So much has already been written about the masterpiece above (especially by those who love mixing up word tinctures of their own) that I don't feel any need to directly address the book I finished reading earlier today. Instead I want to share a snippet of its impact on my thoughts and behavior. Above I've paired The Overstory with a carved teakwood table that's held space in five generations of my family's living rooms. On my watch generation number five, at age six, one day discovered stickers via an unknown-to-me girl on his school bus. She was evidently on a mission to Convert Some Boys to the joys of this microcosmic universe of late 80's merchandising excess and ready availability. Thus she sent T. home with a thick handful of vividly hued high heeled shoes, elaborate sunglasses and improbably colored insects with human faces. He told me nothing about them at the time and it took me awhile to see his first experimental forays into guerrilla collage art.
Since he stuck at first to the inside of his closet walls and an obscure shelf in our little used full-on Victorian butler's pantry, I didn't actually notice until three substantial colonies of lurid strawberries and cartoonish hats filled with puppies peppered the top of this table. I had just enough mom-time under my belt to understand that dealing successfully with the situation wasn't going to be a matter of stop doing that so much as do this instead. Despite my awareness of the implicit trivial tree usage (not to mention the plastic) I had my own stash of stickers. Anytime I added to the collection I was aware I was only going to hoard them and then I'd purchase the modest selection all the same. Later I was glad I had them on hand. I still held on much too tightly to these personally gratifying treasures but by then it was purposeful. I kept this collection so I had something visually interesting and thus endorphin releasing to shuffle through when I couldn't sleep because of the first terrible awful no-good very bad gulf war.
Back in mom-land: I didn't reprimand so much as I abruptly changed the ongoing narrative. I produced my cache and silently fanned out the barest taste of what my hands contained: three dimensional and highly realistic amphibians; not just the obvious Big Cats but also much smaller intricately patterned wild felines; holographic and highly realistic photographs of the sun flaring every which way. His eyes glistened. And despite the way it had always hit me dead-wrong as a kid, I moved in strong to place us both in non-negotiable 'bargaining' mode by stating my opinion as ultimate fact: These stickers are much more beautiful. He gave me his young boy's version of today's patented why not state the obvious expression. Then he reached towards my pile while, in a surprise move that floored me with his innate sense of reciprocity, simultaneously passing me the eye-stabbing bubblegum images some other mother was going to have to remove from family heirlooms.
That day my son and I spent our after school time together creating strips of drafting vellum to fit along the painted-over-for-generations oak molding that separated the living room from the dining room. Then we spent laughing, silly and undeniably quite high quality time together until it was nearly the dinner hour. We stuck chamelons and different species of maple leaves and supernovas and Saturn plus Jupiter encircled by all its moons and several somewhat grotesque stone statues from throughout Europe all along the vellum strips. When he went to sleep that night I moved the teak table into the adjacent room and piled it high with fabric on both levels. Was in such a hurry to spare it further harm that I didn't pause long enough to remove the stickers first. By the time I discovered the oversight we'd moved to the mid-state wilds and the table had, for the first few years of abruptly shifted daily reality, lived in our cedar closet with fabric still piled high upon it. By then the stickers were fused in place. I had to saturate several parts of the table in lemon oil-soaked rags. Nowadays I prefer to use Lemon Verbena wood conditioning cream but somehow this table's remained neglected for five or six years now.
The day after I began reading The Overstory I spent a number of impromptu hours attending to my lapse in care for this beloved friend of a lifetime. First I removed all the books from the lower shelves and then I moved two large bowl shaped planters. They had to be moved separately because of their heaviness. I put my hand on the bare dried wood and said in a clear soft voice Thank You. I meant that as in: for surviving despite the years of burden placed upon you simply because you are a table and they are made to put things on. Then I apologized for my lapse in restorative care and set to work. It took me a few hours to thoroughly rub the conditioner into the many grooves and sharp lines of the carved wood's continuous pattern. Sometimes I told the wooden table how beautiful it was. Sometimes I tried as best I could to imagine what a teak forest might have been like once long ago. Sometimes I cried for any number of reasons. In the evening I buffed the table. Its glow suggested it would be even happier if I buffed it again in the morning.
Through all of my human perambulations of the two days it took to thoroughly love up this piece of my entire memory soaked life, I kept my basic sensory awareness on what it was like while I sat in a girl-like puddle of legs and baggy clothes slowly caressing the conditioner into the wood. I went back early in the first day's afternoon to give a second much thinner application of nourishment to the most abraded spots. And thought to speak aloud - directly to the wood I was feeding - of asking just this one last winter's responsibility of holding the heavy plants in place I worked in a way that was happy and entirely present. The next day I buffed the wood slowly and with close attention to the wood's emerging life force telling its own lifetime's worth of experience in the human world. By the time I felt satisfied the table looked like itself again - as I remembered it from my childhood.. I thought longingly of those faraway teak forests none of us (including teak trees) will ever be able to know first-hand. I also thought about the book I had just started reading. Seventy pages in, it was already clear to me that I wasn't going to forget any of it in a hurry. But I didn't yet realize how mind and heart opening an experience it was going to be to read this book all the way through and then quietly sit with the first levels of its meaning for me just starting to form sentences. So often in situations like this I just go all the way back to my jersey girl roots of ultimate personal expression: whoa.
how would we have any way of knowing how long wood retains an intelligence memory of its former life as LIFE itself? how would a member of our species have the first genuine knowledge or right to put terms and conditions on what is or isn't possible within the vast parameters of inter-species communication?