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Heartwood and soul (09/17/2006)
By Janet Lewis Burns

When I was a little shaver living in the small town of Lewiston with my folks and two younger sisters and a brother, life seemed so simplistic and secure. The farm kids were tougher and often came to school smelling of warm milk and wet hay, their hands callused.

So what? I'd like to believe that no one was deeply hurt when some of the students hailing from more lucrative households than others flaunted their nicer things, or as the big shot "jocks" strutted in an egotistical swagger up and down the corridors of learning. The farmer's kid had no time or money for school sports or baseball and basketball practice. ("Them" and "us?")

I recall senseless heated bickering between the Catholic and Protestant girls, occasionally dividing an otherwise carefree and giggling clique of students. In high school there were the cheerleaders and the bookworms, the in crowd and the loners. After graduation divisions arose between the college-bound and the "just about anything else." ("Them" and "us.")

A melting pot of cultures, nationalities, and human races coexist in the U.S., and not always amicably or civilly. A coat of many colors can blend beautifully or it can clash distastefully, too much "them" and "us."

Six hundred eighty tree families, native to North America, stand peacefully side by side in forest, parks, and on yards. One doesn't have to know a tree's scientific genus and species to acknowledge its unique characteristics or to wallow in its comforting shade.

With dead heartwood at its core, no tree of any species harbors or nourishes a live soul. A red cedar doesn't tremble and cower in fear of the white pine grove towering above it, or retaliate when wayward winds whip its branches violently.

One secluded covey of diverse individuals live in harmony and good will. Throughout the former century, so-called "bohemians" migrated to the Catskill Mountains and an insignificant berg named Woodstock, New York. These nonconformist "rebels" created a communal atmosphere, and have cleverly constructed dwellings, studios, and workshops out of authentic materials, some scavenged from abandoned tool sheds, farms, quarries, and dumps in the area.

Goaded by ingenuity and intrinsic energy, homes belonging to artists, sculptors, glass workers, writers, and gardeners took shape with style. Some began with the shells of deserted churches, schoolhouses, a mill, barns, a Greyhound bus, and the karma of an ancient oak whose appendages protrude throughout one abode.

He's been at home here from the time of Woodstock I, 1969, the renowned rock festival that enhanced the public perception of the youth culture. (Four hundred thousand young people assembled peaceably for three days of music and harmony.)

It was here that he breathed life into a private haven among other free spirits, and hemlock, chestnut, and bluestone. He stayed...and never looked back.

The bald-headed, spry gentleman has a quick smile and broad shoulders. Smelling of eucalyptus soap and his herb garden, he leads the visitor to a shanty where his kiln sits among every size and shape of earth-toned pottery and stacks of colorful floor tile, dusty with unfulfilled intentions.

The shell of his squatty three-roomed bungalow was constructed with chicken wire over a network of woven saplings and plastered. A faded U.S. flag with 46 stars, dating back to the genesis of the Woodstock aura, hangs on a stone wall alongside framed paintings of Sitting Bull and other native warriors. Heavy cast-iron cookware lines discolored knotty log shelves.

A stained glass window livens up a dull hardwood floor through midmorning's rising temperatures. Bulky and unrefined furniture is wabi sabi, ruggedly charming and draped with hand-sewn quilts. Enlarged nature photos, collected through the years, are emboldened by folks obscured in the distance, adorned in nothing but bare flesh.

Dead heartwood comes alive in the skillful hands of a woodworker, just as the destitute soul of man is awakened by design, by a masterful and divine "Creator." ("Dust to dust.")

The Woodstock experience - harmony, love, and peace - lives on, where "them" and "us" are one.

Janet Burns has been a lifelong squatter in this neck of the woods (when she's not poking around elsewhere). She can be reached at patandjanburns@earthlink.net 


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