Pens from the Forest

Each and every year when I go to the woodlot to cut my annual fire wood, I inevitably come across pieces of wood that I wish I could use for something besides burning.   Trees often hide unique grain characteristics that can be so beautiful if recognized and separated for higher end use.  Sometimes, I see them when they are still in the log and other times I don’t see the unique characteristics until the wood is split.  It had always bothered me to burn pieces of wood that I know had some beautiful and interesting grain or color.

Rough split pieces, showing the figure in the wood, are salvaged from the fire wood pile.  These are cut into rough strips in preparation for the table saw.

Rough split pieces, showing the figure in the wood, are salvaged from the fire wood pile.  These are cut into rough strips in preparation for the table saw.

Over the years, I tried many time to find someone who would be interested in a taking the one or two logs that I would come across each year while cutting my firewood.  Every time the answer was the same, one or two logs was not enough volume to interest anyone.  I would often leave them lying in the woodlot hoping I could find someone who would want them but I never did.  So eventually I would have to give in and cut them into short furnace length pieces.

The rough strips are made into long squares on the table saw.  In turn these squares will be cut into short squares called "blanks".

The rough strips are made into long squares on the table saw.  In turn these squares will be cut into short squares called “blanks”.  These pieces show the “curly” figure in the wood.

Curly maple was the one characteristic that I came across most commonly.  This wavy grain is found most frequently in Red Maple.  Unfortunately, it can not be detected until the tree is felled and a piece of bark removed.  I know that this “curly” characteristic in the wood will make some beautiful hand crafts.  Even after splitting the wood, which really shows this characteristic, I would set pieces aside and not want to burn them.  I would visit local wood artisans but still no one was interested in these small pieces, mostly because of the extra work involved in trying to make these small pieces into something.

But one day it hit me, if no one else is interested in these pieces of wood, maybe I could make them into something.  Release their inner beauty and let people see the magnificence of nature.  But what could I make?  I always want to see trees put to their best end use.  Now it is my turn to try to come up with something.  And come up with something I did!  Wooden pens!  I have a hand made wooden pen that was given to me many years ago.  I thought this would be a perfect use for these beauties of nature.  Instead of a brief moment of heat in my house, I can now create a piece of functional art that will last generations.  This is one more way in which I can share in the bounty and spirit of Watts Tree Farm with others.

The pen blanks are drilled and a metal insert is glued into each piece.  It takes two pieces for each pen.  Every effort is made to keep the two pieces from the same piece of wood in order to have the top and bottom of the pen match.

The pen blanks are drilled and a metal insert is glued into each piece. It takes two pieces for each pen. Every effort is made to keep the two pieces from the same piece of wood in order to have the top and bottom of the pen match.

Many of the pieces of wood make it to my basement as firewood.  I inspect each piece before it goes into the furnace to determine if it has any qualities in it that will make into a beautiful pen. The good ones are set aside.   I am fortunate to know a wood artisan named Joe MacAskill.  Joe would be my resource for learning what I needed to do to prepare these small pieces of split firewood into turning blanks ready to be made into pens.  Joe gave me the dimensions of the size of the turning squares needed to make pens.  So I set out to cut these twisted pieces of wood into small squares.  This was a more difficult task then I imagined on my small table saw.  I learned quickly that I had to split the bigger pieces into thinner slabs using my chainsaw.  Crude but effective.  Now I know why no one wanted these pieces as the amount of extra work just to get them to this stage is a lot of work for a little wood.  The table saw was my friend in beginning to make these pen blanks.

The next step in the process was to drill each blank and insert the metal tube that would make up the center of the pen.  It would also help hold the pen blanks steady on the lathe.  Joe was guiding me every step of the way.  I wanted to do all the work myself but I am not a wood turner, at least not yet.  I wanted to market the pens by myself and sell them as Watts Tree Farm pens.  I wanted to tell people the story of the wood and of the woodlot. I felt that this is how the spirit of the wood and woodlot should be shown.  It is not just another pen but it is a pen that has been lovingly gathered and made into this item of beauty.   Joe had agreed to make my first pens but in time he would teach me how to make them myself.

These are the finished pens ready for sale.  Salvaging beautiful pieces of wood from the firewood pile and turning them into functional works of wood art is a source of price for me.

These are the finished pens ready for sale.  Salvaging beautiful pieces of wood from the firewood pile and turning them into functional works of wood art is a source of pride for me.

