We woke relatively early this morning and slipped down the ribbon of Texas highway to San Antonio; Kate and Libby and I. A three hour drive on a perfect spring day. San Antonio, home of the Alamo, is a beautiful mecca that emerged from a desert place with the help of enterprising hands.
What began, long ago, as a cluster of Spanish missions woven together with the silver thread of the San Antonio River has become a vibrant city full of culture, commercial class, and historical charm. We visited three of those old missions today, driving in the comfort of Kate's spiffy new car and parking in the paved parking lot. But it wasn't hard to imagine we were arriving on horseback, or by foot, our moccasins all hot in the Texas desert heat. The old cut stones whispered that it was ok to pretend. Inside we raised our eyes to view the fading frescoes. We sat reverently on wooden pews, still used for holy worship, and listened to the haunting music of a wooden whistle played by the park ranger who was either of Mexican heritage or Native American heritage, or both. It struck as either fitting or ironic that Native American music was played in that Spanish chapel, where some native Americans were taught and converted and others driven away from their homes.
As we walked through the remains of Mission Concepcion I became conscious of the fact that two elements stood the test of time: stone and wood. Stone, while it weathered, remained most constant. Wood, depending on its density and molecular makeup, coupled with weather conditions, was less durable. Nonetheless, it survived centuries. I wondered how many wooden Native American whistles were buried in the soil under our feet as we walked the mission grounds. How much haunting eighteenth century Indian music floated somewhere on this earth, bouncing off foreign walls as it echoes through time. I have this private idea that when music is created it never disappears. It just floats and floats, like steam into the air, and comes down in some other form, like rainwater in Africa. I think maybe that old native music reappears on windy days in Farmington Utah.
Stone and wood work well together. Wise hands know how to incorporate them; how to marry the two in a good balanced union. One works best for foundations, the other works best for doors.
We walked out to the grounds from the cool dark mission chapel and saw this stand of trees, their trunks straight and balanced, their arms shooting up and out in a most disciplined fashion.
Good wood, I thought.
Then, as we turned toward the parking lot, we saw this tree. Same species:
And though I paused in my mind, I whispered to myself... good wood. Maybe even better wood. It looked like a giant had tiptoed across the Texas desert and stepped on it when the tree was a sapling. She was bent completely to the ground, as if she had at one time completely given up the ghost. But then, lo and behold, she continued to grow, her branches thickening with age, her bark rippled and healthy just like those tall straight trees. I thought, however, that this wood was made for artisans rather than architects. I thought maybe her destiny, when the spirit had left her, might be to warm a winter room. I thought of the wooden cross in the prayer chapel, tucked into a corner of that old rock structure, and I wondered if her wood would work. And I thought that if I were a tree I might make myself grow in such a way as to be of little use to those who built crosses for crucifixion.
There is a sign by that old tree:
It made me think of so many living spirits who thrive within challenged flesh; their bodies and spirits fighting to grow despite crushing blows and devastating circumstance. I am reminded to be careful, because we all have knots and twists, some of them invisible. We are resilient, or we would not be alive. But we are, all of us, fragile.
Stone and wood. I am amazed what a small thought early in the day can lead to. I am aware, and because I am aware, so much seems different than it did yesterday. I sit at a cherry wood table, on a sturdy wooden chair. The cupboards have wooden doors in the kitchen to the left of me, there are thin wooden blades on the ceiling fan circling overhead. I am safe inside this sturdy house on a little street in Houston, stable on its stone foundation, behind an accommodating wooden door, my feet tucked together atop a polished hardwood floor.