Carpenters in Mythology

A wise person once said that the pen is mightier than the sword. But where does the hammer and saw lie in this argument, exactly? Who are the best known carpenters in mythology?

Fables of carpentry and woodwork stretch back to the dawn of time around the world. Not all great myths are found in the rear vision mirror, mind you. Some, such as The Carpenter from Tales by Trees, are continuing this time-honoured tradition in the current age, carving out a place in history. Take a moment to get to know some of mankind’s best-known mythical figures below, and decide for yourself whether the virtues of woodsmiths exceed that of wordsmiths.

Lu Ban

From: China

Handy with: Innovative carpentry

What’s the story?

The Chinese patron saint of carpentry, Lu Ban was a handyman-cum-philosopher whose inventions included the cloud ladder and grappling hooks and ram. Deified after his passing, myth has it that he was conceived as a celestial being, at which time a huge flock of cranes spiralled above his home and filled his room with a special fragrance.

The theme of birds would appear prominently later in his mythical life, when he invented a kite prototype. Unfortunately when his father tried his hand at flying this wooden bird, it landed in Wuhai, whose residents were somewhat unimpressed – so much so, in fact, that they assumed he was the devil and killed him. Unsurprisingly,

Lu Ban was less than pleased. Exacting revenge by building a wooden immortal, he used it to facilitate a devastating drought.

Epeius
From: Ancient Greece

Handy with: Inventing the Trojan horse

What’s the story? While Daedalus may have won kudos for knocking together the wooden cow that would then conceive the part-man, part-bull Minotaur, his contemporary Epeius arguably had a bigger impact.

A master carpenter and boxer, Epeius was called upon to construct a huge hollow wooden horse during the Trojan War. Three days of intense labour later and the horse was ready to be filled with 30 fully armoured soldiers and wheeled into the city of Troy in a masterful moment of stealth. The resultant destruction of the city became stuff of legend. Centuries after the surprise slaughter, ‘Trojan horse’ would become a computing term to describe a bug inserted into a program or system that activates after a certain time or number of operations.

Väinämöinen

From: Finland

Handy with: Building a love boat

What’s the story? The inspiration for Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Väinämöinen is the central character of the Finnish epic Kalevala. Taking his name from the word meaning stream pool in Finnish, Väinämöinen used his carpentry skills to build a boat to aid his quest for a bride.

Nonetheless, his ability to carry a song and spin a tale were not enough to ensure wedded bliss, with the Maiden of the North proving particularly immune to his charms. Cue: much singing, healing of people and playing of the Finnish national instrument the kantele (fashioned from the jawbone of a pike) instead.

Mangar-kunjer-kunja

From: Aboriginal Australia
Handy with: Creating mankind

What’s the story? Back in the day, before humans came to be the collective race hunched stone-faced over their smartphones, we were all fused together in a wooden lump.

Aboriginal myth, known as the Dreamtime, believes that lizard-god Mangar-kunjer-kunja separated the first people from one another with his knife, carving out individual ears, mouths and noses. Not only that but he then gifted the human race with a range of handy items including a knife, fire, spear, shield and boomerang.

Reference James O’Sullivan, 10th November for Tales of Trees.

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A Short History of Nordic Woodworking

These days the mention of Nordic axe wielding most likely conjures up images of heavy metal bands unleashing guitar riffage at ear splitting volume. Nonetheless, the use of sharp-bladed hacking tools actually stretches back for centuries in Northern Europe. This is not surprising since the region’s abundance of pine, spruce and birch trees represents an endless source of raw materials for woodcraftsmen.

Nordic woodworking originated long before the Christianisation of Scandinavia. Old Norse literature noted that early dwellers were expert homebuilders and carpenters, first constructing simple log structures at the beginning of the Bronze Age (around 3500 BC). In light of the often brutal Arctic conditions up north this is completely understandable. What could more motivating for precise craftsmanship than the air outside measuring -25 degrees Celsius, eager to seep between any cracks presented by sloppy handiwork.

