Saturday, March 3, 2012

Strong Evidence That Trees Do Have a Higher Intelligence

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is an international not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1993 by environmental groups such as Greenpeace, The Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund. Its mandate is to protect the world's forests through globally recognized principles of responsible forest stewardship.

Between 2000 and 2004 I served on the board of FSC Canada in a variety of roles, including Treasurer and Chair. In that time I was privileged to meet people with a divergent range of perspectives that were all connected, in one form or another, to trees and forests.

The people I met ranged from industry executives to environmentalists; government bureaucrats to members of NGOs (non-governmental organizations); social activists, trade unionists, hunters, trappers, biologists, loggers, scientists, and a variety of indigenous peoples who all relied on the forest to some degree for their culture, livelihood and spirituality.

Because FSC is regarded globally as the most comprehensive forum where all of these diverse voices can be heard, it makes sense that a tremendous amount of unique information relating to trees and forests can be found there.

During my tenure on this board I learned many fascinating things about the forest and the broader natural world, none the least of which was the fact that there seems to exist a form of higher intelligence within the natural world that defies any kind of scientific explanation.

Most of us already know that in the frigid coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest there is an annual event taking place that is known as the salmon run. Every year many hundreds of thousands of salt water salmon - having grown to maturity in the far reaches of the Pacific Ocean - instinctively take it upon themselves to migrate hundreds of miles to the very rivers from which they themselves originally came.

Having found the mouths of the rivers of their birth, these fish then begin a long battle upstream against raging currents of water that cascade down from the snowmelt of the surrounding mountains. While fighting this current these salmon must simultaneously dodge gauntlets of hungry bears who have come to depend on this annual protein-rich feast of fish in order to fatten up for the long winter hibernation that lies ahead.

Those salmon that succeed in overcoming the river and the bears earn themselves the right to lay and fertilise eggs on the pebble bottoms of the upstream riverbeds. Having completed their task these salmon then die and complete their cycle of life at almost the precise spot where they themselves we born several years earlier.

For many years foresters and biologists have studied this dynamic and developed theories on the possible connections between the salmon and the surrounding forest. Why, for example, were the trees closest to the river bigger and stronger than similar trees of similar age growing a mere hundred yards away?

What scientists discovered was that when a bear caught a salmon in the river, it would typically haul that salmon into the nearby line of trees. This would allow them to feast in a place that was concealed from their hungry competitors. In their haste to fatten up for the winter these bears would focus on eating the protein-rich eggs and brain matter of the fish - leaving the rest of the carcass to rot in the forest.

The simple theory that resulted was that these decaying fish became fertilizer for the nearby trees and plants. To scientifically prove and measure this theory, the scientists isolated a protein that was unique to the salmon species. This protein became identified as the N-15 protein marker.

The theory went on to speculate that by measuring the vegetation alongside salmon streams for the N-15 protein marker, it would be possible to verify not only that fish protein was feeding the trees, but also how much of that protein was making its way into the trees. And by taking core samples and measuring the amount of N-15 protein in each layer of tree rings, it would also be possible to compile a historical record of the size of salmon runs in previous years.

This type of study held considerable fascination for many people connected to the forest industry because of the unique and close interconnected relationship that exists between bears, rivers, trees and salmon in this rather complex dynamic.

The bears, for example, depend on the salmon directly as a source of food, and on the river indirectly to deliver the salmon, and the trees to provide cover. The salmon, in turn, rely on the river as a means of transport and as a place to spawn their young. The salmon also depend on large and healthy shoreline trees to provide the necessary shade to keep the river water cool, because warm water kills eggs. In addition bears help the salmon by culling weaker fish from the spawning run, thereby ensuring healthier and stronger future offspring.

The river relies on healthy trees and other ground vegetation to prevent silt from clogging its beds. The trees, in turn, were found to have a more complex and dynamic role within this larger equation.

It is obvious, for example, that the trees rely directly on the bears to deliver the fish from the river to the surrounding forests. Trees, however, are not carnivores and cannot digest meat. Therefore, scientists began to study the process that converts fish protein into tree fibre.

What they discovered was that there are tiny microbes living in the soil near the root base of trees, and these microbes break down the decaying fish carcasses into a manner that is digestible by trees. This reconstituted form of fish protein is then delivered by the microbes to nearby tree rootlets and these rootlets, it turn, make a barter transaction with the microbe of a droplet of tree sugar in exchange for the delivery of partially digested fish protein.

