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The Final Gift

by Stefan Ways

I have been wanting to work with earth sculpture for years and finally felt called to create this 20’ diameter piece out of bark from fallen trees. To preface, the past few months I have been working on the land I live on rebuilding gardens and roadway parameters with rocks and logs in an aesthetic way. I found myself enjoying getting my hands dirty and connecting with the earth. It was a meditation, something I felt very present in, as well as an artistic practice in composition and place.

This was one of those projects I felt something greater than myself coming through me. There was a persistent focus and drive to complete it with constant discoveries and inspiration during the process.

A large, old, dead Coast Live Oak tree at the corner of the property sparked inspiration. Once, this Oak tree as well as many other trees on the land were alive. Years of drought followed by the arrival of an invasive beetle known as the Gold Spotted Oak Borer killed them. I thought about the property owners who spent a summer living under this epic tree, leaving a decaying piano behind. I pondered about all the life this tree provided. Shelter to a passing bobcat, nesting grounds to birds with a never ending supply of insects, home to rabbits, squirrels, and rodents fattening themselves on the abundance of acorns which in turn they became prey for the coyotes, the clean air it created, the mycelium of fungus underground feeding on the decaying organic matter from the tree and its ecosystem above, distributing the nutrients back full circle to the plant. All of this exemplifying nature’s design and intelligence.

“...and now it’s gone”, I thought. “...what a loss...”

I thought of the tree’s death as this void left behind, a symbol of loss. I decided to physically represent that void with a circle made of bark made from fallen trees across the property. I placed the bark in a counter clockwise fashion making my way towards the center to give the feel of motion. At first, I began laying the bark outside up how it sits on the tree, which was primarily a gray. As I worked my way inward, I flipped the bark, using its red interior, until I got to the center which was made using bark I had blackened with fire.

At a point during the process the initial concept of loss changed to life.

As I was collecting the bark and moving it throughout the property and eventually to the final sculpture, I realized that the fallen trees were not the void of life after all. What was a loss for some in the ecosystem was a gain for many others. There were termites, lady bugs, spiders, lizards, and toads taking shelter. New tenants would move in as I would move the piles about the property.

The trees had so much to offer in life, and now, much to offer in death.

The hope is this sculpture will now continue its purpose as a habitat and the tree’s essence lives on and on. The tree’s final gift in life was it’s death, which in turn provided more life, the natural cycle, a full circle.

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