickman picks them up on his travels, and often wakes up to find anonymous donations of materials laying in his driveway, no doubt a gift in kind from those who have walked this way before.
The children were entranced by everything there was to see and to touch. Caleb, the proverbial bull in a china shop, narrowly avoided several spills, while Katie, my little princess, picked through each pile of rocks as carefully as an archaeologist examining precious relics. As The Stickman and I chatted, he would pause every few moments, hearing them admiring some newfound trinket, to tell them to keep it. They were in heaven.
Finally, we had to tear ourselves away to go pick up Paul at work. It wasn’t easy separating the kids from their freshly discovered wonderland, and by the time we walked back to the car, we were laden down with treasures: walking sticks, shells, stones, and a little wooden box carved to look like a beehive. Katie and Caleb wore grins as wide as their heads, and I was soaking in a delicious sense of love and goodwill for humankind.
We drove by The Stickman’s house one more time on our way out. He was standing in the driveway, bidding us farewell with a didgeridoo serenade while the kids laughed and waved. It was wonderful.
All was quiet in the car as the kids admired their sticks and examined their stones in the light of the sun. “I think The Stickman was a nice man,” Katie said after a few moments. “He gave us all this good stuff for free! I bet he believes in God for sure.”
I just smiled.
I didn’t ask him, but I wouldn’t be surprised.