Carpentry expertise in Northern Europe improved exponentially as the Iron Age drew to a close thanks to the wider use of wood axes. As the Viking Age commenced in the late eighth century AD, this began to have a significant effect on the way of life.

Previously, the vast majority of Norse people lived on small farms, sharing a single longhouse with their animals. This cramped space was also reserved for food storage and a workshop. Unsurprisingly, as knowhow improved people began to build more complex structures, undoubtedly spurred by the discomfort endured inside the shared living environment. Homes, barns and other buildings soon began popping up around the region, and more complex household objects and farming equipment were created from wood.

The Viking Age was especially notable for the ship-building craftsmanship that emerged during this time. Serving both pragmatic and religious purposes, these impressive longships set out overseas to explore and pillage in equal measures, with the Vikings they carried often armed with battle axes appropriated from their original carpentry purpose. These ships represent perhaps the greatest technical achievement of the European dark ages. So important were they to the culture, that when chieftains eventually passed away they would be buried with their ship. Luckily, not all were confined to underground resting places, and a number are currently housed in the Viking ship museums of Oslo and Roskilde.

Local carpentry skills would continue developing throughout history, yet it was with the humble wood cabin that Nordic carpenters would next made an impact abroad. In the 1630s, when Northern European settlers first arrived in the USA, they brought with them their cabin building skills. These simple wooden structures would go on to become symbolic of the early European colonies in the United States.

Subsequent centuries would see Northern European woodcraft flourishing further on the world’s stage. The success of Danish Modern design, Finland’s Isku and even Sweden’s Ikea can each be attributed to the ingrained belief in the significance of woodwork. Mind you, the formulation of wooden concoctions up north is not a ritual merely confined to adulthood. Compulsory woodwork classes have been part of the Nordic school curriculum since last century, ensuring that talent is nurtured from an early age.

And so, next time someone makes mention of a Nordic axe, here’s hoping that the innovations carved out by the region’s carpentry traditions keep the metal gods from hogging the stage.

(The church is Borgund Stave Church located in Borgund in Southern Norway. Viking ship pictures copyright Nickolay Stanev / Shutterstock.com)

Reference James O’Sullivan, November 2015, http://www.talesbytrees.com

Loch Arkaig ignites interest for Scottish pinewood survey

In 1971, Professor Robert Bunce spearheaded a survey of 103 broadleaf and 26 pinewoods to assess the ecological health of Britain’s woodland resource. These were chosen from the total number of woods as a good representation of the native woodland left in the country. The groundbreaking methodology looked at tree and shrub layers, ground flora, bryophytes, and soils. The plots placed at each site captured a picture of the conditions of the wood at that time.

Thirty years later, a repeat survey of the broadleaf woods showed, among other things, that many woods were less used and managed. There were more mature trees with larger canopies that were shading out ground flora and reducing regeneration on the forest floor. Across the survey there was an average loss of eight plant species per 200m3 plot. Some researchers suggest this may be an unusual event; perhaps the woods were still recovering from being more open with younger, less shade-creating trees that were the result of large amounts of timber removal after World War Two.

However, the precious pinewoods, the true old-growth forests of Britain, have not yet been resurveyed in full.

Building our knowledge
It is nearing 50 years since the original Bunce survey, so this is a perfect time for a resurvey. Nature works on such long timescales and we need data from seriously long-term monitoring if we are to truly understand its inner workings. So our Loch Arkaig site in the Scottish Highlands is piloting what we hope will be the first of a full, collaborative resurvey of the 26 pinewoods involved in the original survey.

