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


Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of the Beginning

2012. It was to be, according to an obscure piece of stone tablet, the end. Many people around the world bought into the idea of our world ending in one big cataclysmic event, and many more made some money by selling the idea. I wish I had invested in the dehydrated food business about ten years ago.

But most people just waited for December 21st to pass, and then shrugged.

Like so many other things, 2012 turned out to be more bark than bite.  A much anticipated national election resulted in, well, not much of anything. As did elections in other parts of the world. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Unrest here, oppression there, and not enough money to go around. Never has been, never will be.

But things have been especially tough lately, not just in the wood and building industries, but in most of the industries, countries, and homes of the world. The few things that have upward trends (US housing, lumber prices, Chinese and Indian standards of living, etc.) started from very low places, and had nowhere to go but up.

But since the world didn't end this year, and since we weren't visited by our other-world progenitors who were to explain the whole mess to us and set us at peace, we will muddle on. And frankly, 2013 doesn't look a whole lot better than 2012.

But it seems to me, that like Prime Minister Churchill's Britain of 1942, the battle will be fought on a different level from now on. Great Britain of that year was the sole remaining bastion against Hitler and his war machine, and they had been steadily yielding ground while regrouping and trying to convince Americans to join the fray. But with decisive victory at El Alamein, Britain had finally reached a point where the defeats were balanced by a semblance of hope. Mr. Churchill put it all in perspective with a remarkable speech that included one of his most memorable statements.
"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
- Winston Churchill, November 9, 1942
As I reflect on the past several years, the faces of dozens of folks who lost their jobs as sawyers, salesmen, cabinet makers, truss assemblers, forklift drivers, and mill managers still weigh heavily. The shuttered plants that used to be the home of so many fine old companies rest like metallic skeletons in the desert sands of Northern Africa. Though shooting wars with tanks, bullets, and bombs no longer seem to threaten most in the world, the toll in decreasing security and human dignity remains.

The old business cultures and methods that we like to remember fondly are no more, and the world around the corner seems unfamiliar and threatening in many ways.

But the fundamental transformation that we are experiencing, not just here in America but in countries around the world, is one being led not by politicians, but by entrepreneurs around the world, hard-working folks who have the amazing power of technology at their disposal. Even as old business models fail, new models spring to life, and in them are the sparks of ingenuity, energy, and self-realization that often remained dampered in the old economy.

For try as central planners might, they are always a step behind the innovators of the world. The battle for control of resources will continue, and it will certainly leave its ugly watermarks in the coming months and years. But like those embattled Britons of late 1942, we can take hope in the value of right, and the power of economic opportunity.

When I started Go Wood two years ago, I had an uneasy feeling in the back of my mind that I might run out of interesting topics to write about in a few weeks or months. But the fuel for these postings have been the events of everyday life, much of it provided by a social network of like-minded Woodites who have found the blog and become part of it with their contributions and comments.

Amazingly to me, the growth of the site continues on an exponential curve...sometime today the 200,000 reader will click on Go Wood. 2012 saw a 50% increase in the numbers of viewers over 2011, and almost all of that growth is from people who are not on the Go Wood mailing list.

I think that is because, like so many other fields of interest and endeavor, the world of wood, its people, products, and potential consumers, continues to become more connected through the Internet and next-day delivery. Even though many wood products are not the easiest thing to inspect, purchase, or ship via on-line methods, the process which delivers information of fine wood products and their inherent value to society is becoming so detailed and useful that the next generation of consumers is sure to be more aware of wood than any time since the invention of plastics.

Since global extermination is quickly receding into the history of the quirky, and most of the world finds itself in a situation of dire economic straits, but armed with the miracles of modern technology, beauty, durability and practicality will more and more find value in the world. And wood will be there.

May you find in 2013 the hope and inspiration of seeing things in a different, and brighter light.


cam said...

I burn locust and elm and some junk wood on occasion. I notice such difference in wood ash. What is in wood ash? I assume it is a mineral, certainly non-organic. If so, what trees produce different minerals and what is the ash good for in a garden situation?

Chuck Ray said...

Hey, Cam. Great questions, ones that I'm sure others are wondering.

A little complicated for a response here, so I'll write a blog post about it in the coming weeks.


Pete Lammert said...

years ago when teaching some kind of master gardener course I came across the factoid that pure wood ash contains 866 pounds lime equivalent in a ton.So watch out that you do not over do putting wood ashes on your garden. About the ash from different species. One winter I was blessed with an 8 cord load of pure black locust. The ash from my defiant decreased significantly and what there was resembled heavy coarse sand, quite unlike any I had produced from burning mixed Northern hardwoods for over 40 years.
My favorites are loust,sugar maple beech and yellow birch in that order but living on the coast of Maine there is most often red maple and white birch in the wood delivered by local firewood producers. Regards, Peter Lammert U & M Forester Maine Forest Service for 36 years now retired 207-691-2900