An old tree in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest seemed destined to be turned into firewood when the U.S. Forest Service determined it needed to be toppled before it came crashing down on a nearby campground. Bob Guenther had other plans for the Douglas fir, which started growing all the way back in 1720.
“We decided we would work to try to educate youngsters, and we couldn't think of a better way to do it than to be able to illustrate the growth rings on a tree and correlate that with history,” Guenther said.
“We” is Guenther and his longtime friend Dennis Larson, who has a sawmill on his Winlock property. Collaborating with the Forest Service, they were cleared to take a section of the tree. They had a vision to cut cross-sections of the tree — known as cookies — and put them on display in schools throughout Lewis County, using them as a natural timeline for students in the area.
From the fir that once towered nearly 300 feet over the forest floor, they cut a 20-foot section and hauled it back to Larson’s place. On Wednesday, Larson began cutting the log into “cookies,” hoping to make 30 in all. Larson said he’s made a similar display for a science class in Napavine.
“Bob saw it and said, ‘I want one for every school in Lewis County,’” he said. “I said good luck with that.”
Of course, Larson found himself dragged into the project, and he and Guenther are preparing to get the cutouts ready for display. Guenther got Hampton Lumber to donate metal bands to put around the cookies, to prevent them from splitting as they dry out. They’ll let them dry for about six months, then sand and varnish them.
In the meantime, Guenther is using more lumber from the tree to create brackets to display the cutouts. They’ll be put on wheels, so they can be moved from classroom to classroom. The pair intends to get a dendrochronologist to look at the growth rings, so they can be marked with labels that note events that happened in the corresponding year.
“We’ll put the history of each ring on the tree,” Guenther said.
The section the cutouts came from was about 40 to 60 feet up the tree, so it’s not quite as wide or old as the base. Still, Guenther said he believes it has about 240 growth rings — nearly dating back to the Declaration of Independence.
All told, it will probably take until next school year before they’re ready for display. Larson said he hopes — after all the work to make them — that the displays will be appreciated by the students.
“It’s a long process. It’s probably going to be close to a year before they’re ready to go,” he said. “Hopefully maybe a couple of them will say, ‘Hey, that’s cool.’”
Guenther credited the Forest Service and Pinchot Partners — the nonprofit on whose board he serves — for supporting the project. In addition, Randle Woods offered their equipment to get the tree out of the woods and loaded onto a truck, which made the project much easier.
“I had enough rigging to sink a battleship, because we were going to take it out by hand,” Guenther laughed.
As Guenther and some volunteers worked to remove the fallen log, he told his grandson that he could one day bring his own grandkids to see the tree’s history at a Lewis County school.
“I hope that we can educate kids for the next 100 years off of that log,” he said.