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Wounds in Wood

nail wound in ash table

Pictured here is a piece of walnut-dyed ash from a round coffee table, and if you look close at the darkest part of the marking, you’ll see the glint of a nail head. It was hammered into the tree however many years ago, creating a wound. The insects and bugs suddenly gained access to the soft meaty pulp, and started to work their way into the sap wood. The tree, in defense, put up a kind of shield around the wound. You can see in the markings a black dome built up around the nail, and the effects of that ripple outward, marking the board, making it beautiful, making it distinct.

bullet wound in walnut boardA few years ago Dan was working with some exceptional walnut. These boards were unusually wide and he had three slabs. On the outer backside of the top slab, he noticed a scar on the edge. When he was cutting through the last board, his ban-saw suddenly made a horrible noise and sparks flew out from the blade. He had to slowly back the board out, the blade instantly wrecked (as it was with the nail), and from the board dropped a single round musket ball. The bullet must have been fired somewhere around a 100 years ago, entered the tree, and never came out. It left in the wood rich, smoky markings you could follow through all three boards, pictured here in on the left side of this walnut trunk.markings in maple caused by wounds

The different color variations in wood also come from different obstacles the tree had to overcome. In sugar maple, there is a certain fungal growth that colors the wood in a ghostly, bluish way with beautiful results when finished. A certain kind of beetle makes its hole in a tree, and the way the maple heals from it creates an elongated, greenish triangular scar that’s also very pretty. Another fungus that gets into maple leaves behind a blood red stain that runs into the tree and turns to a soft rose hue before it disappears.

There is a stretch of road in Pennsylvania where all along the road’s edge, a line of 50 to 80 year old oak trees grow. Every single one of them tilts forward, bowing, in effect, to the road, before rising straight up like a healthy tree. When they were young saplings, the road crew came through, loosened the soil where they grew, and all the trunks tipped sideways. After years of adjusting, the trees all righted themselves, and managed to grow straight after all.

  markings in a cherry boardPeople are drawn to the character markings in wood. What’s interesting is that these markings are, in effect, a tree’s attempt to heal itself. The structure of a tree – how it grows and responds to its environment – becomes a blueprint for what happened during each season of its life. From the wood grain we can tell whether or not there was rain, the minerals in the soil, and the fungal growth that attacked the organism. Trees are more than just a part of their environment; they are recordings of everything that happened around it, writ in the language of tree.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Sherri says:

    OMG. Aren’t we all like these trees…? These things that happen that wound us and we try so hard to heal…to straighten up again. No one really sees it, until the tree is dead. And finished. And maybe it’s only then that the wounds and the effort it took to heal them…the true beauty can be realized.
    This post made me cry…and hopeful. What an amazing metaphor you have discovered. An amazing truth.

    • dan.carol says:

      Sheri, you understand this beautifully. Thank you for reading. I think with people, the beauty of their character is evident in the way they live their life. You are living proof of this.

  2. Renee VanHorn says:

    I love that you know all this stuff – and how cool to find a musket ball ! The history out there is thrilling – who knows what went on in those woods so long ago ! You can almost see the soldiers marching through …..

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