Vidalia man uses nature to craft canes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 23, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; When Gary Mills walks through the forests and the bayous of Louisiana he sees stories.

On branches, Mills sees owls, cypress trees, dragons, butterflies and an infinite number of designs.

Mills is an artist.

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&8220;But my canvas isn&8217;t flat,&8221; Mills said standing in his back porch studio on Peach Street in Vidalia. &8220;My canvases are round.&8221;

For the past 10 years, Mills has been crafting canes and walking staffs out of hardwood he has found on his many walks through California deserts, Oregon forests and Louisiana bayous.

In fact, he has crafted 175 walking canes since he picked up his first sticks in the Mohave Desert.

&8220;I was recuperating from heart surgery and the doctors said to walk,&8221; Mills said.

But instead of just walking, Mills found sticks to bring back with him.

But the artist in him saw more than sticks. With the encouragement of a friend, Mills began carving and wood burning designs into the pieces of wood.

Squirrels, deer, bears, rattlesnakes, even flowers and dragonflies have found their way onto Mills walking canes.

Many of them are carved with a theme, from Native American to Civil War to the cypress swamps of Louisiana.

Four of them have a 1880s map of the Natchez Trace winding its way around the staffs.

&8220;Everyone of these is totally different &8212; not one is the same,&8221; Mills said.

But that is not to say there isn&8217;t a recurring feature in his art.

&8220;On many of them I have put an owl,&8221; Mills said. &8220;They watch your footsteps as you are walking through life on this earth.&8221;

Much of his handiwork goes to friends and family. Monday, Mills delivered a cane to a friend who has been battling cancer.

His canes can be found in four provinces in Canada, all across the United States and as far south as Guadalajara, Mexico.

And for all of his 19 grandchildren, he has promised a Mills original when each one turns 12-years-old.

On each one he carves a number and the name &8220;Walker&8221; near the bottom.

&8220;I hope that one hundred years from now, someone will find one of my sticks and wonder who Walker was,&8221; Mills said.

Mills canes are sold locally at the Old South Trading Post in Natchez.