Archive for FSC

Strong Evidence That Trees Do Have a Higher Intelligence

Posted in Artisanal, FSC, Hopi, Natural World with tags , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2012 by johnwiggers

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1993 by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund. Its mandate is to protect the world’s forests through globally recognized principles of responsible forest stewardship.

Between 2000 and 2004 I served on the board of FSC Canada in a variety of roles, including Treasurer and Chair. In that time I was privileged to meet people with a divergent range of perspectives that were all connected, in one form or another, to trees and forests.

The people I met ranged from industry executives to environmentalists; government bureaucrats to members of NGOs (non-governmental organizations); social activists, trade unionists, hunters, trappers, biologists, loggers, scientists, and a variety of indigenous peoples who all relied on the forest to some degree for their culture, livelihood and spirituality.

Because FSC is regarded globally as the most comprehensive forum where all of these diverse voices can be heard, it makes sense that a tremendous amount of unique information relating to trees and forests can be found there.

During my tenure on this board I learned many fascinating things about the forest and the broader natural world, none the least of which was the fact that there seems to exist a form of higher intelligence within the natural world that defies any kind of scientific explanation.

Most of us already know that in the frigid coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest there is an annual event taking place that is known as the salmon run. Every year many hundreds of thousands of salt water salmon – having grown to maturity in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean – instinctively take it upon themselves to migrate hundreds of miles to the very rivers from which they themselves originally came.

Having found the mouths of the rivers of their birth, these fish then begin a long battle upstream against raging currents of water that cascade down from the snowmelt of the surrounding mountains. While fighting this current these salmon must simultaneously dodge gauntlets of hungry bears who have come to depend on this annual protein-rich feast of fish in order to fatten up for the long winter hibernation that lies ahead.

Those salmon that succeed in overcoming the river and the bears earn themselves the right to lay and fertilise eggs on the pebble bottoms of the upstream riverbeds. Having completed their task these salmon then die and complete their cycle of life at almost the precise spot where they themselves we born several years earlier.

For many years foresters and biologists have studied this dynamic and developed theories on the possible connections between the salmon and the surrounding forest. Why, for example, were the trees closest to the river bigger and stronger than similar trees of similar age growing a mere hundred yards away?

What scientists discovered was that when a bear caught a salmon in the river, it would typically haul that salmon into the nearby line of trees. This would allow them to feast in a place that was concealed from their hungry competitors. In their haste to fatten up for the winter these bears would focus on eating the protein-rich eggs and brain matter of the fish – leaving the rest of the carcass to rot in the forest.

The simple theory that resulted was that these decaying fish became fertilizer for the nearby trees and plants. To scientifically prove and measure this theory, the scientists isolated a protein that was unique to the salmon species. This protein became identified as the N-15 protein marker.

The theory went on to speculate that by measuring the vegetation alongside salmon streams for the N-15 protein marker, it would be possible to verify not only that fish protein was feeding the trees, but also how much of that protein was making its way into the trees. And by taking core samples and measuring the amount of N-15 protein in each layer of tree rings, it would also be possible to compile a historical record of the size of salmon runs in previous years.

This type of study held considerable fascination for many people connected to the forest industry because of the unique and close interconnected relationship that exists between bears, rivers, trees and salmon in this rather complex dynamic.

The bears, for example, depend on the salmon directly as a source of food, and on the river indirectly to deliver the salmon, and the trees to provide cover. The salmon, in turn, rely on the river as a means of transport and as a place to spawn their young. The salmon also depend on large and healthy shoreline trees to provide the necessary shade to keep the river water cool, because warm water kills eggs. In addition bears help the salmon by culling weaker fish from the spawning run, thereby ensuring healthier and stronger future offspring.

The river relies on healthy trees and other ground vegetation to prevent silt from clogging its beds. The trees, in turn, were found to have a more complex and dynamic role within this larger equation.

It is obvious, for example, that the trees rely directly on the bears to deliver the fish from the river to the surrounding forests. Trees, however, are not carnivores and cannot digest meat. Therefore, scientists began to study the process that converts fish protein into tree fibre.

