Woodzen

Following the seasons through the experience of a wooden bowl

One of the articles in Rediscovering The North American Vision (IC#3)
Originally published in Summer 1983 on page 56
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute

Our fledgling tradition of "children’s" stories is alive and well. The author lives in Portland, OR.

IT WAS EARLY EVENING, and the man was at the woodpile, gathering an armload to bring in. He picked up some scrap wood that was beside the logs, noticing one piece in particular that had an interesting knot. He turned it, felt its weight. He wet his finger to touch the grain, feeling a small thrill, wondering what it could become. This he would not burn, he decided, but he took it with him.

That night he picked up his carving tools and began; like the stone under Michelangelo’s hand, the wood revealed itself.

It was an excellent bowl. The shape was distinctive, not machine-turned. It was still new-smelling of lemon oil. A place was made for it on the kitchen shelf where it began its days of being an empty, ready vessel, holding soup, serving slices of fruit, offering salad.

A bowl slips into a household quietly, doing its part, being appreciated. As an object of beauty as this one was, with its circular grain and not-quite-roundness, it fitted into hands with ease for it was shaped by hands. When the children brought it out to the yard with them that day it was because it was loved and was chosen for the picnic in the grass. And it was left there that day near summer’s end, not so much because they did not care, but in the way that one would bring a kitten out and leave it in the yard to find out about the world of bugs and butterflies, to play in the sun.

The children had heard a call from the house and headed that way. The smallest girl stopped and turned, seeing the bowl in the flickering sun. She loved the sun. Would the bowl love it, too?

The weather changed. There was work indoors and gathering to do down the road. Light rains came. The leaves let go one by one. And in the grass was the wooden bowl.

By the time every leaf was fallen and wet against the earth, the bowl was blanketed there, hidden in the secrets of a season’s change. Winter was not yet, but it neared.

The man, the children, the woman who lived there, the animals of the house and the friend who lived there, too – none had known that a change of movement was at hand; events shifted together in a new pattern and it became evident that they would be leaving this place. How does one go from a tended garden, from a favorite place of many moments, leaving the distant wood still not completely explored?

All winter the worms came out in the rain. The wood of the bowl soaked up the moisture, live things crawled busily over it. Mornings of cold, clear sunlight for just a short while, then darkness.

There was one snow. Crisply white and silent. A sleepy stillness, then again the dark. Mostly there were many days of rain and silence.

There was a series of shots on one day, and for another few days a mouse sheltered herself around the half-buried bowl.

Spring came and no peas were planted. The garden was high with plants gone to seed. Robins plucked at the earth, loosening the leaves, exposing the sun to the bowl’s wood. The steady warming of the earth flushed out bursts of life. New growth reached out till by summer it was wild.

There came a day of sudden voices and new footsteps. These were acutely noted by the animals from their protected places of watching and listening. Paths lay flat in the wild grass under the footsteps.

On another day the voices came, the footsteps stayed. People moved into the house. Hammer sounds rang, there were human calls and whistles, and song. The garden was turned over. The bowl was found and brought to the kitchen.

How long it had been since hands had touched the wood!

Streams of water washed away the bug eggs, the grime of wintered leaves, the smell of earth. Gently, the wood was showed, aged now, spotted here and there, yet a bowl. It sat upon a sill, gathering pins, marbles, a screw, a broken earring.

The first time the bowl fell a fissure stepped between the grains. The second time it was a full crack.

Off the sill into the new greenhouse. Some dirt and a young seedling and, again, the warm sun. This was a new position for the bowl, holding soil, being vessel to a growing thing.

It was a summer of heat, with misting in the early morning, open vents by late afternoon and lush growth everywhere.

The cat sauntered in every now and then. Mosquitoes batted against the glass. The cat pawed the glass, jumped down, knocking the bowl to the concrete. Broken in half.

A woodpile gathers unto itself. Burrowing mice, nesting insects. Logs on this side, broken handles and other wood remnants on that. One can gather an armload, bring it indoors and stack it. Into the fire one places a chunk of it, watching it take to the flames. Funny how each wood gives different warmth. Some of it has grown in the quiet backwoods, others have become again and again. And in a morning, one takes ashes to the garden.

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