Between pith and bark
For the man in my life, whose favorite wood is jarrah.
Between pith and bark lies wood. It is the hard, fibrous substance that conducts water and holds the storage tissues of the branches, stems, and roots of trees. Wood has two parts: sapwood -- the outer part that’s next to the bark and is the living and physiologically active wood, pale in color -- and heartwood, the dark inner core. The heartwood performs the function of support for the tree and is drier than the sapwood. As the tree grows older, the heartwood widens and widens until the tree becomes mostly heartwood inside.
Wood has always been underrated, but it is, in fact, at the heart of every human structure. It is stronger than many metals, and its integrity is inviolate, even as it is reshaped, molded, subjected to heat and cold, and cast under the shadow of man’s visions. Wood is worked easily with tools, including fire, and lends itself well to fabrication without losing its qualities and identity. It can be cut, carved, engraved, bleached, polished, coated, filled, drilled, turned, dowelled, jointed, planed. It can either resist compression or allow itself to be compressed, resist bending or allow itself to be bent. It can be impregnated with chemicals, or it can be cut into veneers; it can be whole timber, or it can be ground into powder. It can even become fire, become smoke. But it will always be wood. Imagine, live fibers silently enduring the elements and bearing the weight and pain of changes. First an infinitesimal, molecular groaning, adjusting, accepting, obeying, believing, in larger and larger heaves and circles, until finally, the wood is not what it once was, is beyond what it once was, but still undeniably, irrevocably wood.
Working with wood has been part of human activity since the dawn of time. Wood has fed, clothed, sheltered, and warmed civilization. It has been to war as ships and as fuel for propeller engines. During peactime, wood-hewn ships have transported millions of tons of human productivity, including wood itself. It has provided the foundation for cities and has linked islands together. It has even threaded time together, has held time in monumental esteem that the oldest existing proof of man’s struggles and passions are those that are made of wood, testimonies to an eternity of pain and triumph.
It is amazing how something so solid can be as malleable, almost liquid in its benefits. No other material has satisfied as many human needs and whims; no other material is as organic, as ancient and as alive. For this reason wood has been woven into human life so seamlessly and so inevitably, rendering it omnipresent yet almost invisible, hidden behind the bark of practice, like love that is the heartwood of human sensibility. Like my love that has grown dark and strong and inviolate, heartwood that has grown large and wide, spanning continents, beyond all groaning, beyond all pain.