I ‘wood’ recommend this book if you’re interested in trees, timber and craftsmanship. I found it more engrossing than I’d expected. I really would have liked a few photos included, but they can instead be found on the author’s website.
Robert Penn decided he wanted to choose an ash tree to fell and turn into lots of different items. He explains why the ash is so significant, both to him personally and for history in general. The result is a blend of nature writing, memoir, travel, engineering and art. Each chapter is devoted to a particular item made of ash, such as baseball bats, toboggans, hurley sticks, arrows, wheels and bowls. Some of the craftsmen he observes are local to him (South Wales and Herefordshire), while others are as far afield as Austria, America and Ireland. Not many people now possess the knowledge and skills to make these. The book is sad in a way, because traditional crafts and ash trees could be gone in the not too distant future. There is a postscript on ash dieback, a disease which has devastated the ash population in recent times, and also the emerald ash borer, a destructive beetle which is spreading around the world.
This was an evocative and unusual read. It almost made me want to go out in the woods with an axe, sizing up the trees with a view to turning them into kitchen utensils and sports equipment.
First published in 2015.