Monthly Archives: September 2019

Letters from Armorica- A Matter of Time (2 July 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have it! I woke up quite suddenly with the answer plain in my head.

For several weeks now I have been thinking of every method I might use to measure the hardness of a hardened block of wood. Most of them have involved using some kind of clamp or vise with a screw that I might tighten or loosen. How many turns would it take before the jaws of the clamp mar the surface of the block? I could repeat this trial periodically, looking for changes.

The difficulties here are obvious. First, it is quite difficult to ever mar the surface of a hardened object. That is one of the reasons why hardening is a mainstay of my craft. Second, tightening the clamp is exactly the sort of action that would cause the block to collect effort; and my trial is precisely to see how long it takes the block to become fragile before that happens.

And that, bluntly put, is the key. That is my epiphany—that I am making everything—hah—harder than it needs to be.

It is easy to tell when fragility has set in; Mme. Poquêrie brought me a plate that I was able to crumble between my fingers with no great amount of force. Many of the plates that were returned to me could be marred with a finger nail.

So I have no need to measure hardness. What I must measure is time. Given a newly hardened block of wood and a lifting block capable of suspending a particular weight, the two placed in close proximity, how long will it take before the block becomes fragile? It is so simple. I have asked this question of myself a hundred times at least, and especially when Luc returns from Marc's farm and says, "It is all just the same as yesterday." But I was so focussed on the degree of hardness remaining that I did not listen to myself.

But time is the key variable. First, so that I know how long a hardened object may safely be used, as part of a sky-chair or boat; and second so that I may learn how to extend that time.

Luc tells me that he had always planned to measure the length of time. "For the plates were quite hard until they started breaking," he said. Not for the first time it has occurred to me that my apprentice may be smarter than I am. I console myself with the thought that perhaps he has had a more congenial teacher than I did; and also that it was I who came up with the notion of using a balance to measure the degree of lift in a lifting block.

The best part of this discovery is that our work to date will not be wasted. We know when we set up our trial in the shed on Marc's farm; and once the hardened block begins to crumble I can bring the lifting block into the shop and measure how much weight it can suspend.

I wish we could run multiple trials simultaneously; but they would have to be wildly separated. Perhaps the next step is not to try again with a stronger lifting block, but to move the hardened block and the lifting block apart. There must be a distance beyond which the two blocks no longer affect one another. But hah! How will I ever know if they are far enough apart? All I can see is that the hardened block has not yet begun to crumble. If they are far enough part, it never will. I do not believe I can wait that long. We shall have to make some trials in that direction…but perhaps there is a farmer on the far side of Bois-de-Bas from Marc who would let me set up a shed. How ever large the distance must be, I am sure that it is well under a mile!

It is quite early…dawn is just creeping into the sky. I believe I shall put out my lamp and return to bed and see what sleep I might get before the cutters resume their work on the town hall grove.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Sawdust (27 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

They have begun cutting down the bronzewood trees at the site of the new town hall. I have spent a certain amount of time watching them this week, in my role as headman of the village—and I have carefully heeded the directions I was given to stay out of the way and well back. Cutting bronzewood is a tricky and dangerous business, and one that my people here are well familiar with; but it is rarely done so close to town these days. The trees are large, and the wood is tough, and no one wants a bronzewood tree to fall on their home.

Lesser trees can be felled using axes; bronzewood dulls an axe so rapidly that it isn't even worth trying. The loggers use what they call a cord-saw, some kind of tough cord impregnated with abrasive dust. They are made by forming, I gather, but the men know nothing about that. The first settlers brought some with them, knowing what they were getting into, and more have been imported from Provençe in the decades since. I have looked, but there is nothing like them in my grimoire. Perhaps Master Grenadine has something. Even if he does, though, it isn't clear that I could make more with what I have to work with.

There is considerable technique involved. The bronzewood tree has a tall and straight trunk with many branches, so the men begin by climbing the tree and lopping off the branches one by one. They work in two man teams, one man on each side of the trunk, and must trade off frequently: some of the branches are big enough to be used as timbers in their own right, and even the thin ones take a deal of cutting. When felling a grove of bronzewoods, as here, it is the custom to de-branch all of the trees before felling any of them.