Loch Arkaig is a treasure of the Woodland Trust estate and it was a privilege for us to hold this important knowledge-gathering event with Professor Bunce as our special guest. Unlikely ever to retire from his love of investigating nature, Professor Bunce inspired attendees to take on the mantle of repeating his survey. He said “I have rarely attended a meeting where the participants were so interested and responsive to the presentations and the subsequent discussions. There was a commitment of several people to organise repeats of the 1971 survey for the sites. I hope we can follow up this meeting and bring in other managers and owners to help repeat and, if possible, enhance the 1971 survey.”

Groundbreaking methods from the past supported by new technology

We need to use and build on the excellent original survey methodology which has stood the test of time, but there has been considerable technological advancement since the 1970s. Thankfully, Simon Smart and Claire Wood, experts from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), were on hand to demonstrate what needed to be done.

Claire has been designing software for surveyors to use rather than pens and paper. Using a mobile data-capture app in the field saves a significant amount of time in terms of removing the need for post-survey data entry, while at the same time improving the quality of the data by incorporating validation checks. Data is loaded directly into a central database on submission, and photos and locations are seamlessly integrated into the field data capture procedure, all with the aim of making the job of data and information management as straightforward as possible. Thanks to Claire, many long hours will be saved on typing up handwritten notes!

What we hope to learn

Simon will be instrumental in analysing all the data collected, so we can really understand what it is telling us. He feels excited, as we do, to be on the brink of a resurvey of the pinewood sites 47 years after they were first surveyed. Native Caledonian pinewoods are a priority habitat, a unique jewel in the crown of Scotland’s natural heritage and of international importance. This makes the resurvey so important and the results so fascinating to anticipate. It’s such a long interval that full cycles of planted conifers may have come and gone. There may also be signs of climate change in the soils and vegetation.

Simon believes well-documented management will undoubtedly help unpick the evidence for causes of change for many sites. Working with dedicated land-managers gives us a really strong chance of telling a detailed story about how these precious forests have changed, but also producing clear evidence about what works and doesn’t when restoring and maintaining pinewoods. The results from the resurvey should be useful to site managers, conservation biologists and the wider public.

Protecting their future
Due to their age, ancient woods may seem constant and unmoving, yet they are vulnerable to destruction and ever changing. The more we know about the way they work and the biological changes taking place within them, the better we can nurture and protect them for the future.

In collaboration with Professor Bunce, CEH, Trees for Life and many dedicated pinewood managers and enthusiasts across Scotland, we hope to repeat this valuable survey and use the findings to help safeguard the future of Scotland’s Caledonian pinewoods.

Air Quality

A report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) shows that 90% of people on Earth live with poor or even dangerous air quality. Although air quality in the UK has improved in recent years, many UK cities continue to exceed safe limits for harmful particulates and oxides of nitrogen (NOX). The WHO recommended limit for levels of PM2.5 particles in the air is 10 micrograms/m3, but dozens of UK towns and cities are over this limit, including London (11), Liverpool, York and Nottingham (12), Salford and Scunthorpe (15) and Port Talbot (18).

There are ways to improve pollution levels, and trees have a key role to play. It is critical that we maintain existing urban trees and expand tree cover for the benefits it can bring. This requires vision from those responsible for design and planning in our towns and cities.

Living with poor air quality

In the UK around 40,000 deaths annually are linked to air pollution. Poor air quality is principally linked to heart and lung conditions, but can also be associated with other problems such as cancer. A calculation of the cost to society in terms of people who suffer from illness and premature death, and costs to health services and business, suggests this could be more than £20 billion a year.

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the world. A study in Bradford City, published in March this year, showed that around 38% of childhood asthmas were attributable to poor air quality, specifically levels of NOX, and that much of this was from traffic related pollution. Research has found that asthma rates among children aged four and five was significantly lower in areas with more street trees.

Health problems are exacerbated by high summer temperatures, an increasing occurrence as we face greater frequency of extreme weather events. Prolonged high temperatures can bring on heart or respiratory failure, particularly amongst the elderly, very young or chronically ill.

The importance of trees

Urban temperatures in summer are made worse by a lack of green space. Green space and trees in particular provide shade and reduce the ambient temperature through the cooling effect of evaporation of water from the soil and through plant leaves.

