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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, October 26, 2008

As a Twig is Bent

[Originally posted May 4, 2006, but chronologically this story of the braided trees happened between Chapters 8 and 9 of "Unsettled." Chapter 9 coming soon.]

In the corner of our front entry, there's an old copper umbrella stand with a small collection of walking sticks.

The oldest one is the bent bamboo cane my wife's Grampa Sutton walked with out to his vegetable garden. It's thin, uncomplicated, and strong like he was. There's another one made of a hackberry branch (the one 2nd from the right with a thumb rest). Her father gave me that one the last time we were in Kansas. He used to hike with it a few years ago, but I found it abandoned in his barn. I told him with a little whittling and varnish it would look nice in with the others, and he was happy to let it go. The one with the antler for a grip is made from an ironwood tree I cut at our homestead last year. The corkscrewed stick (beside the stand in the picture) was cut the same day. In a sense, I started making that walkin' stick about 36 years ago, and only finished it today. Now how can that be true if I just cut it last year?

One Saturday back around 1970, my Dad and my brother Dave and I were clearing trails on "the Property." Dad's chain saw was howling away and spewing wood chips in the air. Dave and I were watching him work and doing a little of our own, swinging weed whackers—not the gas-powered kind (it would be years before we heard of those)—the old weed whackers worked pretty much like a five iron.

About every fifteen minutes or so, we'd haul a few wheel barrels full of cut wood off to the south side of the barn. During one spell from whacking and hauling, I got the notion to braid three willowy saplings together. I didn’t know what kind of trees they were—they weren't the same—but they stretched up from the ground about six inches apart, and as young trees do in the dense woods, they grew up toward the sparse sunlight with most of their branches high overhead. I braided them like three strands of rope, mindful not to uproot or break them. When I was done, I showed Dad. "Will they die?" I asked.

"Not right away I suppose, but one thing's for sure: In a few years, if they live, you won't be able to undo them." He picked up his chainsaw and started to yank the starter rope then added, "'As the twig is bent, the tree inclines.'"

I've thought about those words many times as an educator. Some things about each of us are a pretty set by the time we enter school. Not all things, of course, but probably more than we'd like to admit. Dad was quoting Virgil. I didn't know who said it until a few minutes ago when I tried to find it in the Bible. My search came up short. The principle is there, of course, in verses like, Proverbs 22:6 "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." But the quote itself is credited to Virgil from Rome's 1st century BC.

I forgot about the braided trees until thirty-five years later when we were selling off some of the property. I was getting sentimental about the old trails and decided to cut some canes and staffs for future "gifts." That's when I remembered braiding the saplings and walked to that part of the woods to see what had become of them.

When I got to the very spot, there it was... not three braided trees—just one tree holding the shape of the braid. The other trees had long-since rotted away. And in fact, this tree was also dead but sturdy in its place. I think it's hickory or some other hard wood (not oak). It seemed strange to see it there still holding every gentle twist I imposed upon it all those years ago. I have no idea how long it stood there in that dried state, but the wood is solid and strong. It's been in my garage for a year. Today I "finished it" for the collection. It took about two hours—two hours and thirty-six years that is.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was really cool to read the history of the tree branch that was on your property when you were a boy.

7/5/06 8:56 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thank you my anonymous youngest daughter. Am I right that this is you? It makes me smile to know you read these stories.

9/5/06 3:37 AM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

A good example of the influence of good parents or the right teacher.

26/10/08 7:02 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
As a pastor, you probably know that passage in Deuteronomy 6:6-7 about parents teaching their children as they walk and go about their normal lives. Dad and Mom were like that with us "twigs."

26/10/08 9:35 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Too cute, from Anon... and a voice from another generation of twigs. I love it!

I remember this walking stick story. I loved it so much because of my walking stick collection. You noticed from a photo about another topic, my dad's walking stick. I still need to do a post on "The Walking Stick".

This story came to my mind, a few weeks ago, when you posted about "hacking" on the tree as a lad, and then showing the results many years later.

... And the story continues. Lessons of life, learned one step at a time, even if you don't have a walking stick in your hand!

27/10/08 7:56 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I actually remembered that you would be a reader who remembered this post. That was two years ago. Hard to believe it's been that long. The Beach tree incident and the braided trees were actually about two years apart. Next comes the well. Actally the tree house and rope swing fits in there, but I'm saving that to the last.

27/10/08 8:25 PM  
Blogger heiresschild said...

what a beautiful piece of history (the story and the canes) to continue passing down in your family Tom.

27/10/08 8:38 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

H.C. my friend,
Thanks for remaining open to me during this time when I keep getting sidetracked in things that ultimately you and I would agree upon in that they are in God's hands. I'm not talking about the walking sticks, of course. Thank you, friend.

28/10/08 4:04 AM  
Anonymous quilly said...

Now that's what I call planning ahead!

29/10/08 3:46 AM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

It was one of those surreal moments in life. First that we did it, second that it came true, and third that I remembered all those years later. =)

30/10/08 11:51 PM  

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