In this manner the tree receives the food it needs in order to thrive along the river's edge. By using the barter transaction the tree rewards the microbe with the sugar droplet the microbe needs for its own survival. The microbes, after all, can only live on tree sugars and not fish protein.

While this dynamic is fascinating in its own right, there is one key aspect of it that utterly boggles the mind. In studying the relationship between trees and microbes, the scientists decided to monitor the flow levels of sugars within tree root systems. This idea developed from the theory that the levels of tree sugar production within the tree would probably ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of partially digested salmon protein the tree would be bartering for with the soil microbes.

What scientists discovered was astounding. While the levels of tree sugars did, in fact, ebb and flow in direct proportion to the amount of salmon protein that was being transacted, the stunning discovery was that the levels of tree sugars started to rise while the salmon were still hundreds of miles out to sea. And the level of tree sugar production would also fluctuate in direct proportion to the size of the run.

What this means is that on some mysterious and completely unexplained level the trees seem to know in advance - almost telepathically - not only when the salmon are starting their spawning run, but also how many salmon are due to arrive. Clearly there is some form of higher communication, or consciousness, at work that enables a tree to intuitively sense the instinctive behaviours of another life form hundreds of miles away.

Diana Beresford-Kroeger alludes to this as well in her latest book "The Global Forest" when she points out the interconnection between the great forests of the global garden and the invisible forests of the oceans. In a separate chapter Diana also talks about silent sound, and how trees communicate by infrasound.

What all this makes clear is that we, as human beings, have generally very little understanding of the true interrelationships that exist between and within all forms of life on this planet.

To paraphrase the words of Black Elk: "What we do not understand, we fear. And what we fear, we destroy." Given the collapse that is currently taking place amongst stocks of wild Pacific salmon, and the rampant deforestation that is obliterating many Northwest forests and salmon streams, it is clear that we humans are consistent on this latter point. We end up destroying what we fail to understand.

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Visit With the Hopi

One night in the late 1990s I had an incredibly vivid and powerful dream. It happened with such profound clarity that I could have sworn it was real.

In the dream I was standing on an open plain that was completely barren for as far as the eye could see. Far off in the distance was a range of mountains with low, flat peaks. I had the sense that I was standing somewhere in the desert of the American Southwest.

The ground beneath my feet was absolutely arid and dry, and I could see deep cracks and fissures running in all directions. The earth was brittle and hard, and it crumbled audibly into tiny fragments with every step I took. I could smell the dryness of the dust as it wafted lazily in the stillness of the desert air.

Standing to my right was an old Native American who seemed to be an elder of some kind. His face was weathered and deeply wrinkled, and his eyes had an expression of incredible sadness. There was a sense that he was tired and about to depart on a long journey. I had the impression that he had recently passed away.

Before leaving there was something important he had to tell me. He spoke softly and slowly in a low, deep voice with words I could not understand. The language was not English. Nor did it resemble any European language I am familiar with.

Raising his arm he gestured for me to look to the horizon. I could see silhouettes of animals in the distance, walking slowly in single file from left to right. There was a panther and a buffalo and many other species I cannot remember now. In some cases a predator walked behind prey, but all were walking calmly and deliberately in an orderly procession. There was a sense of balance to what I was being shown.

The silhouettes were all solid black, and within the heart area of each was a small ball of light. It seemed that this light within each represented their energy, or life force.

It was at this point I became aware that the animals were walking up to a great, old tree that stood alone on a very slight rise of land. Within this tree was a similar ball of light to that which was held in the animals, only this ball was much larger and much brighter. It was as if the Sun was positioned behind or inside this tree, and in some way maybe it was.

Looking back to the old man I could see he was now smiling. He seemed pleased to have been able to share something before going on his way. Before I could say a word, he turned and departed.

At this point the dream ended and I woke up.

Although it was the middle of the night the intensity of this experience jolted me fully awake. I immediately ran downstairs to turn on my computer. Surfing the Internet I looked up familiar names such as Black Elk, Geronimo and Sitting Bull. I was convinced that if I could find a photo I would recognise the man from my dream. But the effort was to no avail, because I never did find an image of anyone who resembled the one who spoke to me.

Nevertheless the experience stuck with me, so much so that several years later I commissioned wildlife artist Donna Bisschop to capture my memory of it to canvas.

What does the dream and this painting have to do with furniture making?

