The clock is ticking

November 9, 2023

The other day in Trois Rivières I met a guy who gave me an gift.

I had travelled to Trois Rivières to meet a retired police detective. The cop, who spent his career at the Sûreté du Québec, led the investigation of the biggest theft in the history of Canada: working at night for most of a year, a gang of thieves stole thousands of barrels of maple syrup, worth a total of $18 million, from a warehouse in St. Louis de Blandford, across the St. Lawrence River from Trois Rivières. The Trois Rivières detachment caught the crooks.

I had a bit of time to kill before my meeting with the police officer. I walked through Old Trois Rivières and came to the port. A cruise ship stood moored in the harbour, the Seabourn Quest – a substantial vessel to my eyes, with 11 decks. The ship’s presence figures into this story in some way.

Turning back towards town, I stumbled upon a stone house, maybe a couple hundred years old, that houses Expérience Métiers d’Art. A man stood behind the counter in the otherwise empty arts and crafts gallery. Improbably, he was an anglophone: Dave Pott, a woodworker. (I only discovered he was English much later in the conversation; he spoke French without an accent.)

Pott told me the City of Trois Rivières donated the use of this old building on the Rue des Ursulines to a collective of artisans. The city even pays the heat and hydro bills; the artisans run the gallery and stock it with jewellery, carving, greeting cards, small cushions and other crafts. “The gallery is usually closed on Mondays,” he said. “We are open because of the cruise ship.”

Pott himself carves bowls and spoons, among other works, mainly from maple. Since he mentioned maple I told him I am at work on a book on the history of maple syrup in Canada, which explained my presence in his town.

A couple came into the gallery to poke around. Meantime, Pott launched into a long story. Pott said he met a man who lives in a forest near Mirabel (maybe?). The guy had cut down a bunch of old maple trees that were pretty remarkable, because of their spalting. Spalting is the discolouration of wood caused by fungi. The man offered some maple to Pott. Pott said he didn’t pay for wood, but agreed to look at the stuff. In the end Pott took several chunks of spalted maple back to his workshop to carve. He made some bowls and other things, and, as payment, gave several bowls to the wood donor.

“Just a minute,” Pott said. “Wait here.” He disappeared up the central staircase in the old house. A few minutes later he came down. In his hand he carried a clock, made from a kind of slice, or cookie, cut out of the trunk of an old sugar maple tree. In the centre of the piece of wood that makes up the clock face, one can see three old holes, one on top of the other. Years ago, a farmer had drilled the tree to insert spiles, to catch the sap that flows from sugar maple trees in spring. One boils this sap to make maple syrup. Once a year he drilled a hole, for three years in this case. The tree, over time, closed up the holes and continued to grow; slicing the trunk of the tree revealed the holes, along with intricate patterns in the wood, caused by several strains of fungi eating at the wood from different directions.

“Take this clock,” Pott told me. “Send me a copy of your book when it comes out.”

I accepted his offer. What a nice guy. That said, now I really have to get my shit together and write this book! The clock is ticking.