The story of The Velveteen Rabbit is one about a stuffed animal discovering how much time and effort it takes to be real.
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
― Margery Williams Bianco,
A few years ago I spent a few days on Maui with my grandparents, and was struck by how manicured everything was on the island. Every morning gardeners were outside my window: mowing the lawn, pruning bushes, planting flowers, watering saplings, and removing any speck of decay. The only pieces of broken wood I found were from a white small cross on the side of a road; the marker for a lost life that no one was going to change. The view outside the window was beautiful, that was certain. But was it real?
As human beings, we have different options for how we engage with the natural world around us. One is through manufacturing. By this term I am not meaning the large plants that are surrounded by concrete and have a few smokestacks on the top. Instead I am thinking of the products that we create. Those gardeners were using plants native to the island, but moving and placing them in rows and patterns that were supposed to be pleasing to the guests. These human beings, and the managers behind them, were trying to improve on nature by creating something more. It was the human fingerprints that I saw (almost) everywhere on the island, not the fingerprints of a Creator. With the sound of a gas mower each morning, men and women owned this land.
The part of the trip that did feel real, and free from an opportunity to buy a piece of the island, was when my Grandfather and I took a long drive inland toward a national park. In that space the plants seemed untamed, as did the cat and couple of chickens that wandered the grounds. Beautiful, perfect flowers bloomed in the same bush as wilted ones. And some pops of color were lost in the shadows of hundreds or thousands of leaves from the trees above.
This piece of the island was obviously still impacted by humanity, but in a far different way. Rather than feeling manufactured, this space was curated to help visitors engage with nature. Trails through the woods were only one person wide and traveled in strange curves around plants that had obviously been there before anyone created a pathway. The visitors were the ones who adapted rather than the creatures. The work of the gardeners for this space were using their skills to highlight the delicacy of someone else’s fingerprints. The only reason I knew there even were employees for the space was signs at the bottom of the hill near the parking lot. If there were workers present, they were swallowed up in the trees like the rest of us.
Factually I know that every view I took in on Maui was real. But there was something about the woods that was far more real than anything among the housing developments.
#52sparks is my year-long writing series based on an art prompt challenge. The title is inspired by a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron). The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch. So just imagine what hundreds of inches and words can do.