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Enduring Red Cedar

Aug 26, 2009

Since buying our little house in the woods 13 years ago, I have cut down hundreds of cedar trees for various reasons. First and foremost, a glut of cedars was interfering with our primary forest-management objective – providing quality wildlife while maximizing forest health. Stunted, scraggly cedars were competing with northern red oak, white oak, hickory, walnut, persimmon and ash trees for water, nutrients and sunlight. That reduced tree vigor and nut and seed production. I left all the cedars with trunks more than a foot in diameter. The rest got acquainted with my friend Mr. Poulan.

You can only build so many brush piles before you run out of space, so I discovered a wide variety of uses for small-diameter cedar logs.

  • Notched like Lincoln Logs, the larger poles made excellent and durable walls for my raised-bed vegetable garden. (No toxic chemicals to leach into the soil, either!)
  • We built a shady, rustic wisteria arbor using 10-foot logs for uprights.
  • Logs 4 or 5 inches in diameter made excellent posts for bird feeders. (I only wish I had thought to leave a few limbs sticking out for perches.)
  • By cutting slightly smaller logs into 12-inch posts and burying half their length shoulder-to-shoulder, I made attractive edging for flower gardens.
  • We stacked long, thin poles like split rails for fences around the yard. They tend to roll off each other, so we drove short pieces of rebar into the ground where the logs crisscross to stabilize them.
  • Short lengths split easily into sticks that make ideal fireplace and campfire kindling.

The last big ice storm forced me to take a chainsaw to a cedar tree I actually liked. It was straight and strong, perhaps 45 feet tall, without live branches within 30 feet of the ground. The weight of the ice snapped off the top, removing every bit of green. All that was left was a beautiful, gradually tapered spar 50 inches in circumference near the ground.

I was darned if I’d let that lovely stem go to waste, so I cut it into 5- to 6-foot sections and took it to sawmill. They cut 4-inch planks out of the larger logs. Each of the smaller sections yielded two half-rounds 5 or 6 inches thick. The beautiful, purplish-red planks made our garage smell like the forest primeval while they cured. Then I fashioned them into benches, using sections from the upper trunk for legs. Simple and sturdy, they are as attractive as they are functional.

I mourn the loss of The Good Cedar. However, in its new incarnation it will provide decades of enjoyment for friends and family who perch on its enduring planks while fishing, watching wildlife or contemplating nature’s cycles of death and renewal.

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