Absolutely nothing, but here's where the story gets interesting.

While channel surfing one night in December 2006 I came across the popular television program 'The Colbert Report' . I tuned in near the end of Stephen Colbert's interview with author Daniel Pinchbeck; with the two of them discussing Daniel's then-latest book "2012 - The Return of Quetzalcoatl".

Several weeks later I was discussing the book with friend, and we ended up talking a great deal about a Native American tribe called the Hopi. The Hopi live in the remote mesas of northern Arizona, and Pinchbeck mentioned them in some detail near the end of his book. Out of this discussion came the suggestion that since I was so interested in the Hopi maybe I should travel to Arizona to go see them.

I laughed and said that this was not going to happen, because I could not foresee any reason for ever having to travel to Arizona.

Then something strange happened. On the very next day my phone rings and it's Lee Weitzman calling from Chicago. Lee had a client in Tucson with a problem they needed help with on a custom dining table we had made a few years earlier. (Apparently a housekeeper had tried to clean the table with abrasive cleanser, and now someone was needed to explain to a local cabinet shop the process of repairing the finish).

As much as I tried to explain the repair process over the phone the client was adamant that I travel to Arizona to deal with the matter personally. They had no qualms about paying for my time and travel expenses. As it turned out, for as much as I tried to talk my way out of making the trip, it soon became clear that I would have little choice but to go.

It was also now apparent that since I was travelling to Arizona anyway (thanks to a client willing to pay for the bulk of my travel expenses), there would be little in the way of added cost to extend my trip a few days for a personal side trip. That said, I decided to follow an intuitive hunch down the proverbial rabbit hole by planning a visit to the Hopi reservation as part of this journey.

I flew to Arizona and managed to resolve business matters by the morning of February 9th. I then made my way to Winslow, Arizona where I then took a 4-wheel-drive north into the desert. After first travelling through the Navajo reservation I ended up on the Hopi reservation by late afternoon.

After driving around and orienting myself with the area I eventually found myself in one of the most traditional of Hopi villages. In so doing I also ended up having a chance meeting with the eldest elder of the Hopi - a revered individual by the name of Grandfather Martin Gashweseoma.

Out of respect for Grandfather Martin and the Hopi I will not give much detail on what happened during my visit. I was asked not to take any photographs or make any sketches in and around the village, and I respected those requests. The only photographs I took were outside the village, and even those were taken with permission.

It is my understanding that many Hopi feel that their way of life has been exploited and misrepresented by non-Hopi such as myself - and not without reason. Therefore, I prefer to err on the side of caution and will share my story based on my own personal experience with what unfolded.

It was late in the afternoon of February 9th when I first met Grandfather Martin. He was busy gathering coal, and after a brief discussion he offered to let me stay the night in his home. I thanked him for the offer, but not wanting to impose on his generosity I said I'd find a place off reservation and return the next day.

"Be back before sunrise" he said.

That night I could barely sleep. I had just met a man considered by many to be the Native American equivalent to the Dalai Lama, and he had just welcomed me into his village. Not wanting to be late, or delayed for any reason, I checked out of my room by 3:00 a.m. and drove back to the reservation, where I parked on the side of the road outside the village to wait for the dawn.

Because this area is so remote, and there is absolutely no electricity or street lights (or streets for that matter) within the village itself, the darkness at night is more than palpable. It was literally and figuratively pitch black.

At some point a very faint glow of light began to appear on the distant horizon, and I knew that dawn was approaching. Not knowing the exact time of sunrise, and not wanting to be late, I set out on foot to make my way into the village. I used my memory of curves and laneways from the previous day to guide me to the main plaza - alongside of which Grandfather Martin's home was located.

It felt strange to be a white man walking gingerly through the darkness of a Hopi village. On some level I felt like an intruder. As I got within yards of Grandfather Martin's door I heard growls and something suddenly rushing at me out of the darkness. I didn't know what it was or where it was coming from until it was right upon me.

Rez dogs - two of them. At first I thought they were attacking me, but thankfully they didn't. I was then concerned that they'd start barking and waking the whole village, so to keep them quiet I started rubbing and petting the sides of their necks. Thankfully that worked because they loved the attention - so much so that they ended up coiling themselves so tightly around my legs that now I couldn't walk anywhere.

So there I stood in the pre-dawn darkness - about 10 feet from Grandfather Martin's door - hunched over and scratching the necks of 2 feral dogs who were determined to keep me standing exactly where I was. I didn't dare stop rubbing their necks either, because at least what I was doing was keeping them quiet.

