“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” John Muir
I made this little shaving the other day in a piece of ash. It got me thinking about connection – more specifically, “interconnectedness,” which is a word I trip over every time I pronounce it. I was fresh from a conversation about the emerald ash borer and how that little bug is likely to turn most of our beautiful ash trees into memories within my lifetime, in the same way that chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease wreaked havoc in the 20th century. But here I am, in a moment in time when ash lumber is plentiful and Maine’s trees are (mostly) still untouched by infestation. There will be a day when woodworkers will look back on us with a touch of envy at the woods we have to work with – in the same way we glance back to the wide, slow-grown pines and chestnuts of yesteryear. We’re all just hand-tool woodworkers on different parts of the timeline. There is a genuine sense of connection there, and it inspires awe.
Imagine a wide-angle, time-lapse video of the location of your nearest town, beginning well before that town was settled. Billowing clouds would roll through the sky denoting entire winters; the forest would visibly creep ever skyward as seasons change by the second. There might be an occasional brief flash from a hunter’s campfire, or a blurred glimpse of a family or tribal group following an ancient trail to summer fishing grounds. Then the trees start coming down, first a handful for the construction of a cabin and a cleared plot for corn, then they fall in waves from that epicenter. A road advances caterpillar-like along the old footpath, and other buildings emerge. These rise and fall, moving from wood to brick to glass and concrete, and the whole scene becomes permanently lit from within by the glow of electricity. Soon red-and-white tracers denoting automobiles zip along the grid of streets.
Now, slow that video at just the right moment. There. It’s today. We’re all living our lives, going out and coming in, maybe even spending some time in the evening sharpening our tools and planning some woodworking project. Night comes, and everything picks up speed again. Now the years and centuries advance away from us, into some unknown future. I imagine that this video would have to do a slow fade to black. The future is unknown, but it is shaped by the things we do today and decisions we make. Not only that, but today was built on the foundation of yesterday, and so on. There’s no separating the threads – every piece is linked together. And the part that each of us plays, regardless of how small it may seem, spreads out and reverberates like ripples in a pond.
Okay, you’ll have to forgive my little metaphysical mind trip here – I’m almost done. Above, you see a plain little rock. It’s a variety known as Kineo flint, a type utilized for many centuries for stone tools. These tools were used by hundreds of generations of inhabitants for hunting, making food, and for working wood. My particular flake came from an area of known prehistoric occupation located many miles from the source of the stone, and was long ago sheared off from a larger bit that was being shaped into a tool. It is entirely possible that the last person to touch this piece before me was working next to a fire, tens of centuries ago, thinking about the events of the day while knapping out a sharp-edged tool for a woodworking project.
So there you have it. Bits of rock, edges of tools, and shavings of wood. Little connections to the rest of the universe.