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


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

More highlights of New South Wales

While my posts last year and last week focused on the woods, timber industry, and phytosanitary aspects of life in New South Wales, Australia, I skipped over many other little things that made it seem so different from North America. I'll try to share the best of the rest here in this post, and I'll conclude in the next post with a  memorable video tour of a very special piece of nautical trade history.

First let me pick up where I left you in the last post,  at the operation of T. Davis Milling in Wandandian, in the company of Ms. Leith Davis. As you may have picked up if you watched the video of the tour of the early twentieth-century sawmill, Ms. Davis is a historian and author who has focused not just on the forest industry but environmental issues, and her perspective on timbering and forestry are quite interesting. In the following video (which does not show her at her request) we have a discussion about timber supplies and forest management, especially with the intervention of fire. Her comments about how Australian resource managers now operate with the knowledge of "intermediate disturbance theory" may be interesting to you forestry-inclined folks out there. I liked hearing, once again, the Australian birds in the background during our conversation.

I mentioned that most of the commercial timber species are Eucalypts. Following are some shots of the typical Eucalypt forests as I saw them.

The palm understory made for an interesting and beautiful ecological combination.

The canopy of Eucalypt forests is not dense; the crowns of most species were fairly sparse in leaves. They reminded me of the general form of black cherry trees in our northeastern U.S. forests.

I also had the opportunity to visit the Monga National Park, which is an ancient, temperate rainforest between the Araluen Valley where I headquartered and the coast. Sorry the pictures are so blurry, I didn't realize the camera shutter was adjusting to the low light levels and slowing down to compensate. My hands aren't as steady as they used to be.

This place was surreal. I felt that at any moment a troop of Hobbits was going to pop out from behind one of the trees, and that the trees themselves might start speaking to me. I was the only one in there, and hadn't seen anyone for miles by the time I got to this site, so you can imagine how out-of-world I felt in the moment.

The larger trees are plumwood, Eucryphia moorei. Ornamental bushes in much of New South Wales, these natural specimens may have been dropped into the area in bird droppings, where they begin a hemiepiphytic life; that is, the seeds sprout in the canopy, where their roots spread downward until they eventually make contact with the soil and they become grounded.

The smaller specimens are tree shrubs, and they definitely gave the place that Jurassic Park feel.

And only a few miles from there (as the cockatoo flies) I emerged back out onto the high plains of New South Wales, which really reminded me of parts of West Texas. It was cattle country, and beefsteaks there take a backseat to nowhere in the world. I snapped this shot of an old rock homestead still standing by the road.

From the high plains I descended into the Araluen valley which I described to you last year as the closest I'll ever be to Brigadoon. You might recall that I stayed in an old court house turned into a bed & breakfast. If you want a feel for how authentic the stay was, get a load of the door to my room. Really.

The picture below is one of my favorites of the trip. The marker is a memorial to Araluen citizens who gave their lives in World War I. When you've traveled the world and seen markers like this in every imaginable type of city, town, and village, it makes you think a little about the nature of man. The beautiful irony of this site, with the pastoral setting of sheep and mountains in the background, was overpowering.

I also saw a modern type of beauty, on the road to Canberra. These are rapeseed fields, which we call canola, and they went on for miles. Canberra being the central seat of government in Australia, it was perhaps not surprising to see renewable bioenergy crops being grown in abundance so near. Australia, like much of northern Europe, is big on biofuels, and rapeseed is a preferred oil seed for biodiesel production. I'll say sure looks better in the landscape than solar panels or wind turbines.

This last picture is an old Pinus radiata, or Monterey (Radiata) pine, growing in a town setting. We tend to think of radiata pine as an Australian or New Zealand species, but its actual origin is the Monterey peninsula of central California, where the last remaining original stands are under threat of extirpation by pine pitch canker. This threat, should it spread to huge commercial plantations of radiata pine, would have disastrous effects, and is one of the reasons that phytosanitary inspectors in Australia and New Zealand are fanatics about stopping importation of plants from other countries.

Ok, I have to include one last video. It's not all that great quality-wise, but it's one you can't get here in North America...cockatoos on the power lines, mocking me just like the crows do back home. They must be cousins.

Next post, we'll explore the Australian version of Old Ironsides.

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