It has been a......
..."long strange trip" ...
...since we packed a ton-and-a-half Chevy truck, in 1974, with all of our tools, belongings, a freezer full of food, and our two dogs. With a few thousand dollars, and a pile of Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening magazines, we were headed for anywhere that would accommodate what we felt would be a simpler and more rewarding lifestyle than the urban sprawl had to offer.
The abandoned mountain farms of Northwest Arkansas were one of the last places that we visited in the two months that we toured the backwaters of Americas deserted agricultural past. The soil on most of the farms was as poor as when it had been abandoned during the Great Depression.
The adjoining forests had regenerated to a great extent and reasonable timberland could be bought for a song. After a few adjustments, we found ourselves the owners of 160 acres covered with massive red and white oaks, hickories, and a dozen or so other minor species
We bought our sawmill in 1979 and began to selectively harvest our trees. The land was immediately put into the American Tree Farm system. This allowed us to get help from various government and professional sources in planning and managing our land in a manner that would optimize yield and minimize environmental impact.
Some of the plans that were proposed ran counter to our sensibilities and priorities, and were ignored or discarded. The most notable of these is the use of herbicides to kill out unwanted vegetation or suppress less desirable species. The concept that herbicides are "safe" is one that eludes me.
We prefer to use the method of "girdling" to kill unwanted trees. This consists of cutting a groove about 3/4 of an inch deep completely around a tree. The flow of nutrients and moisture is interrupted and the tree dies in about 4 months. Slower and less certain than herbicides, it is guaranteed not to hurt wildlife or my family.
We have cut over 350,000 board feet of lumber from our land in the past 30 years. The effect has been to "release" a lot of the highly desirable species to grow to their potential. The forest canopy has restored itself from the initial heavy cuttings of cull species and trees that were of poor form or unsound. We now can cut 10 to 15 thousand board ft of high quality lumber from our forest with an increase of quantity and quality every year. That amount of harvested wood is more than sufficient to provide the lumber for the 250 - 300 pieces of furniture that we are able to build in the course of a year.
The logging roads and openings in the canopy provide forage and cover for a huge variety of wildlife. From its near barren start, we now routinely see deer, bear, turkey, bobcats, coyotes, and a dozen or so other minor species of mammals. The bird population has exploded with dozens of species abundant now.
Now...... November 2008......... the latest update to this section has us all scratching our heads, and watching the shadows out of the corner of our eyes. For the second year in a row, while we were checking feeding stations that we had set up to monitor the deer, we have found unmistakable Mountain Lion tracks. Last year it was just one in some dust on the road. This year, it was a pair of clear, pristine, very fresh tracks in some soft sand in a road ditch. They were about four and a half inches across.
We are especially proud of the work we have done with the reptile and amphibian species. We have recorded species of both that are deemed "rare" in the field guides. Our assisting in the growth of the population of "Coachwhip" snakes is especially rewarding. Rarely seen elsewhere, we have a huge number of them on the property. America's fastest snake, they are a marvel to see. We have caught specimens that are within inches of the record 7 feet long.
The furniture that we build from the trees will extend their lives for a hundred or more years past their maturity. Our management and harvesting practices guarantee that all future generations that desire to, can continue with this process.
I look at furniture in our house, or beams in the ceiling and flooring under our feet, and remember the tree that it was cut from. Our lives, our land, and our work receive the same attention to detail.