Go to a library with dice in your pocket. Roll the dice and write down the numbers until they resemble a Dewey Decimal call number. Find the book with the closest corresponding number and read it as though it were the voice of God. –Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #6 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)
The San Luis Obispo Library is an inviting place: a bright-colored mural at the entrance, a friendly person at a reception desk, wi-fi available for out-of-towners, and tables and comfy chairs on the second floor.
The dice clatter when I roll them onto the table. My wife gives me a shushing look, so I execute the next five rolls by tossing the dice onto with a pad of paper. Six. Seven. Eight. Eight. One. Ten. 678.810. I amble into the stacks, scrutinizing the numbers on the spines. The books in the 670s are loose on the shelf with a gap between 675.2, The Ultimate Guide to Skinning and Tanning and 680 (no extended decimal numbers), The Craft of Stickmaking. The closest number is 676.22 which, hallelujah, has an abundance of H’s: The Papermaker’s Companion: The Ultimate Guide to Making and Using Handmade Paper by Helen Hiebert.
Now I’m getting scared. How do I find the voice of God in The Papermaker’s Companion? Maybe Helen Hiebert is one of God’s experts; God certainly needs experts to explain the complexities of earth. I find information about her–HH, that is, not God. She lives in Colorado, she was born in 1965, she’s written five books including a fun volume entitled Playing With Pop-ups: the Art of Dimensional, Moving Paper Designs. Her baby pushed her to finish The Papermaker’s Companion because he was due two weeks before her manuscript.
I could have used The Papermaker’s Companion about twenty five years ago when I gathered my children for a family activity I’d read about in a magazine article. I sent four of them outdoors to gather grass. We threw clippings, wadded up newspapers, and water into a blender to make a pulp and then spread the mess out to dry on a crude window screen. The sunshine dried the materials, but the result was a thick “paper” that would never support a penned, handwritten note.
Hiebert’s recipe for making paper from grass fiber involves steaming, stripping, cleaning, retting (fermenting), scraping, drying and other processes I’m never going to try, but I might try to make paper quilts with my grandchildren, which she details in the Children’s Projects section, and I like reading her words about the history of paper.
Listen to her definition of paper: “True paper is made from a raw material that has been macerated (beaten) and broken down into tiny fibers, mixed with water, and formed into sheets on a screen surface that catches he fibers as the water drains through it. The individual fibers interlock and form a sheet of paper when pressed and dried.”
I think Helen Hiebert may be one of God’s surrogate voices and stewards. After all, didn’t God say “Let the earth bring forth grass…And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:11-12)