It is raining out, and has been for several days. In the breaks between showers, I’ve hurried outside to do some end-of-season clean up in the yard, cutting back dead flowers, raking leaves. Tucked between the tall stalks of wilted brown asters, supported by the thick, winding limbs of my favorite clematis, I found this sweet little nest. Even though the weather and the season have done some damage to it, I am struck once again at the perfection in form and texture Nature takes with all her children.
Nests don’t have to look this good to be serviceable. They don’t have to be so delicately woven, nor cast in such a perfect sphere to hold a few eggs. The exquisite tiny paper lanterns of the umbrella wasps would not need to look hand-painted by Monet to keep the brood safe inside. The worms and insects who bore tunnels through rotted wood have no need to leave behind carvings formed like wave water and stratus clouds.
From the tiniest moss seed to the etchings on great granite stone faces, beauty is a constant given in the natural world. It is there for the looking. And for myself, I find the looking restorative. Beauty is its own healing.
When I look through museums at the simplest hand or cooking tools of our most ancient ancestors, I am always struck that these items are lovely in form, and often decorated. It seemed that in our early days, we had the time, spirit, or sensibility to weave beauty into the things we touched. My husband, Carter, collects old tools made of wood and iron, and all of the oldest ones are decorated with carvings or etchings or both. From woven bowls to digging sticks to metal saw blades to bow handles, we humans did like our animal relatives always did: We make things beautiful.
Crafting is a different beast from Choring. In some ways and in some times, they hold hands or hug, but at their soul, crafting and choring are fundamentally different. They require an altogether different kind of energy. Choring is something you can force yourself into when it is demanded—sometimes no matter how depleted you feel, the floor needs to be mopped, or the diaper changed. And you can slip into these tasks mindlessly, your hands taking over for your head. Even when you are beyond tired, your hands can keep their own reservoir of energy to dedicate to chores.
But crafting requires a energy larger than “must.” It requires the heat of creativity. I can gauge my mood these days by the tasks I’m willing to tackle. When I can only manage chores, I know that my inner fires are burning low. If I attempt a creative craft on such a day, it will go badly. My patience will be short, my focus scattered. Creativity wants some inner burner stoking a certain kind of warming.
Perhaps when we walked hand-in-hand with the Earth, she kept us lit from within at all times. Perhaps our creative fires were always being kindled by the soul of the very ground, and it was easy to find the energy to make beautiful all of the things we touched. It seems that the creatures around me sizzle with creative wonder every day. I mean, have you ever looked closely at squirrel’s leaf nest?
For myself, I can always write a business letter, but I can’t always write a blog post, or a book chapter.
I’ve been choring lately, and taking comfort in those simple, safe-keeping routines. But last week, I woke up and took a fresh look at the chair seat in the dining room that has been begging for a facelift for many months. My coffee tasted especially good that morning, and I found myself humming some little untitled ditty. A couple of hours later, I was at a fabric store, feeling overwhelmed but undaunted. Somehow, I selected a piece of fabric from a choice of thousands. I had in my hands a square of chair seat foam, and a couple of yards of white oilcloth to cover the dining room table while I crafted. I had in my heart a joy in the realization that I was feeling a good few steps higher than my normal emotional bar.
I found directions for reupholstering a chair seat on Google, but of course, there are all the things they DON’T tell you about reupholstering a chair seat, which made for the fun of it. In the end, it turned out a hair under what I had hoped. I mean, I am no squirrel or bird when it comes to art and beauty. But, as with the undertaking of any craft, I felt renewed and kind of giggle-happy afterward. I wonder if birds giggle when the nest is done?