There was no light or noise coming from inside the home, so I also had no idea how much longer I'd have to wait.

After a long while the door opened, and Grandfather Martin peered outside. Seeing me there he beckoned for me to come inside. The dogs, it turned out, were his and he seemed pleased that they liked me.

What I soon discovered was that I had unexpectedly shown up on one of the most sacred days on the Hopi calendar. Known as Powamuya, this is a time of purification that culminates with a ceremony known as the bean dance. To describe it in simple terms: this celebration marks the return of the katsinam, who are the benevolent spirit beings who live among the Hopi for about a six month period each year.

In broader terms, and to use a sports analogy, it was as if I had shown up at a football stadium and discovered, quite by chance, that the Super Bowl was being played there that day. The fact that I was welcomed and invited into this elder's home was the equivalent of receiving sideline passes to the 50 yard line.

The experience was magical beyond comprehension. Grandfather Martin's home faces a main plaza, and as the day unfolded the bulk of the activity going on in the village was happening right out front. Inside the home was like a veritable Grand Central Station, with an ongoing feast and an endless stream of family, friends and other villagers constantly coming and going.

By far the most pleasantly haunting and treasured memories of that experience were the sights and sounds of the costumed Kachina dancers as they emerged from the underground kivas to slowly dance and weave their way down the dirt lane ways and into the central plaza. It gave me chills of awe to bear witness to ceremony that was probably the same as it has been for thousands of years.

I still get goose bumps every time I recall the memory.

But what impressed me and influenced me the most were the Hopi people themselves. As a stranger and a white man I had shown up unannounced in their village on one of their most sacred of days. Instead of being turned away I was treated as a welcomed guest. Although the material means of the Hopi were few, what little was there was shared generously.

The laughter and sense of humour amongst the Hopi was also a joy to behold, even though some of the loudest of laughs came at my own expense over what a Kachina dancer had done to my leg earlier in the day.

Given how busy things were with ceremonies etc. I had few opportunities to talk one on one with Grandfather Martin, although he did ask me to sit with him on a few occasions while dances were taking place.

Although this is impossible to prove and difficult to articulate I believe that people such as Grandfather Martin and other indigenous peoples such as the traditional Hopi are some of the last remaining people on this planet who retain a true sense of spiritual connectedness to the planet and the natural world.

Perhaps the best way to explain the magic surrounding my experience there is to show you the following photo. It was taken (with permission) near the village of Kykotsmovi. When you compare it to the painting of the dream (shown earlier in this post) you'll likely notice some rather remarkable similarities.

What does it mean? An interpretation is anybody's guess, but it's quite possible that some would call this little more than a coincidence. However, as coincidences go I'd say this is a pretty good one.

In the grand scheme of things I believe that at some point in each of our respective lives we all get confronted with an unusual circumstances, or "coincidences", to remind us that the world is not always as it seems.

On these occasions it is often prudent to trust our intuition rather than blindly heeding what commonly accepted "conventional wisdom" tells us to do.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Delta Rose Console

J. Wade Beam is one of America's most iconic furniture designers.

After several years working at the legendary Dunbar Furniture Company of Berne, Indiana Wade became Design Director and VP of Sales and Marketing at Brueton Industries Inc. of New York.

It was during this time we worked with Wade to develop many new products for the Brueton collection, including the Virginian Credenza show here.

The elliptical shape of the plywood bend on the Virginian was extremely difficult to achieve, but our success with the final result made this credenza a favorite of all the custom furniture pieces we have ever made.

Following completion of his tenure at Brueton in the mid 1990s, Wade began to dabble with other experimental designs. One of them was a wall hung console he called the Delta Rose.

Measuring 84" long x 18" deep x 36" high this console was extremely angular in form, with high polished Ribbon Sapele ends flanking a triangular gold leaf center wedge.

Although called the Delta Rose, this console became unofficially known as the "Klingon Warship" in our shop. (Star Trek fans might see the humour here).

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd.

Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. turns 45-years-old today.

The company was founded on January 13, 1967 by my parents Ann and Johan Wiggers. Just like today that day also happened to be a Friday the 13th.

Although some consider Friday the 13th to be unlucky, I guess it doesn't work that way for everyone.

When I was very small I spent a great deal of time playing on my father's workbench, while he was still working out of the basement of his home.

