On This Medium

I’ve been knee-deep in a project building something I neither have the tools for the skills for.  The wood I’m using is mesquite, which is also an unfamiliar wood to a person used to eastern hardwoods – walnut, oak, maple, cherry.  The thing is, I am awed by the spectrum of colors and variety, even in one species of timber, let alone the variety of species and sub-species!  Ruminate on this with me a minute.

I recently had a long conversation with a Native American friend of mine.  Now, before you think Dan is a kook, let me say that I would definitely not characterize him as being militant, nor anti-American (he has served his country in Vietnam, for example,) nor anti-social (he is a fellow volunteer firefighter.)  He has received honors from his tribal council, and I believe is viewed among them as being a spiritual leader.  Dan spent time explaining to this Methodist how “his people” view the spiritual world – or perhaps, the world spiritually.  In other words, he believes that there is an overarching supreme being (God the Creator), who has created this world and all that live in it to have spirits of their own.  Therefore the trees that you and I work as wood are spiritual beings and are to be respected as such.

While there is a ring of plausibility to this view (I’m not sure that we are going to be able to resolve our boundary issues on things like this in our lifetime here on earth,) the danger, of course, is in personifying inanimate objects such as trees into having “feelings” and consciousness.

The value of this point of view comes when you apply your first coat of oil to the wood you are working on, and its grain, its unique color shouts back at you!  Although I don’t understand the system that apparently is entanglement of branches and roots, I have to believe now that the paper mulberry tree out my window is not simply chaos, but that there is organization to each individual bud and tip.

Even thought I’m not prepared to embrace the religion of the Native American, since my conversation with Dan I have found myself able to enter a deeper reverence for the medium that I’m permitted to work in!  At the very least, how fortunate I am to call myself a worker of wood!  The upside to this is it gives me a spiritual excuse for exercising my Scottish heritage in saving every little offcut… I might need it for another use some day!


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