Urban trees can also remove pollutants and improve urban a air quality. Although some trees produce pollen which can affect some hayfever sufferers, the overall benefits of trees to air quality and respiratory health are overwhelmingly positive.

Planting in areas of high pollution, for instance ‘hotspots’ such as traffic junctions, will yield proportionately greater rates of pollutant removal.

Despite the evidence that air quality can be improved by careful selection and siting of trees in urban areas, there is little evidence that urban greening projects take account of the best way to achieve air quality goals. Worse still, a lack of investment in the management of urban trees or the removal of trees on grounds of health and safety is undermining tree cover in urban areas.

Design for change

There are real costs to health associated with poor air quality. It is critical that we maintain existing urban trees and expand tree cover for the benefits it can bring. This requires vision from those responsible for design and planning in our towns and cities.

We should live in green places and move around through green spaces. Instead of walking along pavements by busy roads, choking on the fumes and detritus of urban traffic, let’s make places where we can walk or cycle to school, or work, or the shops through parks and along green corridors with trees and plants – places where we can breathe.

Reference Mike Townshend, Woodland Trust.

Around the World in 80 Trees

Trees are one of humanity’s most constant and most varied companions. From India’s sacred banyan tree to the fragrant cedar of Lebanon, they offer us sanctuary and inspiration –not to mention the raw materials for everything from aspirin to maple syrup.

In Around the World in 80 Trees, Jonathan Drori uses plant science to illuminate how trees play a role in every part of human life, from the romantic to the regrettable. Stops on the trip include the lime trees of Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard, which intoxicate amorous Germans and hungry bees alike, the swankiest streets in nineteenth-century London, which were paved with Australian eucalyptus wood, and the redwood forests of California, where the secret to the trees’ soaring heights can be found in the properties of the tiniest drops of water.

Each of these strange and true tales – populated by self-mummifying monks, tree-climbing goats and ever-so-slightly radioactive nuts – is illustrated by Lucille Clerc, taking the reader on a journey that is as informative as it is beautiful.

Review

This is the best love letter to trees I have ever read. Had I written it myself, I would die happy’. Sir Tim Smit, Founder of The Eden Project

`I have loved trees all my life. It’s fascinating to learn how, across the world, they have inspired people in much the same way, and to understand the key role they play, not just in our lives, but life as a whole’. Dame Judi Dench

`This is the perfect tree book, with beautiful illustrations. A must for any tree lover, professional or amateur, who wants to learn more about 80 inspirational trees from around the world’. Tony Kirkham, Head of the Arboretum at Kew

`Full of new ideas and wonderful stories about the trees that helped shape us, I really loved this entertaining and erudite world journey’. Beccy Speight, Chief Executive, The Woodland Trust

`Around the World in 80 Trees is a celebration of the vital importance of trees to our culture, environment, diet and spiritual well-being. The combination of factual, scientific and historical information makes for a fascinating read. It is a work of art and science with charming illustrations which will delight tree lovers everywhere’. Professor Nicola Spence, the UK Government’s Chief Plant Health Officer

`In this delightful and beautifully illustrated book Jonathan provides a collection of fascinating biographies of some of the world’s most extraordinary trees. […] This is a personal narrative; Jonathan’s love for trees, and his sense of wonder at the diversity of the natural world, shines through on every page’. Richard Deverell, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

`Botanical science, culture and the history of exploration all come together in this journey around the world through many of the most important trees that influence the customs and economy of each country. I would have found it hard to make a better selection of trees that are influential and important to the culture of the many countries [in this] most engaging trip around the world’. Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS, VMH, Former Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

`Nature writing at its best, skilfully weaving science with fascinating folklore and the sheer wonder of trees’. Professor Sir Charles Godfray CBE FRS

From the Inside Flap

Trees are one of humanity’s most constant and most varied companions. From India’s sacred banyan tree to the fragrant cedar of Lebanon, they offer us sanctuary and inspiration – not to mention the raw materials for everything from aspirin to maple syrup.

