I remember exactly when I fell in love with the rustic life. I was eight years old. It was summer and I was reading under the pear tree next to my grandparents\’ well, into which two bottles of wine had been lowered in a bucket, to cool before lunch. The book was Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.
I was at the point where Heidi, after a long, hot climb up the mountain, arrives at her grandfather\’s hut and scopes out the place: the wooden bench by the front door for gazing down into the valley; the tall, dark, whispering firs behind the hut; the shed for the white goat and the brown goat.
Indoors there is the spacious, almost bare room with the big fireplace and the iron kettle hanging over the logs; the cupboard in which Grandfather keeps his folded clothes, his bedding, and, on a separate shelf, a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and Heidi\’s wooden bowl. How neat and convenient, I thought, to have everything you need–clothes and food–in a single cupboard. Almost everything in the hut is made of wood–the table, Grandfather\’s chair and stool, as well as the new stool, just Heidi\’s size, that he makes for her.
There is a loft in the cabin filled with sweet-smelling hay for the goats, and that is the spot that Heidi picks for her bed. She piles up hay for a mattress and Grandfather spreads a heavy sheet of homespun over it. There was a hayloft, too, just behind my grandparents\’ house, above the stables. My grandmother would take me there sometimes to show me a litter of newborn kittens (before she drowned them, something that was kept from me at the time). I would have liked to make my bed up there, like Heidi, but knew better than to even ask.
For dinner Grandfather toasts some cheese (it must have been Raclette) over the fire and spreads it on bread. He milks one of the goats right into the wooden bowl and hands it to Heidi to drink. Heidi thinks it\’s the best meal she\’s ever had.
Before the chapter was over I had fallen in love with the cheese, the wooden bowl, the homespun sheet, and the little stool, not to mention the goats. I envied Heidi for being allowed to go barefoot, to follow the goats up into the Alpine meadows, to sleep on top of real hay. But I also had what I now recognize as a strong aesthetic response to the grandfather\’s domestic interior: simple, uncluttered, with a single object for every need and a place for every object. And I loved the wooden furniture and the wooden bowl, and the heavy sheet of homespun.
Many years later, I read in The Mother Earth News an article on how to make a wooden spoon. Although no wooden spoon is mentioned in Heidi, I recognized it right away as a Heidi-type object: simple, functional, made of wood. I borrowed a whittling knife from my husband, got myself some wood, and for several nights sat at the kitchen table, making spoons.
As it turned out, a spoon\’s simple aspect is deceptive. There is nothing straightforward about its design. The three spoons I produced before my wrists gave out had handles that were too short and bowls too deep and narrow to be of any use. Nevertheless, I sanded them carefully, oiled them until they shone, gave one to each of my daughters, and kept one for myself. Today, my spoon sits in a place of honor on the sideboard, useless but revered, and occasionally re-oiled, by me. And every time I pick it up, I think of Heidi, and her wooden bowl, and those goats.