Calling It Like It Is
It all seemed so simple, logical, and clean – until it wasn’t. When it came to directing the course of our sawmilling and processing operation we would, of course, take charge. The decisions would be made by us – which of the forest’s twelve tree species to mill, what products we’d make from the wood, how the products would be marketed. Solid, logical analysis leading to insightful strategy, driving unlimited demand for what the forest can provide. What could go wrong?
Looking back over the past ten years, we can’t help wondering how we could have been so naive. Of course, we were never in charge – the forest calls the shots, and like the ever flexible dance partner, we must learn to let go and follow the forest’s lead.
The chapters in this journey of shifting awareness are too numerous to recall, but here is a sampling:
- First there were those beautiful ash logs, falling into our laps due to the choice of a previous forest owner to burn a pile of slash around the base of a magnificent ash tree.Twelve years on – lumber from this tree graces our dining room table, fine floors in several homes, gunwales on a canoe, and a bookshelf.
- Next, no sooner had we sworn off milling any doug fir – because we’ve found no way to financially compete with the hyper efficiency of nearby mills – than our new hotter, drier summers apparently killed off several large, beautiful firs.Our mill was the right tool to transform fine logs into quality timbers, beams and posts that are now the frame of a post and beam cabin and addition.
- Then, about the time that we tried to fool ourselves into believing that it was time for a strategic business plan, a pair of 250 year old oaks decided that their time had come – due to the shock of having overtopping firs removed.Though the resulting logs were monstrously huge and heavy, we successfully wrestled them out of the woods and up to the mill. Today wood from those trees serve as the tops of desks made by The Joinery and tasteful, end grained cutting boards “infiltrating” many a kitchen in the region.
- Before we could finish with the oak, the most recent chapter thrust itself upon us.For reasons that are not understood – and may never be – many of our largest, oldest, most beautiful cedars are rapidly dying. What to do? Because there is no such thing as waste in our forests, we must choose between the value of leaving the dead cedars in the forest where they provide excellent habitat and soil food or giving the wood a second life. We’re doing some of both, which means that spare days will be devoted to turning the logs decked at the mill into some fine, tongue and grooved paneling that we hope our architect friends will consider working into future projects.
- The story is much longer, involving wind fallen Grand fir into framing studs, and cherry, yew, and cottonwood into so many useful objects.
Of course, the moral of this story is simple and clear. Where once we mistakenly thought that we’d be in the driver’s seat, circumstances have forced a different reality on us. Just as we’ve learned with our overall forest stewardship, life works out best when we relax, let go of the reins, pay attention, and follow nature’s lead.
Come what may, we find our way.
Fifteen years into this milling experiment, the new sign above the mill looks pretty good.