Traversing the veins of the white, yellow and red roads on the map brought with it for me insights on how humans live and sustain themselves in this part of the world…and also brought with it for me a recognition that people all across the globe live in a similar manner; particularly in regional areas… growing food and keeping warm. I will look at growing food in another post..but in this post look at how humans in this area have used timber to sustain their existence.
The need for timber was so great in Scotland and many parts of northern England that by the 17th Century..the land was denuded of ALL native forests because it was used primarily to burn for cooking; and heating their stone homes and shelters over thousands of years. There are new plantations of forests but they are presently succumbing to sickness and vast areas are being harvested and destroyed to try and stem the spread of disease within their valuable plantations.
Right through Europe, primarily plantation forests are providing man’s need for timber. The highland areas are where the pine trees flourish predominantly and now in the early summer I have seen the pine trees in the north of Europe start to extend their dark green bristly and spiky leaves with softer lime green extensions. Further in the South of France where it perhaps didn’t get as cold the pine trees are dispersing soft red pollen spores which fills the air and blankets the car with a fine red gritty dust and also covers everything in it, when we stop to have a cuppa and leave our windows nearly down. 🙂
The forests are cool and damp, even when the day temperatures are rising to the mid 20’s as they are at the moment. It is rare to not hear water running when walking in the forest. Most of the mountains seem to have springs or water that is still seeping out from the Spring snow melt, and it gathers in the gullies and flows down into the canals and waterways of the small towns. This water is crystal clear… and sometimes even a shade of crisp aqua blue. Max loves stopping and seeing if he can see the first trout which usually lie stationery above the rocks in shallow water… and when I see it I laugh and say that the trout thinks we can’t see it. Hahaaa
From what I have observed the timber is mostly harvested using the individual selection and thinning method, rather than just broad mass harvesting which leaves large areas denuded. Perhaps they are still doing selective clearing to allow space for the larger trees to continue growing…and then there will be a mass clearing in preparation for a whole new planting, as younger seedlings can’t be planted with mature trees because there isn’t enough sunlight.
The wood harvested is carried by both small and large trucks..sometimes precipitously loaded and driven quite precariously through the windy roads of the mountains. (Have a look at one of the pictures of the truck leaning over as it winds along a mountain road. )
There are many small towns which seem to survive on their sawmill and there are large saws and yards filled with either logs ready of milling or dressed timber ready for using in contraction of homes. There is quite a stockpile in some of the towns which may be indicative of the economic downturn, but because the mills are still operating, there is still some economic development and construction happening . Poles like sharpened pencils lay ready for use … I don’t exactly know what for though.
Timber is stacked in many different ways in each town, depending upon the ‘boss’ of the mill and how he feels the timber should be stacked. That is the same for the firewood which must be dried in stacks for two years before it can be used. The timber here is more porus and unlike the eucalyptus at home which can be burned relatively ‘green’, all the firewood here must be dried before use – hence the large stacks in each home especially in the rural areas. The firewood is not predominantly used just for heating, although that is a secondary consequence. It is generally used for cooking; where ovens are run the whole day and are ‘wet-backed’ which means that water is heated at the same time for showering … and this hot water is also used to heat the house as pipes often run underneath or through the walls to radiate heat into the rooms.
Resources are carefully used and even the sticks in the paddocks are gathered and stacked and sold as kindling to start the fires in the homes of those in local regional communities.
Trees have a different use in some parts of Spain and especially Portugal, where cork is used as the valuable resource from trees. I will write a whole post in the next week or so on the history of growing cork; and the uses for it – which we learned from our friend Victor in Portugal.
Timber is not only a valuable resource, but as I have witnessed an essential and prominent component of peoples lives right through from the north of Scotland where it was once totally depleted; to Portugal where the bark is used; and in France where forests of pine are used for construction, cooking and heating. Once again I stop and give gratitude for the tree….for which its value and importance can easily be overlooked. Witnessing the forests, mills and the importance of timber in regional areas of Europe has revived my respect for trees.
Above are photographs of denuded landscapes, forests, stack of timber, transporting timber, and wood stacked for domestic purposes. Click the image to enlarge it so you can see more clearly the individual photos.