You don't have to look at a calendar, or calculate the exact procession of the equinox to know it's Spring. You only have to commune with your senses to know of its gradual arrival.
Stand outdoors with your eyes closed, feel the gentle breeze caress your being....Spring, you can feel it coming. Here it is, the fragrance of a new beginning, a chance to start again, a possible rebirth.
Early Spring flowers have started to bloom. The mountain's forest is displaying the first signs of the flowering native trees. Soon, the Mountain Laurels will make their yearly presentation, followed by the grand moment most mountain lovers anticipate, the awakening of the magnificent Rhododendron.
There are signs of greater life all around. I find myself continuously being drawn outdoors, not just for the sake of working in the yard, but a chance to explore and experience. Spring is a time to reflect on new hopes and dreams, a time to plant new seeds. Although, it takes more than skilled hands and a sharp wit, to plant these seeds.
Some believe, human life is started at a specific point in time and is expected to follow a straight lineage to a predestined climax. Nature on the other hand, has its own agenda, like a great wheel, it repeats itself over and over again, relinquishing the old and ushering in the new, a cycle of repetition that we mere mortals have grown to depend upon.
In the physical reality of Spring, we see the order of nature. Although, it is the unseen extension of nature that keeps the earth, moving forever forward in a natural order. Therefore, the true mystery, grandeur and beauty of life doesn't necessarily appear in what we see, but rather in what we don't see. Spring itself, should help us witness and understand the idea of new life being born out of the ashes of the past.
It's been my experience, both personal and observed, that the best of plans can either succeed or go asunder. And, for some unforeseen reason, the greatest experiences in our lives, most often come unexpected. So, where lies the mystery of why and why not?
I never thought of myself as a religious person per se, philosophy has always been a particular interest of mine. Philosophy showed me the basic nature of human kind. I do believe, that there is an unseen power in all existence, undetected to the naked eye. This power maintains a sense of order in all things. There was a time in my life, when I couldn't acquire enough philosophical food for the soul. I continued to read, this opinion and that opinion, all these explanations, yet I still had questions, I felt empty, and incomplete.
Throughout my life, there has always been a Bible around, although, I never bothered to even open it. Why bother, if you needed to know what it said, all you had to do was ask someone, right? Any time you ask a question about the Bible, answers would come flying out of the woodwork, just about everybody is an expert when it comes to the "good book", or, so many think. After a while you discover all you're getting is second, third and fourth hand information from other individuals that have never opened the Bible either. For the most part, all they knew, was what they heard from someone else.
Through my contemplation, it became apparent that I should open the Bible, and read it myself. Once I opened it, I couldn't put it down. I had heard these stories as a child, but now as an experienced adult, they took on a whole new light. In my reading, I found that the only difference between our predecessors and us, is scientific achievement. People are people, now and then. I guess you could call it, "the nature of the beast." We all have the same ability to love, or hate, as well as the same doubts, fears, dreams and hopes.
This particular piece of literature has now formed much of my reasoning today. I still hold onto other philosophy, although, it's the Bible that developed my personal understanding.
One Spring, a couple of years ago, I was performing my usual Spring ritual of outdoor contemplation, delving into my inner thoughts, challenges and plans for the year...basically I was looking for answers.
I stood in my back yard gazing into the woods, my arms crossed over my chest. The resistance and confusion I was experiencing was evident in my body language. Allowing myself more room to think, I slowly moved toward the thick forest, not entering mind you, just staring at any and everything in nature's view.
The green leaves on the trees and foliage were growing and thickening with each passing day. Delicate little wildflowers were thinly scattered about. A couple of woodpeckers were working hard, while a squirrel climbed round and round a tall tree trunk heading for higher ground. A chipmunk scurried across the ground, ducking in here, coming out there. All the while, my four yard dogs lie sleeping in the shade.
Spring has so much to offer, so much to hope for. The warm moist earth yields the glory of the emerald green life all around me. The law of the survival of the fittest, was evident in all things.
Mixed throughout the brilliance of new life unveiling, where the remnants of life that had failed. Fallen trees and rotting stumps infested with insects, were like tombstones randomly littering the slopes of the forest. A natural effect within nature's order, although, a grim echo just the same. All about me were reminders of life's failed attempts, scarred memories, haunts from the past. If the natural order of nature is fallible, what does that say for our ability to accomplish our dreams and goals.
Despair fell on me like the weight of an iron yoke. The great, "what if" became the focus of my entire thought process. My heart said, "nothing ventured, nothing gained," while my logical mind struggled with an assortment of negative, "what if's."
Whatever sounds nature was playing in the background I failed to here. My thoughts were no longer with the life around me, I became entrenched with the death of any good possibilities. My head was bowed, my mind became an abyss.
