“Thank you for your good work today,” said the master. “You may go and I will see you at dawn.”
“Master?” began the apprentice as an idea flickered inside his troubled mind. “May I stay and make something for the little girl?”
“Of course. I must go and tend to other duties but you may use any lumber that you choose. Remember that the tools have very sharp edges,” the kind master smiled. “Do not cut yourself to the blood.”
“I will be careful,” agreed the apprentice as the master left the shop.
When he was alone, he surveyed the shop from a different perspective. In the past, he had been the one to clean and maintain it. But now the shop would serve him as he used it to make something for the sick little girl. But what?
The boy sat pondering the question of what he could make that would brighten her day. Sitting by the window, he became distracted by the beautiful scene unfolding outside. The sun had begun its retreat to the west and infused new shades of pink onto the delicate blue canvas above. What had been puffy white clouds seemed to be melting right before his eyes and he wondered how long it had been since the little girl had been outdoors or seen something so beautiful.
Then it struck him! If she couldn’t go outside, maybe he could bring the outside to her. He began stirring with the idea of recreating the scene before him so that she could hold it and experience it herself.
The boy went to the lumber racks and looked at all of the species that the craftsman had collected. With the idea percolating in his head, he removed many pieces from the stack and took them to the bench. Taking up the old, worn chisels, he carefully sliced off thin pieces of veneer from mahogany, oak, alder, walnut, and cherry. He compared the colors of maple and poplar to get just the right tones necessary to build the image of the sunset that had been impressed upon his mind.
The sun had left him by now. He worked under lamplight for hours. Methodically, he shaped thin pieces of wood and pieced them together – scraping, sanding, and fitting each one until it was perfect and glued into place. If a piece was not right, it ended up in the scrap pile that would be burned for heat in the winter. The pile grew steadily in the wee hours of night. This was all new to him but gradually he developed an eye for his work. He could see what he wanted in his mind, select the right piece of wood, and mold it to the shape required to create his picture. Different veneers gave depth and character as he added them one by one.
Finally, as the sun that had launched this artistic endeavor made its appearance in the eastern sky, the boy stepped back from the bench and surveyed what he had made. In his work he could see the awe that the beautiful sunset of the previous night had inspired and he was pleased. He began to believe that the little girl would be able to feel the outdoors through this gift. The boy carried it to the window so the rising sun could judge his rendering and it seemed to shine a little brighter as it looked down upon him.
It was only then that he realized this exhaustion after staying up the entire night. The sound of the door opening startled the boy as it caught him in mid-yawn.
“Good morning, young friend,” greeted the master craftsman. “You have come early to begin your work?”
“I worked through the night,” admitted the apprentice. “But look at what I have made for her.”
The master approached the boy with keen interest. Silently he scrutinized the boy’s work, running his hand over the finer details and slowly surveying every aspect of the picture. The quizzical look on his face alarmed the apprentice and he feared that his master did not approve of what he had done.
Finally, the boy became uncomfortable with the silence. “You do not like it,” he said dejectedly.
Without looking up, the old man spoke barely above a whisper, “Did you hear them?”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you were making this, did you hear the voices of the trees telling you where they belong? Each piece has a place. Did they speak to you?”
The boy recounted the night and the process of building the picture.
“I do not know if I heard them or not,” he said honestly. “Every time I needed a piece of a certain size or color, it seemed to be at hand and I chose it.”
“That is how they reveal their soul,” replied the master knowingly. “They speak from within. It is the artist inside of the craftsman becoming one with the trees.”
“But I am not a craftsman,” said the stunned boy.
The master raised his eyes to meet those of his pupil. “The hands that made this beautiful piece are those of a craftsman. I have never engaged in detailed work such as this – it is beyond my calling. I can see in my mind what I want to make, but cannot mix the shades and contours of the wood to replicate it. You have taken what your mind’s eye can see and used your hands to capture its essence. When I look at it, I remember the many sunsets of my life and I feel joy in the warmth of their memory. The ability to stir feelings and emotions with your creation takes skill and self-awareness that cannot be taught. You have been given a very special gift.”
“So, I heard the trees?” he wondered aloud.
“Yes, my boy. You heard the trees… it also appears you have used all of our glue.”
The boy laughed meekly. “I am sorry, master. I will fetch more.”
“Not today,” smiled the master. “You must rest from your late night pursuits. Go home and return tomorrow. In the morning you can finish your work and deliver it.”
Just as he began to disagree, a large yawn forced its way out of the boy’s mouth. “Yes, you are right,” he said and took his leave so that he could recuperate.
Click here to read the conclusion.
This is part four of the story. Click here to start from the beginning.