From Devastation, Beauty Will Rise

by Michael on January 1, 2013

It’s hard for most people to believe, but besides raccoons and possums, we also have a family of hawks living here within view of the Empire State Building in Sunnyside Gardens, New York City. But at the moment, the hawks are homeless.

It’s now been two full months since the fury of Hurricane Sandy swept through our little neighborhood… and the neighborhoods and lives of so many others. Even though our little haven was spared the utter devastation of places like Breezy Point, the Rockaways, and areas of Staten Island and the Jersey Shore, we, nevertheless, had an up-close and personal view of what hurricane-force winds can do.

I went out the morning after the main event to take some pictures, and, for once, the word overwhelming was not an exaggeration. But as I began to narrow the scope of what I was seeing by focusing through the camera lens, a feeling of perseverance and determination began to creep into my overwhelmed brain. Even though the car I was looking at was totally smashed, the ginkgo leaf stuck to its window seemed to say, “something good can come of this.”

The physical damage has been widely reported, but there is a whole other level of “aesthetic damage” that has not yet been fully comprehended. Our friends Deb and Carlos lost a massive and magnificent silver maple that they referred to as “their child.” A poet might have called it a fine example of arboreal splendor. It had been home to the aforementioned family of hawks, and many wonderful evening meals had been shared by neighbors under its sheltering canopy. Thankfully, no one was injured in the fall of the tree, but for Deb and Carlos, the emotional damage was great. She still cannot speak of it without crying.

In the weeks after the storm, I began bringing in wood from the downed trees to use in future projects. I was unloading some large chunks of maple when my UPS man, who hails from Jamaica, said, “Ah…bringing in firewood.” I said, “No, these blocks will all be turned into bowls.” He responded with one of those voices for the ages, “Ya see… everyone else sees a disahstah, but you see a blessin’, mon.” Leave it to a man who claimed to know nothing of art to be able to voice exactly what I’d been thinking.

I try my best to use found wood for my work. In most cases it’s simply “botanical road kill” cut by the highway department. I try to get to it before it goes into the chipper, and its potential for beauty is lost forever. There’s usually no spectacular story to go with it. But this wood from Sandy has an entirely different feeling to it. There’s maybe a subliminal malevolence to it because of the pain and suffering associated with the storm. But, maybe that malevolence can be replaced with the benevolence of turning each chunk into something beautiful and gifting those pieces to my neighbors who lost some of Sunnyside Gardens’ oldest and most beautiful specimens. Perhaps they will find a beauty in them that will help ease the pain.

The healing and rebuilding has begun for everyone. Word is that the hawks have already found a new tree.

As published on the American Craft Council web-site.


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