Western Massachusetts has had a record year in 2011-- an F3 tornado ripped a 39-mile scar; a microburst hit Wilbraham a month later, toppling trees the tornado narrowly missed; a mild earthquake rumbled through; hurricane Irene swept into the neighborhood; and now, at the end of October, a freak snowstorm has dumped a load of extremely heavy, wet mush that was the worst thing to happen to our trees in my memory. A late fall meant lots of leaves were still clinging to the branches, and an early snow meant trouble- lots of trouble.
It started snowing on Saturday afternoon; the wet, heavy, snow stuck like glue to the leaves and branches, forcing even the largest of limbs into descending, ominous arcs. POW! It began to sound like the 4th of July around the neighborhood, as limbs strained against the snow load, then gave out. By 5:30 pm, the power was out over vast areas of the northeastern U.S. The storm paused, then restarted with a vengeance around 9 pm. All through the night and into Sunday morning, there was a continuous series of explosion-like sounds... CRACKKK... POW ... THUD !, as limbs crashed down onto rooftops and yards.
|Siberian Elm Stripped of Most Branches|
Sunday morning brought an end to the snowfall, and a bright, sunny day. But it wasn't a pleasant sight for homeowners or travelers; it was an incredible tangle of downed limbs, utility poles, and power lines. Like nothing we've seen in my lifetime. Power was out just about everywhere, across many states. No stores were open, gas stations all closed. Travel was difficult, to say the least. It would be 8 days before electric power was restored to my area, and even longer for many others.
|Heaps of Fallen Branches|
As just a typical resident of the area, I felt overwhelmed by the sight of the devastation to our trees, and the huge amount of woody debris dumped on my property and house. Two 70-foot Siberian Elms that flank my house were stripped of most of their small- and medium-sized branches, which completely buried my front yard.
|Garage Buried Under Honeylocust Limbs|
|Deb Saves a Dogwood|
But, as a woodturner, I knew this storm was likely to be a bonanza for those of my ilk, as was the July tornado. And so it was.
My friend, Al Richmond, has brought me a small truckload of eclectic, mixed species... Yew, Chinese Chestnut, Amur Cork Tree, Mulberry, Hawthorn, Umbrella Pine, and even a hunk of old Privet Hedge. All were taken down by the overwhelming weight of soggy snow.
|Black Willow Burl Harvest|
|Bob and a Black Willow Burl|
Fellow woodturner Bob Labrecque and I have made more than one foray into forests and backyards to harvest woody victims of these storms. One of the recent hauls was a truckload of Black Willow burls from a tree that came down in a New Hampshire backyard. This tree had followed the latter option of "Live Free or Die", having blown over and crushing a large wooden play structure.
We spent hours, much of it in the rain, surgically removing the burls that covered this trunk from one end to the other. Thank goodness Bob had borrowed a sawmill's chainsaw with a 30-inch bar, because we'd have been lost without it!
Of course, the largest burl was at the base of the trunk, on the underside, the toughest place to get at. The trunk was about 3 feet in diameter in that area, and it took some doing to liberate that section from the base of the tree, which was still rooted but leaning over at a severe angle. The quest for the elusive burl is not a pursuit that precludes work!
|Yours Truly, Loading Willow Burl into Pickup|
Black Willow is a lightweight wood, generally without remarkable figure, but we'll see what the burls have in store. It's all about the anticipation.
|Partial Load of Willow Burls|
We returned to Western Mass from New Hampshire tired, wet, filthy, hungry, and smelling of chainsaw exhaust fumes. In other words, we were happy woodturners.
|The Northampton Monster Apple Tree|
|I Think Bob's Meditating Here ...|
Another woodturner from New York had already been there and slabbed off all the burls (George, we're onto you!!). But there was plenty of gorgeous, large diameter wood left. We set about liberating as much of the crotch wood as we could, in the expectation that it would be the best-figured of the lot.
Naturally, as is our karma, it began to rain. With hundreds of pounds of saturated apple to load into the truck, we had to leave as much wood as we took. But look at the photo below ... the color of that wet heartwood doesn't get any richer. I just love the contrast between sapwood and heart.
|Apple, and more Apple !|
The requisite carpenter ants were of course occupying galleries in the center of much of the trunk, and, being lethargic in the cold November temps, they weren't quick to leave the security of their dark recesses. But we did evict most of them.
|Bob Contemplates an Apple Harvest Bowl (or a back brace)|
But Bob was ok. He just likes to play the crowd for pity over a splattered spleen and a few shattered ribs. Well, sorry Bob, there was no crowd out there in the rain that day. Just me, and I'm wise to it.
So, off we went back home- tired, wet, filthy, hungry, and smelling of chainsaw exhaust fumes. In other words, we were happy woodturners. Again.
|American Elm Burl|
The finest one of all, happily, was a behemoth on a wonderful American Elm, a graceful species from grand avenues of the past.
As much as we'd love to see what's inside it, we don't ever want to be standing over this beauty with a chainsaw in hand.
And now you know why woodturners love bad storms.
Here are photos of some of the first bowls off the lathe from these two adventures:
|New Hampshire Black Willow Burl Bowl|
|Pair of Apple Wood Bowls|
The Black Willow Burl bowl has a natural-edge rim that retains some of the bark; the rest of the rim has been flame-scorched to heighten its definition. You can see the varying tones in the swirls of the burl's grain. The large dark patch is a bark inclusion. This is a very lightweight bowl, owing to the low density of Willow wood.
These bowls are available for purchase at Bowlwood.com.