When you live in the woods, you get accustomed to trees. That may seem obvious, but what I really mean is, they seem to take on personalities. You watch them spring up from acorns – they turn into large oaks in such a short amount of time.
When I hear that a piece of furniture is made of sycamore, my mind doesn’t go to the reddish-hued pieces of furniture I grew up with. Instead, I imagine the scaly-barked trees behind my house that shed their limbs as they grow.
They push each other aside – reaching up for the sun, like sparring siblings competing for their mother’s attention. They sway green and lush in the soft breezes of summer, providing shade, until fall when their leaves turn the color of stained glass.
There’s nothing that epitomizes the notion of time passing quite like a tree.
As a result, I no longer think of trees as inanimate objects – to me, they’re bundles of energy that manage, through sub-zero winters and 60-mile-an-hour winds, to stay rooted in their place.
Now, when I see trees being cut down, it’s not unlike watching a murder.
Yet so much in our modern society depends on just that – the sawing and harvesting of trees. Write a note, clean a spill, write a check: All are activities that ask for the sacrifice of a tree.
In Connecticut, where I live, the forests are marked by stone fences that crawl out the woods like songs from the past. They hearken back to a time when the state had few trees – hard to imagine these days when they seem to grow like weeds.
The farmers of colonial times cleared them like nobody’s business – mercilessly clear cutting and sending wood back to England for the king. The freshly opened fields became farms, and the people stacked stones as fences to mark off the land and keep their cattle in.
For centuries the chopping and destruction of forests went on. But that’s slowing now.
These days, a culture is rising that takes trees as seriously as I do. Eco-friendly furniture and interior-design products are the hot trend.
I’ve come across some very interesting companies lately that incorporate the earth-friendly harvesting of trees as a common-sense approach to the future. Here are three that offer wood-based products that are sourced three different ways:
– David Stine, a client that I’ve worked with for awhile, is a furniture designer who owns a large forest in Illinois. This is quite unusual, as there’s typically a disconnect between a furniture company and the actual cutting of raw materials.
But Stine loves his trees as though they were family. So when one is dying, the process of creating an iconic table from the wood is a form of homage, not exploitation. He uses old sycamore, white oak, black walnut, and black cherry – all from his own acreage – to create a collection of benches, beds, and tables that have found their way into homes across the country.
– Himalayan Trading Post is another company that works with managed wood crops. In this case, the forests are in northern India and the wood is from the mango tree that's grown there for its fruit. Mango trees grow enthusiastically in the warm Indian climate, all the while producing succulent, highly sought-after fruit. They do this until they reach about 90 feet tall and have trunks that are about five feet in diameter. At this point, the trees stop producing fruit, making them no longer useful to the mango farmers who cultivate them. The trees are then cut down and replanted.
Himalayan Trading Post works with the villagers in towns near these plantations where mango wood is hand-carved into pots and bowls. These little pots are then shipped to the United States where they are filled with soy wax and essential oils and sold as spice pots. (Pictured).
– EcoTimber, unlike the two companies above, is a company that provides wood by the yard, rather than in small quantities. So it has a larger challenge. Because it supplies wood flooring, the company's sourcing and production process involves harvesting larger swaths of forest. EcoTimber, however, has made an art of responsible forestry. The company works with tree farms that complement natural forests rather than replace them.
It obtains wood from hardwood timber sources that are certified well-managed according to the rules of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. To become FSC-certified, a company must submit to regular review and adhere to a fairly rigorous standard of eco standards.
Usually, Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week in this spot about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. She will resume blogging on March 23. Click here to find all her blog posts and articles.