jackstraw timber

Visually, jackstraw (or jackstrawed) timber resembles the child’s game of pick-up sticks, writ large: a pile of fallen trees, most often conifer. Jackstraw timber provides both protection for new growth (inhibiting browsing of vulnerable aspen sprouts) and fodder for forest fire. Jackstrawed timber occurs naturally—the result of mortality, of blowdown, of fire aftermath—and is also orchestrated by humans to discourage browsing by animals. With poetic license, various writers have used jackstraw to describe both the chaotic arrangement of all manner of objects, man-made or natural, literal or figurative, and the delicacy one must employ in moving one piece without disturbing the rest. As Charles Simic writes in his poem “Jackstraws,” “My shadow and your shadow on the wall/Caught with arms raised/In display of exaggerated alarm,/Now that even a whisper, even a breath/Will upset the remaining straws/Still standing on the table.”

Antonya Nelson