The man who made things out of trees

Shade feels good right about now.

Just sitting in it seems to lower your temperature by ten degrees. It calms you, too, and makes you feel drowsy. This time of year, the shade of a tree is a welcome thing and, as you’ll see in the new book “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” by Robert Penn, that tree can offer so much more.

For most of Robert Penn’s childhood, an ash tree at the edge of a garden was the gateway to adventure. It was just a tree then; he never paid it much heed, nor did he consider that so many of his favorite possessions came from ash wood. And yet, that tree stood in the back of his mind and on a crisp winter day, he felled one just like it near his South Wales home, to see all that could be done with a single tree.

The tree hadn’t been easy to find: because each kind of wood has its season and ash is best harvested in winter, Penn began his search early. He wanted a tall, straight tree of the correct width, no extra lower branches, and with a wide canopy.

Surely, such a tree stood somewhere….

Indeed, he was nearly out of winter when he found it.

According to an expert, Penn’s chosen ash was in remarkably great shape, and had started growing perhaps 130 years before. Though that area had been cleared of trees during World War I, Penn’s tree had been spared for some reason; for that, he felt a small twinge for cutting it but once it was down, it was clear what the tree could do.

Its leaves immediately became fodder for livestock; thicker brush went to the woodpile. There were tool handles made, a handcrafted wheel, a set of sturdy bowls, arrow shafts crafted traditionally, a toboggan, tent pegs, an Irish hurling stick, a writing desk – in all, forty-four different items. Even the sawdust was put to use – but will the ash tree be around for future generations to enjoy in similar ways?

Sadly, author Robert Penn expresses his doubts. Between the emerald ash borer in the U.S., and other diseases in Europe, the ash is struggling. “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” may, in a way, be its eulogy.

And what lovely parting words! Penn is somewhat of a modern-day Thoreau when it comes to his beloved ash trees, as well as to the forest in general; his words are peaceful and inviting, but they’re also sweetly charming and filled with curiosity. Readers will be delighted to learn history, biodiversity, sustainability, and ancient arts; moreover, we’re offered an invitation that’s irresistible: look up and out at the things that surround us in nature. Don’t take it for granted.

Yes, readers may note a bit of irony here, but I still think this book is worth a read. You’ll smile, and you’ll mourn what’s inside “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees,” so you shouldn’t miss it. Why wood you?

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@gmail.com.

More in Life

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Let there be lights!

When I stopped in at one of our local stores, I didn’t cringe when I saw all the holiday decorations on display.

Cabbage, potatoes, salmon and an assortment of pantry staples make for a culinary challenge. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Take a culinary pop quiz

Get creative with what’s in your pantry

This undated John E. Thwaites photo, perhaps taken near Seward, shows the S.S. Dora grounded. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 3

Her long career had come to an end at last.

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes I wonder, who needs who

Dog whispers we are not. Suckers for unconditional love, you bet.

Meredith Harber (courtesy)
Minister’s Message: Don’t let termination dust bring you down

If I’m honest, this time of year is the hardest for me mentally and emotionally.

Pieces hang on display at the Kenai Art Center for the open call show on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘They felt like they could share with us now’

Art center open call offers space for new artists.

The Cosmic Hamlet Entertainment film crew prepares for a new scene to roll on the set of “Bolt from the Blue” at the Kilcher Homestead on Sept. 28. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
‘Bolt from the Blue’ film features Homer

“The Office” star Kate Flannery cast in feature film produced in Homer.

These old-fashioned doughnuts don’t skimp on the fat or sugar. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Memories of old-fashioned doughnuts

My recipe is for old-fashioned doughnuts, and since I make these maybe twice a year, I don’t skimp on the sugar and fat.

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: October is here again

The days are shorter. We are losing nearly six minutes a day. It’s getting colder.

This John E. Thwaites photo shows the S.S. Dora near Sand Point, Alaska. Thwaites sailed as mail clerk on the Dora between at least 1905 and 1912. (Alaska State Library photo collection)
Resilience of the Dora, part 2

The S.S. Dora touched lives on and became part of the history of the Kenai Peninsula and Southcentral Alaska.

Steller Sea Lions can be seen in an enclosure at the Alaska SeaLife Center on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Seward, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Alaska SeaLife Center to Alaskans: We’re still here for you

You rallied and kept us alive. Today, we’re writing to say thank you.

A wood-carved whale hangs in the Nikiski Senior Center on Sept. 23, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Nikiski Senior Center)
Whale of a job

Nikiski Senior Center gets addition to dining room.