July 24, 2020
I’ve been working on a coffee table project and my garage workshop is tinged with the distinctive smell of white oak, an olfactory delight that conjures a primal knowledge of earth and sky and time. This morning I read of the passing of a majestic white oak tree, 230 years old, planted by George Washington on his Mount Vernon Estate. Caretakers heard it fall around midnight on a windless night last November; it just released itself from mother earth and laid down unexpectedly. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/07/24/washington-tree-mount-vernon/)
Woodworking can be a bit like acting as God; transforming the “dead” wood and giving it new life as a piece of art/furniture. Portable sawmill operators went to work immediately cutting the Mount Vernon Oak Tree into lumber and the wood was already earmarked for several significant projects. May the hands that work the wood honor the life lived by this special tree!
Five years ago my friends, Sandra and Mark, called to tell me that SDGE was planning to cut down a tree in the canyon behind their house in an older part of San Diego. Fungus had weakened the Aleppo Pine about seventy years old and it threatened some power lines. On cutting day, I showed up with borrowed truck, pumped up the tire pressure as high as I dared, and gave the crew a few bucks to cut a prime chunk of the trunk and crane it onto the truck. Later, I enlisted the help of a student from the Palomar College saw mill to come to my house and the two of us chainsaw milled the log into manageable slabs. I kept two book-matched slabs and donated the rest.
The seasoned slabs (shown “rough” above, about 4’x4′ in size) have now been glued together, shaped and sanded, and are ready for finishing. Meanwhile the sculptural “base” of white oak is well under way. Stay tuned for photos of the finished product which will be my first major piece with a “natural edge”.
Meanwhile, we just marked six months since the first reported case of Covid in the USA. There are now over four million Americans who have contracted the virus and over 145,000 dead. The epic failure of our country and our leadership to manage the pandemic is now painfully obvious. With little leadership at the top and little trust at the bottom, we seem resigned to making each other sick and enduring the economic hardship that results. These pitiful conditions cry out for a unifying vision.
And if the pandemic isn’t enough, the recent torture/murder of a black man on the street by a nonchalant police officer in Minneapolis, documented by a citizen video, has ignited activism on the very deep roots of slavery and racism in the American story. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained new life and has, for the first time, attracted many non-black citizens to learn about and protest the profound racial injustice embedded in our social fabric. And if the pandemic and the protests weren’t enough, the executive branch has been taken over by a corrupt mafia boss with sycophants now in place throughout many levels of government. Unidentified federal troops in full riot gear have been dispatched to cities where they are kidnapping people off the street with no regard for constitutional rights.
The George Washington Oak Tree had a cross and a star carved in the trunk by troops during civil war times. One-hundred and fifty years later, the scar was barely discernible. The tree survived and the young country survived. The mighty tree lived long enough to witness the birth of America, see the civil war come and go, see forty-five presidents come and go, see generation after generation pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. After going through all this history, I wonder why this wisened tree-elder decided to quit life now? Rather ominous. In these unsettled times may we gain the vision of an acorn and the perspective of an ancient oak. Amen.