My first pens were sent to Japan for sale.  My very good friend, Yuya, wanted to test market them on a website in Japan.  It is such a deep and emotional feeling for me to know that wood that I had salvaged from my firewood pile has been turned into something as useful and beautiful as a pen.  Now my pens and wood will live on and be used by someone as far away as Japan.  Watts Tree Farm is truly reaching around the world.  First through the blogs I have written but now even the wood grown here will find new homes and hopefully the story will travel with each pen.

This adventure is opening up my mind to more ideas.  I think I’ll stick to pens from the forest for now but I am thinking about what other woods could I use.  Trees or shrubs that are never gathered commercially, could have something beautiful inside.  A story of inner beauty waiting to be shown and told.  The story of Watts Tree Farm is a never ending story.  One of new discoveries every day.  Of discovering not only about the woodlot…but about myself and the spirit of the forest.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

*** Click on any photograph to get a larger image. ***

 

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Reflections of Japan

I returned recently from a business trip to Japan.  It is a country that I have come to like very much.  I enjoy the food, the culture and perhaps above all the respect shown for people.  I especially appreciate the kindness and respect I receive, no matter where I happen to be in the country.  There are some people who have gone very far out of their way to help me, as I attempt to create more business opportunities for companies in my region of Atlantic Canada.  My business, Sunset Trading Company, is a small company that focuses on assisting Atlantic Canadian businesses who wish to seek marketing opportunities in Japan.

Looking out across the skyline of Tokyo.  This massive city and surrounding area is home to nearly 40 million people.  The famous "Sky Tree" is in the left of the photo.

Looking out across the skyline of Tokyo. This massive city and surrounding area is home to nearly 40 million people. The famous “Sky Tree” is in the left of the photo.

As I sat one morning, gazing out the window of my hotel in Tokyo, I had some quiet time to reflect on my being in this foreign land. I was there doing things that I would never have dreamt earlier in my life were ever possible.  Believe me, I have come from very humble beginnings, with a modest education but with a heart and head full of dreams.  I started out in forest management and grew to love the forest so much that I felt I wanted to find the most valuable uses for every tree in the forest.  This lead me to marketing of wood products, locally at first, and then to international markets.  I had some early connections to Japan and I never forgot those connections.  As my career advanced, I had an opportunity to finally visit Japan to promote wood products from my region.  I became hooked on this fascinating and beautiful country.  So, late in life I felt I just had to start-up my own business and focus only on Japan as a market.

I feel that I have been so fortunate in my life.  It has been, and still is, an amazing journey.  But remembering my humble beginnings makes me take note of those around me.  To me, the smallest things are the biggest things.  As I sat that morning gazing out the window I was actually in the hotel restaurant.  A lady came to pour my coffee refill.  She had no expectation of being noticed and was probably meant to be as “unnoticed” as possible.  However, I noticed.  As I notice many of the people who are in the positions that are meant to be almost unseen.  But with out these dedicated individuals my trip would not be as pleasant.  To me, the lady who served me coffee is as important as the hotel manager.  Every task, no matter how small it may seem, is important and needs to be done by someone.  Without people performing the so-called smaller tasks, things would never get done.   It struck me in such a profound way that morning of just how important each of these people are to my comfort and success in Japan.  As I left the restaurant that morning I stopped and personally thanked each of the people who had made my stay so memorable.  I hope that they appreciated that I had noticed them and deeply appreciated their hospitality.

Having a business lunch with Mr. Makoto Anzai, Pres., Jyuka Soken Co., importer of Canadian building materials.  Not seen (taking the photo) Mr. Yuya Kato, Pres. GPE Inc. and assisting me in all aspects of my meetings.   I have to say, this is one of the best Japanese meals I have ever had.

Having a business lunch with Mr. Makoto Anzai, Pres., Jyuka Soken Co., importer of Canadian building materials. Not seen (taking the photo) is Mr. Yuya Kato, Pres. GPE Inc. and assisting me in all aspects of my meetings. I have to say, this is one of the best Japanese meals I have ever had.