What they discovered was that there are tiny microbes living in the soil near the root base of trees, and these microbes break down the decaying fish carcasses into a manner that is digestible by trees. This reconstituted form of fish protein is then delivered by the microbes to nearby tree rootlets and these rootlets, it turn, make a barter transaction with the microbe of a droplet of tree sugar in exchange for the delivery of partially digested fish protein.

In this manner the tree receives the food it needs in order to thrive along the river’s edge. By using the barter transaction the tree rewards the microbe with the sugar droplet the microbe needs for its own survival. The microbes, after all, can only live on tree sugars and not fish protein.

While this dynamic is fascinating in its own right, there is one key aspect of it that utterly boggles the mind. In studying the relationship between trees and microbes, the scientists decided to monitor the flow levels of sugars within tree root systems. This idea developed from the theory that the levels of tree sugar production within the tree would probably ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of partially digested salmon protein the tree would be bartering for with the soil microbes.

What scientists discovered was astounding. While the levels of tree sugars did, in fact, ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of salmon protein that was being transacted, the stunning discovery was that the levels of tree sugars started to rise while the salmon were still hundreds of miles out to sea. And the level of tree sugar production would also fluctuate in direct proportion to the size of the run.

What this means is that on some mysterious and completely unexplained level the trees seem to know in advance – almost telepathically – not only when the salmon are starting their spawning run, but also how many salmon are due to arrive. Clearly there is some form of higher communication, or consciousness, at work that enables a tree to intuitively sense the instinctive behaviours of another life form hundreds of miles away.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger alludes to this as well in her latest book “The Global Forest” when she points out the interconnection between the great forests of the global garden and the invisible forests of the oceans. In a separate chapter Diana also talks about silent sound, and how trees communicate by infrasound.

What all this makes clear is that we, as human beings, have generally very little understanding of the true interrelationships that exist between and within all forms of life on this planet.

To paraphrase the words of Black Elk: “What we do not understand, we fear. And what we fear, we destroy.” Given the collapse that is currently taking place amongst stocks of wild Pacific salmon, and the rampant deforestation that is obliterating many Northwest forests and salmon streams, it is clear that we humans are consistent on this latter point. We end up destroying what we fail to understand.

The Core Stash

Posted in Artisanal, Furniture Making, Interior Design, Knitting, Studio Furniture with tags , , , , , , , on January 12, 2012 by johnwiggers

My wife Teresa enjoys reading a blog called Yarn Harlot, which is written by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.

There seems to be three reasons why Teresa follows this blog:

1. Stephanie loves knitting (as does Teresa);
2. Stephanie will enjoy a beer or wine with her knitting (ditto, Teresa);
3. Stephanie writes a good blog (while Teresa enjoys reading good blogs);

At various points in the Yarn Harlot Stephanie talks about having a “core stash” of yarn. A core stash is basically a collection of yarn that is is never going to be knit – either because it is too expensive or special, or because it is so beautiful that it is not worthy of knitting.

“Core stash is the foundation of every good stash” says Stephanie. “It is inspiration. It is beautiful. It is the reason that I knit, but it is not for knitting.”

How beautiful is that?

I am well aware that Teresa has her own core stash of yarn, with most of it having extreme sentimental value since it originally belonging to her Mom, before her Mom passed away.

Not one fibre of this material will ever be thrown away (not by Teresa anyway), but then again it’s also unlikely that Teresa will ever knit anything with it either.

Recently Teresa asked if I too had a core stash of material.

Of course, in my case she was referring to wood.

“Um, yeah” was my reply; but it was only when I really thought about my answer that I began to realize how much wood I actually have squirrelled away.

The bulk of my “core stash” came as a result of a wood auction that took place in the early 1990s. There was a veneer company called William L. Marshall that went out of business in New York around 1991, and the bulk of its assets were picked up by a firm called General Woods and Veneers. General allowed a large volume of inventory to be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to support W.A.R.P. (Woodworkers’ Alliance for Rainforest Protection).

W.A.R.P. at the time was one of the fledgling initiatives playing a key role in developing what would later become the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) in 1993.

I ended up buying over 100,000 sq. ft. of veneer as a result of this auction, with the bulk of it being East Indian Laurel, Kila-Kila, Madagascar Rosewood, Mozambique, Afrormosia, and English Oak. There was also a crate of a golden coloured, aromatic species I had never seen or heard of before.

