Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stickwork Day 12 at the Hui No'eau

Day 12, September 16th, 2011
When I arrived to the Hui to volunteer that afternoon, I reached for my camera bag, and with a bad feeling in my stomach, realized I had left both camera and mini video camera at home.  I spent a couple of minutes debating whether to go back and get them, which would take time away from my shift.  Finally I decided to tough it out, and volunteer without trying to take pictures of everything.  To focus on being present in the moment. After all, what did people do before cameras were invented? They paid attention and later recounted their experience as a story, or they wrote about it, or they drew a picture.

At least a dozen times, I gritted my teeth and wished I had my camera. There was Patrick on the scaffolding, with two other men, moving and bending the trees. Only a few “sticks” remained standing.  I am referring to the original part of the design, when three saplings – one thicker and two thinner – were inserted into the two foot deep holes. The magical moment was putting them in and at Patrick’s urging,  letting them go, and realizing they would not fall over. Here was another magical moment: the last crescent with the last standing sticks was being shaped, and I did not have a camera to record it. I also remembered my architect/artist friend’s words about the magic moment when the form is being created. Oh well!  I hope someone else took a video!

I focused on weaving instead, joining a group forming a wall.  We had to be careful not to block the doorway with the end of a branch, and push or slide a branch from one end of the wall to the other, moving it between other branches to hold it in place.  Also, there was a window that was loosely defined by some white cord at the bottom and top, so we had to avoid filling it by accident.  Sometimes the branch was too short, and someone would go back to the pile to hunt for longer branches.  Patrick had said he wanted it to be like a “rat’s nest” with branches and sticks going in all directions. 

Another group was climbing up and down the scaffolding to take a very long sapling, maybe 8 feet long, and poke it down from the scaffolding through a hole in the weaving and then bend it over to become part of the ceiling and then down again to the other side. It was definitely a two-person job, and often a third person was very helpful, to help pull the sapling through, or push away the other branches blocking it.  Later on, Patrick said that it was very helpful to cut some of the longer saplings in half so they are easier to work with. A volunteer laughed and said, “Please don’t make us take it out.”

Compared to some of the other shifts, this was very relaxed. It was not the frenzy of collecting the saplings and branches, and not the rush to drill holes and get the trees stripped of leaves.  Volunteers worked at their own pace, with little direct supervision. Decisions were made collectively, and changed just as often. Should we put the branch through this hole or that one?  Do you want it angled this way or that way? Just as often, we pulled back the stick, or “backed up” to give the puller a chance to pull the stick through a particular opening that had been overshot.

Towards 4 pm, I felt some sadness. The last standing sticks had been bent into place and bound tightly with white cord. The overall structure was completed. The rest of the work was to fill it in. Patrick walked through the structure with yellow caution tape and selected areas for doorways and windows, by affixing the tape to branches overhead and at waist level.  He was generous with the tape, mentioning that we did not have a lot of material left, and needed to stretch it out. The huge piles of sticks and saplings from the early days was greatly diminished. What remained was some small piles, easily approached, with the parking lot showing underneath.  There was one larger pile of mountain ash that they had just collected that morning, but it didn’t seem that big. He checked some of the lower walls, and noted that a couple of them could use more vertical sticks, then clarified, saying not so much “vertical” but rather “sideways.”

Patrick also pushed the front and back of each wall together and then tied some of the branches to keep the walls compressed. This was another attempt to keep maximize the use of the remaining materials. By compressing the walls, the gaps are not as big, and the walls require less sticks. At the end of the afternoon, Patrick was up on the scaffolding again, pushing more sticks to round out the ceiling. I stood on the scaffolding and looked over the hills of the sculpture, dotted with round and teardrop-shaped openings. I will miss the scaffolding when it’s gone.  Another volunteer who has been there every day since the start of building said that they had just moved the scaffolding all around that morning so they could finish the last bending of the “standing sticks.”  I felt a stab of envy that he had been able to spend time at the project every day. Meanwhile a photographer showed up with the sun close to the horizon and started taking pictures with a monster camera.  Lucky him, with his camera.

My last twinge of sadness was hearing Patrick say that after a few years, Mother Nature takes over. These sculptures are not that permanent. The thought had flickered in my mind earlier that Hawaii is very harsh to wood – we have termites, mold, acidic rain, and general entropy.  But I had shrugged it off, since the sculpture is made of very hard strawberry guava and eucalyptus, not favorites of termites. I asked Patrick, “So, do you come back and touch it up?” thinking this would be fun to have Patrick back again.  He said no, he generally dismantles them before Mother Nature has her way. They are pretty rough by then. 

Sigh, another breath being released from my body. At some point I realized I could keep feeling sad, or just go with the process. At least I got to participate, not as much as some, but more than others. I got to take some pictures, not as many as I would have liked, but better than none. I may have missed a "magic moment," but I had other nice moments.  Like a conversation with one woman who stopped by with her two children.  The boy was eager to help, and was very bright. He used a small stick as a lever against a “standing stick” to widen the gap for us to squeeze another stick through. Then he wanted to take some of the small sticks home with him!  I also remembered that the cell phone in my pocket takes bad pictures, and then thought, even bad pictures at the end of the day are better than nothing. So here they are:

New discovery as I insert these pics...
1) My cell phone pictures aren't that bad - the phone just doesn't do close-ups that well.
2) Cell phone sized pics fit nicely side by side.

Final thought - the sculpture is not finished...even stopping by for a short time during the process is wonderful, even if you forget your camera. There is also a blessing and opening ceremony at the Hui on Friday, September 23rd from 5 pm to 7 pm.


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