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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Riddle: What's ancient but still growing?

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. Here are three bits of wood that were felled when they were already 1000s of years old, have done one job and are now treasured gifts offering just a hint of colonial America and pioneer Australians. This post is by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about books and blogs).   


The answer to the riddle what's ancient, but still growing, is wood - wonderful wood. The picture is of my three most treasured cut pieces of wood. From left to right in the picture are pitch pine, red oak and huon pine. This post is their story.

RED OAK
This is my favourite. The plank of red oak was cut down by the first colonists from virgin American forests in the Appalachian mountains. The tree could have been about 1,000 years old when it was felled. The pioneers cut it down with a massive handsaw, and then made it into planks with a steam powered saw.

It became floorboards at a factory in North Carolina.

What's so exciting about red oak is that in some planks you can find Civil War bullets, and even native Indian arrow heads embedded inside and only revealed when the planks are de-nailed in modern sawmills. Lots more information about this at my friend Jason's brother's website www.thehistorictimbercompany.ie.

It's been with Jason for a while - he uses a similar plank piece to put behind his sink taps as a splashback. I gave him a bottle of whisky as a swap, and will be giving it to my godson who is about to be confirmed. George is 18, and is considering studying American history at university - no doubt because of summer 2010 which he spent visiting Amish communities as documented by Channel 4 in its documentary Living with the Amish. I'm sure he's expecting cash, I just think this is a richer gift (sorry George!). Pic shows George eating an Eton Mess pudding off his i-plank gift...

PITCH PINE
It smells so good and you can see beautiful knots in the grain. This is a piece of tongue and groove flooring from a cotton mill in North Carolina.

When the colonists first explored the new continent of America they met vast forests of pitch pine (also known as longleaf pine) - stretching 150 miles wide from the Atlantic Coast of south western Virgina down into Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico and into east Texas. The trees can live for 100s of years and grow up to 300ft high and 5ft wide. They are seriously big.

These virgin forests were used to source tar, pitch, turpentine and resin for the British navy. They are resitant to pest attack and survive well in water, even sea water.
According to www.thehistorictimbercompany.ie " Heavy exploitatiton of virgin longleaf pine beagn after the American Revolution and intensififed with the development of railroads in the late 1800s and on to England where the timbers were a key building material during the Industrial Revolution. By 1930 virtually all the old growth longleaf pine had been cut and used to build the factories, warehouses and terminals of industrial America and Europe.
"Today only 2 per cent of the orginal forest remains, with fewer than 1,000 acres of virgin timber still standing.
"A lot of the old structures the pine built are now being demolished which allows the painstaking process of re-salvaging a small piece of history. The Historic Timber Company rescues these timbers and ships them to our yard in Ireland where they are de-nailed, re-sawn and machined into historic pitch pine flooring."
My plan is to use it as a doorstop. I already have a box made from an old apple tree which works well as a doorstop - pity we tend to keep the doors shut all winter!

HUON PINE
This is scrap wood reclaimed from a dump in Tasmania, Australia. My friend Paula brought this Tardis style box back to us after we helped look after her daughter Izzy and their pet guinea pig. It's a much paler wood and was turned into a box by workers at Resource Work Cooperative, a not for profit which runs the Tip Shop  and Collectables - both sell items found on the South Hobart tip, mostly from McRobies Gully tip site. This is a real example of art for trash. Here's what Paula said about it when she gave it to us:
"Huon pine is one of the slowest-growing and longest living plants in the world. It can grow to an age of 3,000 years or more. Only the bristle-cone pine of North America lives longer.
Huon pine is found in western Tasmania, the central plateau and in the Huon Valley. Houon pine is a relic of Gondwana - the first pollen records date back 135 million years. 
"International headlines were made with  the discovery of a stand of Huon pines on the west coast that is more than 10,000 years old. [Wow!] All the trees are male and are genetically identical. No individual tree in the stand is 10,000 years old, rather the stand has been in existence for that long.
"Convicts on Sarah Island in the west of Tasmanai cosntructed ships from Huon pine. The wood contains an olil which retards the growth of fungi, hence its early popularity in ship bilding. later piners on the Franklin and Gordon rivers felled Huons and floated them downstream.
Today the tree is wholly protected and cannot be felled. However wood on the forest floor remains usable after hundreds of years and is still prized by modern woodworkers, not least because of its sweet aroma.
"Huon pine can be seen along the Huon pine walk at Tahune in the Huon Valley, the Teepookana Forest Reserve, West Coast, Heritage Landing on the Gordon River and near Newall Creek on the Mount Jukes road south of Queenstown. The working sawmill in Strahan will give samples of the timber to visitors and many craft outlets sell Huon pine woodcraft.

Over to you
Go admire the wood you are using - it's sure to have a fascinating story to tell. And if you do buy any new wood (or wood products) be sure to check that it has the FSC tick logo that assures you it has come from a woodland that is sustainably managed.

2 comments:

Karin said...

The wood in our house doesn't have any interesting histories that we know of. We do have some furniture made from American white oak, which looks nice.

We also have a piece of Afromosia with a bit of history, in that it came covered in tar and has been cleaned up and worked on. Not sure why it was covered in tar or if the previous use is known. It's a bit chunky and not very attractive.

I think wood is a very attractive material even when the history is not known.

Pete May said...

This wood do nicely?