Lao Tzu’s Basket

Today is one of those creative thinking days following an afternoon off work in order to gather grapevines in the woods of Ashe County, North Carolina with my wife the basket maker. It is something we have done off and on for about 25 years and can be considered one of our “little adventures”.

And my wife is a women who is all about adventure—of which I can say realistically—we haven’t taken nearly enough of them in our lifetime together. Every couple of years, when we can afford it, we head off to New York City and do the gallery thing; the eating thing; the bookstore thing; the Canal Street and Chinatown thing and the walking around from morning til night thing—almost always ending our day in Times Square before heading back to the motel where we sleep for a while and then get up the next day to do it all over again.

It is Sandi and I exploring what the city has to offer and we have never been disappointed—we are always glad to leave and always glad to get back to our 3/4 acre plot of home and garden.

But yesterday, our adventure was in the woods where we pull the vines out of the trees so that Sandi can make the handles for the baskets she sells every Saturday at the local Farmer’s Market. And after all these years of making them, they are still selling well and bringing some much needed extra income into our family.

Did I mention that my wife is very unselfish with her time and her money—she likes pocket change and a good sale but much of what she has earned over all these years has gone into braces for the kids and shoes and all the little extras that crop up everyday when you have four kids in a one point two kid world.

We began our basket adventure together in 1983 when I quit my job as a writer for the Jefferson Times and we went into basket making full time. We’d do the craft shows that a potter friend of our had told us about and made enough money to pay the bills and get to the next show. By the time we ended our “full time” adventure 4 1/2 years later we were doing up to 22 shows a year from Boca Raton, Florida in February to Richmond, Virginia in November. We did k-mart parking lots and street fairs and even had several wholesale accounts—but the day came when it was time for me to get another job and move on from there. But Sandi has never quit making them and they have been good to us for many years.

I was thinking about all of this as I took a walk today during lunch hour. The fact that I have an amazing wife is not lost on me although I do sometimes take her from granted—but I am working on that aspect of our relationship. As my friend Ben Cox has said many times—we both married up-stream. And that is probably true for you as well.

I also thought about the fact that what makes baskets valuable from a pratical standpoint is that they can be used to hold and carry stuff. And this thought led me to Lao Tzu and one of my favorite sayings by him.

A fair warning: all translations are not the same and I am partial to the one done by Jane English. What follows is the one that I remember best.


Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu – chapter 11


Thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

My wife and I have a good marriage and I often tell young people that the reason for this is the fact that we take lots of walks together. This is so true—but I guess I will have to add another one as well—put some adventure in your lives and those regular times won’t seem nearly as long.

The truth is out there, no matter where you find it. Enjoy your ride and your adventure.

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