In Around the World in 80 Trees, expert Jonathan Drori uses plant science to illuminate how trees play a role in every part of human life, from the romantic to the regrettable. Stops on the trip include the lime trees of Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard, which intoxicate amorous Germans and hungry bees alike, the swankiest streets in nineteenth-century London, which were paved with Australian eucalyptus wood, and the redwood forests of California, where the secret to the trees’ soaring heights can be found in the properties of the tiniest drops of water.

Each of these strange and true tales – populated by self-mummifying monks, tree-climbing goats and ever-so-slightly radioactive nuts – is illustrated by Lucille Clerc, taking the reader on a journey that is as informative as it is beautiful.

About the Author

Jonathan Drori is a Trustee of The Eden Project, an Ambassador for the WWF and was for nine years a Trustee of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Woodland Trust. He is a Fellow of the Linnean Society and the Zoological Society of London, and a Member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. He is a former Head of Commissioning for BBC Online and Executive Producer of more than fifty prime-time BBC TV series on science and technology. In 2006 he was awarded a CBE.
Lucille Clerc is an illustrator and graphic designer who works with a diverse range of international clients, from cultural institutions to textile designers, musicians and architects.

A Vision

A

Poem by Wendell Berry

If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow-growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides, fields and gardens
rich in the windows. The river will run
clear, as we will never know it,
and over it, birdsong like a canopy….
On the steeps where greed and ignorance cut down
the old forest, an old forest will stand,
its rich leaf-fall drifting on its roots.
The veins of forgotten springs will have opened.
Families will be singing in the fields.
In their voices they will hear a music
risen out of the ground….
Memory,
native to this valley, will spread over it
like a grove, and memory will grow
into legend, legend into song, song
into sacrament. The abundance of this place,
the songs of its people and its birds,
will be health and wisdom and indwelling light. This is no paradisal dream.
Its hardship is its possibility.

Photos by John Railton using an Oldfield Filter.

Trees and Karma

Question…Is there any karma in cutting down a healthy tree?

Response – There are ‘cosmic laws’ if you will.

Cutting down a tree is seen as ‘harm to the Earth’ unless one ritualises the act and balances the karma. Or if one is replenishing what one has taken or if one is ‘removing the old to make way for the new,’ (yet even this can be taken care of by nature herself.)

If there is no aligned reason for the cutting down of the tree and no ritualising, replenishing or balancing taking place then one would receive a ‘matching energy’ or ‘karmic backlash’ in their reality if they are the one responsible for making the decision to cut down the tree.

In ancient times upon your planet and in your indigenous societies cutting down a tree would be a massive decision made by a team of elders/adepts who would seek higher wisdom and spiritual advice before cutting the tree due to the karma involved.

The reason why there is ‘karma’ involved in cutting down a tree is due the fact that trees are part of the grid structure. They stand as ‘multi-dimensional beacons’ meaning they exist in multiple dimensions. They anchor Earth energies and ‘transport them’ into cosmic energy and draw down higher dimensional light energies into the Earth. They are conduits (like clear, activated, loving starseeds.)

So when you fell a tree, you remove part of the electro-magnetic grid structure. Now whilst this can ‘re-knit’ or ‘re-fuse’ itself, one needs to understand the grid structure to ensure that it is not damaged during the felling of the tree. It is a very precise job and is undertaken only in specific ways at specific times upon other planets. The harmonious flow of light energy through Earth’s grid has been damaged due to excessive cutting of trees and plundering/polluting oceans and skies.

The gridworkers are working on restructuring and repairing these grids and planting of trees is part of that. But in answer to your question, yes there is ‘karma’ unless certain balancing protocols take place.

‘The Nine’ through Magenta Pixie

"What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another." – Gandhi