Saturday, March 22, 2008

Life and Woods

Back in the middle of December, I took a walk in the woods on a Saturday in the middle of the day, not my usual time and not my usual day. The woods were a very different place from what they usually are for me early on a weekday morning: there was a whole pack of people attached to a five year-old's birthday party, who were searching out snacks and party favors secreted in different corners of the path. There were friends to greet and people I didn't know greeting each other and stopping to talk at length. There was, improbably, a cyclist on a mountain unicycle, who stopped at the end of footbridge as I sat at my place on the bank, and bounced in place three times to hop onto the bridge. There were no birdwatchers and not nearly so many dog walkers, and on the two blocks I walk to and from the woods, there were far more people hurrying to the co-op and milling around the cafe.

One of the people I met that December day, at the beginning of my walk, was the artist who made this installation. She's not someone I know well, but she's a good friend of our neighbors-through-the-wall, and I knew her slightly when I had my first-ever full-time teaching gig, a quarter-long leave replacement I did nine years ago, at the same time I moved to this neighborhood. Neither of us has been at the school for years--it was not a school that was good for the soul--and since I was just a long-term sub with far shorter hair and far less weight on my frame, I'd be surprised if she remembered me from then, but I tend to hang on to details like that.

That day, we stopped and talked for the first time since we were both at that soul-strangling school, me because I hadn't yet said anything to her about the installation even though I had blogged about it, she because, well. She was grieving intensely and freshly, she needed to talk to everyone there was to talk to. She told me her husband had died the very day after the installation went up. He'd had cancer for months, but it was the chemotherapy that killed him, so it was in fact sudden, and the installation took on a meaning she hadn't expected it to have.

After I talked to her I went to those papier mache trees, melting and disintegrating into the loamy earth, and I watched the birthday party making its way through the live, leafless, hibernating trees, and I went home and revised the post I'd written a month earlier, adding a final sentence.

Today, A. and I took Z. to the woods after a naptime that we grownups had used to wear ourselves out with talk. Z. bopped along the path, wearing her Queen Esther crown, making up games, jumping over roots and picking up sticks and futilely commanding us to stop. At the footbridge, Z. ran from one end to the other while I sat and listened to the water in the creek. When A. was too cold to stand around anymore, we ventured down to the creekbed to pluck a dirty plastic bag from the rocks ("We did a mitzvah forw da wateuh!") and made our way home.

On our circuit of the woods, I made a detour to the site of the installation. The papier mache is gone. The ground is exposed, still dark and loamy. Five young oak trees are planted in a circle.

Edited: the artist has a lovely site up about the work, but I don't want to link and show up on such a well-publicized neighborhood site. But if anyone wants to see it, drop me an email,, and I'll send it to you.