What can be done when at the height of spring, lightening strikes, destroying a living, breathing tree?
If the heart wood is sound, it then becomes a resource.
I pick up my old saw and cut two pieces from the golden and red heart, one each for the little one and me.
Then we begin to sand, first with coarse sandpaper, because the wood is full of ridges and splinters. She gets the idea quickly, and sitting by the fire, keeps sanding while I make the dinner. I’m surprised by her focus, but then again we both come from a long line of wood carvers. My grandfather Tempest carved beautiful furniture which he sent out on the boat with his daughter Amy when she voyaged to New Zealand to marry my grandfather.
My father’s father was a builder and creator of houses. Working with wood was in my father’s blood, and in mine. Just the smell of sawdust as my saw bites into the kanuka gives me a thrill of long-forgotten things.
We change to medium grain sandpaper, and then the next morning to fine grain. It’s exciting to feel the wood grow smooth and satin to the touch. With all the sanding, the colour has faded.
But ‘wait!’ I say, ‘it will come back.’ I dig out an old bottle of raw linseed oil from under the house. We anoint our pieces of wood, just as my father and grandfathers would have done. The wood glows golden and red once more. It smells good. And the pieces are beautiful.
In Maori tradition, when a significant elder dies, the event is often likened to the falling of a great tree.
Today I attended the funeral of my oldest client, who died just after her 93rd birthday. Even though her peers have long ago passed on, the chapel was full, for Betty was much loved by many generations.
Amidst the sorrow I witnessed a life being harvested, and like good heart wood, sanded and smoothed by much touching and remembering, already on the way to being reshaped into something new, beautiful and lasting.