For most of my life I have been a collector and an avid user of wooden walking sticks. My grandfather (Pop) taught me how to make several varieties, and he also instructed me in the proper use of such a useful tool. He never considered entering the woods without either his shotgun or a wooden walking stick.
During a bit of research regarding Kentucky walking sticks, I found the following debate. “Man’s second invention, which occurred about 5,000 years ago, was the wooden walking stick, which was used to uproot the first invention, which was the rock.” This situation is much like the old question – which came first the chicken or the egg?
Pop really did not care about the history of this very useful tool, he just thought you should have one if you were venturing into the woods, and I am in perfect agreement with him. He used the stick to stabilize his walking, to clear spider webs in his path, to part thick bushes, and to use as a defensive weapon when necessary, especially against stray dogs. Because of his advice, I never venture into the woods without one of my own walking sticks.
I have made use of this functional and practical tool since I was a small boy. After becoming an adult, I began to collect walking sticks from the interesting places that I have visited. Some of my favorites are from the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, and many from state parks in Kentucky. Many others came from my own woods and various places in Powell County.
My friend Larry understands how much I love walking sticks, so about ten years ago he decided to make me one from a hickory stick from our woods as a Christmas present. He hand carved this beauty, and I think it is still one of my favorites.
A few years ago, Kathy and I drove to Colorado to spend some time at Steamboat Springs and to visit the Colorado Rockies. While crossing the Continental Divide, we spotted a bull moose drinking from a small lake. After taking many photographs of the animal, I told my wife that I wanted to purchase a nice walking stick at the gift shop as a remembrance of the day. When we went into the gift shop, I found just exactly what I wanted. I decided to wait until we were ready to leave to make my purchase. Guess what? I forgot the stick. I still complain to my wife for letting that one slip by me. If ever I return to this picturesque area of the US, I will definitely bring home that cool staff to add to my collection.
Another of my much-loved walking sticks is made from sassafras, which came from West Virginia. While camping at Holly River State Park, I discovered a wonderful trout site on the Holly River. I was successful with my trusty rod and reel, catching several plump members of this species. I got that walking stick as a keepsake of the day and the experience. I have it in my collection today.
Occasionally, Kathy and I give each other hints about Christmas presents that we would like to receive. Last week I was looking through a catalog and noticed one of the finest walking sticks I have ever seen. It is called a Shillelagh or Irish Walking Stick, and it is made from the blackthorn tree. Because this tree is extremely hard and durable, it takes a very skilled craftsman to sculpt and carve them. Traditionally, this stick is carried by Irish men, and it is thought to be very distinctive and unique. I told my wife just how much I would love to add that one to my collection. It costs a mere $49!
There is another walking stick that I especially cherish that is made from a tobacco stick. Although we lived on a small farm in Rockcastle County, we did not raise tobacco. But our neighbors did, and I played in that old barn for many years. We would choose one of those sticks to use as a “stick horse” and ride through the woods behind my house like Lash Larue or Johnny Mac Brown.
While traveling in Tennessee a few years ago, I found a walking stick made from a tobacco stick that even had a deer’s head carved into the handle. Of course, you know I had to have it for my collection. Owning this walker is like owning a piece of local history.
I found an unknown quote from a Backpacker magazine that says, “Use me along the paths that you search and seek, rely on my strength as you climb to the peak!” I think that is precisely why I have a love affair with walking sticks – they give me physical (and moral) support when I venture into the woods to observe nature in all of its glory.
(You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can drop me a line at P.O. Box 927 – Stanton, KY 40380. I appreciate your suggestions and comments.)