Over the last month or so, I've been heading to the woodshop every other week--once a week if I can--to work on a project with my uncle. We've been making a coffee table, or rather, he's been making me a coffee table that I assist with, but maybe that's not important. What's important is that I had an idea for a table, or I looked at a piece of wood and said I think I have an idea, and then together we made it real. There's so much magic in that, isn't there? Taking something from our heads and creating it, making it something tangible in the world. I think that's part of why I love writing so much, why it continues to delight me. It's a way to take what I think and feel, something known only to me, and putting it onto the page in a way that somebody else might see what before was only in my head. The best, most satisfying, most meaningful thing. There is nothing else in life like creating. Sometimes I think it's the only thing that makes us human, really. The ability to make beauty for no other purpose than making beauty. Actually maybe it's even simpler than that--just to make. Make something, anything. To create is to be human.
So my uncle and I mustered all our humanity to make a coffee table, and when I looked at the piece of wood we'd picked out at the mill in the town just outside of the ranch, I thought--that's a galaxy. The wood ripples and swirls in the way only nature can, in both chaos and perfect order, echoing all the depth of the sky in the slow-growing heart of a tree. It's juniper, by the way. My uncle and dad have been working with it for the last few years, maybe 5 years now, and it's been the delight of our inner-interior decorators to have so much beautiful raw-edged wood in our lives. Eat your heart out, rejuvenation. Anyway, I saw the night sky, and what I wanted was to put my favorite part of the night sky--constellations--into the wood.
So while at the ranch with Cedar a few weekends back, after the rainstorm, we picked up a stack of mountain mahogany branches and had my uncle cut them into tiny discs. And we inlaid the discs into the wood in the shape of my favorite constellations: Ursa Major, Cygnus, Orion and Aries. The great bear, the swan, Orion the hunter, my star sign. I can almost always find them--the Big Dipper making up the tail of Ursa Major, the beating wings of Cygnus just below head, the bright star Deneb, the belt of Orion one of the first to come out at night, and the graceful arc of Aries winking at me as if it knows I am all the way down here. I don't know many constellations but I know those, have been picking out the Big Dipper since I first thought to look up.
We're almost done with the table. It will take a little time for people to realize what they're seeing, I think, when they come to sit with me around it. But I'll know what I'm looking at, and I'll be glad to tell this story when they ask--of the vision I had, that my uncle helped me make come true. You know, I'm excited to have the table back in my house, but now that I think about it, I'm going to miss the woodshop, the reason to be there. To be there with a fire going, surrounded by wood in various stages of craft, by tools and the warm smell of sawdust. My uncle telling me what each thing does, watching someone do something they're good at. The act of creating is so often more than the creation itself, that's the thing.
But then again, it's going to be a really cool coffee table. So maybe it all evens out.