Ahearne Cycles

Short Lecture On Craft


This is one of twenty-two short lectures given by Mary Ruefle in her book entitled, Madness, Rack, and Honey. It's an amazing, digressive, thought-provoking book. I'm quoting this lecture not because of its insight into any specific craft per se, but more because it is a thoughtful meditation on the meaning of craft, both word and idea. 


By 700 BC the Phoenicians were sailing. 

We know this because there are records. We know nothing about the time before records. 

It is not an easy task for men to move on water. 

So difficult a task is it that as recently as 1940 no one believed that men ignorant of the uses of iron were capable of sailing, let alone navigation, great waters, least of all the greatest of all, the Pacific Ocean; not even professional mariners believed it. But Thor Heyerdahl believed it, he believed that human beings ignorant of teh uses of iron, living on what we now call the North and South American Continents, were capable of crossing what we now call the Pacific Ocean, and settling a number of small mountainous islands and flat coral reefs we now call Polynesia. 

And so he built a raft, modeled on those the ancient Incans used for fishing in local waters, a raft made from nine Ecuadoran balsa logs lashed together with hemp rope, using no nails, wire, or metal of any kind, a raft with an open bamboo cabin and a crude sail that looked like a piece of cloth hung to dry on a pole, and on this raft, with five companions and a green parrot, he set out, on April 28, 1947, from the coast of Peru, to prove that it was possible. 

After 101 days at sea -- 4,300 miles later -- they landed on an uninhabited South Sea island. It had been done. There was now at least one record of such a thing. What was their secret? How did they do it? The secret of the Kon-Tiki is that is was a very large cork; their raft rolled with the waves, that's all it could do, it couldn't even turn back. It was cork, and themen who were on it were cork. 

A craft is a boat, ship, or airplane; the most primitive craft is a raft, whose very word is embedded in the word craft.

Great skill is involved in building a craft, for it is far from easy to make things that float or fly [or roll].

Inside the word raft is the word aft, which means located near the rear, as opposed to the fore, which is located near the front.  

Fore-and-aft means, therefore, running the length of a craft, from front to rear. 

Not top to bottom, front to rear, fore-and-aft.

Before and after: running a length of time, which creates time; without time, there is no length;there is no counting before time. 

Before the raft Thor Heyerdahl christened Kon-Tiki, after the Incan sun-god, no one thought it possible. But after, men knew that in prehistory, without records, without iron, such a craft existed. Men knew the Phoenicians were not alone. And men knew, too, that it was probable ten such rafts sank to the bottom for every one that sailed. 

Those unknown men and women who with the labor of thir minds devised a raft and with the labor of their hands tied the logs together and tested the seaworthiness of thier raft...

Who taught them their craft?

There is of course another meaning of the word craft, it is the second or third meaning given in any dictionary. 

Craft: skill in evasion or deception.

Those unknown men and women lashing togetehr their gigantic raft, what were they evading, whom were they deceiving? Were they themselves deceived, and evading their deceivers? Were they evading hunger, disaster, unspeakable loss?

We don't know. But surely there must have been a moment of glorious well-being when they slid thier raft into the water and discovered that it could float, and would hold them all, as they set out to cut a hole in time.