I wondered also if I would ever have another opportunity to return to Japan.  At this point, I truly do not know.  Only if I have some success in creating new business will I be able to afford to return.  So now, only time and more hard work from home to follow-up on the contacts I had made will tell the tale.  Will we be able to bridge the gaps between the Canadian producers and the Japanese importers?  Will we be able to put the right products, at the right price, with the right scheduling and with all the many necessary adjustments to suit a Japanese buyers?   At this point I can only say “Perhaps”.  I have a lot of work to do with the Canadian companies to help them understand exactly what is required to make the possibility of sales a reality.   The interest is there, but there are many conditions to be met.

Since I have returned, I have had more opportunity to reflect on how blessed I am to be able to do the work I am doing.  From my humble beginnings and background, to be in face to face discussions with executives of some small and large Japanese importers is truly amazing!  Some days I feel I am living in a dream.  What effect will my success have back in my region?  If orders do develop then products will have to be made and shipped.  Flooring, cabinets, stairways, bricks and more will have to be made.  Sweaters and slippers and maybe some food products may find a market in Japan and have to be made or prepared by hands in Atlantic Canada or beyond.  People working in small business to make all these things will be needed.  It is hard for me to imagine the effect that my work may have on the lives of others.  And when those floors and cabinets and stairways are being manufactured they will require wood from this area.  Trees will be harvested, trucked, sawn and manufactured into beautiful finished products.  Some of these trees which are turned into lumber and then into a finished product could be my trees, straight out of Watts Tree Farm.  This brings me full circle, right back to the place I love the most, the woodlot.

A pine floor in a home in Japan.  Manufactured by Royalty Hardwoods Ltd. in Prince Edward Island, Canada

A pine floor in a home in Japan. Manufactured by Royalty Hardwoods Ltd. in Prince Edward Island, Canada

I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had in life.  For the people I have met through business but now call friend.  For the many people I have yet to meet but I look forward to meeting.  And to the many people I may never meet but I hope my work touches their lives in a positive way.  Will I ever return to Japan?  I don’t know.  But if I do it means there is some success and many of the things I had mentioned above will continue to happen.   My life is richer for having had this opportunity to visit Japan and for meeting some truly wonderful people.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photograph to get a larger image***

Sunsets

Sunsets can be so beautiful, no matter where they are in the world.  There is one location at Watts Tree Farm where I have watched the sunset hundreds of times. Sunsets are very special to me.

There is something about sunsets that makes us stop and wonder.

There is something about sunsets that makes us stop and wonder.

Every one is differerent , changing every minute  and you know they are only there for a short time.  In a way they are like snowflakes, no two are ever the same.

The shadows cast long streaks across the sky.

The shadows cast long streaks across the sky.

These photos may not be the most spectacular sunsets on the planet, but they are some that I watched and truly enjoyed.  My camera doesn’t take the best photos but I hope they show a bit of the spectacular color and design of these evening events.  To truly enjoy these you should click on each one to see a larger image.  The camera can not begin to capture all of the color and some of the surroundings that go into making up the whole picture.  No, for that you actually have to be there, watching as the sun dips behind a cloud or sinks at the horizon.  The subtle colors across the whole sky are amazing and the camera simply can’t capture it all.

The true warmth and serenity can be felt in the orange glow of a sunset.

The true warmth and serenity can be felt in the orange glow of a sunset.

We sometimes refer to “sunset” as the later time of life, just like the sunsets are in the later part of our day.  When they are so beautiful, as they often are, we can’t help but stop and look at them for awhile.  I’m at that beautiful time in my life and I am going to take some time to enjoy it.

As I said earlier, Sunsets are meaningful to me.  So much so that I named my business after them, Sunset Trading Company (http://sunsettrading.ca/).  I gave my company this name for two reasons.  Firstly, I love the beauty of the sunsets as I see them from my woodlot.  Secondly, I am at that later stage in life and I’m pretty sure this will be the last business I ever start up. So I thought it would be a fitting name for my company.  But I admit, I am living my dream.  For most of my adult life I have dreamt of owing my own business.  So here I am,  joining the millions of other small business owners just trying to survive and be successful.  Using the word “Sunset” in the name of my company has made it more meaningful to me.

Even the darkest clouds can show their beauty when the sun shines on them.

Even the darkest clouds can show their beauty when the sun shines on them.

However, the woodlot is still my pride and joy.  It is the place where I can go for some piece and quite.  A place to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.  So many beautiful things to see there, including the sunsets.  It can’t always be about the work.  We need the time to simply sit back and relax and take in the view of the world around us.

