Native Son: Magkneeficent

A friend of mine acquired a rather magnificent, multi-fingered Bald Cypress knee. Unfortunately, three of its appendages had broken and weren’t properly mended. I boldly announced that I thought I could do a decent job repairing it and brought it home to my shop to have a go at it.

Of course, twenty minutes into my masterpiece repair, I caught sight of my reflection in a mirror across the shop … that guy told me he didn’t know anything about fixing this properly and he was just going to give up. I told him to shut up and get out of the way.

Bald cypress knee on the work bench…

An hour later, things weren’t looking good. The wood had splintered when it broke, so the appendages wouldn’t just fit back on there. First there was sandpaper, then the Dremel, then back to sandpaper. Uh oh … Houston, we have a problem. The prognosis was looking pretty grim.

If nothing else is ever said about me, I hope to be remembered as “tenacious.” So I hung in there and kept working. (Interesting word that “tenacious” … what I refer to as my “tenacious disposition,” other folks tend to call “stubborn bullheadedness.”) Anyway, after another hour, things were still tense as I was wiping up streams of wood glue.

A WEEK later, I knew I’d have to get serious about this thing. It was a true, glorious, and defining Rubicon moment for myself not only as a restorationist, but as a man worthy of his salt. And, of course, I took no “before” photos, so you will have to trust me that the damage was heart-breaking.

I plugged away most evenings, often repairing the horror of my own previous repair. There were moments of glory when I did good, but more often than not, I found myself embracing the anguish of getting my butt whooped by a chunk of wood. Still, I pressed on, until one day I figured it was as good as it was gonna get in my hands.

Thankfully, I’ve got a buddy with real talent and a photo studio at work to take the “after” photos. (Thank you, Jim Tilley and Forbes & Butler!)

Am I the only one who notices that some of the photos of deep space look like bald cypress knees? Photo by NASA, Hubble Telescope.

I am so grateful for my attack of overconfidence about a month ago. I learned it’s okay to get in over your head if you just keep swimming. I am reminded how it feels so good to do something nice for a friend. And I learned what an honor it was to work with a wonderful piece of natural beauty, to carefully examine its intricacies and nuances. To study its curves, its contours, its character to the point where my mind begins to see mystical shapes and figures within the free-flowing form of the bald cypress knee. Odd, I thought at first, yet not unlike those people who looked at the star-studded, velvety-black night sky some four thousand years ago and saw gods, animals, chariots, and water dippers. Geesh, all I saw in the wood was … ahem … five golden wings, four angry birds, three French men, two turtles in love, and an ink cartridge in a bald cypress knee.

Sorry, you can blame my dad for that one. I inherited his quirky sense of humor.

And speaking of Dad, Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there; perhaps especially those who now only live on in our minds and memories.

Me and my Daddio planting a little Japanese maple.

When I think of my dad…

I think of him and me pouring little bags of Lance brand peanuts into glass bottles of Dr Pepper with the red & white 10-2-4 logo while riding in the cab of the tree spade between transplants of live oaks into a new area of Fort Worth called Fossil Creek.

I think of the time – I had just turned 18 — I actually beat my dad in a foot race…not by much and it sure surprised the heck out of both of us.

I think about the time … maybe 13 years ago or so … when we planted a Crimson Queen Japanese maple in his back yard. Still growing!

I think of the sheer delight of introducing my dad, Buz, to my buddy Michael Bloomberg’s dad, Iz. “Buz, Iz. Iz, Buz.” They hit it off like high school chums.

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I think of when he wanted to surprise Lois, my stepmom, with a bicycle for Christmas. She was indeed surprised … when she found it on the roof of the house.

I think of the time I realized he was, indeed, the greatest dad in the world — when I first gazed upon the full-size pinball machine he installed in the house. He justified the purchase by saying it would develop hand-eye coordination. Not sure if it worked, but right now I am juggling seven ping-pong balls with my left hand while typing this.

I think of the time I found out my dad was a realist with a good sense of humor … oh, ‘bout thirty minutes into a four-hour jaunt on small fishing boat battling a choppy Gulf of Mexico. I was green to the gills and chumming the water all by myself. I look up and Dad drolly says something like, “You’ll feel better when you’ve thrown up everything … maybe.”

I think of my dad jauntily crossing a log bridge over a Rocky Mountain stream … on his 75th birthday. (He turned 87 two weeks ago.)

I think of how my dad’s method of cooking steak on the barbeque grill … the precisely stacked briquettes, the exact timing, the reverent handling of the beef … seems at times like he’s performing a deeply solemn religious ceremony. Amen!

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I think of when my dad and I chainsaw-carved a live oak log into a cactus planter. That was 1977 and one of the original cacti is still alive in there.

I think of when my dad came and got wild child me when I was down and out in West Virginia at age 17 and gave me a home. A good home. A real home. My home.

I think of all the dads out there, and the many times they have done great deeds for their families. I am especially grateful for the deeds done in secret; performed for love, not acknowledgement. Discovering that my dad did things for me 30 years ago that I never knew about until now … that’s the good stuff, right there.


Just so you know … the Longview Arboretum & Nature Center is OPEN! Hours are 10am-5pm, Wednesday through Saturday; Sunday 12 noon-5pm. Come out and see us! And bring your own brand of Zen! 903-212-2181

I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town too small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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