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


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Notes from the Road (11) - Meeting with Fellow Collectors of Wood

The primary reason for this year's visit to Australia was the 2016 Annual General Meeting of the International Wood Collectors Society. You may recall that the 2015 meeting was held here at Penn State; my visit to the 2016 meeting was to reciprocate in appreciation of the several Australian members who trekked all the way to State College last year.

The 2016 Australian Meeting was well worth the trip, and exceeded my expectations in every way. The meeting location was a horse-race track and meeting hall in Charleville, Queensland, and was spacious, comfortable, and memorable.

Good thing racing was out of season, or I might not have had any money left for wood specimens.

Our Queensland hosts provided several great field trips. First, we visited the local base of the Royal Flying Doctors Service. What a great story...

The RFDS hangar at the Charleville airport was built by American CB's as a base of air operations during the second world war. The wooden trusses were built of eucalyptus and are still as solid as the day they were bolted in place. 
Back during the war, these old pits near the air field were lined with tar and used as baths to relieve the soldiers relatively free of lice and disease-carrying mosquitos. Each soldier was required to dip at least once a week. 
These are mulga trees, Acacia aneura, which is the dominant forest type around Charleville and was our "host tree".
Wood of the mulga. From Max Kline, in A Guide to Useful Woods of the World (IWCS): "Mulga is a coffee color or has reddish-brown alternating with golden-brown stripes. The sapwood is a golden creamy yellow color. It has an extremely fine texture and generally straight grain. The luster is low to medium, but it takes a high polish. The odor is distinct but not aromatic; taste is not distinct. Mulga is one of the hardest and heaviest woods known. Average specific gravity is 0.92 (oven dry/green volume), equivalent to and air-dried weight of 75 lb/cf. Wood is highly distinctive in appearance."
What's that weird but familiar-looking tree in the middle of an Australian mulga forest? Melia azederach, the chinaberry, found practically all over the world.
Following our tour of the airbase we went on a 4WD/walkabout of Nick Swadling's property.

Entrance to Nick's property. This is a good start.
Spinifex, a type of grass found in most of Australia, and often used as bedding by the hoppers.
Nick (blue shirt and straw hat) led us through several different forest types within just a few miles of each other.
Here was an interesting and rare sight...a shield tree. Aboriginals cut a shield from the stem of this tree long ago, and the tree kept growing.

The tenants of Nick's property were friendly, but glad to see us move on.
Here's a taste of the tour, as Nick explains to us what a billabong is...

The next day we were honored to visit an historical old outback cattle station, Maryvale. Hosts Bob and Jenny Crichton welcomed us to a day of relaxation, exploration, and an authentic sunset barbeque. But this post grows long...tune in tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Notes from the Road (10) - The Fauna of Australia

My fellow Penn State Extension Educator, David Jackson, posted an interesting story about deer-car collisions yesterday on his blog, noting that Pennsylvania has become the third most dangerous state for deer crossing the road, behind West Virginia and Montana. That got me to remembering one of the strongest, most lingering impressions I had of Australia - dead kangaroos on the road.

If you think you've seen a lot of dead animals on the road, and you've never been to Australia, think again. Even though the speed limits are strictly enforced, uncountable numbers of animals, and kangaroos in particular, find their end on the bumper of a four-wheel drive cruiser or "road train". Road trains are large tractor-trailer rigs that have two, three, and sometimes four trailers. I passed a couple of three-trailer rigs on my drive-about. When you have to pass a moving mountain, about seventy yards long, while it's hurtling ninety kilometers an hour down a two-lane highway...well, that's a memorable experience. You floor your vehicle and pray for the next ten seconds or so that another road train won't suddenly appear on the horizon heading in your direction.

I started counting dead kangaroos and stopped at one hundred, and I wasn't even out of New South Wales. I began to assume that the carcasses are just left for the scavengers, since I never saw a road crew, and I saw many in the final stages of decay. I didn't take any pictures; it just seemed the wrong thing to do. I did see about three live hoppers on the road, but they were well ahead of me and too far to get a picture of. Australians all seem to have a kangaroo collision story to tell, and they warn you adamantly to stop driving a half-hour before sunset, which I did my best to adhere to.

One study done in New South Wales determined that kangaroo road-kill was not biased toward either kangaroo sex or age-class, so that road kill incidents have no apparent effect on kangaroo populations. Another interesting phenomenon, besides the presence of all the dead animals on the road, is that demolished vehicles are sometimes left on the side of the road as a warning to slow down.

