Cathy's Blog

The Wood Whisperer

The stump of an old-growth curly sequoia, salvaged from a California lake bed, is transformed into something both beautiful and rare (credit: Steve Revland).

A giant mango tree, centuries old, has survived hurricanes, fires, timber poachers, drought, and infestation, but finally succumbs to a flash flood. It remains submerged until the lumber salvagers arrive, pull it out of the swamp before degradation sets in, slice it into rounds or vertical slabs, and advertise the pieces on their website. Their business is the harvesting of desirable “deadwood,” which limits them by law to trees that have fallen or are underwater. From the familiar oak and maple to the exotic and sometimes rare–Mediterranean olive burl, old-growth sequoia, Hawaiian monkey pod, Brazilian pepperwood–these salvagers offer a global menu of species to select from.

That’s when my brother, Steve Revland, comes into the picture, and he’s particularly fond of mango wood. He says, “I love it when the sawdust in my shop smells and tastes like a smoothie.” (Yes, he tastes it, too.) For more than fifty years Steve has been an artist whose medium is wood. Although he’s been a business owner since the late seventies, calling him a furniture builder is hardly appropriate, because transforming a damaged slab of old wood into a work of art requires the combined skills of a dentist and a plastic surgeon: First, he does a meticulous leveling. Then he fills in the cracks, splits, and cavities, sometimes turning hollows into rivers of bright blue epoxy. Finishing comes last, for maximum enhancement of the grain, followed by an eager look around his shop for the next makeover.

Although Steve has always had a strong interest in the next new thing, his signature pieces that date back to the early years of his business retain a unique timeliness to this day. That’s because a true work of art never goes out of fashion. Lately his passion is salvaged timbers, but he doesn’t just restore. He resurrects. Magnificent old trees that once bore sweet fruit now delight as dining tables, and if they could talk to express their gratitude, rest assured that Steve already knows their language.

February 24, 2019

Gentleman Jerrold: Fierce Warrior in the House

  Congressman Nadler addresses his constituents in the Westbeth Community Room. Photo credit Maggie Berkvist. Republicans are very afraid of my congressman, Jerrold Nadler. Aside from his being the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, with jurisdiction

Yes, I Do Have a Head

Do you mind a little self-promotion on a lazy Friday of Labor Day Weekend? This is an interview of me in the August issue of WestView News, the local paper I write

And the Living Is Easy

Rothenberger and Nilsen families at the beach ca. 1965. Photo by Mary Nilsen. It's the last day of July and I'm wondering why. Wasn't it April last time I looked? Wasn't I twenty-five two weeks ago? Why does time accelerate with each passing decade? Who will ever know what can't be known or need

The Evil Woman Returns

"Children at Sunset." Photo credit: Rayne at "Kirstjen Nielsen is no woman!" said my friend, raising his voice above my ranting over the current crop of Evil Women in Power, whose assault on human dignity has been putting me in a tailspin since the curse of Jeane Kirkpatrick

Ultimate Meatballs

Photo by Colin Harrison With all due deference to my Norwegian ancestors (see August 2017 blog: "The Power of Meatballs"), I have discovered a new twist to making spaghetti and meatballs that I can only say makes me swoon. It's one of those culinary accidents that change my concept of the meaning

What the Old Ones Knew

Ellsworth Chytka, photo credit Maryanne Heldt. I've been working all month on What the Old Ones Knew, a book proposal for  Yankton Sioux elder and oral historian Ellsworth Chytka, getting it ready to submit to publishers next month. As this has taken up all of my writing time, the following

The 5Pointz Decision: From Taki 128 to High Art

"Love Warrior and Burner" by Toofly and Meres One. One of the destroyed 5Pointz murals. (This blog is a condensed version of an article I wrote for the March issue of WestView News, my neighborhood paper. The entire article can be read at When the art world

The Far West Village: A Valentine

Venerable old house with wisteria, Christopher and Gay streets. Painting by John L. Silver, 2005. I have an indelible memory of a map in my sixth grade geography book in which dots indicated the size of population centers in the United States. The entire midsection of the country was sparsely

Love and the Ghost of Jimi Hendrix

Photo credit: The Borealis Press, Blue Hill, Maine On this last day of 2017 I've been thinking about Nixon, Kissinger, and the Christmas bombings of 1972--not a pleasant way to close out a year, but bear with me. Like many anti-warriors in 1972, I had been working hard to prevent Nixon's reelection

Room 315: The Book Lover’s Sistine Chapel

In the years before I started considering myself a writer I spent a lot of time in libraries, looking for I knew not what. The massive main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, only a few blocks from home, was majestic in an Egyptian-temple kind of way, but the decor

“Only Fifteen Minutes of Your Time”

Without bangs, ca. 1964 His name is fairly common, so I’ll just call him Gene P. He was on the list of go-see’s from the booker at my first modeling agency. I was in my twenties then, a fledgling model/actress from the Midwest, new to the Big City and incredibly naive. The booker, an aging

“Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Sometimes a situation has to get really bad, I used to think, truly descend into madness, before people would wake up and do something about it. So when the pathological liar in the White House was silent for six days in the aftermath of a catastrophic hurricane and spent those six days having tantrums

The Power of Meatballs

Carrie Berger and her children (left to right): Stella, Trigve, Helen, Erling, Harold, Fred, and Edna When my Grandma Berger was approaching her ninetieth year, her seven children began to worry that it might not be safe for her to continue to live alone. Knowing how vociferously she would object

Memory Sticks

This happened a long time ago: I’m standing by the stove in the Revland family kitchen on Third Avenue South in Fargo, heating a can of cream-style corn. It’s a small kitchen, barely large enough for a family of six to sit around the table, which we do every evening. I have a feeling it’s

If You Want to Play Fast, Practice Slow

Helen’s guitar recital, class of 2002. I had the pleasure of hearing Andres Segovia perform in 1977, when he was 84 years old. Although I was sitting toward the back of the concert hall, I heard every note he played. How does he do that, I thought, this little old man? Not by playing loud,

Curbing Infobesity

Photo credit: Phillip Rothenberger, ca. 1972 This is not a manifesto. I’m hardly qualified to instruct others on how to cope with living in nightmare times when I struggle each day with a disorder my son-in-law Simon calls “infobesity,” or obsessive consumption of the news. The current

How to Make the Best Cup of Coffee, Ever

Photo credit: Lynne Vittorio When a former husband and I traveled through the Midwest in the 1990s, he always packed a small jar of Medaglia d’Oro instant coffee to spoon into what he called “three-button coffee,” so weak that when a waitress approached (“Care for a refill today?”)

Second Sleep

I used to wake up in the middle of the night and stress myself out trying to get back to sleep, but no amount of thrashing around and pillow-punching, not even a double dose of melatonin, got me there. Instead I would silently scream, Why can’t I sleep through