This Christmas season finds me a jollier old elf than usual. In past years, I inclined more to the thought that Scrooge had a point.
"Christmas a humbug, uncle!" said Scrooge's nephew. "You don't mean that, I am sure."
"I do," said Scrooge. "Merry Christmas! What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough."
"Come, then," returned the nephew gaily. "What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You're rich enough."
Scrooge having no better answer ready on the spur of the moment, said "Bah!" again; and followed it up with "Humbug."
"Don't be cross, uncle!" said the nephew.
"What else can I be," returned the uncle, "when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What's Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in 'em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"
But this year, for some reason, I've been infected with the silly optimisim of Scrooge's nephew.
"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"
- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Assuming you are also putting aside the Bah! Humbug! for a couple of weeks, and intend to squander some of your hard-earned dollars on someone special to you...and that someone special has, or should have, an interest in all things wood, then I have three suggestions for you.
The first I received myself just a few weeks ago. Go Wood reader Keville Larson of Mobile, Alabama, was nice enough to send me a coffee-table copy of a wonderful book shortly after my post on the longleaf pine, Royalty of the Southern Forest. The book, entitled Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See, is one of those books that you pick up just to look at the pictures, and can't put down once you start to read the stories.
Here's an example of one of those stories, which happens to mention my new friend Mr. Larson...
"At the heart of Langan (Municipal) Park in Mobile, Alabama, surrounded now by the city's sprawling suburbs, a thirty-five-acre remnant of longleaf seemed like a poor prospect for restoration. Initially, city officials simply shook their heads in disbelief when supporters from the Mobile Botanical Gardens - including Bobby Green, forester Keville Larson, and members of the Longleaf Alliance - came to them with a proposal to burn a forest so thick no one could see through it, a fire hazard surrounded by expensive homes and the city's art-museum complex.
But they presevered; they introduced fire carefully and systematically, and the forest has been burned every year for nearly a decade. For the middle-class homeowners around the park, the idea of burning the woods seemed at first not only strange but just plain wrong. With supporting dialogue from the local media, scientists, and foresters, many of those neighbors now look forward to the clean, green look of the forest after the burns. As the low flames spread on the day of a burn, some homeowners even amble out to discuss the finer of longleaf and wildflower response to fire. Living with fire, they feel more comfortable with it. Complaints are now rare, and a few confess that they've even come to relish fire's fragrant return, like winter's first puff of hickory smoke.
To everyone's surprise, the endangered and rare species on the property are not only holding their own; they're actually increasing. Scientists had long believed that the forest, thick as it was, supported a single, lonely old gopher tortoise, one of the few remaining tortoises west of the Alabama River. Now scientists believe that there may be eight or more of these threatened tortoises lumbering across the property, including some very young juveniles. Just as remarkable, the little patch of isolated urban forest rings with the sound of 'bob-bob-white'. That call isn't lost on old-timers, who remember when quail were once abundant here and now clearly see that in spite of fire ants, dogs, cats, overstocked raccoons, and other hazards of modern life, the quail can return if they are just provided the longleaf habitat they prefer."
- Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See, pages 144-145
What a great book. I intend to spend some time with it myself this winter as I gaze out at the frozen Pennsylvania landscape.
The second I can recommend, and not far behind in pure wood reading pleasure, is Oak: The Frame of Civilization. I especially enjoyed one chapter that introduced me to the finer art and enjoyment of being a balanoplage...an acorn-eater. I had tried the acorns of red oaks in my experimental days, and my mouth still dessicates at the memory. Wondered how deer, squirrels, and pigs could stand the things. But now I know that not only did people eat acorns, there is pretty substantial evidence that many, many early cultures survived primarily due to the nutty delights. But there is a trick or two in partaking of the woody nut that the book shares, and I look forward to trying one of these days.
I'll leave it to you to explore the other fascinating aspects of oak that have left an indelible imprint on human history. If you'd like to read more about the book, let me suggest this excellent review posted on The Guardian.
Finally, if your sentimental someone is more of the hands-on type, you may want to consider a gift that you can't find in the mall. The International Wood Collectors Society sells sets of wood samples in a box. These sets contain samples of some of the most common, and the most rare, woods in the world. The gift might be just a few hours fancy for some, but for just the right person the wooden rectangles may lead to a life-long passion. I know I love spending time with the University's collection, wondering especially about the differences in species and why and how they came to be that way.
But be warned, wood collecting can get out of hand. Many a wood collector has had their domestic arrangements tested by their propensity to haul slabs of walnut, maple, or mahogany into the house...and even go so far as to hang them on the wall. And it doesn't stop there...most wood collectors begin to collect wood working tools of various specialties, and to spend copious amounts of time in the basement throwing wood shavings in all directions.
But if you really love that certain other someone, and want to see just how much they love you, get them a set of wood samples this Christmas. And watch for that expression that comes with utter surprise. Worst case, they will throw the box at you, and it's a heavy booger. But tell them to rub and smell the wood, and if they don't have you committed, you've got a wood lover for life.
And possibly, you will hear those words Mr. Scrooge uttered that Christmas morn so long ago...
"I shall love it, as long as I live!"
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