Then—so I am told, for they have not gotten so far yet, they will pick a tree to fell, and attach a cable to its peak; the other hand goes through a block and tackle some distance away. That is to ensure that the tree falls in the desired direction. They then cut a large notch on that side of the trunk, and put tension on the cable; and then proceed to cut through the back side of the trunk. You must not picture them standing close to the tree at this time! The cutters use cord-saws that are many yards long (though only the center is abrasive), and the teams stand well to the left and the right. Note that I said "teams": for this phase, the cutting process resembles a tug-of-war, with four men on each side.

It is a long and onerous process, and I do not recommend arm-wrestling any of the cutters, for one is certain to lose.

Once the trees are on the ground they will be shaped into timbers in place. Bronzewood timbers are difficult enough to transport; bronzewood trunks are next to impossible. It was my romantic notion that we would then build the town hall using the timbers we had just cut down, but I was soon corrected. The timbers must be seasoned before use. These will go into storage, and the town hall will be built using timbers from trees that were felled last year.

All this is meant to say that the center of our village now resembles a logging camp, with all of the noise and mess that that implies. There is sawdust everywhere. Amelie has taken to leaving a broom and dustpan by the counter in her shop, and handing them to every person who comes in. And they, I might add, including many who would argue over the price of buttons and the look that Mrs. So-and-So gave them the other day, take these objects and clean up the mess without objection. There is nothing to be done with the dust but burn it, and so there is a constant smoky haze in Bois-de-Bas these days, and will be until the cutting is complete.

The noise is blessedly absent on this Sunday evening, but I begin to see why no one has built a town hall in the past.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to ponder how we might measure the effects of a formed object. Warming blocks are easy in principle, but difficult in practice, there being no thermometers in Bois-de-Bas, but I have sent to M. Suprenant to procure me one. He may well have to get it from Yorke or Toulouse.

Lifting blocks are easier, for all we need is a balance. (I am indebted to Luc for this notion.) Tie a string to the block, attach one end of the string to one arm of the balance, and add weights to the pan underneath until the arm is level. We have tried this with Amelie's balance, which is behind the counter in the shop, and it works fine. The difficulty here is that Amelie will not allow us to transport her balance to our shed at the back of Marc's field, on the flimsy excuse that she needs it in the shop. I have asked M. Suprenant to send me a level as well, and that, at least, he should be able to find in locally.

But warming blocks and lifting blocks are both greedy: both consume effort to produce their effects. For our trials, we must also measure a generous object, a collector of effort, to wit, something hardened. I am not sure how we do that. How does one measure hardness? It must involve putting pressure on the item in the some way…but putting pressure on the item will cause it to collect effort, which will then be given generously to the nearby consumer. What we are trying to measure is the decrease in hardness of the hardened item when it is not collecting a significant amount of effort.

With any luck, I shall have figured something out before my new balance arrives from Mont-Havre.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Greed and Generosity (20 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have slept little this past week, and burned vast quantities (it seems) of whirtleberry oil; and I scarcely finished my first mug of ale at the hot springs this afternoon before my eyes began to droop. The other men teased me, of course, and told me that one day perhaps I'd grow up and be able to hold my liquor. I am fortunate that it has been a peaceful week in Bois-de-Bas and that there were no serious disputes or concerns for me to address.

A site has been picked for the new Town Hall, the women of the town having been much in favor. From what Amelie tells me, that was due to the prospect of regular town dances than it was to the plight of the young unmarried men who have been coming to live here; but no matter. The women of Bois-de-Bas have spoken and driven their husbands before them. There was consequently much good-natured wailing and gnashing of teeth at the hot springs today, for the chosen site must be cleared of bronzewood trees; but the site is convenient to both the town square and to the entrance to the hot springs, and will, I think, do very well.

But as the result of my late nights I have been making great progress with Master Grenadine's Sur la Thaumaturgie. His terminology remains peculiar, but I am slowly coming to understand it, with many false steps. For example, he writes of objects that exhibit charité and those, opposed to the first, that exhibit envie. I at first guessed that by charité he meant something like the ability of a hardened plate to provide effort to another formed object, and that by envie he meant the ability of something like a warming block to want to pull effort from something else that has what it lacks. His notion of harmonie, then, would be the balance of charity against envy such that the envious object would pull no more effort from the charitable object than it was able to safely provide.

