|charcoal on paper, 22" x 30"|
The kids are beat and whiney, too tired to get out of the car. Faith and I go, to see probably one of the most amazing living trees in the world. It's estimated to be about 300-400 years old; quite an awesome site, with branches drooping down through the ground and back out again. I knew I had found a new muse...
The first time I went back, I haul all my gear out and bring it over to the base of the tree. While checking out different angles to draw from, the lady who runs the gift shop comes out and says I have to set up my equipment outside the canopy's perimeter. This threw me off, because I was planning on doing some drawings up close to the tree, cropping the limbs as they splayed out from the trunk. Sometimes it's better to work under certain limitations though, so I stepped back further away, using the trunk as the focal point.
|charcoal on paper, 22" x 30|
|charcoal on paper, 22" x30"|
A woodworker named Stone traveled to Ch'i. When he got to Ch'u-yuan, he saw a great chestnut tree that served as a village shrine. Large enough to shade thousands of oxen, it was a hundred spans around and rose high as a mountain, it's lowest branches some eighty feet above the ground. More than a dozen of these lower branches were large enough to be hollowed out into boats. Sightseers were packed together like at the marketplace. Woodworker Stone barely gave it a glance, continuing along his way without looking back. But his apprentices couldn't keep from gawking, then had to run to catch up. One said, "Since we took up our axes to follow you, Master, we've never seen such beautiful material. But you didn't give it it a second look! You went right on by. How can this be?"
"Enough!" Stone cried. "Don't talk about it. That wood is trash. Make a boat from it and the boat will sink. For coffins, it rots too fast. For utensils, it's too brittle. It keeps too much sap to use for a gate or door. Make a pillar, and it will attract worms. It's not good timber for anything. It can't be used. That's how it got so old."
After the woodworker returned home, the great tree appeared to him in a dream, saying, "You compare me to cultivated trees, the hawthorne, the pear, the orange, all the shrubs and trees that bear fruit? When their fruit is ripe they're stripped, peeled, and generally abused, big branches broken off, little ones dripping sap from wounds. They have a wonderful ability to make a miserable life of usefulness. The string of their days and years cut off, they are beaten and torn by unruly saps. So it is for all things in the world. That's why I strive to master the arts of uselessness. Although it nearly killed me, I've got it now. It's really useful to me. If I were of any use, do you suppose there'd be any chance for me to have grown so large? You and I are both things. Why pass judgement? You're a man born to die. Are you mere trash? Why call me trash?
When the woodworker Stone awakened, he told his apprentices about his dream.
"It it's trying so hard to be useless, why has it become a shrine?" they wanted to know.
"That's a secret," Stone replied. "Don't mention it to anyone. It's just pretending. This way it can also be protected from people who don't appreciate uselessness. It it weren't portraying a shrine, it might still be cut down and cut up. It hides its difference from others. You might honor it for the nobility of its intentions, but that might be going a bit too far."
* from the Essential Chuang Tzu, translated by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton, Shambala publications 1998