The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  
- The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
Historians note that the original wording in early drafts of the Declaration was "...Life, Liberty, and Property." It was changed by Jefferson, at Benjamin Franklin's advice, to the more compelling "pursuit of Happiness" primarily out of concern for the issue of slaves as property. And while it made for a better motto to fire the spirit of the American Revolution, by the time Congress thought out the Bill of Rights in 1789, the phrase had evolved back into the more enforceable

"No person shall be...deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..."  
- Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

In those distant years, the issue was slavery...some considered it a "right" to hold slaves as property, and as a key to their happiness, in terms of the material wealth they delivered. Our modern equivalent, at least for the sake of today's topic, is the "right" to own a home.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bouncing along the bottom in housing

Who to believe? One expert says the housing sector is about to turn around...

Beginning of the end of the entire crisis?

...because foreclosure rates, and new default filings are both on the decline.

The National Association of Home Builders seems to agree with this outlook...the graph below shows that they think the upturn is right on the brink (the red line denotes the current month).

So the NAHB is forecasting that the first story is correct. Let's hope so...but the NAHB has been forecasting (wishing?) for that upturn for a couple of years now.

Meanwhile, at least one expert says that the worst is still ahead...

Plunging home prices to spark 2012 recession

...because housing prices will fall another 20%, causing the number of folks that are "underwater" in their mortgages to rise from 23% to 40% of American homeowners.

While the first scenario is not exactly a reason to celebrate, the second scenario is terrible to contemplate. 40% of Americans owing more on their house than the house is worth?

What can be done? With the debt and credit crisis our country faces, is it even feasible to forecast an upturn for your housing-related business?

One man thinks he has the answer. He calls it "The Simple Solution." I'll be sharing it with you over the course of several upcoming posts. Stay tuned.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Elms of Penn State

Back in forestry school we learned about the history of a tree that is slowly but surely vanishing from the American landscape - The American elm (ulmus americana). The tree has been fighting the attacks of the Dutch elm disease and elm yellows for more than a century, and the battle seems to be nearly lost. The graceful towering figure that all American children east of the Mississippi once recognized instantly is now rarely seen at all by most Americans.

The stand of elms on the Penn State campus at University Park is thought to be the largest remaining stand in America. Winnepeg, Canada, holds the largest remaining stand anywhere in the world...over 170,000 elms that are under constant care.
"Veritably the standard against which the merits of other shade trees were measured, the American elm provided the ultimate in stateliness and beauty, making it the single most popular shade tree for lawns and city streets in the eastern United States, and earning it distinction as the state tree of Massachusetts and North Dakota. Architects even designed buildings with elm plantings inherent in their plans. The early citizens of Portland, Maine and New Haven, Connecticut had such a passion for the American elm that they created elm-lined streets on practically every block and earned each city such nicknames as "Forest City" and "City of Elms." Once as naturally abundant as maple, oak, and pine, the American elm was an essential part of our natural landscape and cultural heritage throughout the first few centuries of our history, and it was in fact the first symbol of our national independence; for a fine example had stood in Boston as the famous "Liberty Tree," an emblem of promise and a gathering site for patriotic citizens intent on independence, until British soldiers destroyed it as a final act of hostility during a hurried retreat in 1775.

Many of us remember how painful it was for our communities to witness the tragedy that recurred throughout the eastern states during the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. Many remember watching helplessly as countless main streets, parks, historic sites, and neighborhoods that had been so handsomely graced with fine elms were transformed within a few years into barren, urban-looking landscapes devoid of trees, the result of a frighteningly efficient epidemic that had appeared suddenly. We can imagine the profound dismay of the citizens of Portland and New Haven as each "City of Elms" was transformed rapidly into a "City of Firewood," necessitating almost phenomenal removal expenses. Some may recall marveling at the futility of the "cut and burn campaigns" which were initiated to halt the spread of an epidemic that was killing trees literally by the millions each year." -
Bruce Carley,
Walking home from work yesterday afternoon, I passed through the stalls of the State College Arts Fest that sprawls across portions of the campus and the borough, and noticed some unusual-looking wood furniture. It was a booth featuring the Penn State Elms Collection, some artisan-quality pieces that the Penn State Alumni Association commissioned out of pieces of the magnificent old elms that are being reduced annually by the diseases.

I was especially interested, since I have a large elm in my back yard a few blocks from the campus. It was the crowning glory of our property, rising up behind the house...but late last summer I noticed one branch about fifty feet up had yellowed. This  spring, the tree leafed out...but within weeks it was dead.

I inquired if the University had any desire for the wood of my elm, but apparently, the relative merit of timber is like real estate...location, location, location. My elm timber, and all the rest of the off-campus elm wood that is being salvaged, is little more than sentimental firewood that I'll be splitting soon. Elm logs, anyone?

The battle to salvage the dying Penn State elms into alumni memorabilia is a great story featuring some fine folks from our central Pennsylvania wood products industry, as told in the following video produced by the university.

The effort being put forth by communities all over the continent to save their elms, and to preserve the wood remnants of them as they die, demonstrates once again the spiritual connection between mankind and the miracle we call wood.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Future of Energy (2)

" of these days, you might buy biofuels for your car. You’re not going to buy them from Biofuels, Inc. You’re going to buy them from Shell and Exxon and Chevron, the usual suspects. They’re already doing that." - Byron King, 
For us to understand the possibilities of wood energy, we really have to keep our eye on developments in emerging energy trends in the other technologies. I ran across this nice little interview today that covers some interesting possibilities, and is worth a couple of minutes to read...

The Future of Energy - The Daily Reckoning

Monday, July 11, 2011

Technology Marches On

While researching a logistics topic for a client, I ran across this interesting video of robotic pods that move items around in a logistics warehouse. We've witnessed the evolution of "lean production", but the real advances in our society seem to be in logistics.

Twenty years ago, how many of you could envision the ability to order a book, or a table, or even a couch, on a hand-held device today and have it delivered to your home tomorrow? I recently found a phone ap from Home Depot that gives one the ability to browse thousands of stock items from that retailer, order it and have it delivered. It may seem limited in application today, as I enjoy the browsing experience offered by an hour or two in the Big Box...but I used to enjoy browsing in the book store, too.

Business is changing fast, and technology will not be denied. Even the wood industry will be different ten, twenty years from now than it is today. Can you envision those changes?