It's time now to think of cool things. Green, growing things, perhaps. Giant beech trees, or soothing, odiforous boxwood, maybe the sinuous olive trees that surround the Mediterranean.

Wood, in other words.

Kitchen utensils don't necessarily have to be wrought out of harsh, unnatural substances like metal or plastic. They can be fashioned, carved, created in a much gentler way out of wood.

Wood utensils have great advantages over both metal and plastic. First, they are quiet. They don't clatter and screech as you draw them over the bottom of your cooking pot. They don't mar surfaces like tin, which is often used to line fine copper pots, and they won't scratch up Teflon. They don't bang when you drop them. They don't melt and drip all over the inside of your dishwasher or the top of your stove.

And, if you should drop a wooden utensil over the side of your sailboat by accident, it wouldn't desecrate some stranger's far-off shore as plastic would, and it wouldn't sink either, like metal.

Wood, particularly olive and boxwood, looks and feels beautiful. And finally, wood is relatively cheap, even the good, hard woods like French beech, boxwood, ironwood or olive.

So what are the possiblities in wooden utensils? Start with the plain wooden spoon, with either a bowl or a flat paddle at the end.

Some cooks would say that the most useful utensil in the history of the world, outside of the whisk, is the wooden spatula. The spatula has a slightly curved, paddle-like ending that is shaped like a trapezoid instead of an oval or rectangle. It's good at reaching into the corners of pots and pans, and it also works as a regular spatula for turning over the hamburgers or lifting the tomates provencales from their pan.

A relative of the angled spatula is the corner spoon, which looks just like a spoon, except that it has a little protrusion on one side of the bowl that can ferret out that last bit of sauce hiding in the corners of the pot. One version has a hole in the middle of the bowl to facilitate mixing.

Then there are all manner of little spoons and dippers for special purposes. One especially charming one is the olive scoop, traditional in every barrel of olives around the Mediterannean and now cropping up here in fancy stores that sell bulk olives. It has a sphere-shaped bowl, with holes in the spheres so that liquid from the olives -- or whatever it is you are lifting and draining -- can escape. It's available in small and large sizes.

Regular wooden scoops come in several sizes, too, from fairly large ones for dipping sugar or coffee beans out of bins to tiny, delicate salt scoops for individual salt cellars.

Long-handled utensils with scoop-shaped endings are designed for shoveling out small bits of things from a relish tray, and there are smallish forks for spearing the spearable items.

Wooden tongs are classic; they don't heat up and they don't slide out of your hands as metal ones do. Wooden salad knives and forks are also classics, and they are available in some lovely grains.

There are lots of utensils, besides the conventional spoons, designed for various types of stirring. One is the wooden whisk, which is used by people who want to whisk sauces in copper-lined saucepans, or in those lined with a non-stick substance. Another is the Mexican chocolate stirrer, designed to be held upright in the cup between two palms, the handle then rotated between the palms while the bulbous ridged head agitates the chocolate to foamy perfection.

If you want to get really specialized, there are the long-handled, narrow-bowled spoons for stirring lemonade, and a special larger spoon just for sangria.

Back at the more mundane, or at least the better-known, there is a little wooden gadget called the lemon reamer (it can also ream limes, of course) which looks a little like a pestle with a pointed end. You address the lemon half with the pointed end, twist a few times and, voila, you have a reamed lemon and lots of juice and pulp.

Then there are all kinds of flat wooden pieces, beginning with the most useful of all, the strainer. It's a flat paddle with holes, and you can secure it against the side of your saucepan or frying pan as you empty out the contents. The strainer lets the liquid escape but keeps the solid stuff where it belongs.

Flat, narrow spatulas come in various sizes and can be used as butter, tapenade, or salmon mousse spreaders, with longer ones perfect for spreading cake icings. Some cooks think that wooden cake spatulas, although they aren't really flexible, are somehow more comfortable to work with than their metal cousins.

Most wooden kitchen utensils are found in kitchenware stores. You'll find some at Kitchen Bazaar, some at Williams-Sonoma, and the largest selection at La Cuisine. Stores such as Appalachiana that carry fine handicrafts sometimes carry handmade wooden items.

When it comes to kitchen utensils, the best woods to buy are the hardest. They may scorch if they're exposed to a flame, and they may bleach out a bit if they're left in water, but if they're well made and without schisms in the grain they should also last a long, long time. Scorching is not generally repairable, but bleaching and fading can be eliminated with application of a little vegetable oil and a bit of rubbing.