Bones on the Roof

bones on the roof

Bones on the Roof

It may seem an odd choice for the title of an artwork in the shape of a tree but there is a reason for it.

In the middle of the summer over eight years ago, we moved into a house right across the street from an open wild park surrounded by the city. It was a very chaotic time, there was a lot of adjusting to do. My toddler daughter just started preschool. I was working and trying to organize the transition. In the midst of this, my younger daughter arrived a little over three weeks early. So in addition to settling in, a some extra chaos entered the scene.

As fall started to arrive it was time to get everything ready in preparation for the winter rains. Being small and agile and most importantly not afraid of heights it was my job to climb the ladder up to the roof and look around and see what kind of shape it was in and if any maintenance was necessary, clear the downspout, look for areas that might need patching, etc. My new neighbor was kind enough to let us borrow her ladder and we carried it up to the deck and I climbed up twenty four feet to get to the roof.

The view from up there is incredible you can see across the Bay, the downtown skyline and of course the trees and fields of the park. Having been intensely focused on caring for a newborn and a toddler, it was a relief to have a minute to myself to breathe and look around and remember to appreciate the world. The baby was napping and I knew it wouldn’t last long so I couldn’t linger and got to work.

The first thing I noticed was that the roof was covered with bones. Small bones that looked like they were mostly from leftovers. All sorts of questions came up right away, the first being, “How did these bones get here? Is this a bad omen? Who did it?” Getting up on that roof was no easy task, so it’s hard to imagine someone casually deciding to go and climb a tall ladder just to sit on the roof eat meat, drop the remains and leave, sure it’s not impossible, but it seems a little unlikely.

The most likely suspect to me were the ravens. As soon as we moved in I noticed a pair of ravens that liked to hang out on the roof. They would stop by mid-day jump around cawing and carrying on, making a ton of racket. Just what you want when your baby is napping and you’re tired too from staying up most of the night with an infant. The roof seemed to be their hangout spot and they were regulars. It seems to me they probably are the ones responsible for the bones. My hunch is that they scavenged most of them from the trash people leave behind in the park after a barbeque.

I had a plastic bag with me to collect anything that needed to be cleared away so I started picking up the bones. There were other odds and ends, some pebbles, some bits of plaster, a couple of peach pits, rusty nails and rusted out parts of vent caps for the pipes of the house. I put it all in the bag, cleared the downspout, noted a few areas that could use some attention and then headed back down. The baby was already crying and my “break” was over.

I dropped the bag in the back room behind the garage with all of my other art tools and random junk that I keep around to make into things that I had just moved out of my art studio at The Boxshop. It seemed wrong to put the bag in the trash. It was weird and I know most people would throw it out immediately, it’s kind of gross to keep old bones lying around but I knew that I wanted to make something with these strange bits. I wanted to know their story, I wanted to tell it. It took me eight years of full intensive parenting with no extended family around and little support to have the time to organize my studio into a workable space. When I rediscovered the bag this past summer I was so happy, it was the thing I was most excited to find, a bag of bones. I sat down and sorted all the parts and started to imagine how they would fit together.

Why a tree? It seemed to be what the pieces wanted. I thought about making a raven, but it didn’t seem right. All of the parts for this work came from the roof except for two things that I found in the park, the plywood piece it is mounted on which I pulled from edge the upper reservoir and carried all the way home (almost a mile) oof wet plywood is heavy, and the little mushroom, hose thing I found in the grass.

For the first few years we lived here the ravens kept coming by regularly, mostly in the summers but after we replaced the roof and put up solar panels they stopped coming as often. I still see them around the park. Sometimes they stop by and watch me while I work in the garden, returning to their old spot for a little while. We eye each other and then move on.

I’m still not sure if the bones on the roof were a bad omen or not. In Buddhism there is the concept of you never know whether an event is good fortune or bad fortune until later. I see the bones as somewhat neutral but also as foreshadowing of the suffering that was about to commence. The last eight years have been some of the toughest and darkest emotionally of my life. I have two beautiful, healthy, intelligent, creative daughters who are a blessing in my life and have a safe good home to raise them in. My marriage has been the anguishing part. Things took a dark turn after we arrived in our house, but the house and the bones didn’t cause it. I tried mightily to create a peaceful and loving home but it clearly wasn’t meant to be. After struggling hard to hold it together it was time to let go. Finding acceptance when things are irretrievably broken is not easy, it takes time. From observing nature I know that all things change and from that which has been destroyed something new will arise. Life continues, only the bones remain.

Written by jennalex

Artist and designer who explores the relationship between the natural world and the digital world and aims to create art and design that expands people's consciousness and creates meaningful experiences.

March 6, 2023