Sometimes I wonder if morticians can tell a lot about a person’s character by the body left on the slab. Do fine lines around the mouth indicate an easygoing person who always smiled perhaps?
I ask this because woodworkers , myself included , know a lot more about trees when they are dead, dried and cut to ribbons than they know about trees when they are living. We can tell the difference between soft maple and hard maple the instant we put it to the tools. But most woodworkers are hard-pressed to identify a species in the wild.
We know little about how the species grow. Or where they grow. Or what their leaves or fruit looks like.
I’ve always wanted to be able to identify species around the neighborhood, and I used to carry around a book that showed each species’ canopy, leaves and fruit. I can pick out the obvious ones (silver maples, sycamores, willows and the like). But on others I am hopeless.
Today my friend John Hoffman and I were loading up several hundred pounds of concrete pavers for my mom (and 20 bags of mulch). As we were snaking the pickup truck down a steep hill in the yard, Hoffman looked up and said, “White oak. Round like the white man’s bullets.”
“And there. Pointed like the red man’s arrows,” he said. “Red oak.” I stopped the truck mid-hill and asked what he was jabbering about. It turns out that Hoffman’s wife, Sharon, has been taking classes on naturalism given by the state of Indiana and was taught that little trick about differentiating the oaks. The white oaks have rounded lobes on the leaves, like a bullet. The red oaks have pointed lobes, like an arrowhead. Brilliant.
So this afternoon I took a walk into a forest preserve next to my mother’s property. This stretch of untouched land was always off-limits to us as kids, but recently it was opened to the public with a hiking trail. There’s an imposing sign on the property next to the preserve that reads: Lord Lanto. Plus a bunch of signs about trespassing and security cameras. I’ve always wondered about Lord Lanto and thought I might be able to catch a glimpse of his land (or perhaps the lord) at long last by taking a walk through the preserve.
No luck. No Lord Lanto. But I did find some nice white oak and red oak leaves. But still I struggled with the other species. I think I saw some walnut. If I could get a saw and kill the sucker I could tell you for sure.
Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work around the shop. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.