One of my trip hosts mentioned that they had a kangaroo harvest in a recent year that tallied over 9,000 animals, and yet it was less than ten percent of the harvest target for his property. Perhaps the surest evidence of the booming population of kangaroos in Australia is that they are one of the few species that are legal to hunt with a permit; it is strictly against the law to kill most Australian animals, even snakes. Regardless, Australians seem to like kangaroo meat, and one town I visited was even building a new kangaroo processing plant as its latest economic venture. I had kangaroo one night...tastes like chicken.

I did see a few live animals. The most ubiquitous was the emu...I saw them almost everywhere from Sydney to Darwin.

Look closely at the bottom of the tree line...there's a small mob of emus.

The birds of Australia are simply amazing. Their size, and color, and variety seem to be endless. I didn't see any ostrich, but saw cockatoos of every color.

This is a galah cockatoo, Eolophus roseicapillus. They were the most common bird I saw on my trip.
I also heard the famous Kookabura nearly every morning, although I didn't remember seeing one. In reviewing my pictures, I think I did get a long-distance shot of one...

Possibly a species of Dacelo, the kookaburra.
And millions of small birds that provide the listener with a symphony of the music of nature everywhere you go in Australia. I'm not a great wildlife photographer, but I was able to zoom in a little closer on this tiny flock and their mud nests in the trees.

But much of the fauna of Australia tends toward the more aggressive. There is a great ongoing story of how wild dogs terrorize the outback, and how the stockmen fight back against them as they ravage their herds. In fact, one of the longest structures in the world is the Dingo fence built across the continent back in the 1880's.
The Dingo Fence or Dog Fence is a pest-exclusion fence that was built in Australia during the 1880s and finished in 1885, to keep dingoes out of the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent (where they had largely been exterminated) and protect the sheep flocks of southern Queensland. It is one of the longest structures in the world and is the world's longest fence. It stretches 5,614 kilometres (3,488 mi) from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby through thousands of kilometres of arid land ending west of Eyre peninsula on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain above the Great Australian Bight near Nundroo. It has been partly successful, though dingoes can still be found in parts of the southern states. Although the fence has helped reduce losses of sheep to predators, this has been countered by holes in fences found in the 1990s through which dingo offspring have passed and by increased pasture competition from rabbits and kangaroos.

I crossed through the fence in Western Queensland, but did not notice a rise in the number of wild dogs roaming around. In fact, the only wild dog I saw was one that had fed the crows and the flies...

Life in the outback can be harsh...
Speaking of crows and flies, I was reminded of this next stop in Queensland. I had stopped to admire the vista of a sprawling cattle station, but the 20 minute stop was little more than an attempt to keep my sanity while shooting video on the walk.

Insects is a good subject for the end of this post. There is one you simply have to see to believe, although it's not the insect, but its home. Termites are perhaps God's way of ensuring that inland Australia will remain relatively free of humans. As you travel inland you begin to notice small mounds in the landscape...and they get bigger the further inland you go. Travel far enough, and they are taller than a human being.

Now if the termites stayed in their mounds, they might not be so intimidating. But invariably, I noticed a few of the little buggers in my motel room each morning, even though all the buildings are made of cinder block. One morning I had a thirsty little termite enjoying the moisture on my toothbrush. Lovely.

Of course, the Australians with their great sense of humor have devised a way to enjoy their termite co-habitants. The dress them up! I began to notice "earth people" springing up along the roadside at the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory. And I continued to see them all the way to Darwin on the northern coast.

First, you notice just a few mounds in the distance...

...then they get larger, and closer to the road...
...Soon, they're so large that they grow clothing as they mature...

...and once you've been on the road long enough, they actually start to look attractive.
These earth people can get to be quite elaborate. Just wish they had heads...
What do you know?! Penn State fans, even among the earth people of the Australian outback.
A memorial to my passing there....
Well, back to the people, the trees, and the wood of Australia in future posts...

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What a Tree Can Do

How you ever thought about what a tree can do, beyond producing lumber, paper, and habitat for the animals of the forest? Well, the folks at Stora Enso do that all the time, and it's exciting.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Cutting Edge in Wood Promotion - In the Trunk

One of our more creative readers, an Italian scientist who works for Procter & Gamble in Germany, has pushed the limits, in fact the outer limits, in his quest to use his film-making skills to feature our favorite material. I'll bet you've never quite seen wood promoted like this before.

