Wednesday, February 28, 2007

When furniture made from a chewed up stew of forest by-products begins to wear, sorry things appear. The plastic laminate surface whose color and carefully randomized wood image has kept us fooled and satisfied for a time peals or chips away and reveals the lack of integrity beneath. I'm very sorry, but there is no real wood there, nothing to fix.

Years ago I made a small cherry trestle-style dining table that served in our home through my daughter's earliest years. At one point, my wife asked me to sand and refinish the top. It had seen years of direct sunlight and looked dry from wiping after meals with a damp cloth.

As I began to sand, there were things I noticed that brought me to a halt. There in the surface were very slight indentations... the markings where my daughter Lucy sat as a toddler and tapped with her spoon. These were marks that I could have sanded through, but I wouldn't do it. Real wood records the lives of those who have found pleasure in its use.

There is comfort to be found in provenance. I'm not talking here about a written record of the journey and ownership of work that a museum curator would keep on file, but of the small markings, coded signs left in wood that record our lives and can only be seen, read, and understood by those who have known love in its use.

We learn to take both anguish and pleasure in the wear and tear that shows up on real wood. Our lives are inscribed in it and on it. Just as the rings, grain and imperfections in wood tell the story of the life of the tree, the forest and the earth, the wood in our homes is the medium upon which details of our own lives are recorded and preserved. Wood is a narrative thing. It tells its own story, then the story of the craftsman and then ours. To live our lives without it would be a very sad thing.

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