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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

It's a Small, Small World (of Wood)

By far the best thing about writing this blog is getting personal feedback from Go Wood readers. Yesterday, after the posting of "A Trip to the Mountain Above Turmero", I received two such pieces of feedback...one an interesting modern-day version of a similar trip, and the second a piece of information that could fairly be called an incredible coincidence.

Story One

IWCS member Michael Nee shares his recent encounter with the mountains of Bolivia...
Chuck,

OK, you asked for it. Interesting story from Venezuela. Here's mine.

 The sandstone cliffs of Serrania de Chochis seen from our lodging. There are only two trails to the top.
Saturday (Nov. 14, 2015) we were at Chochis, Bolivia, a little town at the base of a spectacular escarpment, the highest range in the eastern half of the country, at 1245 m (about 3700 ft). We took the dirt road (after eating at places with chickens clucking around begging for bread crumbs) alongside the escarpment to one of the two places where it is possible to climb up.

The weather report was predicting a high for the day of 100 deg F. The first part was a steep climb on a dirt trail through forest with no breeze at all.

Then began the part which was more a scramble up nearly vertical places, with sometimes a rope tied to a tree to give some help. As we got higher and surrounded on both sides by vertical cliffs, our narrow gap had "forest", or rather trees growing out at an angle, including PodocarpusMy climbing companion, Daniel Villarroel, is a Bolivian getting a PhD at the Unversidade de Brasilia in Brazil.  He was specifically after a new species of Myrtaceae which he had collected in flower, but was hoping to find in fruit. We in fact did find it--and with fruit--so now he has enough material to publish it. 
 A tree in the Myrtaceae family, new to science, and this the first discovery of the fruits.

Most things we saw he was familiar with because of his research, and it was "that is a new record for this range, and it was only described two years ago", "that Schefflera of the Araliaceae is a new species, but we're not sure what to call it yet", "that species has only been collected once before and is only found on this mountaintop".

Needless to say, whenever I have the opportunity to collect wood for MADw, I get a piece. But on this trip I was not getting much wood, because we had the whole climb back down that precipitous trail and already had more material in the plant presses than when we came up. At least we had pretty near finished all the many liters of water we were smart enough to bring along, and that lightened the load a little.

The top of the range is a grassland with shrubs and small trees and full of frantastic sandstone formations. Put 18°07’53”S, 60°00’24”W into Google Earth to see where we climbed to
A view from the side of the Serrania looking down on the plains.

Byrsonima tree huddled among the rock formations on the top of the Serrania.
Then it was time to go back down, easier on the lungs but harder on the legs than scrambling up. Much of the way down I spent sliding on my behind and carefully searching for secure footholds. We did manage to find a Podocarpus in "seed" which we had not noticed on the way up, and a mystery tree which I still am completely stumped on after 30 years of working in Bolivia.

The climb up was 670 meters (about 2100 ft) vertically from the dirt road to the top of the mountain, and so it was also 670 meters back down. My legs are still sore (Tuesday).

Now the question is, why am I still doing this when it won't be long until my 70th birthday??
Great story, Michael. Answer to your last question..."Because you can."

Story Two

I was across the hall in the Hoverter Wood Operations Research laboratory yesterday afternoon, looking at specimens of our Penn State Xylarium (wood collection).  I've recently been examining specimens from the extensive collection of IWCS member Dennis Brett of New Jersey; there are over one hundred boxes of his specimens in the lab.

While digging through one of the boxes, I had the inclination to call Dennis...we hadn't talked since the World of Wood 2015 event we held here at Penn State this summer. (Sorry, forgot I hadn't posted anything about that yet...need to catch up!) Anyway, Dennis is doing fine, having just celebrated his 80th birthday in excellent health.

Now Dennis is an interesting guy. He started collecting pieces of wood as a 10-year old growing up in New York City, and made it a life-long passion. As a teenager, he joined the IWCS in its formative years, and he met and traded with some of the founders of the Society, including the original founder, Mr. Harold Nogle of Newton County, Texas. As we chatted, I mentioned the article about Turmero and its author, J.H. Standen.

What Dennis told me next blew me away. Dennis knew Mr. Standen, and had purchased specimens from him. In fact, he had a box of Standen's Venezuelan specimens in his collection...and that box was sitting somewhere in our lab, just a few feet away from me!

Think about that for a second...a fellow collects wood samples from a mountain in Venezuela in 1949 (Dennis told me he thinks Mr. Standen was working as a consultant to Ford Motor Company at the time, which was thinking of building a plant near there), he sells many of those samples to a young man in New York City, who shares them with a professor at Penn State University sixty-six years later. And that professor, without knowing anything of the samples, or their existence a mere few feet away from him, posts the story of the collection of them using a communication technology that wasn't even dreamed of in the time in which they were collected.

Will you agree with me that the coincidence borders on the incredible?

We'll have to wait for the rest of this story...I have to go through the boxes one by one, and they don't really have any identification on the boxes. So, one of these days, hopefully soon, I'll find samples of the rare species mentioned by Mr. Standen in his travel account of so many years ago.

What a small, small, world. And while traversing it, Go Wood.

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