Wounded Wood

Walnut Wood / Floyd County / Southwest Virginia
Back when we first moved to Goose Creek, I was chatting excitedly with a woodworking friend about my idea to grow walnuts on our land as an investment crop for our children’s future. Walnuts make exceptionally beautiful pieces of handcrafted furniture.

“I wouldn’t bother” she discouraged me. “Walnuts growing in Floyd County are often gnarled and misshappen. They can be used for some interesting small pieces, given their distorted grains, but they don’t do much as saw lumber.”

And since then, we’ve burned a good bit of walnut as firewood (culled from the edges of the wannabe-garden). A half dozen cast shadows on (and grew their roots into) where we wanted veggies to grow, and we’re burning them this winter for heat. And they have without exception have had warty-gnarly trunks with little clear grain for more than a foot or two. And my presumption now is that this might be due to genetics: our local walnuts have inherited poor wound healing genes.

You can see in this picture what I found when I unloaded the truck one day recently. I had been cutting up a walnut dropped up the valley along the old postal road that follows alongside our pasture. This tree is only about 45 years old, so the lead bullet slug I cut in half with my chain saw earlier that day couldn’t have come from Daniel Boone’s black power rifle. Shucks. I can’t say when it was shot, but long enough ago that you can see the tree has grown “scar tissue” down over the entry point; you can almost visualize the turbulence created in the layers of spring and summer wood as the bullet arked its way to a stop deep in the trunk.

And it is just this kind of swollen hump that are found so commonly on our walnuts–even those that haven’t been filled full of lead. It may be something as simple as normal limb self-pruning that leads to this unsightly wounding in our genetic population of walnuts, while others elsewhere make nice clean scars that don’t damage the quality of the beautiful purple-brown wood.

On this single-digit winter morning, I have one other observation about walnut: as firewood, it makes more light and ash than heat, and I hope not much more of it goes through the woodstove doors. My kingdom for some oak! Brrrrr! (More on tree genetics and wound healing here for the one person out of a thousand who would care to know.)

HELP! Has my sidebar disappeared in MSIE? Just checked it from work and it’s gone! If it is missing, has it been missing for days? Anybody noticed? – FF

4 PM Tuesday: Home now, and MSIE from here shows the sidebar. AND the Google Ads are more relevant in MSIE than in FireFox, which among others at this minute shows PASCO COUNTY–Florida? Common Google. RELEVANT! Surely you can do better!

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Yes! Fred the sidebar is missing in MSIE. I might have noticed it before but now I have Firefox set up as my default browser.

  2. Hey Fred: I noticed that the sidebar was missing yesterday (I use MSIE). I think that it’s at the bottom of the page.

  3. yep – bottom of page – and a couple of other weblogs that I visit in MSIE – doesn’t happen in Firefox – must be Microsoft’s new updates did that.

  4. Alex Shigo is one of my heros. I was sad to learn last week that he died in October. He would have had much to say about the plight of your walnuts. As Alex would say, “Touch trees.”

  5. your sidebar has been at the bottom of the page for a long time…i thought it was supposed to be that way…. i have to scroll way down to see it.

  6. How is your chainsaw after that incident?

    Everything looks fine on my laptop using Firefox in an OS X environment.

  7. Several years ago I was cutting a downed tree to length and cut right through a sandstone rock. It was several inches from the closest part of the bark. I’ve often wondered how that happened.


  8. Lucky it wasn’t a quartz rock!
    Bought some 1×6 t&g out of a mill near Lexington. Have a lead slug in our floor now. Takes a fine polish, softer than the wood.