This was plausible but wrong. I spent most of the week under this impression, growing more and more confused, until I realized that I had it precisely backwards…or, perhaps, a bit sideways. To Grenadine, an object exhibits charité if it changes things in the world. A warming block gives off heat; a lifting block in a sky-chair raises it into the air. An object exhibits envie if its effect is in itself. A hardened plate accepts knocks and bangs. Harmonie, he says, lies in placing envious and charitable objects in proxity.

He then goes on to discuss various kinds of formed objects and whether they exhibit charity or envy, and then moves along to speculate as to whether we might some day discover a kind of forming that achieves la perfection: an object that achieves harmony in and of itself.

It is an interesting question, and I would greatly like to discuss it with another master former of greater experience. But Grenadine comes to no conclusions and so the idea isn't of much help in my current endeavors. And there is worse: he seems to have no notion of what I call effort, nor any thought to measurement. He speaks of harmonie, but he has no notion of balance. I fear that even in my limited efforts I have already exceeded him.

Perhaps, of course, he is wiser than I: perhaps my idea of effort flowing from hardened plates to warming blocks is incorrect. Perhaps it is possible to achieve harmonie without worrying about balance. But if I am right then his terminology is not only obscure but also unhelpful.

As I see it, a hardened plate or pot is a collector of effort; and it is generous to the extent that it will provide that effort to other things in its vicinity. A warming block is a consumer of effort; I conjecture that it has what I might call an appetite for effort in proportion to the degree of warming that it provides. Moreover, it is greedy: it will consume effort from a nearby plate until the plate falls apart. (One might say that the plate is generous to a fault.)

And this of course leads me to so many more questions! How much effort can a given collector collect before it gets "full"? Is there a limit? How fast can it provide effort to a consumer? Are there consumers that aren't greedy? Can a collector be protected against a consumer's greediness? And though I have come to believe that these things can be measured, by what means am I to do so?

Measurement is where it all begins. If I can measure, I can begin to address these questions. Either there will be some kind of proportion between effort provided and effort consumed, or there will not.

I suppose I must send to M. Fournier for a book on mathematics. Which will, be in Provençese, blast it.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Goats and Harmony (13 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The advantage of having a nanny goat, it seems, is that you get goat milk. And when you have a small child, goat milk is a thing to be desired. Cow's milk would be preferred but goats take up less room than cows, which is important when you live in the middle of the village.

Except that to get goat milk your nanny goat needs to have a baby goat. And for your nanny goat to have a baby goat, it goes without saying, you need a billy goat. All of this is quite ordinary and not worth mentioning, or at least it would be back home in the sorts of places where you might keep goats. But in Wussex or Walshire they would be Cambrian goats. Here we are talking about having three Armorican goats, and three Armorican goats is too many goats for any sane person to be having. Especially in the middle of the village.

Which is why I spent yesterday walking Patches the Goat out to Marc's farm for a stay, and why today I lingered in the hot springs. Goat armor and handles make it easier to manage an Armorican goat, but they don't make it pleasant. It might be better if Patches wasn't (to all appearances) fond of me, but—

No. No, it wouldn't. If Patches weren't fond of me I'd have hired a cart, tied her to the back of it, and ridden up front with the drover. I would most likely have had to pay for damage to the cart, but at least I wouldn't be found crumpled in the ditch by the side of the road.

I spent most of the walk pondering how I might transport Patches by sky-chair. I was contemplating a kind of a sling by which she might dangle, with a release so that I could fly her straight to the goat shed, lower her down, and let her go without actually entering the goat shed myself. It was a foolish notion, for I do not dare use a sky-chair until I understand the motions of what I call effort ; and doubly foolish, for of course Marc's goatherd took care of Patches once we arrived. But it served to pass the time.

Having disposed of Patches I went to check on Luc's trial in its little shed at the outer edge of Marc's fields. It looked much the same as it had the week before, when Luc set it up in its new location: the hardened block resting on its post, and the other block floating above its post at the end of a taut string. I examined the hardened block as gently as I could, looking for the sort of degradation I'd seen in Amelie's dishware, taking care not to poke at it too strongly; for treating it harshly would, ironically, only increase its life. It was the hardened plates and bowls that deteriorated, not the hardened pots and pans.

Thus far the block looked as it had the week before; but we hadn't expected anything else, yet.

After that I shared the midday meal with Marc and Elise, and got to see their infant boy, whom they have predictably named Herbert. I believe that Elise and Amelie are already planning a wedding for Herbert and Anne-Marie. I should be pleased if that were to happen, but I know a little too much about forcing a boy into his father's image to press it myself.

