There’s a special place known only by a few. It’s a place past the cornfields, through the fifty acres of peach trees and on the far side of the rebuilt dam bridge — a bridge that holds back the blue waters of Crater Lake where the finest fishing in the small town can be enjoyed.
Spanning the size of a football field, an old white clapboard building with peeling paint looks as if a stiff breeze would bring it crashing down. Originally built as a cotton warehouse, by any measure it’s an unimpressive building standing in the middle of the small Southern town.
But, as often in life, looks are deceiving. It’s not the outside of the old cotton warehouse that draws people from near and far, it’s the treasures they can find on the inside. Welcome, Dear Reader, to one of the most fascinating places south of Atlanta. Welcome to the Wood Yard.
Passing through the huge bay doors, you may wonder why such large, wide doors are needed on such an old building. As you walk cautiously down the concrete ramp into the bowels of the building, your question will soon be answered.
At the bottom of the ramp you will stop, look, and smell as The Wife and I did. There’s just no way not to. It will take a moment for your mind to process all that is on display. Covering every square foot of wall space, stacked vertically covering every inch of wall, and leaning in countless bins are exotic slices and slabs of wood from around the world. Eventually, your gaze will be interrupted by one of the friendly employees who will offer to walk you around the rare wood warehouse.
We had made the trip to possibly buy a piece of wood for a coffee table I wanted to build. After two hours, we hadn’t found the perfect slab of wood … we’d found three. Aside from the wood, we also came away with the history of it and the location where it grows.
Here are the types of woods that we found and took home with us. Try to guess which one would have really helped me in my battles with Down the Street Bully Brad while growing up back on Flamingo Street.
First up: Padauk. The deep orange/red wood is known for its durability and uncommon strength. It grows in rain forests in India, the South Pacific, and West Africa. When you have two very creative granddaughters and one crafty Big Papa, the strength and durability of the wood means only one thing: we need to make it into an arts and craft table! A ten-foot slab we saw would be perfect for us.
Second: Bubinga. Also known as “African Rosewood,” the Bubinga tree, found in Cameroon and the Ivory Coast of Africa, is known for its waterfall grain and pinkish red to medium brown color. A towering tree can grow to over 100 feet tall with a ten-foot diameter and weigh over 56 tons! Now that’s a lot of wood.
A huge slab of Bubinga was used to make the conference table at Ft. Benning. If it’s good enough for the Army, it’s good enough for us. A very small piece of that Bubinga slab was left over; soon it will be made into our new round kitchen table.
And finally: Osage Orange, first only native to Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, can now be found during the last century across the continental United States. A truly remarkable wood, Osage is twice as strong and thirty percent heaver than oak!
With its golden yellow color that turns slowly to a russet brown, the heartwood is in great demand but in short supply. During the 19th century, due to its high density and strength, the wood was greatly sought after for use as archery bows, fence posts, axles, and wheel rims of wagons.
Osage Orange wood gets its name from two different sources: the wrinkled, grapefruit-sized (but inedible by humans) fruit grown on the tree and the Osage Indians.
Native Americans used hot water to extract the yellow coloring from the roots of the Osage tree to make coloring for khaki clothing used in World War I. The Osage Indians also carved the almost unbreakable wood to make their warrior clubs. If only we had an Osage tree somewhere on Flamingo, perhaps I would’ve had a better chance against Bully Brad.
When we were told the story about the Osage wood, The Wife and I thought it would be a cool wood to have, but we really didn’t have any use for it. Then we were shown the only piece of Osage in the building and just had to buy it.
The wood stood about six feet tall and was in the shape of a giant, upside-down Y, but that isn’t what made the wood so unique. When the tree was young, a walnut was dropped and forgotten – it had landed in the crook of the tree. Over the years the tree grew, completely covering the walnut and hiding it from view. Eventually the tree was cut down, sold to the Wood Yard where they sliced it into usable slabs. While planing the slabs down, the walnut was found deep in the tree, perfectly preserved by the orange wood. Employees said they had never seen such a thing – neither had we.
The giant Y of Osage Orange, with the hidden walnut, is now standing in our living room, waiting for its final transformation.
Next month The Wife and I will celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary. The Wife is a rare find. Truly one of a kind. What better way to celebrate our time together than with a one-of-a-kind gift?
At the top of our piece of Osage, I will insert the hands of a clock. Each time I look at the clock I will remember that our time together has been rare, unique, and our love timeless. And when I look at that walnut, I will smile and think, “And it’s been a little nutty.”
[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]