Suddenly, I thought I heard unfamiliar sound. Looking around to see where the sound might have come from revealed nothing. Then I heard it again. "Pssst." There's a common saying in the Blue Ridge Mountains that says, "the forest has eyes," but I've never heard the saying, "trees can talk." Turning my head left and right, scanning everything about, I found myself locked in a stare directly into the trees in front of me.
My eyes became drawn to the lifeless branches of a small tree that appeared to have died a couple of seasons ago. I was compelled to take a closer look, at the base, the small tree was about 10 inches in diameter, twisted and bent to one side. Twenty inches of curved length before it suddenly shot straight up roughly 6 more feet in length ending with a jagged point. Where the straight length met the base of the curved trunk where signs of a former branch that once shot out horizontally from the bottom of the tree's straight length. Surprisingly, the dead wood had no decay and the straight length was hard and well seasoned. The small tree was bent, broken and dead, but still standing. This was an example of nature's failure, although its condition in death, was excellent and could bring a new purpose...a walking stick.
I got a hand saw and cut the straight length from the curved trunk. I planned to remove the bark and smooth out the raw surface, putting my hands to task, while I continued to contemplate my future plans.
Using the large blade of a hunting knife I cleaned away the old bark, keeping the exposed wood as smooth as possible. There were numerous knot-holes along the staff, rather than hone the holes smooth, I left them natural.
It was now time to switch to a smaller carving knife. I selected my favorite 3 inch single blade Case knife, for the finishing touches. About an hour's clean up and I'm done...I thought.
I still hadn't come to terms with my personal dilemma, although, I found the staff to be a welcomed distraction. Carving, whether skilled or crude is a good way to focus your thoughts. While I was shaving different areas of the staff, I began meditating about the mystery of the season and the power that controls the nature of things.
The staff was about 5 feet in length, straight as a yard stick, topped off with a natural T top cut off on both sides. Holding it in my lap and running my hand over its smooth surface, I felt as though the job of carving a walking stick was done, but my personal concerns hadn't changed.
Studying the staff, I started thinking about other staffs and tales of staffs. I've never given much credence to wizards, wands and such, but my subconscious was drawing me to the Biblical tales of Moses and his staff.
And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he (Moses) said, A rod.
And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.
And Moses took the rod in his hand.
Lift thou up they rod and stretch out thine hand over the sea and divideit.
And thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand (rod), that Israel prevailed:
I have no idea why the Creator, is so fascinated with sticks, I didn't write these stories of old, I just except them for what they are.
Clutching the staff with my hands and admiring my handy work, I felt there was still something missing. My attention went directly to a knot-hole in the middle of the lower half of the staff. While gazing at its natural shape, the knot-hole began to represent the remnant of life perished...the wonder of its design, the purpose it once held, now just a scarred memory, a lost cause, a goal unfulfilled.
Without any provocation, the feeling of despair I was contending with began to lift, as a Biblical verse unexpectedly filled my mind.
Behold, the rod of Aaron was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms.
The Bible is full of stories of miracles, both large and small. Out of death, can come new life, and hope for the future.
I took my pocket knife and using the tip of the blade, I began out-lining a design that would cover a great portion of the staff. Nothing fancy, although, meaningful just the same.
I outlined and hacked away for so many hours, that I lost count. All the while, a tale burned its way through my mind. Now, there's something I need to mention about pocket-knife carving. It's not a matter of accidentally cutting yourself with a knife, it's a matter of how many times you will cut yourself. It's not always carelessness that causes the blade to jump from the wood to flesh. It's the nature of chipping away the wood, that causes the infraction. The good news is, I didn't cut myself once, a first I have to admit.
This once dead tree became a story, an expression molded from wood meshed with a few gem-stones that I placed in selective knot-holes. Taking care not to alter the holes, I selected stones that precisely fit the natural knot-holes. I completed the story with a piece of deer hide and feathers. All materials including the staff, I acquired in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and North Georgia.
This carving became an expression both internal and external, what is seen and unseen. It is an expression in art and photos that I would enjoy sharing with you.
During the creation of the staff I realized that I was inspired to carve, not for the art, for the understanding.
Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way?
Starting at the middle of the lower half of the staff, you'll notice a knot hole with a green tourmaline, it symbolizes new life from a dormant womb.
This is where our journey begins on the staff, wrapping itself around time, moving slowly upward. The leaves represent the miracles within our life. Like the blossoms on Aaron's rod, although the first half of the journey does not include the benefit of the New Testament. It symbolizes the Old Covenant and leads to the handle which I call, "the central spiral."
It is said, that man/woman's spirit, spirals upward when led by God, a spiritual levitation of sort. Without the drawing power of the Divine force, gravity and carnal desires draw man/woman spiraling downward. It is in this central point, that life demands a choice, eternal life or death, the acceptance of salvation through the Kinsman Redeemer, or self.