In the Trunk from Michele Martinelli on Vimeo.

Thanks, Michele. Way to Go Wood.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Notes From the Road (9) - Wellington, New South Wales

I left State College around noon on a Thursday, and after stops in Harrisburg, PA, Toronto, and Vancouver, arrived in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia at 8 in the morning on Saturday. So, even though it was around 6 pm on Friday night by my biological clock, I had to climb bleary-eyed into a wrong-sided Toyota Corolla and begin to navigate my way out of Sydney towards the outback.

By around noon I came to my first stop of the trip. The town was called Wellington, New South Wales, and my re-introduction to the culture and environment of Australia was just beginning. I pulled over in front of the town's park because I was already seeing ghosts on the road. I needed a good stop to clear my head.

Wellington, New South Wales, as seen from the fountain at Cameron Park.
Well, if I hadn't yet realized that I was a long way from the USA, this stop brought it into sharp perspective. And naturally, the first tree that caught my eye was non-native to Australia...a Himalayan, or deodar cedar.

Cedrus deodara, the Himalayan, or deodar cedar.
This monster is atypical for the species growing in its native habitat of the western Himalayans, but then that's what plants do when they're transported to different climates and planted in parks. Impressive, anyway.

The closer you get to this monster, the more impressive it gets.
But that wasn't the only impressive tree in this park. And this time, it was an important and honored Australian native that caught my eye through the fog...

Auraucaria bidwilli, The Bunya Pine.
This is a fascinating tree.  From Wikipedia...
"The bunya pine is the last surviving species of the Section Bunya of the genus Araucaria. This section was diverse and widespread during the Mesozoic with some species having cone morphology similar to A. bidwillii, which appeared during the Jurassic. Fossils of Section Bunya are found in South America and Europe. The scientific name honours the botanist John Carne Bidwill, who sent the first specimens to Sir William Hooker in 1843.
A Bunya festival was recorded by Thomas (Tom) Petrie (1831–1910), who went with the Aboriginal people of Brisbane at the age of 14 to the festival at the Bunya Range (now the Blackall Range in the hinterland area of the Sunshine Coast). His daughter, Constance Petrie, put down his stories in which he said that the trees fruited at three-year intervals. The three-year interval may not be correct. Ludwig Leichhardt wrote in 1844 of his expedition to the Bunya feast. The Bunya trees pollinate in South East Queensland in September, October and the cones fall seventeen to eighteen months later in late January to early March from the coast to the current Bunya Mountains. When there is heavy rainfall or drought, pollination may vary. The large festival harvests may vary between two and seven years. When the fruit was ripe, the people of the region would set aside differences and gather in the Bon-yi Mountains (Bunya Mountains) to feast on the kernels.
As the fruit ripened, locals, who were bound by custodial obligations and rights, sent out messengers to invite people from hundreds of kilometres to meet at specific sites. The meetings involved ceremonies, dispute settlements and fights, marriage arrangements and the trading of goods. The Aborigines’ fierce protection of the trees and recognition of the value of the timber, led to colonial authorities prohibiting settlers from cutting the trees in the 1842. The resource was too valuable, and the aboriginals were driven out of the forests along with the ability to run the festivals. The forests were felled for timber and cleared to make way for cultivation.
In what was probably Australia's largest indigenous event, diverse tribes – up to thousands of people – once traveled great distances (from as far as Charleville, Dubbo, Bundaberg and Grafton) to the gatherings. They stayed for months, to celebrate and feast on the bunya nut. The bunya gatherings were an armistice accompanied by much trade exchange, and discussions and negotiations over marriage and regional issues. Due to the sacred status of the bunyas, some tribes would not camp amongst these trees. Also in some regions, the tree was never to be cut. 
Indigenous Australians eat the nut of the bunya tree both raw and cooked (roasted, and in more recent times boiled), and also in its immature form. Traditionally, the nuts were additionally ground and made into a paste, which was eaten directly or cooked in hot coals to make bread. The nuts were also stored in the mud of running creeks, and eaten in a fermented state. This was considered a delicacy.
Apart from consuming the nuts, indigenous Australians ate bunya shoots, and utilised the tree's bark as kindling.
Bunya nuts are still sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland. Some farmers in the Wide Bay/ Sunshine Coast regions have experimented with growing bunya trees commercially for their nuts and timber.
Since the mid-1990s, the Australian company Maton has used bunya for the soundboards of its BG808CL Performer acoustic guitars. The Cole Clark company (also Australian) uses bunya for the majority of its acoustic guitar soundboards. The timber is valued by cabinet makers and woodworkers, and has been used for that purpose for over a century.
However its most popular use is as a 'bushfood' by indigenous foods enthusiasts. A huge variety of home-invented recipes now exists for the bunya nut; from pancakes, biscuits and breads, to casseroles, to 'bunya nut pesto' or hoummus. The nut is considered nutritious, with a unique flavour similar to starchy potato and chestnut.
When the nuts are boiled in water, the water turns red, making a flavoursome tea.
The nutritional content of the bunya nut is: 40% water, 40% complex carbohydrates, 9% protein, 2% fat, 0.2% potassium, 0.06% magnesium. It is also gluten free, making bunya nut flour a substitute for people with gluten intolerance."
That's a lot of history for just one tree, and you'd think would be enough for one rest stop. But there is in Wellington, I was also introduced to "The Lone Pine".

