Tuesday, September 01, 2009

72632 narrative on narrative part 5

Yesterday in the CSS wood shop, I gave the high school students specific safety instructions on the various tools. I explained that they will be tested and that if they pass the test and can demonstrate their knowledge, they will be able to avoid many additional lectures in the coming months... lectures that I will presenting again to all those who have not passed the test. Today in the wood shop, 7th through 9th grade students will walk with me into the woods to gather crooks of wood to shape into hooks that will be used to hang their coats and backpacks. Continuation of my narrative on narrative follows below:

72632 part 5

My painter friend John says that I must be reincarnated from a tree. I do confess a particular interest in wood, trees, and forest. I believe some of my interest can be easily explained, and there is a large proportion of our population for whom little explanation will be needed. I grew up in a house full of antique furniture and for those who haven’t had the pleasure of living with things made of real wood, I recommend the experience. Many things get old, shabby and displeasing to the eye and hand through wear, and things made of wood become more beautiful, become smoother to the touch and more gentle to the eye and compelling to the heart.

Having perhaps been a tree myself (in a past life, if you believe John), and having made things from wood for over 30 years, I think I can explain a few things. A piece of wood tells the story of the tree and the forest from which it came. Where there’s a knot, there had been a branch. Where the grain is wide and straight, the tree had grown quickly, straight and tall. Where the grain is crooked or dense, the tree had grown in defiance of harsh circumstances. That story may be of little interest to some. A casual viewer might be interested only in the color, texture or figure of wood. A woodworker will be interested in its potential, its beauty, its color, its patterns of figure and grain, the width of the material, its structural integrity, the variety of things that can be made from it. And he or she will also be interested in its working qualities and may wonder how to get the best use of the wood, and make best use of its beauty. To arise to his or her highest level of craftsmanship, the woodworker engages deeply in “reading” the wood. Woodworkers of course aren't the only ones who read wood. Dendrochonologists and other scientists have used wood to create a time line of human and natural events, as small samples of wood in comparison with other samples describe the history of our ecology, our human culture and even the planet. Human beings and wood have a great deal in common, story telling comes natural to the both of us. Every thing we do, whether written, spoken or performed in real life tells of our natural environment, the nurturing soil of our communities, the light of our personal and cultural inspiration.

As an example, when I use a chisel to cut wood. The wood records the motions of my hand and arm, the shape and size of the chisel I've chosen, the quality of its cutting edge and the amount of force I've applied. It describes my level of attention and the practiced expertise expressed through my integration of hand, eye, stance and strength. So, an object made from wood is a collaborative thing. The wood tells its story and if a craftsman tells his own story with due diligence and respect for the wood, the collaborative story that is told and shared with future generations is richer than that told either by wood or craftsman alone.

Once you come to the awareness that you, in everything you do, use a variety of tools and materials to tell the story of your own life, then you will most certainly find that however much fun it is to hang out at Mama Slick’s, to gather with friends and tell stories in words, there is a real world out there. Real wood, real clay, real metal, real soil for growing things are there to be inscribed with your personal creativity, the story of your growth. There are wonderful stories to tell of your own life, that demand and deserve to be expressed in real material.


  1. Anonymous2:33 PM

    Maybe you were a Druid, and still worship trees as the vital part of nature that they are.


  2. I would certainly agree that trees are worthy of worship. does that make me a druid?