This is the story of Montana Jones, a Canadian shepherdess whose sheep were brutally destroyed by people who worked for the Canadian government. And this is the story of Irena Sendler, a woman who gave her life to the children of Poland during the Nazi occupation. She saved over 2,500 young ones and almost lost her life for doing so. This is the story of countless people who have faced brute force and have paused to know the soul within, those who allow their love and courage to shine. This is your story and my story, if we choose it.
This story begins long ago in the dark iron mines of India and the hot forges of metalworkers as they discovered the strength and beauty of Damascus steel.
Damascus steel comes from two distinct and ancient art forms: Wootz steel and pattern welding. Each finished blade is a highly prized, functional tool sought for its unique pattern as much as its incredible durability, crafted by masters–artists who put a portion of their soul into the final product.
Damascus made from wootz comes from a unique vein of iron ore combined with a special form of processing that resulted in the perfect combination of trace elements to create the hard “cakes” and a crystalline structure revealed only in the final product.
Pattern welded Damascus is created in precise heat, with the master bladesmith folding the layers of elements together giving the sword its strength, durability and leading to the magnificent pattern that shines through in the finished blade.
Blades made from Damascus steel are sharper than a razor, can cut through bone and yet retain a unique flexibility.
Carefully working and guiding the steel under a trained hand and eye, the artist knows the vulnerability of the art—thousands of variables lead to chances of the metal cracking in an instant, destroying hours of work and irreplaceable material.
Like steel under the metalworker’s soft hand, Montana was forged by the farm, offering her life to the earth and to those whose lives depend on her work.
Nothing shows this better than her love for cultivating the land and tending to the animals she loves despite her profound loss and grief. She has stood trial for crimes she did not commit. She has stood trial for the peaceful act of farming and keeps going even though she has suffered greatly. With kindness and love, she gives her life to exquisite vulnerability creating a strength that matches Damascus steel.
I am reminded of these tender vulnerabilities as I watch my friends farm the fields. I stand in awe next to their rugged, capable bodies and oversized hands.
I notice their faces–each line, each weather mark, not an imperfection but a manifestation of exquisite strength and resiliency–like the elaborate patterns in Damascus steel. I see the intricate magnificence of a person forged for a powerful purpose. A person called to work the land, to live and care for animals, to see the seasons in a drop of water, a drop of life, to understand the brilliance, bounty and deep burden of watching a life expire so that others may carry on.
Like Montana, the farmers hold in their hands, the foundation of life—the soil beneath our feet that lives and breathes our first and last breaths with us.
Her gentle footsteps, tender compassion and noble audacity in the face of brute force brought children to safety but brought her young body to the Nazi torture chamber and, almost, to execution.
I reflect on the dignified determination of humble champions like Irena who put their love and integrity before their fear. Sometimes willingly surrendering their lives to not comply with systemic violence. I think of those who humbly served and protected their neighbors by not complying with laws that broke the backs and destroyed the lives of others. I wonder what it was like to live in constant fear, and often isolation, but to burn with the dedication and resolve of integrity and to persevere in their work. Again, I see the magnificence of a soul who has accepted an intense commitment.
And so it cycles. Seasons flow as the fires burn. Drought, flood, a cold snap, wild animals, death and destruction caused by those who call themselves “authority,” injury, heartache, starting over, again and again—each instance a fold in the metal. Each touch of the hammer could either crack the heated, fragile cohesion of elements, breaking the not yet fully strengthened steel, or hone it to a perfect fortitude.
Eventually, when folded enough, the master sharpens the edges, giving the blade its purpose, giving the measured, crafted object the opportunity to reveal its fortitude. After all, this is what it was made for. It has withstood the fire, the folding and the forge. This knife, edged and shiny, is a beautiful thing to behold. It is a work of art. It is a tool. It is a treasure so precisely crafted in the flames and it is profoundly powerful. But it is not done yet.
The final step to reveal the splendor is the etching. Damascus is identified by its beautiful patterns, each blade holding a unique design created by the exact proportions of iron, trace elements, carbon, the heat of the fire, and the number of folds. The shining knife must withstand one final trial to uncover its pattern: acid. The bitter acid can destroy the crafter’s work, digging too deep in the metal.
As seasons unfold, it is the bitterness of loss that reveals the delicate structure of resolve. It is the bitterness of watching fields poisoned, animals destroyed or land taken. It is the bitterness of saving some children only to know that countless more could not be saved. Every sharp grief, like the acid, revealing something in its time. Every line on the overdrawn, sun-torn face, part of the final pattern. The forged, fired and etched beauty of courage. A shining light for those of us not yet fully forged so that we can see the greatness of what we can choose—a beauty shining from the sacred depths of the soul that far outlives those who carry it—that ignites other souls.
Thanks to Bob Kramer of Kramer Knives for expert technical input and beautiful photos.
Wherever you are in your personal journey toward clean living and local food, thank you for joining me in mine. I look forward to sharing it with you.