Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin

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Imagine if each birthday we were marked in some way, physically scarred, not by creases by the eyes, or softening of flesh, but by something you could count and tally. P 139

Driving in to work today I was surprised by the number of fallen trees I passed. We haven’t had any recent storms, nor were these trees growing too close to the power lines, it just seems that their time had come. I imagine the logs will become fuel for some who heat with wood, perhaps some of it will become part of a barn or furniture. Most assuredly it will be of use to someone in one way or another.

After I parked my car and I made my way across the lot to the store I heard the steady whine of a chainsaw. It seemed to be coming from the next lot over, and when I turned my head I saw that the tree near the bank had been taken down. Seeing the stump so exposed like that felt raw and wounded; I wanted to cover it up, tell people to avert their eyes. I hadn’t been overly attached to this tree but I found I missed it just the same. That high-pitched sound continued as I walked and I remembered the line from Heidi Julavits’s Folded Clock. ‘My mother was undone by the possible death of a tree.’ Clearly that is me.

I am a woman who feels loss deeply, I thrive on continued growth and stability. I find comfort in trees and their canopy provides a sanctuary. I have known and loved many trees in my life. I admire almost any variety that manages to survive and grow through all adversities. I will forever be the 8 year-old girl who sat among the branches reading the Narnia books one summer.

This week wood has been on my mind. I spent my birthday last Sunday in bed deliciously, decadently curled up with Nina MacLaughlin’s book. Hammer Head chronicles her days after she left her journalism job behind and became a carpenter. Her descriptions of the tools and her thoughts about this way of life were inspiring and gave me hope that working with ones hands would always be something of importance. To some if not all. The physicality of this work appeals to me. And though I don’t see myself wielding a hammer, saw or screwdriver, I do appreciate the beauty of a piece of wood. The whorls, rings and sheen. She describes some of the materials used in her deck-building projects and I confess to wishing I could hold the dense Brazilian wood, Ipe, in my own hands just to feel its weight and heft.

I heard Nina speak on Wednesday at the bookstore. I admired her willingness to venture out and find a new career and the way she combined her three loves—reading, writing and carpentry—into this book. There were lines like the one above that made me pause and consider the words, to think about her intention in regards to my own life. I do wish that birthdays left a mark. I love visual reminders. I believe in the comfort and power of a talisman, I don’t leave a place or an experience without a souvenir. Coming home from the beach my pockets are filled with stones and occasionally a piece of driftwood, some of which hangs on our livingroom walls. They are reminders of a time gone by. I collect and gather, I hold these things close.

T is not this way. He is someone who can appreciate the experience for what is was and doesn’t need a physical reminder. This past Tuesday I picked him up from his Quebec trip. He went with his French class for an overnight, and they returned quite late. Even though he was tired, he told me bits and pieces of his experience, hitting the highlights in a quick summary. I noticed that when he reached the car he threw his bags in the back, but there was something he held onto as we drove home. It turns out that during part of the trip, they had visited with a fiddler who played music for them while they toured his sugar shack. T had loved the wooden spoons so much he got himself a set to play at home. The steady clickety-clack filled the car as we made our way through the dark. I wonder if these will go with him to school or if they will sit on the dresser and wait for his return. The wood is a creamy, honey- butter color. I’m not sure of the type, though I think about the tree that grew and the process that someone used to hew and whittle this instrument. It pleases me to think of those connections and how these spoons will always remind him of the end of senior year and the trip the French class took to Canada. I am a woman undone by trees and music and field trips and dark drives that bring us home.

2 thoughts on “Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin

  1. What a pleasure this was to read, specific and thoughtful and lovely. (And an honor, too, to be included here. Thank you. And happy belated birthday.)

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