It stood on the left side of the windowsill, which was generous enough to sit on, to read a book, or take in the view over the garden. I love anything that is rustic, made with imperfections as part of the structure, rather than smooth, mass-produced products which have no souls. The eyes slip over the surface of those things, hardly noticing them at all; but this, this was something with beauty, with texture, and a history.
He told me it was jarrah, made from an old fence post. Carved from a piece of wood that had come to the end of its useful life, and would have gone to waste otherwise. Rotting in a field, or firewood. Now it stood, a wooden vase, all curves and cracks and wood-grained warmth, on the sun-filled windowsill.
The workshop smelt of timber and was littered with wood shavings. I inhaled the tangy dust of the place, detecting linseed oil and turps lingering in the background. There were tools everywhere, their handles worn from long years of use, so that they fitted perfectly in the palm. A lump of wood, cracked and holey, part of an old fence post, I suppose, lay on the workbench, no doubt ready to be turned into some new object, carved into some new creation, to take on a life entirely new.
It stood in the very corner of a field, taking the strain of the wires running a right angles, south and west. Sheep were scattered across the grass, chewing calmly, watching me with a slight caution in their eyes. But they knew me well, just as they knew this field, and each old post in the fence, which they would sometimes rub themselves up against, satisfying their itches. And it stood there, that strong corner post, like a sentinel. What stories it could tell! Or perhaps it couldn’t tell many at all. Just tales of sheep and sun, rain and wind.
It stood tall, flanked by others of its kind, and different ones, all reaching out to each other, and to the sky. How long had this tree been here? Growing, putting forth its leaves and blossoms, drinking up water from the earth. It seemed meant to be. A splendour of grey, brown, green. It belonged.
There is nothing I would change about this place. No life I would take.
Then a man arrives, carrying a chainsaw, a noisy, biting machine, and I know that everything here will change. Whatever tree he takes, it will never be the same again.
A seed falls onto the bare, ashy ground, ready to grow. What will it become?
* * *
|Jarrah stump (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
I wrote this piece back in January at my writers’ group meeting. We were provided with a number of interesting objects to prompt our writing, one of which was a lovely wooden vase made from an old jarrah fence post. I decided to take a journey back through time to reveal the many lives of this piece of timber, back to its very origins as a newly fallen seed. The piece thus became a reflection on change, and on how we humans tend to create things by destroying other things—in this case, a living tree is cut down in order to be turned into fence posts. As Robin Wall Kimmerer writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013), ‘Just about everything we use is the result of another’s life, but that simple reality is rarely acknowledged in our society’ (p. 148). Does the fact that one of those jarrah posts eventually becomes a beautiful object to be displayed in someone’s home justify the initial death? Perhaps looking back at where something has come from, and remembering, in this case, that it was once a living being, enables us to appreciate it more.
I felt enlivened after writing this. It was the first piece I’d written that I’d been happy with in some time, and it reminded me of what I love about writing—and what I miss about it, now that I am not able to do so much. I thought I would share it here as a reminder to myself, and to all of you, that even in the darkest and most difficult times, there can be little glimmers of life and hope, and the arising of an unexpected beauty.