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Heartwood: Nature’s Strength and a Timely Reminder from 1940

Updated: Jan 2

Responding to Dorothy’s eagerness or to the painter’s provocative questions, Sam talked of the earth perhaps in the beginning completely covered with forest, the destruction of man, then the barren stretches, famine, poverty where there ought to have been plenty; the coming deserts, floods, sandstorms, futile migrations to find more forests to destroy; the sporadic attempts at conservation, then the ignorance, greed, laziness and callousness as man burned and plundered his God-given treasure.” ~Anne Miller Downes, Heartwood, 1940

This paragraph recently stopped me in my tracks. Several months ago I went through my storage locker and found some old books that belonged to my great aunt. She was a voracious reader, and I found myself wanting to spend some time with her in spirit and read some things from her library. I finished one book and was really captivated (see our blog post about Lady on the Beach for more on that), and was excited to try one more.

Heartwood by Anne Miller Downes is a story of a young man’s desire to move beyond his troubled upbringing in the mountains of Vermont against many odds and no shortage of social prejudice. It is full of insights on human nature and homespun wisdom. Sam Crocker may have been born and raised in the backwoods, but his honest and pure understanding of life gives him a raw but razor-sharp intelligence that is often lost on the townspeople of the valley below. Of course he falls in love with a woman considered by most to be out of his social class, but that’s another part of the story!

For a little science lesson and frame of reference, Heartwood, as defined by the USDA/U.S. Forest Service website is “the central, supporting pillar of the tree. Although dead, it will not decay or lose strength while the outer layers are intact. A composite of hollow, needlelike cellulose fibers bound together by a chemical glue called lignin, it is in many ways as strong as steel. A piece 12” long and 1” by 2” in cross section set vertically can support a weight of twenty tons!” I know there’s all sorts of symbolism for that in this story, but I digress!

Sam knows wood. He learned it from his father, and he understands every nuance of a tree, of a forest, of the qualities of different types of timber. His connection to nature is in his DNA, so when he spoke the above paragraph it was with the clear-headed understanding of one who stands nothing to gain from nature, except acceptance, peace, and respite from the stresses and travails of life in the valley.

This book is fiction, but that statement was hard to read. Published in 1940, it was frustrating to be reminded that we knew 80 years ago that the rampant plundering of nature had grave effects, was driven by greed and profit over the health of the environment and the welfare of the people. We’ve known long before that of course. We’ve known since settlers claimed land across our nation inhabited by generations of Native Americans. The negative and deadly impacts were swift and brutal, but greed, power and the desire for more took precedence. We’ve always known. We’ve always known.

Now we’ve reached a crisis, the tipping point, where even the plunderers are impacted by the shortsighted and narcissistic nature of their actions. And still, solutions and last-ditch efforts to save our natural resources, our treasured mountains, oceans and forests must be forced upon those who would plunder us into oblivion. So much for my little nostalgic escape!

While it’s frightening that we must get this close to irreversible climate catastrophe to begin to enact change, for this first time, steps are being taken to mitigate damage and provide a healthier, more sustainable future. Voices previously silenced are getting louder. Incredibly talented minds are innovating in new and exciting ways. I will always set my sights on hope, and positivity. Everything is energy, and the world needs as much positive energy as we can muster.

Our natural resources are precious and irreplaceable. We are connected to the natural world in deep and mysterious ways, and this wondrous balance is the key to our health, happiness and very survival. We will continue to do our best to honor, respect and protect nature in all our products and practices, and in our daily living. Please excuse me now, I’m gonna go hug a tree. 

Cheers to the changing of the seasons!

Tracy Strandness, Owner/Founder


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