Time Lines


Earlier this week, after watching the OCH team load a trailer with the trusses and timbers headed for Detroit, Danny and I eased into our quiet week together with a hike to the man-made waterfall near our home. The path through the woods showed how damaging the winter so far has been to the trees, with jagged, torn-off branches cluttering the ground and some trunks uprooted altogether. The ground is so, so wet with the current thaw, and the trauma of repeated cycles of bitter cold alternating with sickly warm can be felt in the air and seen in the stems all around.

Tree crews had been at work, trying to get ahead of the massive spring cleanup, and we came across a freshly cut, flower shaped stump, the rings clearly defined. Seizing on the teachable moment, Danny and I counted the rings together as I gently nudge him toward the concept of numbers greater than 20. This tree turned out to be 110 (more or less), a number that seemed magical to Danny in its enormity. I smile to myself as I wonder how we will one day encounter the concept of infinity together. Later in the week, looking at a matrix of numbers, 1 to 100, Danny points to 100 and says, “Is this how old the tree is?”

Today it’s just a slightly incomprehensible number to Danny, but we will also one day encounter the concept of numbers representing time. The tree is just a little older than the house we live in, and I often think about what our house has seen since its construction, who built it, the prior families who have lived here, what their days were like. Timber frames have the potential to stand for much longer than our Stick-style house will, and the family history that will be lived out in the frame Dan and his team are building today can span many more generations.

As an undergraduate I studied archaeology, and learned that wood is not a reliable material to learn about the lives of past people because it biodegrades. Stone has far more longevity and retains evidence of the ways in which people manipulated it for thousands of years, not just hundreds. But I am more than content with the thought of a home lasting for hundreds of years, especially in our current faster-paced, shorter-sighted world. The book I’m reading to learn about timber framing, Wood and Wood Joints, by Klaus Zwerger, gives a sense that timber framing is a dying art, more the stuff of archaeology than modernity, as several-hundred-years-old examples of timber frame master-craftsmanship in Europe and Asia begin to decay and disappear. But I can’t agree when I see in-progress pictures of what Dan and his team are creating this week in Detroit. As the old examples destruct, new examples are rising, even now as I write this.

As Danny and I await photos from the frame raising progress today, and Dan’s subsequent return home, we’ll remain here at home, quietly counting away in this season of growth.