something of a fossil fuel
Saturday, February 20 2010
I've been procrastinating the sharpening of my chainsaw chains, which is easy to do when you can get brand new ones for $16. This morning while Gretchen was entertaining some lady friends in the dining room, I installed a new chain in the adjacent living room. Gretchen doesn't like it when I hole up in my laboratory for the entirety of a visit by her friends, so she'd called me down to "make a fire" just so I'd also be making an appearance. The conversation was not one to which I could make any useful contribution, so I kept quiet and did chainsaw maintenance, something that seemed to delight Gretchen's friends.
Later I set out into the forest and made quick work bucking up a number of trees on the forest floor in the same area I've been cutting up dead trees all winter, 50 to 200 feet east and southeast of where the Stick Trail crosses the Chamomile. All of this wood was either oak or long-dead American Chestnut (probably dating to the blight, circa 1940). I feel a little bad cutting up and burning American Chestnut, since it's an unrenewable resource, even something of a fossil fuel, every bit as much as coal. But it's eventually going to rot away into nothing if I don't burn it, though that will probably take a hundred more years.
This evening I happened to join Gretchen while she was watching a documentary called A Man Named Pearl, about Pearl Fryar, the son of sharecropper who became a self-taught topiary virtuoso in the small town of Bishopville, SC. (You can just make out some of the text he sculpted into his lawn in this Google Maps photo.) At first it seemed tongue-in-cheek-comic like a fake documentary, but Gretchen insisted it was the real deal. And so it was, about a man obsessed with his lawn and the state of his trees to the point where they had become a sculptural medium. The results were so impressive that they were actually improving the local economy, bringing in tourists from far and wide (particularly the Japanese) and inspiring local copycats. But what would become of all this topiary once Pearl dies? Though Pearl is now in his 60s, there didn't seem to be any urgency in dealing with this eventuality, though Pearl has been teaching and inspiring local college art students.
Interestingly, the impetus behind Pearl Fryar's expressionism-through-topiary lies with the racists who had kept him from buying another property in a largely-white neighborhood for fear that, because he was black, he "wouldn't maintain his lawn." His topiary and lawn-care exhuberance seemed like overcompensation. But as with many neroses, it was serving Pearl well. I myself would have difficulty living across the street from him now, given that he routinely works until the wee hours with gas-powered equipment, cutting back the inevitable growth on all of his living sculptures. But judging from the Google Maps photos, he's on a large lot and his neighbors are spaced well-apart.
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