The first actual workshop wasn't built until 1968. (Notice the Ford Econoline van parked on the side. Years later that was the first vehicle I learned to drive, complete with standard transmission and three-on-the-tree.)

This is the shop today. It is now approx. 12,000 sq. ft. in size, but still has a number of original tools and machines still being used each day.

Although he's now retired my father keeps himself active which, in turn, keeps him young.

This coming year will also mark my 31st year as a full time furniture maker, and I am amazed how quickly the time has flown. (Such a cliche to say too, I know).

My son Kevin is now working with me as well.

Although he's only 21-years-old he's already far more skilled and experienced than I was at the same age. What parent wouldn't be happy to admit that?

It's great having my father around to teach Kevin things like wood turning and marquetry. Kevin is patient and shows great respect listening to his grandfather.

As an interesting historical footnote it was also 45 years ago today that Time Magazine published the following cover:

Times have certainly changed, because in recent years China has transitioned away from being an agrarian Communist society to become what is now a manufacturing juggernaut - becoming so wealthy in the process that it is now the holder of millions of jobs and trillions of dollars formerly held in the West.

This certainly wasn't the playing field that confronted my father and grandfather during their respective eras. Then again, they had Great Depressions and World Wars to deal with. Regardless, I remain hopeful that we as a small business can continue to find ways to navigate forward during these uncertain times.

In the meantime Happy Birthday, Wiggers Custom Furniture Ltd. !

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Custom Furniture Sample Sale - Dallas, Texas

Currently we have 2 floor samples on display at the Allan Knight showroom in Dallas, Texas.

We are interested in finding good homes for both of them.

The first piece is a Florence Buffet which measures 86-3/8" long x 19" deep x 35-3/4" high. The cabinet exterior is finished in a combination of Tobacco Mahogany and Cerused Natural Walnut satin finish.

There are 3 touch latch doors crafted of Tobacco Mahogany with recessed insets of Cerused Natural Walnut. Three natural maple compartments are located behind each door, with 1 adjustable shelf set into each compartment. There is also 1 lined and 1 lined/divided drawer located inside.

The List price of the Florence Buffet as shown is $12,165.00

The Alina Table measures 30" dia. x 30" high and has a Dark Adobe Oak Top with beavertooth textured finish, set on 3 Cerused Limed Oak legs. The lower level is a non-textured Dark Adobe Oak fixes shelf.

The List price of the Alina Table as shown is $4965.00

Both pieces were designed by Mitchell Pickard of Dallas, Texas and are currently on display at:

Allan Knight and Associates
150 Turtle Creek Boulevard
Suite 101
Dallas, Texas 75207

214-741-2238 (f)

Contact: David Peterman

Please contact David for more information as well as available discounts.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Custom Chess Table

A few months ago we received a request to make a Bow Tie Pedestal Table in a custom size of 19-5/8" long x 19-5/8" deep x 20" high.

The purpose of this table was to provide an elevated playing surface for a stone chess board the client already had.

The resulting table was crafted from a bundle of quarter cut figured Walnut veneer.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Custom End Table for a Ski Lodge

A few months ago an interior designer from Utah called expressing interest in Kevin's Portage Cocktail Table design.

The designer wanted to know if the table could be resized as an End Table measuring 24" x 24" x 24" high. In addition, she said that the satin black plinth and stainless steel offsets would need to be changed to an antique bronze finish, in order to meld with other pieces in the existing decor of a mountain ski lodge.

After finalizing the details with drawings for approval we began work on the table. The timeline was short, since the table had to be delivered in time for a large party taking place just before Christmas.

The antique bronze offsets and plinth were fabricated from a heavy gauge of cold rolled steel, and sent to a nearly plating shop for finishing.

The main body of the table was crafted from a spectacular bundle of reclaimed quartered Walnut veneer, that had a slight fiddleback pattern to the grain.

Drilling the holes for the offsets had to wait until the metal components arrived, in order to ensure a tight custom fit.

This image shows a detail of the top corner of the table, highlighting one of the antique bronze insets as well as the beaded corner inlay.

The above image shows the completed table. A last minute revision was made to use extra heavy 5/8" (16 mm) glass for the top, to complement the masculine proportions of the design.

After final inspection the table was wrapped and crated for shipping. Because of its relatively small size it was possible to ship the package in an economical manner via ground courier to the final destination.

The table arrived just in time for the party, and by all accounts it was well received.