Review published on May 31, 2016.
I have nothing but pure, unadulterated empathy with the author of this book. Robert Penn has gone on a crusade really, to source a certain Ash tree, then to cut it down, not to completely destroy it but rather to create from it. Regeneration is the very basis of nature and from my own experience of trees – in essence – he has done a serious favour to this one tree. Each tree has a lifespan and then it destroys itself by decomposition; by cutting down these trees, regeneration can take place at their peak of growth and so the circle of life can begin again.
The book tells us of his mission to create things from this single, 100 year old plus tree, this takes him all over the place; seeking people to assist him in creating. Each item is explained and, together with the historical significance of said items, we are informed and enlightened at the same time.
To my way of thinking, what leaps from most of the pages is the very human emotion that wood engenders in folk. The craftsmen that construct these items from natural materials, using time-honoured methods are a dying breed in these days of quick fix consumerism. It is heartening to read about these people and how they find themselves still here in the 21st century. Words are used well and describe the almost sensual delight in handling smoothed axe handles, a paddle, a baseball bat and lots of other things.
We have lived alongside Ash for Millennia and these days, unfortunately, we have lost that basic primal need to use and admire what nature can give us. How long will we be able to enjoy the properties of Ash, or any other wood in fact, before they die out completely? As explained in this book, we now have the very serious risk of losing all Ash trees with ‘Ash Die Back Disease’ and the ‘Emerald Ash Borer’. These magnificent trees will most likely go the way that Elm did back in the 1970s. A programme of seed selection and storage for future growth is underway of course, but our generation will never see them in all their glory.
The author does not make any of the mentioned items with his own skills; he had the initial idea in the first instance and then uses various artisans throughout, experts in their own field. We have the Toboggan maker from Austria and the Baseball Bat maker working in Pennsylvania, America even has a Hurley Stick maker in Co Waterford Ireland. The author certainly gads about seeking his goods wherever he can get them expertly made. He ends up with quite a substantial haul eventually, all from one solitary Ash tree.
The Man Who Made Things Out Of Trees by Robert Penn
1846148421|Particular Books hbk Oct 2015