The desire for peace, quiet and serenity began to haunt me in early 90’s but the opportunity to make a move did not present itself until 1996. After attending a festival in Tubac, Arizona, a friend suggested we do a walk-about (drive-about, really) in Arizona. The town of Patagonia was our first stop and I really did not need to look any farther because it immediately felt like home to me. We did explore by heading north to the Sedona area and then cut over to New Mexico. There were lots of beautiful spots but Patagonia did not leave me. I soon went back there and quickly made it my new home.
I always wanted to live in a small community and this town of 850 residents turned out to be ideal. At 4500 feet, Red Mountain and Mt. Wrightson, (the highest peak in Southern Arizona), surround Patagonia. It sits in a quiet valley of hiking trails, has a year round creek, moderate climate, grass lands, mesquite groves, abundant wildlife and a beautiful lake. It is a unique community of ranchers, artists and folks that love this town and are very accepting of each other.
Well, I fit right in and began making flutes here. It still amazes me that I can make the flutes in such a tucked away spot and still be able to spread this magical instrument all over the world. Thank God for UPS, FedEx and the internet (OK, the Post Office too).The nature of this wonderland inspired my first backpacking flute pictured on this month’s calendar page. The flute needed to be simple in construction, light and small, sturdy in material and easy to play. I chose mahogany because it has a good sound and is relatively light considering it is a hard wood. To keep it simple and easy to play I made it a straight 5-hole pentatonic scale flute. The finish was a matte coat of tung oil with a low profile fetish that would easily slip into any pack.
Over the years we have continued to make this flute in various woods and it has become known as the “Little Hawk”. Many school and flute teachers have discovered that it is ideal to use in their classrooms because it makes learning an instrument easy and fun. At our local Patagonia schools kids learn the flute starting in 4th grade. It has been so successful that we developed a program that gives special consideration to any school that has a teacher committed to including the flute in their curriculum.
When I first moved to Patagonia, I had to start from scratch building a wood shop. This process took me away from making flutes for a period of about six months. During that time I was champing at the bit to start making flutes again. I was dreaming daily of new designs and ways to improve the sound quality of the instruments. Not being patient, I started setting up my tools outside and began the crafting process. Unfortunately, I was not familiar with the monsoon here and one afternoon it started to pour – lesson learned – be patient and don’t push the envelope.
Once the shop was completed the next challenge was to figure out how to construct the flutes from one piece of wood. Until then I split the wood, cored out the center and then laminated the halves back together. This process had been the longstanding process for most flute crafting. This method was challenging because the moisture build up in the mouthpiece expands the wood grain and flutes had the potential of splitting along the glue seams. This happened so often, I decided there had to be a better way.
Not being a mechanical genius myself, the searches lead me to experiment in many different directions. I explored long drill bits, which would drill a straight and even flute blank out every 10th try. The rest of the time the drill bit would blow out the side of the wood blank. Next a friend introduced me to a tool and die maker who became interested in my challenge and helped make a custom drill bit which had a small pilot bit attached to the front of the main diameter bit. This increased the percentage of success but was still problematic because the borehole needed to be perfectly straight. It needed to go directly down the center of the wood blank. During this process I developed some rather “colorful” language skills.
I had a neighbor that was a gun enthusiast as well as a gunsmith. One afternoon he invited me to go to his shooting range. We were taking a break and in conversation I happened to tell him of my flute boring challenge. He became very thoughtful but nothing came of it until the next day when he called me and told me he had the solution to my problem.
(...to be continued...)