New Madrid’s 2014 theme “The Great Hunger” kept in line with the collective trauma of Gorta Mór, the great famine that occurred in Ireland between 1845 and 1852. This issue showcases “hunger” in many different forms and contexts. These themes are reflected in Bird’s piece.
Birds essay explores loss by learning to appreciating life and life’s lessons. By uncovering reoccurring patterns within her daily life, and with the aid of nature, Bird rediscovers what it means to be a part of something larger than she could have ever imagined.
While Bird’s topic isn’t new, her presentation on death or on finding the meaning of life is written in a creative non-fiction way; through the rhetorical mode of narrative discourse. Narrative discourse is also known as a “story,” and it’s a form of writing that highlights sequential events through a particular point of view. In this case, Bird’s essay is self-reflective and deeply personal.
Throughout her essay, Bird uses nature as a way of understanding the place she has in life. Bird sees nature as a sequential process whose cyclical movement drives the juxtaposition of life and death. Ultimately, understanding the place that one has in life also leads one to understand the place they have in death. This is most apparent when she reflects on the trees in her neighborhood:
“With my car at the mechanic’s for the month, I biked in the cold. In the leafless half of the year, rotten branches and healthy branches looked the same. I couldn’t believe that most of the trees were alive because none of them seemed to be. I imagined the spring coming finally: the grass would turn vibrant but the trees would stay gray and bare forever because they had all secretly and soundlessly died in a snowstorm. I was surprised in the spring at the buds and the sprouting. The growth made the sticks I hadn’t realized I’d grown used to disappear completely, and it occurs to me that there’s always something to mourn” (45).
Dying trees is the repeated metaphor here, and only furthers the connection between life and death. Her reference to tree trimmers adds to a repetitive element that is found around the “life and death” of many different things:
“The men, before they touched the tree with a chainsaw, stood around it in a circle, looking up, talking. One pointed to a few branches, the others nodded, and then it was set; the tree would come down in that order” (50).
I think this quote speaks beautifully about change, loss, and of life’s transformations. In this moment, the tree trimmer is the agent of death. The electric saw is his tool and the tree trimmer has decided the fate of the tree (and how the tree will be ended). Nature has become the source of understanding for Bird; she sees that death has a role in nature:
“After the trimmers left, I stood there looking at the new view from my window. Having lost two trees in a matter of weeks, I found that getting used to my clear horizon was a process like many others. Planned or sudden, fully leafed or bare—all losses result in a slight opening of sky and perhaps a new view to someone’s backyard I hadn’t thought much about before” (52).
Ultimately, Bird’s lesson is one of acceptance and, perhaps, one of wonder. Her relaxing impression on the process of life narrates a story that illustrates how she comes to terms with change, loss, and life; which, in her case, makes her story a comforting read.
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About the Author:
Amelia Bird is a writer and book artist living in New Orleans. Her artist’s books can be found in more than thirty libraries.
¡PSST! © 2016 The Black Lion Journal. Image from the New Madrid cover, Winter 2014. Header image © Sissh Art “Day 2, Week 3 – Forest Landscapes.” A Wired Artist: The Wire’s Dream | Sissh Art Inaugural Submission • Interview Visit The Submissions page to learn about submitting to individual sections or to The Wire’s Dream. P.S. Use the social media links below to share with others.