Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Magic of the Kuksa

Funny how much our sense of smell can evoke powerful memories of times and places from our past. The way an old baseball glove or fresh cut grass reminds me of the ball fields of my youth. The way decomposing wet leaves floods my mind of the Pacific Northwest. The way the scent of Labrador Tea sends the mind drifting through the boreal forests of the north. And the way the fragrant kit-kit-dizze will let you know you have immersed yourself in the Sierra Nevadas.

Funny how your sense of smell intertwines with your mind to bring forth visions from your sense of sight. Here lies the magic of the kuksa.

Many ancient cultures had utensils which aided in cooking, eating, storage, and care of food and drink. The bamboo, bronze, jade, and china of ancient Asians. The clay cups and vessels of ancient Europe and Africa. Grass and reed basketry of the ancient Americans. The kuksa has been used in northern Scandinavia for thousands of years. Lapplanders from the northern reaches of Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Russia used the birch tree for many different utensils and structures.

The maker of this fine item is Alexander Yerks. You can find out about him and pick one up for yourself at   I had the opportunity to purchase a kuksa from him back in April of last year. Since then, the cup has been used on the weekends at my home, and been with me on every excursion to the woods, so that I may have a lovely vessel in which to drink my coffee from. Black with sugar. It has been a pleasure to drink from a fine, handcrafted, wooden grail, which fits in so well with the outdoors.

A few months ago, for some unknown reason, I had stopped using it at home to drink coffee from. Reverting back to the ceramic objects of custom. And not drinking in the woods for a few months it sat there, neglected. Last weekend I broke it out again. Filled it up with some strong black elixer of life, brewed in my favorite fashion, boiled for one minute and not a second more in an aluminum pot, a'la Mors Kochanski bushcraft style. Stirred in some sugar. Brought it to my lips, inhaling the aromas as I took my first sip, and............ Magic!

Instantly all the memories of when I had used this cup in the forests and lakesides came rushing to the forefront of my mind. I could feel the fresh mountain air and smell the woodsmoke of the cooking fire. I know it sounds like an old Folgers commercial, but hang with me. The magical mixture of good coffee and sugar, bee's wax and tung oil and birch wood combined to highten my senses to varying degrees of satisfaction. "Oh yeah, that's good" I found myself saying out loud.

The kuksa has easily become my favorite piece of my excursion kit. No other piece has the power it has. The feel and cut of the knife doesn't do it. The satisfaction of the chop from an axe doesn't do it. The fine texture and smell of waxed canvas doesn't do it. No other piece of kit has the magic of the kuksa. If you don't believe me, find out for yourself. Use one for a while, then set it aside for some time. Come back to it again, and the magic will hit you like a thunderbolt! I don't know if I can recommend a piece of gear as highly as one of Alex's kuksa. Yes, this is a review from someone who has experienced a little magic.

These feelings that came over me pleaded with the rest of my senses to do something "woodsy". I decided then was the time to look inside a giant sequoia stump and rootball that I pulled out of my front yard a few months ago to see if there was any burl worth carving. Kinda junky, but some bright prospects to delve into. Do a little delvin'. The 20 foot speciman in my front yard was clearly not suited to survive in this environment. Too hot and dry at this too low elevation, coupled with a lack of winter snow had proved too much for this tree. So out it came.

Also made some half rounds of a local hardwood, California Sycamore. I had read that this wood is too coarse grained to work, but maybe a kuksa of my own making is waiting inside. When inspiration hits, it's best to roll with the punch.


  1. How did I not see this. This has to be one of the greatest insights and writeups on any gear put forth... As the maker of this kuksa.. I'm amazed on the depth you captured ... I thought I was the only one who 'got it' or had these beliefs...

    Maybe the ancient people carried these cups.. because to them they were magical? Seems to work for you... if each cup brings you joy, or happiniess.. is that not magic in itself? I always look into my drink when using a kuksa. I feel like it's some sort of 'well of knowledge' in some ways... it helps me think. Maybe this reflection into oneself... thru the reflection in the kuksa's liquid... can help bring 'visions'... We must talk more about this. I think you nailed it with your post.

    Cheers, and thank you for this write up. I'm honored to know that I have made you something you cherish that much. I need to come back to this blog more often.. I'm just seeing this now!

    Cheers, your woodsman pal from NY, Alex.

    1. Thanks! These truly are magical tools. You sure have talent in making these one of a kind pieces.