Urban forestry

We did a field trip during our urban forestry workshop to see what kind of standing timber could be made into furniture and crafts.

The thing to recall about urban timber is that its primary value is in its uniqueness. It has artistic value. This is the opposite of general timber, which is valued for being consistent. Artists and craftsmen value urban timber for its knots, twists and irregularities.
Slabs are a big part of the urban timber market. The slabs are mostly used for tables. Customers like “living edges”, i.e. the rough edge that the tree had when growing.

Personally, I dislike these things, but I am not the customer. The challenge with all unique or artistic products is that they are labor intensive. Even if the wood is free, the time it takes to get the lumber and make it into something beautiful means that there is limited potential to make a living. SOME people do, but most do not. “Don’t quit your day job” may be good advice.

I was thinking about what it means to be art, but I think the better question is what it means to be an artistic or lead an artist’s life. Sometimes the finished “art” is less important than the thought and process that the creator put into it.

My pictures show some of the trees that could be make into artistic furniture. The first is a big sweet gum tree. This is a beautiful piece of timber, but maybe too clean to be art. Next is an oak tree with lots of branches. This would not be a great timber tree, but the irregularity makes it good for art. Then we have a tree with a recovering lightning strike. This would also produce nice shapes. The slab makers like the parts where the branches reach out. Next picture shows a portable sawmill. They can process logs on site. The machine is cutting some yellow poplar, which is not very high quality wood, but made a good demonstration. Last shows some of the slabs that might be make into tables or decorative walls.

A faith based life

Whether or not we have specific religious faith, all successful lives are faith-based. I am aware that I am using this phrase in a specific way, so let me explain.

We rarely can immediately see the results of our decisions and most of the things that makes us happy and prosperous in the long run give little satisfaction in the here and now. More often they are even unpleasant or painful. This is not deep wisdom, although an astonishing number of people seem not to understand it, or at least it is not reflected in their choices. I think the explanation is not that they have too little intelligence but rather that they have too little faith.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” This is the best practical definition from a trusted source. We can better apply this to the secular world by inserting one word. … the evidence of things not YET seen.

When the out-of-shape guy starts to eat better and exercise more, he does it with the faith in the vision of his thinner healthier self, aware that he will not be seeing this reality for a long time. He can’t see how any particular hour at gym or day spent defying donuts makes a difference. He has faith.

When a twenty-five-year-old buys the first stock fund in her new 401-k account, she does in contemplation of a better life that by definition will not show up for at least forty years. That $50 investment seems less than a drop in the ocean and could be much more enjoyably deployed buying beer of coffee. But she has faith.

In my old job in diplomacy and my new vocation of promoting forestry products, networking is important. You must see and be seen. I am mostly an introvert. I do not enjoy big social gatherings, but I know that I have to get out there. When I come home from any particular event, and ask myself if it was worth the energy spent, it is very easy to answer in the negative. “Yeah, I saw a few people and they met me, but what really happened? Nothing.” But I know that with time and persistence good things happen and opportunities open. I do not know what they will be. I act out of faith that I will find them and know what to do when I do.

Maybe this secular faith comes easier to forestry folks, since our whole outlook is faith-based. I plant trees that I will never see mature and rely on forests provided by others. When I bought my first “forest” in 2005, it didn’t look like woods. It was a recently cut-over mess of weeds and brambles. The most prominent trees were invasive tree-of-heaven that I knew I would have to battle. The loblolly were there, but you had to look really hard to find them. But I had faith that the pine trees would grow and that I could control the invasives. Twelve years later you see what we have in the attached photo. The one below is what it looked like in 2005. Notice the very big tree of heaven patch and the smaller pine trees.
Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not YET seen. A guy with a forest gets to see it, if he has the patience and faith to wait. But everyone can and needs to find the evidence of faith in their own chosen sphere.