Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Flora Old Growth edition

I haven't posted much about the work on the house of late, largely because there hasn't been any work on the house of late.  However, we are getting the house painted, and as part of the preparation, I had to repair some of the siding.  The siding on the "old" part of the house is, we think, original, 1936.  The siding on the addition, which I installed, is standard stuff from one of the local mills, probably only a few years old and grown in a monoculture factory forest.  It's revealing to look at a slice of each.  Do click on the picture, the wood is quite beautiful:
One can state neutral facts about each: the old growth is fantastic wood.  The boards are ten feet long and completely clear, and there's over 20 rings going across that board.  They've lasted nigh on eighty years, and while the wood is somewhat brittle (see the chip on the lower left) and has been home to carpenter ants (the holes on the right), it continues to hold up wonderfully well.  It seems to have only had one coat of paint, ever.  The new wood, with its widely spaced rings, just looks cheap in comparison--it's cupped, and to get ten feet of board, the mill splices together a bunch of segments of two to six feet.  The soft part of the bands breaks out easily, and I had a difficult time getting a thin slice--see the jagged bottom edge, and the giant chunk on the right.

However, this is timber country, and around here, it's impossible to be neutral about these two pieces of wood.  The economy of this area pretty much grew on that old growth wood, and now that harvesting has been curtailed, the economy has been contracting for a couple of decades.  No really satisfactory replacement for the timber industry has been found.  There are lots of towns--counties even--with futures that look grim on this account.  Just up the road from us is Glide, a small town.  No stop lights, but it's got a P.O., an old elementary school, a newer high school, a bunch of churches, etc.  In the center of town, there's a mothballed lumber mill, still with weathered stacks of logs and lumber that haven't been bothered by human hands in years.  There were a handful of cafes and shops and the like, but most have closed; sometimes the town looks like its dying from the inside out.  I wouldn't bet that the town will have half of its current population in fifty years.* 

Almost every resident of Glide would see the story of their town in those two pieces of wood.  Certainly, every contractor who's worked here has seen a similar story when they see the wood this house is built with.  A couple have given me lengthy arguments about why it's environmentally irresponsible not to harvest old growth timber: Old-growth forests are stagnant, equilibrated.  There was this one watershed where clear-cutting actually increased the number of trout in the streams.  If we're concerned about global warming, then we should want clear-cutting since new forests capture much more carbon than old-growth.  (The next day the same guy went on a rant about how global warming is bunk, certainly not anthropogenic, and if does exist, it's most likely due to H-bomb tests and sunspots.) The timber industry has even put out a Bizarro-world version of the Lorax, called "Truax", which blurts out most of the same, along with the salient point that nobody really cares if a few species you've never seen go extinct. 

Before I lived here, it was much easier to say that there was no merit to the arguments supporting harvest of old-growth forest.  I'm still opposed to it, but the cost is in my face; I'm saying that the old growth has greater value than the town of Glide.  If I have my way, these towns will have a radically different (and worse) future, and previously open roads to prosperity are closed. 

I still see myself, at least in part, as a teacher, with a set of skills that I've worked hard to develop.  However, today, the power of money is pushing standardized testing and MOOCs, and pushing me to obsolescence.  So, I can definitely sympathise with Glide.  Me, the lumberjack, Glide, the northern spotted owl, Detroit--we are all trying to figure out how to cope with uncomfortably reduced livelihoods and futures where we may be obsolete. 

*Timber is most of the story, but not all; the venality of 19th-century robber barons and railroad swindlers actually plays some role--look into the history of the Oregon and California Railway for more info. 

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