A new table, a new life for food writer Nancy Leson
Old black locust trees from the neighborhood become a new dining table in Leson’s household. This handcrafted piece of Northwest art has a story to tell, a real takes-a-village tale.
Special to The Seattle Times
IT’S WHERE we eat, drink, laugh and argue, entertain, read, work and hang out. It’s our dining-room table, the one my husband has been lusting after for almost as long as we’ve been a family.
A recent addition to the heart of our home, this handcrafted piece of Northwest art has a story to tell, a takes-a-village tale that began — as so many delicious stories do — at our neighborhood farmers market.
For 15 years, Mac and I have admired (and occasionally purchased) small furnishings built by a former neighbor, Cliff Adams, a rangy U.S. Postal Service retiree and woodworker who sells his wares at the Edmonds Museum Summer Market.
“When I acquire my wealth,” Mac’s told me year after year, “I’m going to have clean starched sheets on my bed every night — and commission Cliff to build us a dining-room table.”
Not that there was anything wrong with the one we’d been using.
I helped choose that tile-topped workhorse on our second date, never imagining I’d be sitting at it for two decades. Had I known that, I’d have insisted on something more comfortable than the straight-back rattan chairs that came with the set. And while I’ve (so far) put the kibosh on starched sheets, late last summer I joyfully agreed: The time has come for my husband to put his money where his mouth is.
But first we made a trip around the block to our friend Greg’s woodshed.
Several years ago, Greg, our neighborhood building contractor, paid a logger to fell a trio of old-growth hardwoods on his property: towering black locusts that — for far too many years — had been spewing debris onto our friends Ken and Mo’s yard and roof.
Greg was sick at the thought of felling those trees, so the neighbors reached a compromise: They’d split the cost of logging, and Greg would salvage the wood, paying a mobile miller to set up a band saw between the two homes, sparing 1,000 board feet of the prized lumber from trees known to be among the heaviest and hardest woods in North America. He envisioned the day he’d transform those trees into sturdy furniture.
But we beat him to it, escorting Cliff from his farmers-market booth to the woodshed, where he selected five boards — purchased at a neighborly discount. And before you could say “Timber!” the lumber was heading north to Cliff’s retirement home on Lake Whatcom, where it spent months curing in his workshop.
We got the call in January, and headed north to see the trestle Cliff built to support our table, watching as he and a helper measured, cut and planed the black locust, first removing the bark, then exposing the elegant grain and handsome knots that would soon decorate our dining room.
It took three strong men to lift and transport the 150-pound tabletop — its live edge smooth to the touch, and the wood’s golden grain, Cliff explained, certain to darken over time as we eat, drink and entertain here. Something I plan to be doing more of as, after 15 years on staff at The Seattle Times, I step away from my full-time gig to write freelance.
You’ll still find me here in “Taste” monthly, and I hope to find myself spending more time in my kitchen, my garden, and with family and friends.
The first to share our table? Cliff and Greg, who joined us for fresh-baked pie and coffee. And Ken and Mo, who much preferred “our” black locust set — horizontally — for dinner and drinks.
Nancy Leson is a freelance food writer. Reach her at email@example.com. John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.