To the Q’ero people of the Peruvian Andes, the most important principle to learn and practice in life is what they call “Ayni” — the understanding that everything in the universe is interconnected, and that a respectful balance must be carefully maintained through cycles of reciprocal giving. Similar notions of reciprocity abound in traditional cultures worldwide.
Even our modern environmental movement is grounded in a fundamentally economic view of reality, speaking in terms of “natural resources,” “carbon taxes, counting, and credits,” and other ideas that seek to collapse the living world into a series of quantifiable spreadsheets — as if nature were something “out there” to be objectively studied and managed.
Out of bad faith comes a longing for control, for the law and the police. Bad faith suspects that the gift will not come back, that things won’t work out, that there is a scarcity so great in the world that it will devour whatever gifts appear. In bad faith the circle is broken.
The song is to the singer, and comes back most to him; The teaching is to the teacher, and comes back most to him; The murder is to the murderer, and comes back most to him; The theft is to the thief, and comes back most to him; The love is to the lover, and comes back most to him; The gift is to the giver, and comes back most to him—it cannot fail;
In this ritual, the cycle of In Fragments approaches completion. I visit a friend’s pine and spruce forest in the neighboring town of Charlotte, hoping to gather a collection of resin — the sticky “scar tissue” produced by coniferous trees to heal the “wounds” of broken branches.
Since 1955, his canoe had hung from the ceiling of the “Trophy Room” building, with his many taxidermied animals below, as seen in Give Up the Ghost. The canoe is now seeing sunlight for the first time in over sixty-five years.
I mix the bacon grease with the harvested resin in a heavy iron melting pot, and set the concoction to boil until it foams over onto the table — placing the hot mixture on an old “Flower of Life” trivet to cool.
Soon, I carry the warm solution to the canoe, and use my great-grandmother’s monogrammed silver spoon to spread the gummy resin over the splits and rips of the bark — gradually mending the “wounds” of her son’s ”vessel”.
Finally, I lay a strip of fiberglass tape down the center of the vessel's hull, covering a large open split in the bark, re-enforcing the tree resin there. I mix up a concoction of West Marineepoxy resin and hardener, and apply it to the fiberglass tape — creating a strong and reliable seam at the center of the boat.
With the canoe repair complete, I carry two steel buckets into the barn and up into the hayloft, returning to the mosaic of mirrors that I placed there almost six years before in Hall of Mirrors — now covered with layers of cobwebs, disintegrating wasp nests, and many seasons of dust.
I unlatch four old hay doors, one on each side of the building, as a way of opening up “the four directions” and inviting in the spirits of the land.
Opening the directions
I use my mother’s silver scissors to cut the “red thread” that’s been bounding the mosaic of mirrors for the last six years. I walk its perimeter, wrapping the string around my hand, and then use her scissors again to release the container entirely.
Releasing the container
The red thread is unexpectedly replaced by a single shaft of red sunlight streaming through a hay door, reaching to the back of the space.
After traveling away from the shore, I select a piece of fired mirror and toss it into the lake. Two birds appear on the horizon, flying towards the boat. I take a second piece of fired mirror and toss it in as well — and just as the second mirror leaves my hand, the birds pass over the boat, as if by grace.
Two mirrors, two birds
I continue feeding the fired mirrors into the water, seeding the lake with what will eventually become “sea glass” for future generations to discover — this time made not from the bottles of booze, but from the “fragments” of an ancestor’s story.