The only good pine is a dead pine and other lumber narratives

William Faulkner’s grave had only a few empty whiskey bottles on it when we visited yesterday.  We crawled on our knees in the pouring rain to pay our respects. OK, we weren’t really on our knees and it was only misting, but still we did pay our respects to the author of the Bear.

IMG_0125“He had listened to it for years: the long legend of corncribs rifled, of shotes and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured, of traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain, and shotgun and even rifle charges delivered at point-blank range and with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a boy—a corridor of wreckage and destruction beginning back before he was born, through which sped, not fast but rather with the ruthless and irresistible deliberation of a locomotive, the shaggy tremendous shape.”

After pondering the streams of consciousness and water flowing off us, we headed to the Oxford Square.  We saw hardly any frat boys and only a few sorority girls, but we did have delicious Cubans and dark beer at Proud Larry’s.  Last time we were here we saw a bunch of spiffy Greeks having a wedding dressed in coat and tie and bright dresses.  We sat in the shade watching them cavort and sweat in the burning sun.  They looked to the manor born.  We looked askance.

The day was cool, rainy and sunless, far different from that Delta Wedding.  But it reminded me of Eudora Welty, another inspiring Mississippi writer, I once bought a stack of her novels at a bookstore on the square in Oxford..

The Resilience Project has returned to Oxford, MS.  We parked at the old Mississippi Sustainable Agriculture Network offices in a former motel turned artist colony and walked up the street to the cemetery.  The MSAN folks, we were told, have moved to pricey digs in the suburbs.  Disappointing.  We thought they were true blue.

The head of MSAN was the only one to camp when NSAC went to Jekyll Island last January.  Now he had abandoned the perfect artist colony.  So disappointing.  But he has his reasons.  Maybe we will find him tomorrow and find out.

If he doesn’t have a good reason, we will have to quit nominating him for high offices.  Maybe that’s what he wants.  Maybe he wants to stay here in Mississippi, he doesn’t see any other ambitions as being higher.  Hope so.

Mississippi is OK, but I don’t like to be away from Arkansas for too long.  Mississippi has too many pine trees.  I know its not like the Pacific Northwest, where pine and their tannic needle shedding gymnosperms dominate and destroy most other life.  You can have rainy Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, I like the sun of Arkansas with its oaks and hickories and walnuts and sycamores.

I do have some huge pines in at the Delta outpost that I would never cut down, but smaller ones get the axe to make room for oaks.  So I can’t say I’m sad that the county bulldozers killed a couple of huge pines at Meadowcreek

The dozers  pushed dirt a little too high up on a couple of huge white pines.  One is already dead and the other, also hit by lightning, is dying.

But there are a good many uses for pine lumber.  So we won’t mourn their passing.  We celebrate breaking out the chain saw to get some great pine boards.

Sawing a log into boards is just the first step, though.  You can’t use it green or freshly cut.  It has to be dried out or it will warp.  I learned this about 30 years ago when I bought a bunch of green oak boards.  My idea was to create a wooden plank fence like a real horse farm.  I nailed them to the posts and got some fun curves.  Craziest fence you have ever seen.

We’re really looking forward to curing this pine lumber because pine cures quickly without a kiln.

The length of time it takes to cure pine depends on the humidity and termperature.  Dry hot air is what cures any wood.  Though not too dry or too hot.  A dry summer will cure pine more quickly than a humid one, but generally one inch pine boards (for flooring or paneling) take three to four weeks to cure between May and September at Meadowcreek.  Really thick beams will take longer.  This summer would have been a great year to air cure any wood.  But you only know that in retrospect.

To air cure any wood, start by building a platform.  This is easy to do with a few cinder blocks and some old scrap pallets.  Set out four to six cinder blocks in a rectangle and lay the pallets for a floor.  The only other material you’ll need is some visqueen to use as a rooftop cover if rain is threatening.

Lay out the first layer of lumber so it points down the length of the rectangle, with roughly 1 inch of space between each board. Lay spacers across the top of the of the first layer of lumber. The best spacers are pieces of already-cured scrap lumber cut to match the width of the drying platform, but rows of bricks can be used as well. Set the spacer rows roughly 1 foot apart.

Stack another layer of lumber on top of the spacers, spacing it roughly 1 inch apart, just as in the first layer. Now plenty of air will circulate around the pine. Continue stacking alternating layers of spacers and lumber until you have all the lumber set up to cure.  To be safe from rain, put the visqueen on top and let it hang down a foot or so off the sides.  Be sure the visqueen is not touching the top boards so they can get air.

Check the stack occasionally. Stains or mildew signal drying too slowly.
Excessive checking means drying too fast.

A moisture meter (about $100 at woodworking suppliers) is the most
reliable means of determining moisture content. Check the wood every
few weeks.

The best time to cure pine in Arkansas is late summer or early fall  because its usually drier and less humid but still hot then.  But really any time will work as long as you have a some visqueen or other material to shelter it.

So the next house built at Meadowcreek will be pine scented.  We should be able to make all the walls pine.

How can someone who doesn’t like pine trees still like the way they smell?  For that matter do cleaners smell like pine?  Maybe pine is like freshly mown grass or the smell of the earth affter a rain.  Just a scent we all adore.

Oxford really doesn’t have that many pines.  I guess I can manage to put up with it for a few more hours.

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