Day and night, no difference.
The sun *is* the moon: An amalgam.
Their gold and silver melt together.
This is the season when
the dead branch and the green branch
are the same branch.
Nightmares fill with light like a holiday.
Humans and angels speak one language.
The elusive ones finally meet.
Good and evil, dead and alive,
from one natural stem.
You know this already, I'll stop.
Any direction you turn
it's one vision.
-- Rumi --
(trans. Coleman Barks)
Most of the branches that I'll use to make a flute, I will have gathered green. Some, after being trimmed by gardeners or newly wind felled, await the steel jaws of a wood chipper to be mulched into soil again under the leaves of other trees. Life is a circle in that way, for all us. In those green branches, though, the life force of the tree is still present, still protecting the branch from those wood chippers of nature -- insects, the elements and biodegradation. This is when I like to gather a branch for a potential flute.
In a green branch, the unique colors of the specific tree are still clear and bright and the bark is still tight to the sapwood. The branch has not cracked or checked on its surface or ends. Its original qualities have not yet been lost. Qualities that will remain after drying in a kiln, as long as the branch is sealed properly. Any lichen growing on the branch can even be preserved, as in the English Walnut branch flute pictured to the right. By starting with a green branch the finished flute can still radiate signs that the dryad, spirit, or life force of a tree is inhabiting it, though now the leaves of that branch be music.
Once it loses its life force and has been given back to the ground, other "spirits" will start to inhabit the branch. The elements and the critters of biodegradation are the good earth's way of laying claim to it again. And that's ok, I've made some wonderful flutes, and will continue to do so on occasion, from downed wood claimed by the soil, inlaying the worm holes or surface checks with colorful stone. If the branch has been dead long enough, I won't have to worry about drying it, since the elements will have done it for me. The intent here is not to state that working with a green branch is a better way of making a flute. Just another way, with its own advantages, that honors the spirit and natural beauty of the tree.
What I show in the following pages are the steps I take in turning a green branch into a dry flute blank, ready to be worked as a native style flute after it's dried in the kiln. How I make the flute after that is not the concern of this article. For those interested, there are several good resources that teach how to make a Native American style flute, available in book or DVD format, that can be found on the web. And there are a few very good online forums where you can ask for advice or research the archives for every stage of the native flute making process.
I owe much in gratitude to the many flute makers who've been willing to share their knowledge. Also to the experience of wood turners and chair makers who work with green wood. The information shared in these few pages is a way of giving something back.
~ Jon Sherman
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