Then I came to Chapter 3 ("Meeting the God of Metaphor") and on reading her story of the oak tree, my heart began to pound. Here's that story:
"After Harold died, my good friend Bernie Bosch and his sons took down the old dead oak tree that stood in our front yard. The previous spring it had not leafed out at all, and we had known it must be toppled. Bernie waited until the ground was frozen hard so that the crash of its enormous bulk wouldn't damage the lawn.
It was a huge job. And after the screaming power saws were silent and the tree was dismembered, all the wood had to be split and trucked away (that was the deal—he cut the tree down in return for the wood), and the mass of debris piled on top of the stump and ignited. The white-hot blaze burned for days, and even after the flames died down, a thin tendril of smoke still threaded the air above the site. It looked like a dormant volcano. The fire ate away most of the stump and the roots deep below the surface so that a week later all that was left was a black-rimmed saucer of ashes like a wound in the sod.
It was then I realized why the felling of the tree occupied my thoughts so consistently and with such a sense of significance. It was because I was the frozen sod with the deep wound, and Harold was my tree who was simply... gone. How unreal it seemed that his roots that had for more than thirty years penetrated deep into my life, that had anchored us and joined us so solidly and securely, had been eroded by the fire of decay. The space above ground that for so long had been filled with his vertical strength and solidity and shape was empty; air had risked in where, before, the towering trunk had outbranched to leaves" (Kindle location 678).
She goes on to explain how her latching onto that metaphor of Harold as the tree and herself the ground with the gaping hole was a healing thing: "I needed to find a picture, something so real in my imagination that I could derive sense impressions from it, and building from this stimuli I could perhaps see a pattern and derive significance from the image."
The reason I responded viscerally to Luci Shaw's story and how it affected her is because I have my own tree root story. Four years ago, when we were moving, we needed to empty our son's bedroom. Even though he hadn't lived at home for some time, his room was still full of 'him.' I spent hours one weekend, collecting his stuff from every nook and cranny of his room and assembling it in the middle of his floor, ready for him to take it to where he lived. It made me very sad and I felt restless until I saw a metaphor in it all. I even wrote about it.
The Prodigal’s Things Unearthed from dresser drawers closet corners and bookshelves his things sit in the middle of his empty room the rootball of a dug-up tree Lawn bags stuffed with clothes balance on plastic tubs heavy with Playstation, Game Gear trophies, marbles, a slingshot ball glove, card collection, skate decks and boxes bulging with photo albums, CDs, books . . . Will he think we’re kicking him out? “Don’t be silly,” says his dad “He hasn’t lived here for two years and we’re selling the house” Still the taste of mother-angst lingers on my tongue wakes me at night In the morning I place empty hands on those uprooted tentacles: “God, please look after this transplant with light, love, new life,” and my heaviness lifts as I am reminded the great Tree Farmer who made the tree planted him first in our home and knows intimately each sapling in the forest is still in charge
© 2011 by V. Nesdoly
Luci Shaw again:
"A metaphor, because of its implicit reality and force in one arena of life, can transfer or carry over its meaning into another arena. The image acts to bring sense and immediacy and relevance to the real-life situations it parallels."
I agree. We can spend our time in much worse ways than moodling metaphors.
This post is linked at "Breath for the Bones: Tell Me a Story," where writer Laura Bogess talks about chapters 3 and 4 of Luci Shaw's book. There you can find links to other blogs which have joined in on the discussion.