We ended up calling this wood Sabarona, but only because that was the name scrawled onto the side of the crate. Samples of this material were sent to labs and experts around the world, but no one was ever able to identify what it was.

Based on the heavy thickness of the material and the size of the flitches (up to 16′ in length, and 36″ wide in some cases) it was clear that the bulk of this wood was harvested sometime around the 1920s. I ended up becoming so attached to this old inventory that I soon found myself reluctant to use it on anything but the most special of pieces.

I guess this is where my definition of core stash differs from Stephanie’s – namely, I will dip into my stash, but only under the most special of circumstances.

One of those circumstances came up a couple of years ago when we were commissioned by a couple in Michigan to build some custom bedroom furniture. Given their desire to have something unique and special I suggested using some of the East Indian Laurel I had tucked away in.

One of the resulting dressers is shown below, and you can see how the polished chrome pulls helps to accentuate the figure of the grain.

As the FSC began to develop their sustainable forestry standards in the mid 1990s, some field testing began to take place in locations such as the Solomon Islands. Some of the very first sustainably harvested wood to come out of these beta tests was a species known as Narra.

This original sampling of Narra ended up making its way into North America by way of a company called Eco-Timber in California who, in turn, shipped to us via A&M Wood Specialty.

This Narra was quickly sold out, and one of the last pieces we managed to make from this rare inventory was the Solomon’s Desk shown above.

As of today there is only one board of this original Narra inventory known to exist, and it is a heavy piece of 10/4 stock that happens to reside at the very heart of my core stash. I consider this board to be particularly sacred, because for me it represents the proverbial “ground zero” of the sustainable forestry movement. It is the last of the originals.

I cut into this board very sparingly, and usually it is only to make some small inlays on very special pieces.

For example, the turtle glyph inlay shown in the top of the Gentleman’s Valet (below) was made out of this last remaining stock.

This Narra is used symbolically in much the same way that some engineers in Canada will wear an Iron Ring. An Iron Ring is often worn as a symbol and reminder of the obligations and ethics associated with the profession.

In much the same way I will periodically use these small inlays of Narra as a symbolic reminder of the relevance of sustainability in what I do.

The Curly Birds Eye Maple used on this cabinet also comes from my core stash of wood. (Geez, the more I write the more I realize how much wood I have squirrelled away…maybe I’ve got a problem. Is there an AA equivalent for wood?)

Several years ago I was visiting one of my veneer suppliers and he happened to show me an anomalous log of maple. This “freak of Nature”, as he described it, was too Curly to be sold as Birds Eye, and too Birds Eye to be Curly. It was an orphan he wanted to unload, and I was only too happy to take it off his hands as the newest addition to my stash.

Finally we come to the photo below, which is of my own personal humidor. This humidor is very special to me, mostly because it is made of materials that came from my father’s core stash. (Hm, maybe I inherited the gene from him…)

The main body is of some kind of pommelle mahogany which is absolutely stunning because of its heavily quilted appearance. My father hung onto this wood because he always intended to make something nice out of it, but he never got around to doing it.

Although the wood looks like some kind of pommelle sapele, the lightness of the grain seems to suggest a species other than sapele – although I have yet to figure out what it might be.

But the aspect of the humidor that is most special to me is the purfling banding that is inlaid into the faces. This banding was tucked away in my father’s shop for years, because I remember seeing it around since I was a boy – so its been around forever. Over time it has developed an almost luminescent patina with age.

There has always been something special and familiar about this purfling, but I could never figure out what it was until a couple of years ago when I purchased a book called “A Marquetry Odyssey”, by Silas Kopf.

In the early part of the book Silas writes about travelling to Toronto in the 1970s to visit the shop of an old German marquetry master by the name of Ernest Oppenheim. Reading that triggered a boyhood memory of me making similar trips with my father to the same shop – and I’d forgotten about the place until Silas wrote about it in his book.

Therefore, it’s quite likely the purfling was purchased from Mr. Oppenheim by my father, way back when.

That being said, every time I open my humidor to select a cigar I am reminded of my father and a boyhood spent around his workshop. And considering that both my grandfathers were cigar smokers, I should also point out that the ritual of smoking a stogie reminds me of them as well.

In the grand scheme of things there is much good to come out of having a core stash, and for me it is a tether to memories of the past.