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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

That Stress You’re Under? Here’s the Beauty in It

Unique burled coffee table. All photos by Maggie Rowe.

You’ve reached your middle years in perfect health, or perhaps even a generous season beyond.

Your marriage of many years is conflict-free and the envy of your friends.

Your children and grandchildren of varying years are robustly healthy, scholastically superior, and spiritually devout.

Your employer routinely rewards your excellent job performance with regular promotions.

. . . . Said no one ever.

Seriously, friend, if that describes your life, please introduce yourself to the rest of us! I’m happy for you – genuinely so – but you are like no one else I know. If you’re living an honest-to-goodness stress-free life, we’re eager to know how you’ve achieved it.

Because wish as we might for an absence of stress on this side of eternity, it’s as commonplace as the common cold. As they say down in these parts, life’s full of problems, usually more’n you can say grace over.

A few days ago, I needed distraction from sorrow seated deep in my soul. I needed to be reminded of the gifts around us in the natural world. I needed a bit of beauty.

So I stopped by a gallery owned for the last half-century by a local family named Metzger. Unlike the other galleries that populate our mountain-town, this one specializes solely in rare American burled woods transformed into live-edge furniture and decor. LINK The Metzgers’ craftsmanship is stunning - valuable works of art.

As I wandered around the showroom, stopping to admire fanciful fountains and mammoth bedsteads, one of the owners came over to greet me. A botanist by trade, there’s little that Janet Metzger doesn’t know about the beauty of burls.

Janet Metzger, co-owner, Metzger's Burlwood Gallery, Waynesville, NC
“Technically,” Janet told me, “a burl is an abnormal growth in a tree that develops as a reaction to stress on the tree. The stress can be invasive from the outside or physical from within, but the result of the stress on the wood is incredibly complex and beautiful grain patterns. Burls reflect light in different planes, and once finely finished, the inner beauty of the wood is revealed.”

As I ran my hands over gleaming tables and carved wooden bowls, I asked Janet where they source the wood.

“Right here in America,” she responded, “from salvaged wood. Some redwoods live up to 2,500 years. We never cut old-growth trees but instead repurpose the wood from trees that were still alive when they fell.”

Something in my soul stirred and settled while we talked.

The stress placed on these magnificent old trees is what created the beauty of the burl. Under the hands of the master craftsman, unique patterns emerged, no two exactly alike.

A one-of-a-kind fountain crafted from burled wood

“All wood is beautiful and has a soft shine,” Janet commented, "but burls reflect light in various planes. Swirling patterns and shifting colors result from looking into the wood in different directions.”

On my way home, I thought of those of you who join me here most weeks. You’ve known loss, lots of it.

You’ve experienced heartache and heartbreak, maddening job frustrations and messy family situations.

You’ve survived and overcome, gotten over and gotten through, endured and persevered. I’ve watched you in the storm, roots deeply planted, every limb shaking —yet you stand firm.

And you know what, friend?

Like a mighty redwood in an old-growth forest, that stress has made you finely burled, uniquely beautiful.

And oh, so very valuable to the rest of us.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2023

“We are all somebody’s memory, someone's joy or their regret. We are the weavers of each other’s cloth; the keepers of our fellow travelers in time.” Call the Midwife, Season 12, Episode 1

Maggie Wallem Rowe is a speaker and dramatist who lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. The author of two books, Maggie is very fond of trees.


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