Q. Can you give me an interesting story about wood? I have to give a talk to some children and want something interesting to begin with.

A. Here are a couple of ideas; I hope one of the seven works for you. Thanks for sharing with our youth.

1. For old kids that might be environmentally concerned about wood,

A. did you know that the forest removals on the Amazon region are 92 percent or more by burning down the forest, converting the land to poor pastures for cattle grazing, and not by logging and sawmilling?

B. Did you know that about 50 percent of all logging (commercial and also by individuals) is used for cooking and heating and not for housing, furniture, etc. Until we come up with alternatives for cooking and heating fuel, people will continue to cut trees (small and large; of any species without regard for the environment -- it is survival for them) and we will see worldwide forest removals that seem to be damaging the environment. Plus, such cooking and heating activity takes carbon in the wood (technical term is sequestered, meaning it is locked up) and converts it to carbon dioxide when the wood burns, which is then added to the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which we strongly suspect adds to global warming.

2. For a wide range of ages,

Some woods split easily when we hit them with a hammer, chisel or even a cannon ball in the old days. But one species, called tan oak, has wood fibers that are twisted within the wood. These fibers that are twisted resist splitting. In fact, in the War of 1812 here in the U.S , we had a ship that used tan oak for building the sides of the ship. When the British cannonballs hit the ship, they bounced off instead of penetrating and damaging the ship. So, this ship got the nickname of “Old Ironsides.”

3. If you are in the Southern U.S., most of the children will know about some creeks and rivers in the area that have black or very dark colored water. In fact, many of the stream and rivers have the word black in their names. What makes the water so black? It is the tree that has tannic acid within plus a little bit of iron from the soil mixing to form iron tannate. Iron tannate is a black liquid. Even more, this tannic acids sanitizes the water and acts as a preservative . So, in the old days before plastic jugs and containers, water on ships and other locations was carried in wood barrels. If the water was “black water,” the tannic acid would keep the water fresh and drinkable for months, Sailing ships were delighted to find these black water rivers so that they could get good drinking water.

4. In the old days, before I was born and before we had plastic, nylon, and all the neat fabrics, leather was very important for jackets, hats and many clothing items. But, leather, which was the skin of cattle, deer and a few other animals, had to be dried out and made nice and soft and supple. This process was called tanning and was usually done outside. To help the process and prevent unwanted mold, the skin was treated with tannic acid. The major source of this mild acid was from the bark of trees, especially the hemlock tree. The bark was soaked in water to extract the acid. The acid was so valuable that in the earlier days, trees were cut down in the forest and the bark was peeled off of the logs and taken to the tanning factory. The wood was left in the woods to rot and return to the soil rather than be taken to a sawmill. In other words the bark was more valuable than the wood.

5. People often study fossils, especially the fossils from trees and plants that lived many centuries ago. One of these fossils was for a tree called Dawn Redwood. Everyone thought that this huge evergreen tree was long extinct and only existed as a fossil specimen. But around 1942, some people found a small grove of dawn redwood trees growing in an isolated valley in China. They recovered some seeds from these trees and planted the seeds. Today, we have these trees growing all over the world.

6. I suppose a lot of people have wooden decks in the back of their house. But did you know that oftentimes sidewalks were wooden instead of concrete? They were sometimes called boardwalks. Did you know that sometimes roads and streets were not paved but were made of thick pieces of wood lumber, called planks. The roads were given names like “Plank Road.” They used this wood because there were so many trees in the U.S.; wood was readily available, but other building materials were not close by.

7. When the early surveyors in the mid 1800s were surveying the Great Plains (especially Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Oklahoma and Texas, they had a problem on how to mark the spots they surveyed. so someone else could find the spot later and know where the land that they bought was located exactly. They did not have a GPS or even a lot of metal posts to stick into the ground. Carrying all the weight would have been impossible. So, what they did was to carry a bunch of wooden stakes. So that someone would be able to tell the difference between their stakes and just an old piece of wood that fell off of a nearby tree, they brought stakes from trees that did not grow in the area they were surveying. For example, they might have cherry from Pennsylvania, a tree that which does not grow in Nebraska. Also, to make sure that the wood did not rot quickly but would last for a 100 years, they tested the wood in a campfire. From time to time we still find these old survey stakes that help define the property lines…a burned piece of curry wood…but we do need to use a microscope and do need to clean off the burned part to identify the wood.

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