Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stories hidden in the wood...

...not "the wood" in the sense of "into the woods," but the way a memory is triggered, full-blown, complete with scents, sounds, touch, sight...


We sat companionably in the shed last night and suddenly my eye was caught by a piece of oak that has been on my desk since we built the shed--and before that, in a place of honor among my treasures in the dining room--and before that, on a shelf at our old farmhouse.

I remembered that rounded end used to glow with a deep shine; I felt the need to rub it until it shone once again. 

And like Aladdin's lamp, the genie of memory was called forth.

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When we lived on the farm, back in the 70s, my then-husband Harris and I cut wood for fuel.  We also had propane, but it was not adequate for our tiny 140-year-old log house, and the cats' water would freeze on the floor.  So would our feet!  We supplemented with a woodstove and a vintage cookstove in the kitchen, and that meant cutting a lot of wood.

We preferred to cut deadwood, already seasoned and ready to burn, so we constantly kept our eyes open for possibilities.  I think we amused some of our longtime REAL-farmer neighbors when we'd ask if we could cut this or that old snag, but they always graciously allowed the greenhorns to do what they needed to, to survive.

This wintry day we climbed a barb-wire fence into an unused pasture with the tumbled remains of another log cabin on it, a frontier homestead long abandoned, fallen in on itself.  The tree that had once shaded those ghostly inhabitants had long since succumbed to age or lightning or wind, and lay reaching toward the road with broken, bare branches. Perfect firewood, that aged oak.

My Ichabod-Crane husband plied the roaring chain saw while I split and carried wood to our undependable old Chevy truck...and then I noticed the rounded end of one of those branches.  It shone with a rich polish, smoothed by years of cattle rubbing against it to ease an itch; it looked as though it had been sanded and rubbed with tung oil for generations.

At my request, my bemused spouse cut that end off for me and I carried it home, separate from the more mundane firewood--the rest of the wood burned merrily in our stoves, but that little piece has traveled with me down the decades, from house to house and life to life.

And polishing it again to restore its glow, I can still smell the aroma of cattle, the prickle of frost in my nostrils, the scent of my own woodsmoke on a snowy day. 

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Funny that it took me close to 40 years to sketch it.  While we lived on the farm, I did some of my favorite paintings--of my double-bitted axe, of the barn door, of the goats, the woodpile, the watering trough in a nearby field, and the colander full of just-hulled peas.  I painted  the hand scythe in the barn, the bright jars of tomatoes on the woodstove, Harris tilling the garden, myself carrying wood into the house. I painted the beloved little house itself.  I even painted Ern, our elderly neighbor, making sorghum and wreathed in sweet, fragrant steam.

Winter Crow
 
Hand Scythe



Old Ern

But this homely bit of magic in its place of honor on my desk is what called up the memory of that one icy afternoon, in all its amazing detail. 

That's the magic of art.

18 comments:

  1. Amazing memories my friend. Beautiful telling of that piece of time past. I could almost smell the smoke myself.

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    1. Thank you, Tony...it was a wonderful, exhausting time in my life, that 7 years. SO many memories...and I was amazed how that ONE DAY came rushing back as I rubbed the polished wood.

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  2. I love your story~ ... and that fact that you still have your hunk of wood. I am a saver of "things" ~ as well as memories, it just makes perfect sense.
    Art IS magic. Thanks for sharing. :))

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    1. I keep the oddest things, Melody...when our old cabin was torn down after we moved away, I had the chance to rescue one of the pegs that had held it together. It's a treasure, too. I may have to sketch it as well!

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  3. Wonderful story telling through your words and your paintings. Reading this makes me look around and appreciate the small and everyday items and moments that give me peace and make my life rich. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. When it comes down to it, there aren't all that many that I REALLY want to keep, that mean a lot to me, and often they are silly little things like that piece of wood.

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  4. As charming a writer as you are a painter! Lovely!

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  5. Beautiful story. It conjured up memories of my own, just reading it. Thank you for the trip down memory lane.

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  6. Thanks so much, all...funny the things that strike us, isn't it? That's been a treasure for years.

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  7. My father had a too auction Saturday, selling sixty years of accumulation, as well as 2-3 cords of wood out back. I cried this morning, reading this. For me, it is so sad. But your drawing is very good.

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    1. Thank you...yes, it's hard seeing things go that we treasure, isn't it!

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  8. Such sweet memories, thanks for sharing them and their art with us.

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  9. It's like a beautiful movie starts from a great sketch. Love this so much!

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  10. Thank you! It was a wonderful and scary and exhausting and challenging time...

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