The Gifts of the Tree
By “Awake!” correspondent in Morocco
WHAT do Noah’s ark, a clarinet, Copernicus’ globe, and the magazine you are reading have in common? They all come from a common source: trees. There are few spheres of human activity in which trees have not played, or are still not playing, a role. Whether standing in the forest or cut down and harvested, the tree gives many gifts to the world of living creatures, especially man.
The Living Tree
In the forest, the tree is beautiful and majestic. Who can help but be impressed by the gently moving silver leaves of the birch, or marvel at the wondrously beautiful autumn leaves of the North American maple? Who does not enjoy filling his lungs with clean forest air, after living in some stale, polluted city? Trees also provide lodging for a large number of birds, rodents, and other wildlife. Did you know that at nightfall one tree may play host to several thousand birds? Here in Morocco, some trees even play host to goats, who climb the argan trees and greedily eat their leaves.
From the living tree, man extracts cork, latex, syrup, resin, turpentine, tannin, and dyes. Rubber, insulation, confections, soap, varnish, paint, perfume, balm, cosmetics, medicines, and even herbal teas are other gifts of the living tree to mankind.
Trees play another important role. From the atmosphere, they draw carbon dioxide (harmful to man) into their leaves, retain the carbon, and release life-sustaining oxygen. Thus they help to keep the atmosphere breathable for animals and man. Trees also prevent soil erosion by retaining water in the soil and hindering runoff. Since trees hold a considerable amount of water, forests are less affected by droughts. Moreover, trees share their humidity with more fragile plants. Small vegetable gardens thrive in the fertile area created by large trees in semidesert regions such as southern Algeria.
The Harvested Tree
When the day comes for a tree to be harvested—that is, to be felled and its wood used—it may be exploited in one of three ways: for fuel (either as firewood, as charcoal, or as methanol); for paper pulp—perhaps the main use of wood; for building material (either in its natural state or as plywood or pressed wood). An excellent insulator, wood is an invaluable building material in North America and Scandinavia, where the winters are harsh. There, many homes are built entirely of wood, even if this fact is disguised by stone or brick facing.
If the right kind of tree is cut down at the right time and used under favorable conditions, wood may prove to be of exceptional longevity. Some 20 years ago, while work was being done in the port of La Pallice, France, 2,000-year-old wooden piling was discovered. Some types of wood are very durable, such as cedar, which formed the interior walls of Solomon’s temple, and acacia, which was used to make the ark of the covenant. (Exodus 25:10; 1 Kings 6:14-16) In many European cities, medieval timber houses are preserved. Although several centuries old, some of these structures have been dismantled and rebuilt in other locations, when they were in the way of modern urban growth.
Up until the last century, all ships were made of wood. Not long ago, the captain of one of the few wooden ships still in use for commercial transportation was interviewed on a French radio program. When questioned about the age of his ship, he forcefully expressed his view when he said: “When a steel ship is 25 years old, it’s nothing but a pile of junk, whereas a wooden ship is still brand new.”
Carpenters used to know how to make wood more durable. For example, naval carpenters reportedly buried the wooden parts of the ship in the port’s mud for ten years and then assembled the vessel. This treatment supposedly made the ship termite-proof and protected the wood. Also, it was learned that wood transported by flotation lasted longer if it stayed in the water for a long time before being dried out. Wood remaining in salt water to the point of saturation does not warp. These days, people are in too much of a hurry to use such traditional methods of wood preservation.
For almost a century, railroad cars were made of wood. When they were 50 years old, the carriages may have been outdated, but they were still in excellent condition. Up until the 1920’s, wood was widely used in the automobile industry, both in the body and in the interior. Today, many automobile enthusiasts look back nostalgically to the time when craftsmen took pride in doing good work. How many modern cars could be used for 20 years or more and then be exhibited in flawless condition as museum pieces?
Some types of wood, such as oak, are twice as strong as an equal mass of soft steel and aluminum. This explains why wood was widely utilized in aviation in the past. Resinous wood also has many uses in the mechanical and electrical fields.
There is one field in which wood is the champion: furniture. Modernistic decorators have introduced other materials such as chromed steel, glass, and plastic. But still, nothing rivals natural wood in giving a feeling of warmth to a room. Perhaps that is why Formica, one of the more successful substitutes for wood veneer, is often made to imitate the appearance of wood.
Wood even affects our taste buds. When Julius Caesar and his legions invaded Gaul (modern-day France), they discovered very good wine. The reason was that, unlike other Mediterranean peoples, the Gauls stored their wine in wooden casks. Wooden barrels transform acrid-tasting alcohol, fresh from the distillery, into an excellent beverage. Alcohol from wine, aged in wooden barrels, loses its unwanted acetone and ether and absorbs tannin.
In the field of music, the tonal qualities of wood are incomparable. A strict choice of type and quality of wood is vital in the manufacture of a high-quality musical instrument. However, when used in musical instruments, wood will not tolerate mistreatment. Assembly-line methods were attempted in violin making, but results were poor. Nothing can replace the craftsman’s love and experience in producing an instrument with fine tonal quality.
Wood has been used for just about everything. Coaches have been made with it, and streets have been paved with it. The wooden rod has been used to administer discipline, and the wooden baton has served to conduct orchestras. Wooden water conduits have been built, and wood has even been used to make clocks—bearings and pivots included. The Mona Lisa, probably the most famous painting in the world, was painted on a panel of wood. The first stethoscope, made by Dr. René Laënnec, was also made of wood.
A Final Service
Finally, when the wooden furniture, instruments, or other things have worn out and are burned, wood can still serve us. The ashes of burned wood, rich in potassium, are used in soap and as fertilizer. But what about the soot in the wood smoke? Is not that a useless nuisance? Not at all! Even this last residue of wood is an excellent fertilizer that destroys prairie moss.
Thus, both in the forest and when harvested, the tree bestows many gifts on mankind. True, man has also used wood to make warships and weapons for killing. Today, however, wooden weapons are largely out of date. This is appropriate! It is far better that the majestic tree should serve man rather than help destroy him. What a blessing Jehovah conferred when he created the tree! As the psalmist sang out (possibly to the accompaniment of music played on a wooden stringed instrument): “You fruit trees and all you cedars, . . . praise the name of Jehovah.”—Psalm 148:9, 13.