There are not as many words in this blog as usual and more photographs.  I hope people take the time see the photos and realize how important these things are to all of us.  I’ll get back to writing about things in woodlot management in future blogs. But every once in awhile we all need a break.

As the sun is setting and dips below the western horizon here, it is just beginning to rise and start a new day in a distant land.

As the sun is setting and dips below the western horizon here, it is just beginning to rise and start a new day in a distant land.

I truly hope you have enjoyed these colorful scenes.   It is special for me to share this with you.  At the end of the day, as the sun sets on Watts Tree Farm, I know it is just beginning to rise on my friends in Japan.  It is at some other sage as it shins down on friends in other places.  In some ways we are all connected around the world.  As it should be.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

*** Click on any photo to get a larger view ***

Working Together

As time goes on, I am sure it will become harder and harder to come up with blogs each month that are interesting and meaningful to readers.  I even asked myself “Why do I do this?”  There is no simple or easy answer.  If I simply wanted to write things for only me then I would write in a diary and keep it under my bed, which I don’t by the way.  I obviously want to share some thoughts about the forest and it seems my woodlot is the perfect way to express my thoughts.  Anyone who knows me or has been reading my blogs has probably figured out that I am pretty passionate about the forest.  But still “Why do I do this?”  Why have I put myself on a treadmill to write a blog every month about some aspect of forest management or simply about the enjoyment of the forest?  I guess the short answer is, I want to pass on what ever knowledge I might have about the forest to anyone who might be interested.  It is not as much about passing on knowledge as it is wanting to stimulate thoughts in other people.  It is about “sharing” ideas.  It is about working together to create a better forest for the future.

A beautiful day for a walk (snowshoe) inthe woodlot.

A beautiful day for a walk (snowshoe) in the woodlot.

I am fortunate to have a few people who actually follow this blog.  This got me thinking “Why do others follow this blog?”  Some are my family and I expect a few of them to follow, even if they are not interested!  But there are others who have decided to follow what I write and I really don’t know why.  I always hope that people who find the site and read some of the things written here will gain some new information or thought-provoking idea.  I am always amazed at the countries that readers are from.  I get hits from countries around the world!  I think when I first started I thought I would attract a few people from Prince Edward Island or at least from Eastern North America, who shared similar interests in managing a small woodlot.  But when I see the places in the world that readers are from I am now beginning to think that it is a global community of people who are interested in some aspect of the forest and managing or enjoying it.  Or maybe they just wanted to learn a little about forests in Prince Edward Island, Canada, I really don’t know.

The forest provides products like these piles of firewood.

The forest provides products like these piles of firewood.

Prince Edward Island has recently started a new wood lot owners association.  The association is called PEI Woodlot Owners Association and you can find them on the web at: http://peiwoa.drupalgardens.com/. They are just getting started and I am sure there will be more content on the website as time goes on.  This association is something my tiny province needs very much.  We need people to join together to share information and to join together to encourage each other to do better forest management.  We simply can’t do things on our own.  At Watts Tree Farm, I want to see the woodlot produce the best and highest quality and valuable trees we can.  But the markets are limited, to say the least, in my area.  So perhaps by having more people, growing better quality trees, we can reach a critical mass that makes businesses start up and use these valuable trees.  It is my vision, but remember – just my vision, of seeing more small businesses manufacturing wood products from trees they find locally.  Small sawmills that focus on quality and not quantity.  Not the massive commodity based lumber mills that need huge quantities of wood to sustain them.  My wood lot is small, as are all of the woodlots in Prince Edward Island.  I am far more interested in supplying a few good logs to a local mill that appreciates receiving them than I am of harvesting a large area of my woodlot at one time to supply a large mill.  It’s just who I am and now that there is a local association of woodlot owners perhaps we can all work together to achieve some new growth in local businesses who focus on high value rather than high volume.

A gathering of people at a Forest Seed Workshop held a few years ago at Watts Tree Farm.

A gathering of people at a Forest Seed Workshop held a few years ago at Watts Tree Farm.

