Tree, Lisa O’Neill

sa·bot    (sab-oh)  n.  [Fr.; altered (after bot, a boot)  <  savate, old shoe; via Turk.  <  Ar. sabbat, sandal]  1.  a kind of shoe shaped and hollowed from a single piece of wood, worn by peasants in Europe.  2.  a heavy leather shoe with a wooden sole.  3.  a small sailing dinghy whose hull somewhat resembles a shoe.  4.  in military usage, a wooden disk or soft metalclip fastened to a projectile, formerly used in muzzle-loading canon.
“Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (just) leather on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it”


The ground was rough. So the girl decided to carve herself some shoes. She was tired of stepping on thorns. She had enough of cuts from tiny pieces of glass. Her toenails were torn. Her arches were sore. Her feet were calloused from walking the stubborn earth.
She had tried looking carefully at where she was walking. She had tried looking ahead at where she was going and hoping for the best. She had tried praying for the ground to be other than it was. She had tried laying out a mat which she would pick up and throw in front of her every few steps. All of these were tiresome. None of these worked. So at long last, she decided, though she was no carver, to carve herself some shoes.
She went walking to the place where there were many trees and once she arrived there, she considered them keenly. She placed her hand against the bark. She felt the smoothness of their leaves between her fingers. She considered the maple, the mesquite, the magnolia. She sat on the roots of mighty oaks. She pressed her nose to the skin of the cedar. She did this for days, or was it weeks? She smelled the sassafras. She leaned her back against the bark of the elm. She touched the ashes. She tasted the sap of the pine.
She wondered which wood would give best, which would mar her feet. She considered what she knew about the rings inside those trees, the color of the wood. She considered the way the wood would sound when it met the earth, in walking or in dancing.
She walked to where the water met the trees, she waded, and finally, she settled on something. Cypress.
She pulled something sharp from within her coat and she began to saw. She thanked the tree and took her branch with her.
The girl found a place on the earth to sit and placed her large branch across her lap. She had never made a pair of shoes before. She had never carved anything besides letters into words, color into walls. She wondered where to begin. Begin with this wood, she heard. Begin with this tool. Begin with this time.
So she did. She found the process long, this slow hollowing. The only indicator of time spent was a small curve in the center of the block. And yet there was something satisfying about the sound of her knife cutting into the wood and the sight of curled shavings falling to her feet.
She scraped and she notched and she pulled. She worked and as she worked, she sang. These were the songs she had been taught over the years. Her mother had sung them. And her mother’s mother had sung them. They were songs about truth and what it means to sit in the presence of another human being. She became lost in the music and the slow rhythm of scraping and when she came out of her haze, she saw she had cut a hole clean through.
So she began again, slowly carving, this time not forgetting where she was. People passed her as she worked, some offered to help her carve, some gave her suggestions. She thanked them, she listened, and then she continued to work. The light turned to dark then to light then to dark again, and still she carved. She noticed the rings in the wood. She noticed the changes in color. She noticed the smell of its skin. She chipped, she chiseled, she cleaved and divided. She etched, she hacked, she hewed. She molded and modeled and patterned and sculpted and shaped. She, at long last, whittled the last bit of excess away.
And then she looked at her work. These wooden shoes were not entirely even. They were not exactly smooth. She held one in each hand and considered their weight. She thought about her efforts and why she had begun in the first place. These would not be the most comfortable shoes. They would not be the most attractive. They looked like they had been made by a beginner. And they had. These shoes would not spare her the miles walked in them. They would not spare her the wrong turns. They would not keep her from encountering hard rain or hot sand or a horizon obscured by too much foliage. These shoes would not do this. No shoes ever would. But still, the girl had made these.
She slipped on the shoes.
She began to walk.


Filed under weekly words

2 responses to “sa·bot

  1. Jim

    What exquistely crafted words for talking
    about the soulfully crafted shoes for walking!

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