In the Arthurian legend, it is this central spiral where the quest for the Holy Grail begins. The Knights gave service to an earthly King, in quest of the redeeming cup of Christ. They failed for lack of service to the true King. All spiraled backward. Sir Lancelot spiraled backwards as well, due to his scars of guilt, and his not understanding that the cup was offered to him as well. Only Sir Galahad understood, that if he followed the forces guiding, with no thought of self, he would persevere. When brought before the cup, he was overwhelmed by its' true power of acceptance, and found himself lifted to heaven on angels wings, to serve in the eternal court of the King of Kings.
"The scars of Sir Lancelot are upon our souls, The Spirit of Sir Galahad, our most earnest goal."
"Legend and Myth."
Yet history does tell a tale of a true Knight in service to a very real King. This Knight also entered the junction of the central spiral. Actually he was knocked into it. He was both a sinner and saint. His name was Saul, sir named Paul. He bore no weapons of war, only the word of God. He became a hero to millions, both past and present. Paul had to face both the dragons of the world, and the personal demons of self in his quest to tell the world of the Holy Vessel of Christ. He fought a fourth dimensional war on a third dimensional playing field, clothed in an unseen armor. Moving himself through choice into spiritual reality.
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers...Wherefore take unto you the whole Armor of God, That ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
This spiral represents the winding road of life we all travel. The best way out of the spiral is through the top, where it takes us to our journey in Christ. As we travel through the upper staff, we find twice as many leaves. This is where life becomes more challenging and it opens us up to a realm where God can really show His power over our lives.
Miracles upon miracles, unmerited grace in abundance, and a series of "how in heaven's name are we going to get through this one," creates this phase of the staff. Faith in our future and hindsight of our past become a thing of beauty. Every leaf is different, some by themselves, some together, all to make His chosen sinners into saints. We become a living testimony to His power and promises. Through Christ, we begin to understand that we go through our experiences because He chose us for His glory.
For our service, dedication and the acceptance of the life given freely by His Son, we receive the rewards of our quest, which are represented by the two red garnet stones towards the top, where the vine splits into two vines. For the surrender of our wills, the eternal Christ Jesus guarantees us, that by His Blood, we are saved, by His Stripes we are healed. Together, the curse of eternal death by sin is broken by the sacrificial life of another.
To be honest with you, this acceptance of His Life, is the best ride in the whole amusement park we call earth. And, we can trust His Hand is on the big wheel, in all things, although, we don't always realize it. Maybe it's that spiral motion that makes our heads spin at times, confusing us of our way.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.
Now, lets jump to the upper part of the staff, the pinnacle of our daily lives, from here we draw our strength and confidence. The large hole on the upper left, had to be dug out. There was a protruding piece of broken wood in the way. Once I cleared it out, its meaning became obvious.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
Purple is a color related to royalty. I chose a large purple amethyst to fill the hole due to its reputation for transmuting properties. His royal blood transforms our beings daily, it is eternally given.
Mark 15:17.....And they clothed him with purple, and platted a
crown of thorns,
John 3:15.....That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Now we come to the leather hand grip, just below the top.
Psalms 23:4.....Thy rod and staff they comfort me.
The soft leather was chosen to represent the Holy Ghost. He weaves Himself into the fabric of our lives, wrapping us in the comfort of His arms, shaping and cutting us into a fine gem stone represented by the two cut amethyst stones, bathed in His royal blood, as Christ promised.
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things.
Now, the key to our understanding crowns the staff with the eternal promise...its representation here is the feather formation.
He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
Well, that's the tale of the staff and my interpretation of the inspiration in which it was made. In retrospect, it's just a stick and we're only carbon based creatures. But I believe we do have a spirit and a soul. And like the staff, we also try to reflect the divine word of God, as hard as that may be.
Life examined, teaches us to have faith, and to often believe in the impossible. Human kind, like nature, continues to prevail against the odds of destruction or total chaos. The signs of life's success, is more obvious than its failure. Nature demonstrates that you don't procrastinate, you just move forward. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." If you become too pessimistic you're demonstrating a lack in faith.
When Spielberg's grave robbing hero, Indiana Jones was faced with no bridge to cross over a canyon, the only way his character could retrieve the Holy Grail, and save his father's life, was to chance the impossible, therefore
...he took a leap of faith.
When Butch Cassidy and and the Sundance Kid were trapped on the ledge, they had to chance the impossible, because the possibilities at hand would have killed them, therefore
...they took a leap of faith.
When George Bailey found himself, once again on the same bridge overlooking the same river, confronted with the demon of doubt, he faced the impossible and discovered,
...it's a wonderful life.
The Father and His Son, have made us a promise,
For the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.
I call the staff, "The Promise"...
All things are possible to those who believe,
All things impossible are God's to achieve.
Choose a new beginning.....begin it with faith.
Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger.......