Wandering at the Edge of Fear and Beauty

This morning, I walked into the woods.

past the remains of human industry, moldering in the fresh shoots, turning brown and grey,

across the stepping stone ford into the realm of the forest, where the primal imagination is at home and feels its roots.

Tree roots twist in suggestive shapes; as a boy I believed a dragon lived up here; not a friendly wise dragon, but a black venomous dragon, wet and malevolent, deep in its crevasse, sleeping, but likely to wake.

Walking through the edge forest, great spruce trees with many arms stand like strange beings with their own reasons for stillness.

An old maple has been felled by the harsh winter, one half of it’s trunk lies over the brook in a small forest meadow.

I find myself walking up the path towards the ravine, I am in search of dragons and fantastical beasts today and where better to look than the place that a small boy knew to be enchanted, dangerous and wonderful.  Ferns lay on moss, the fresh green is like a tonic after so much darkness and cold.

As I come into the deeper woods they become darker, pools reflect black branches, and I can imagine the world the ancient Europeans believed lay beneath them, dark and chancy, uncertain, frightening, beautiful. A world where writing is backwards.

Higher in the hills blight beech grow, smooth bark broken by the blight sores.

The brook that I am following runs by in a white spring rush, on startling green moss.

Coniferous branches twist and snarl in curling tangled patterns.

Natural meadows open every once in a while, stone, grass, water, light.

I am close now to the ravine, an ancient yellow birch tree has died but given birth to several of its children out of it’s trunk so they are twisted and rooty, over a pool filled with tree debris

This tree has always fascinated me, many of the trees up here give the impression of frozen or stilled motion.

Obscured by undergrowth a space of darkness, breathing cold breath and rushing water.  The smells of earth and wet moss fill the air.

As I brush branches aside I come to the mouth of the ravine, this is as far as I dared come as a ten year old boy for fear of the dragon, but I came this far often.  Now I climb over fallen trees and follow the rocky bottom up through the stony gash into the hill.

Water is loud over the stone floor and conglomerate sides of the two hundred foot deep ravine.

deep in the hill a water shoot slashes white into a pool.

Looking back down the crevasse, mist obscures branches at its top.

Fallen tree opens it’s mouth but says nothing.

Back down the path by the river, moss and tree roots, my imagination filling, never full, the more I feed it the bigger it grows.

Erect green shoots breathe in morning mist. I look up to find that I am being observed, old hill father says not a word, but I smile at him.

Back in the forge, I have been working polishing and hardening sword blades.

I make sure they are strait, before heating them up and quenching them in hot oil, to make the steel hard.

After they are quenched, the pattern in the steel emerges starkly, twists and swirls like rivers and tree branches, the vikings called them blood edies, these are the patterns that make the swords more than simple weapons and turn them into chancy mythological objects, perhaps there is meaning in the patterns, maybe the rivers gurgle hides a chuckle.



Plunging an orange hued sword blade into the burbling vegetable oil.

Once the swords have been hardened and I have tempered them,  I grind in the final edge geometry and begin to sharpen the edges.

Then it is time for the laborious process of polishing, rubbing the blade with stones and abrasives, until it is smooth and ready to be etched to bring out the pattern that I have created in the steel.






This blade has been polished enough to give it a rough etch to see the pattern, now I am ready to design the hilt and scabbard. After having visited a dragon lair I am ready to do this, this sword will be a mythical dragon slayer… blade writhen to the task, hilt marked with magical signs to protect the hero when they pass into the reflected world, to confront the writhing darkness.


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Jake Powning

Jake is a professional swordsmith, artist, and writer who explores the strange place where traditional culture and the land meet.

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