There are books I come across from time to time that become rereads you keep because they add an enriching warmth to your life and unquestionably they become just yours. Aldren Watson’s book, Hand tools: Their ways and their workings, is a good example, and then there are encyclopaedic manuals too, like R A Salaman’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools. Not a reading book so much as one of the most wonderful woodworking reference books ever pulled together.
Well, here are two books for Christmas holiday reading and then on into the new year too. If you are like me you will want these in your library of woodworking books, no matter where you live. The New Sylva renews the necessity for a vibrant resurgence in our present age to parallel the work of former generations even digging most deeply into the past work accomplished by sylvaculturalists and diarists recording the details of nature in their age. A book written in 1664 by John Evelyn and published by the Royal Society in 1664 was the world’s first ever comprehensive study of trees to be published. Silvologist, Gabriel Hemery and artist Sarah Simblet coauthored (if that’s the right word) a new work as The New Sylva to bridge the gap of 350 years with their carful words and art and the result is just stunning. As I read through the pages over the last two months I was fascinated by several elements I found of great value. I enjoyed the sympathetic interactions between the authors, the woodlands and forests and their describing the legacy left in the trees of our present age. They believe in a world leading to responsible, well-managed woodland through ever-improving raised awareness and stewardship. This is future change and provision.
As I read through the opening pages, a hundred or so, the evidence of skilled and planned management for woodlands through intentional reforestation and the economy of life dependency becomes evermore understandable as the work plumbs the depths of history to show our present age that change is for todays generations whether they be woodland owners, school children or we users of woodlands.
As a lifelong woodworker I found the historical references fascinating and then too the accent on developing a respect toward a sustaining culture whereby future generations will know that this generation cared for them and the woodlands and forests they would yet come to know and live in and live with and live by. the symbiosis might at one time have been lost had there not been a new and emerging culture influencing change for the better in woodland management.
A key contribution beyond the text are the 200 illustrations. I have examined cones, leaves and bark, the shapes of trees and the colours inside buds and flowers throughout my life. The giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant sequoia, giant redwood, Sierra redwood, Sierran redwood, or Wellingtonia) I have sheltered under and sat in and climbed on are detailed in the book and when I saw how Sarah Simblet captured the essence in every detail through her artwork I wondered if the beautiful illustration might one day be available as a limited edition print. Every illustration would make a wonderful notelet and when I looked at the detail captured in her work I was in awe of the limits she set herself in using only mono-colour. Not a thing was lost in this decision as she sympathetically presented the essence of every tree by capturing intimate accuracy that only comes from someone who cares about the subject. I think that if you really care about trees, no matter the continent, you will love reading and owning this book. It’s not lightweight in any way and a hardbound of this size is hard to snuggle down with, but it’s wonderful for a library or a coffee table and it is one a family should enjoy as they learn about the real value trees play in sustaining life.
The Artisan of Ipswich by Robert Tarule
Some books should not be lost and I first read this book when it came out ten years ago and really enjoyed the way the author investigated his findings about an English immigrant furniture-making joiner. It may no longer be on current book lists but books like this don’t date and you should buy it new or secondhand to read and reread as you like. The book takes you back to the late1600s and to the USA forests and woodlands in a different way then The New Sylva book in that the author traces the history of a crafting artisan furniture maker, Thomas Dennis, who emigrated from England to settle in Ipswich, Massachusetts and earned his living there as a family man working with his hands. He references the discovery of the artisan in records kept in city hall and court records and ties them to a chest discovered as a signature piece made by the artisan of the Ipswich village. He dismantles the past and the path of Thomas Dennis who made it and represents it as a historic how-to for our world to understand the hardships of the time in settling the colonies of the USA, which is the Ipswich in the book and not the Ipswich of England.
Do the book justice and snuggle down with it on the couch in front of a log or coal fire and a mug of cocoa. It will help you to disengage from work in a techie world for a few days and then disentangle your mind to play in the snow and build that snowman you should have built 50 years ago but didn’t find the time for. Enjoy!