Watch the unboxing of the book and read the story.
Chiyono’s Bucket: Awakening Reimagined couples the story of a thirteenth century Japanese servant named Chiyono with observations about a twenty-first century photograph. Pairing these reflections, I found my way unexpectedly to an understanding of awakening that felt far more approachable than the lofty, unattainable notion of it I had always held.
This letterpress book was a heartfelt collaboration with Jim Wilder, founder of The Wild Apple Press, based in Bethesda, Maryland. Established in the 1960s, The Wild Apple Press focuses on printing original stories about Irish history and culture by Irish writers. All type is handset and printed on a Vandercook No. 3 proof press by Jim, who honors his Irish heritage through his publishing. Luckily for me, Jim made an exception for my story, which veers from his Irish catalog of work.
Originally, the essay was an assignment for a class with Dr. Ayo Yetunde on Buddhist spiritual and pastoral care at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. This was during my stint in seminary before I found my way to the Master of Fine Arts program I am soon to complete. Our assignment was to write and deliver a dharma talk. The photograph that is central to the reflection is one I took while on a trip to New Mexico with a small group from the Seminary. On that same trip, I heard the story of Chiyono for the first time. I suppose this is how the two became unlikely partners in contemplation.
My friendship with Jim dates to the late 1960s. Seen in this photo, I am the shortest one in the group. Jim is on the far right. An old and dear family friend, Jim and I share a passion for the written word, for beautiful typography, artfully designed pages, and meaningful stories. We’re the kind of people who use instructions like “just a titch to the left” and we understand exactly what the other means by this. We also appreciate how even small adjustments can be enormously impactful.
Though it has been about a year and a half since the book was published, I still have the same excitement when I hold the slim volume in my hands as I did when I first unboxed my copies in the summer of 2021. I relish Jim’s attention to details: the weight and texture of the handmade paper he selected; the particular shade of blue he mixed for the title; the careful placement of the photograph after printing was complete; the hand sewn binding; and the tidy knot in the crease of the center page spread. The story was printed as an edition of sixty copies.
A testament to Jim’s artistry, works from The Wild Apple Press are held by the Royal Irish Academy Library; National Library of Ireland; Russell Library, Maynooth University; Early Printed Books, Trinity College Dublin; Burns Library, Boston College; Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University; Catholic University of America; and Special Collections, University of Delaware. In 2017, the National Print Museum of Ireland hosted an exhibition featuring The Wild Apple Press.
While my stories often take a completely digital form, I have deep and abiding love for the feel of a book in my hands and the crisp sound of a page turning. Telling stories the old-fashioned way will always have a place in my heart.