A handful of wood shavings

On a weekend camping among trees with blue sky in the day and a fire at night, I feed it with a box of off cuts I’ve saved for this exact purpose. “They’re called Mu Hua”, she explains as I cast a handful of wood shavings into the flames. My rudimentary Chinese availed far enough to a translation; wood flower.

The simple beauty of the paper thin spiral has an easy appeal that could understandably inspire the Chinese, who are prone to poetic nouns, to compare a curled up sliver of wood fibres to an opening spring bud. Though in truth wood shavings are an undesired part, sliced off and discarded in the process of making a rough slab of timber into a flat, square and exactly sized piece of wood.

Each plane stroke creates a long ribbon that instantly coils and bunches in the plane’s mouth so that you must intermittently stop to pull them free. In the motion of the task at hand they are slung to the floor without regard, where they collect around the workbench in soft mounds like autumn leaves, always more abundant than the result of the days work would suggest. The wood flowers earn their name right to the end.

I put another handful of shavings in, the flames grab on and bulge momentarily as the delicate flowers wither into embers and throw up sparks that dart into the stars above.


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