But of course, the forest is not all about growing the best possible trees either.  There is so much more.  Doing some things to make the woodlot a better place for wildlife is also important.  I have learned so much over the years from other people.  Getting out and meeting with other people and sharing information and ideas is how we learn.  But I am also finding out that right here online, on the “web”, we can find and share information.  So in a way, I am creating a spot online to share information.  A blog is mostly one way sharing but not completely.  I have had people send me questions which I will try to answer, either in a future blog or directly if they like.  I love the forest and I hope somewhere, somehow my words will help someone else to enjoy it too.  People can enjoy my woodlot through my blog or they can come on out sometime and actually take a walk through Watts Tree Farm.  By working together we can do so much more.  Instead of being at opposite ends of the spectrum of what should be done in a forest, we can find middle ground.  We can respect the needs of each other and truly build a good and healthy forest that provides products and employment, while at the same time, gives us a beautiful environment to enjoy.  The forest really is a great gift to use and enjoy. One that is even greater when it is shared with others.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photo to get a larger image.***

“Hope”

This blog will be a little departure from my usual blog but will still have some relevance to woodlots. I have just returned from a business trip to Japan.  I recently retired from my forestry position with the Prince Edward Island government and started my own marketing company.   My company is called Sunset Trading Company and will focus on representing, primarily, building products from Atlantic Canada in the Japanese market, which was the reason for my visit.

While in Japan I visited the city of Sendai. This is a thriving city that is near the coastal community that was devastated by the giant tsunami that followed the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, 2011.   Although we did not go directly to the affected area we were only a few kilometres away.   I was there to seek partnerships with local businesses to provide construction solutions for the reconstruction of the affected area. During my stay, I saw a sign in my hotel lobby that really spoke to me. That sign showed the city of Sendai as being the centre of HOPE for this devastated region. I couldn’t help but think that we were not just possibly supplying products but we would be supplying Hope. Hope to people who badly need to begin to get their lives back. Many lives were lost that day in March, 2011 and many more lives were shattered. Thousands of homes and businesses gone!

Sign on wall of hotel in Sendai. The “Hope” word is the location of the city of Sendai in the Tohoku Region of Japan close to the most devastated area of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese words roughly translate as “Lets be Together”.

This sign got me thinking about the products I was representing and how they can give renewed hope. If we supplied just one product, used in one house, that is installed by one person from the region, then we are giving hope. This person would be paid for their work and would hope to build more homes. This pay cheque would be the basis for this person to make a living and support a family. This would be hope in action. I began to realize that we would be providing hope for families back in my area as well. We would be creating opportunities for employment to harvest trees, truck the logs, saw the logs into lumber, dry the lumber in a kiln and manufacture the lumber into a product such as flooring. Every time that wood was touched by hands there was someone receiving a pay cheque and having hope for long-term employment.  Back in Sendai there would a family living in temporary relief housing that would have hope for a new “home”.  Hope for a new beginning and for businesses to return to the region they call “Home”.

Evening meeting at the showroom of Jyukasoken (http://jyukasoken.com/). This company specializes in sales of Canadian products. Mr Anzai, the business owner, is shown on the right.

As a woodlot owner we do not often think about where the products from trees we grow may end up.  But, when we cut trees for saw logs the journey is just beginning.  Many people will handle the lumber from the trees that we grew with love and care.  We create hope for a lot of people along the way.  Wouldn’t it be great if we knew that some of wood from trees we grew would end up in products in a far away land.  Maybe even end up in a home in the tsunami damaged region of Japan.  It is possible!  If I am successful with my new business it is even probable that trees grown by Atlantic Canadians will end up as products that will be shipped to Japan.  An exciting journey from a humble beginning.  Just imagine, a new floor installed by a Japanese crafts person and enjoyed perhaps for generations by a Japanese family.  It is amazing to think that as woodlot owners we are creating the beginning step in so much “hope” for happiness and prosperity somewhere in the world.

Photographs posted in a train station showing the before and after scenes of the devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011.

English sign at the train station telling that the photographs are there as a reminder of what has happened and what will happen again.

To my special friends in Japan and to the many crafts people I may never meet but who I hope will handle wood products from Atlantic Canada, I wish you all the best as reconstruction of the tsunami damaged region begins.  Hope can be one of the strongest human emotions and can help lift us up and overcome the most difficult obstacles.  Without Hope there is despair and despair can be the most damaging of all to the hearts and souls of people in the affected area.   “Lets be Together” and help create more hope and remove all despair.  On behalf of all Atlantic Canadian woodlot owners and wood product manufacturers in this region, we wish you, in the tsunami damaged region of Japan, Hope for a prosperous new beginning.

Until next time, keep safe and well.

***Click on any photograph to get a larger image***