I walked home, blessedly goat free, and thought about Luc's trial. So many questions! So many trials we would like to do! Hardened objects store effort and flying or warming objects consume it. Does it matter whether the consuming object is floating or producing warmth? Can the consuming object continue producing its effect indefinitely, or must there be a hardened object nearby? Are there other kinds of objects that similarly store effort like hardened ones do? Suppose I hardened a stick, and suspended a heavy weight from it, a weight that would break an unhardened stick: would that produce effort? And how much effort could I draw from the stick without causing it to deteriorate?

"How much?" What an odd thought! "How much?" is a question for shopkeepers and merchants and contracts. A thing is hardened or it isn't; a former doesn't worry about "how much" a thing is hardened. And yet it seems like le mot juste as my friend the bookseller would say. How much effort can a hardened object store and provide? How much effort does it take to produce enough heat to warm a plate of food? If those two things were evenly matched, if they were in balance—

Les chèvres! Master Grenadine speaks of harmonie, of charité and envie. Charity: giving forth. Envy: wanting what another has. Harmony between charity and envy—is that the key to understanding him? Thank the Lord that we received a new stock of whirtleberry oil yesterday, for I believe I shall be up late tonight.

Next letter

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Letters from Armoria- Of Taverns and Town Halls (6 June 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is a singular thing, but there are no inns in Bois-de-Bas—no place where folks might go of an evening to gather. People gather on Sundays, at the church and in fine weather have Sunday dinner together in the square, and at the hot springs. A few old men often gather at my shop on weekday afternoons. But for the most part, the citizens of Bois-de-Bas do not gather in the evening; or if they do they gather at each other's homes. As I noted last winter, we do not even have a town hall—unless one considers the hot springs to be the de facto town hall, as I think one must.

Jean-Claude Astreaux tells me—he is one of Jacques-le-Souri's cronies, and a frequent visitor to my shop—he tells me that it is because of les grand-blaireau and similar creatures. "You forget, you, that this was wilderness not so many years ago. Those who went out at night are no longer with us, n'est-ce pas?" And then, the folk of Bois-de-Bas are sober and hard-working, and not much given to frivolity.

But we still have many young men with us and who have no place to go in the evenings except their rooming houses. Many came during the war, and many have come since; Bois-de-Bas has acquired a reputation. Those of them who wish to settle here—the majority—are still resentful about being excluded from the hot springs on a Sunday. They may go on their own during the week, or on Saturdays, but not at the time when decisions are made. Some few have left in frustration; some few have worked their way into one family or another, much as I did. But there are many others, and a few more arrive every month. As I see it we must make them part of the town or there will eventually be hell to pay. We need a town hall when we can all gather together to make decisions.

I spoke of this to the men of Bois-de-Bas—most of the men of Bois-de-Bas—at the hot springs this afternoon. I was able to get agreement about the town hall; the problem was clear enough last winter, for all love, but you can't build a great huge barn in deep snow. And that's really all we need, nothing fancy: just a space big enough for everyone to meet together in bad weather.

"And then, once we have it," I went on, "we might use it for the occasional dance or celebration. I know we are in the habit here of spending our evenings at home—but, you know, no one has seen a grand-blaireau in this region for many, many years. Well, except for the beast we found on the island during the War, and as his pelt is now on my bed I think we needn't worry about him."

There was a bit of muttering at this, for folks here tend to socialize in certain set groups. I would not have been accepted the way I was if it weren't for my friendship with Marc and Elise Frontenac and my marriage to Amelie, aided by my willingness to work with goats without complaining and my activities during the war. Which is another reason why the hot springs are so important, of course—it's the one place that all of the men and women of the town have traditionally met as equals.

But I think having public dances and celebrations are necessary to the future of our town. The newly-arriving men must meet people; especially they must meet young women, so that they can marry and settle down. This is what most of them are seeking, after all, and yet there is so little opportunity for it today. The only ones who have married so far are those who have met an eligible daughter in the course of their work. I did not mention this concern to the men at the springs, however.

The women must agree with the building of the town hall, of course, but Amelie and Elise Frontenac attended to that this afternoon. Now the husbands and wives must confer, and likely there will be further discussion of details this coming Sunday; but I rather expect that a site will be chosen and the building will be erected in proper barn-raising fashion in the next few weeks.

Now if only we had an inn or tavern as well.

Next letter

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