The modern world made a sea change when the wood pencil was replaced by a mechanical one — and what was lost in that industrial design exchange was our tether to the land, a sense of impermanence, and a shared yearning for renewable resources.


The peril in the mechanization of the pencil — from wood to metal to plastic — resonates most profoundly between the fingers of our children.

Where once the wood pencil was something to be measured and grasped as its point dulled from use and its length only shortened in the refining of the lead, and then graphite, tip; now, with the rise of the mechanical pencil, we no longer see embedded tooth marks of ownership in the body or smell in our noses the unforgettable cedar smoke ground out by the gears of a pencil sharpener. 

Mechanization removes history by replacing the itinerant with the permanent.

A wood pencil brings us back to our national roots and renews the pioneer spirit:  We were all once made of trees and covered in ochre and tin tipped with a pink rubber eraser. 

A mechanical pencil — with its evangelical, everlasting, point and hard-polished metal body and millennial plastic ends — is made to root out the now and dominate the future.

In that battery of past memory for the emotional instant — we become weaker in ourselves and in the natural genetics of an ongoing evolution that used to live in the palm of our hands.

2 Comments

  1. I know what you are talking about David!
    This is making me nostalgic. Our school was very strict about pencils – we used to use HB pencils for something then 2B for another purpose and so on….
    Miss those days!

  2. Well done, Katha! Yes, it was always a delight to buy the “right pencil” for the specific task at hand and then wonder as it disappeared from your hand with use. The “No. 2” was the most used for writing and test-taking because it left a bold, dark, imprint behind on the page; but they were also hard to keep sharp because of the soft point.