A fine little fire


Last updated 11/7/2023 at 12:14pm

On a rainy Rogue River trip, Jim and I contemplated a fire. A fire would offer warmth even if drying out was not possible. My ammo can contained kindling, and I set about making a fire in our tiny Weber barbecue turned fire pan. I was about to flick my Bic….

In early adulthood I was lucky to learn a trade. I worked as a framing and finish carpenter in Fresno, California. A lasting take-away from that job was an abiding love of wood. Especially redwood. Fresno is in the heart of redwood country. West, along the coast, are the sempervirens. East, in the Sierra Nevada, are the gigantea. During the unregulated heyday of California logging in the late 19th century, the central valley hummed with mills turning the most magnificent trees on earth into millions of grape stakes, house siding, fencing, outdoor chairs and tables, decking material… When I was swinging a hammer in the 70s there weren’t many gigantea left to murder. The surviving Sierra groves were protected and commercial redwood came from the coast. Clear redwood was very costly and it was common to replace old redwood siding with cheaper cedar or synthetics. It was on a remodel that I began collecting redwood. Stripping 40-year-old redwood siding off a home, I broke a piece in two. Inside the wood was blood red. Oxidation and “preservatives” had dulled the exposed surface but a sixteenth of an inch under that aged patina was “red” wood—that we were pitching into the waste bin. I retrieved all the redwood from the bin. That night I ran a piece through my planer. It was beautiful. Thus began my “rescue” plan. Over the years I saved any redwood I found. Piles of it. Today, each time I run redwood through my planer I am rewarded and dismayed. I marvel at the wood’s beauty while bemoaning the fate of the gentle giants. I fret about how many natural wonders on our ever-shrinking planet are viewed only in terms of dollars by titans of business. My wife and I often skied through an area that 100 years before contained the largest contiguous stand of redwoods in the world—The Converse Basin Grove. Thousands of years of accumulated growth ended when nearly the entire grove was felled in a few short years. The largest tree was left untouched and named the Boole Tree. That spared giant today suffers the indignity of bearing the name of the foreman of the logging crew. Skiing through the remains of the grove on a silent, snowy winter day is an eerie experience. Stumps, 10 feet tall and 10 to 20 feet in diameter, silently thrust up through the snow—giant tombstones reminding us of what once was and is now gone.

On the river I hesitated. The redwood scraps came from my table saw and I wanted closure for them in their final moments. I hesitated to let what they represented be forever gone. A flick of my Bic would end centuries of redwood existence. Tiny remnants of once true kings, the scraps remained tangible connections to a distant past. Left alone those redwoods would be thriving today. I thought about the destruction of other American wild areas forever altered by the heavy hand of man.

Can we stop future destruction? Possibly, if we do the work. You can help. Many organizations work to save wild places from development and destruction and to rehabilitate areas used up and cast aside. In America there is a fraction of untouched lands compared to a couple centuries ago, and in today’s wired society people need nature to calm and nurture bodies, minds, and souls. It’s hard but rewarding work (thank you CATS for your work on Sisters’ gas station issue). So pitch in. Charity Navigator can teach about organizations in your area. Do your homework and get busy! Mother Nature needs your help.

Hunched over the Weber to shield the kindling from rain I considered a truism in my life: “Man can collect and store only so much wood before he begins hearing the ‘H’ word.”

I prefer the term “collector,” but… I thanked the redwood for its life and for the heat I was about to receive. I flicked my Bic.

It was a fine little fire.


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