One of the descendants of the original Lone Pine, the Turkish pine (Pinus brutia).
If you're not familiar with the ANZAC, or the Battle of Lone Pine in Gallipoli in 1915, then you're probably not Australian. These memorial trees seem to be planted all over the country, as are memorials to the ANZAC.  Here's their story, again from Wikipedia...
"The Lone Pine was a solitary tree on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, which marked the site of the Battle of Lone Pine in 1915. Pines which are planted as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in Gallipoli are also known as "Lone Pines" or "Gallipoli Pines", referencing the original tree.
 The original "Lone Pine" was a sole survivor of a group of trees that had been cut down by Turkish soldiers who had used the timber and branches to cover their trenches during the battle. The tree was obliterated during the battle; however, pine cones that had remained attached to the cut branches over the trenches were retrieved by two Australian soldiers and brought home to Australia. The resultant seedlings were found to be Turkish pines, sometimes regarded as a subspecies of Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine), but usually classified as a distinct species, Pinus brutia.
Alec Campbell was the last surviving member of the ANZAC force that fought in Gallipoli, and his death in 2002 at the age of 103 was a national event that was commemorated widely.

I found out the next evening how deeply the Australians still feel the spirit of the ANZAC and that Turkish battlefield of a century ago. I was in an RSL club for dinner on a Sunday night in Charleville, Queensland, when all of a sudden the lights dimmed, everyone stood up, and a trumpet sounded the Australian version of "Taps". Everyone then recited an oath of loyalty, and held a moment of silence. The whole thing was quite moving...and it made me realize how special my time in Australia was going to be.

One last thing about my stop in gave me a hint that rain, and high water, was going to be a part of my experience, and source of concern. The season was unusually wet, even for early spring, and floods in a great flat land are a thing not to be taken lightly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Notes from the Road (8) - Woods and Sights of Queensland

Well, where to start? How about walking the bush in southern Queensland with my hosts from the Australasian chapter of the are a couple of the trees we identified and for which I was able to collect wood specimens.

Alstonia constricta, commonly called bitterbark or quinine bush. More on this interesting tree in a future post.
Wood of Alstonia constricta.

A stand of Ooline trees, Cadellia pentatstylis

Here's another large Ooline tree with two black orchids, Cymbidium canaliculatum, growing in it.
The bark of Cadellia pentastylis

The wood of Cadellia pentastylis, Ooline is like a dense, hard cherry with beautiful figuring.
Trees weren't the only thing I took in during my walkabout.  Here's an interview of a gentleman and his pet at the Stockman's Hall of Fame in Longreach, Queensland. I loved reminded me of West Texas, except for the swarms of flies and dead kangaroos along the road.

And, oh yeah, I drove a long way...about 4000 kilometers, which is about 2800 miles.  Most of it was like this - long stretches of no civilization, just long vistas, music from my phone playing on the car stereo, and the occasional "road train" to scare the crap out of me as it approached on the wrong side of the road.

Well, that's just a taste of Australia to get things started. I have hundreds of photos of different types of ecosystems, a few more interesting videos, and a wide range of thoughts to share. Stay tuned...