Needful Ghosts

I’ve been thinking about the ruined fence that frames the far side of Lindvog Road, the planked fence made from trees milled where they were felled. The trees were small, too small for serviceable lumber, just large enough to make a fence slat. Some of the planks in the fence were the entire width of the tree. Their edges undulate with the natural contour of the tree trunk. Bark still clings to them like a thick skin.

This fence was so apparently handmade I can easily imagine the rough, calloused hands that made it. Guessing from the height of the second growth trees crowding behind the fence, it was probably made a hundred years ago. The man who made the fence is long dead and his hands turned to dust but his fence remains. Fallen down in places, overwhelmed by Himalayan blackberry and salal, weather-checked and gray, made from trees once rooted here, the fence has become an artifact, a shadow cast by time, a ghost haunting the landscape.

They are needful ghosts, these common things made by people long dead. They remind us of our continuity, our connection with the past. Like the leering skulls kept by medieval scholars to remind them of their mortality, these momento mori challenge our arrogance, our prideful insularity from the past, our assumptions of immortality.

I cannot think of this handmade fence without thinking of the dead hands that made it. Nor can I think of  the old farmhouse with sagging, swayback roof and empty windows seen briefly from the road through a screen of brambles without thinking of the family that once lived there, who cleared the land and built the house and tended the truck garden. Who were they? What did they feel? Where did they go? Were they so very different from me?

"As things become ruins, they go through a natural alchemy in which their soul is revealed, a falling apart and entropy as important to life as growth and expansion…Every soulful moment and act requires this embrace of the living and the dying, and only an anxious heart is incapable of enjoying its dance."

The Re-enchantment of Everyday Life, Thomas Moore

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