Treasured Trees

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
— Henry David Thoreau

We are so lucky to live within a short drive of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the only National Park in Ohio and one of the few National Parks in our part of the country. Hiking there we’ve encountered some truly spectacular trees that, thanks to the protections they enjoy, allow us to see what trees can really be if allowed to live out their natural lifespans. Such hikes are a special kind of torture for Dan, who stops frequently to gaze up into the canopy at tantalizingly straight cherry stems, and white oaks of broad diameter. “That walnut is worth at least ten thousand dollars,” Dan might say. And I will chide him for bringing business talk into our leisure time together.

Although he expresses it in terms of monetary value (he can’t help it, he’s a business owner), Dan is really just appreciating the existence of such natural richness in our environment. People who aren’t as familiar with Ohio tend to imagine mostly flat land blanketed with cow pastures and corn fields. A child’s atlas that I’m reading with Danny depicts Ohio with a large red barn and silo stretched across the whole state. But the forests are lovely, and the western-most edges of the Appalachians give way in gentle undulations on the eastern side of the state. For a time we owned property along the Ohio River that backed up to Wayne State Forest, where we were delighted by new living discoveries on each visit, from chanterelle mushrooms, to paw paw trees, to baby turtles, to Scarlet Tanagers. The trees, working with the land and the water, create the habitats that nurture that biodiversity.

When I met the Ogonek family over two decades ago, I was introduced to the idea of tree farms, as Dan’s parents owned two. Why would anyone “farm” trees? Don’t they just kind of, you know, grow? On their own? But I’ve learned that calling them tree farms doesn’t convey the full value proposition. It’s not just about trying to maximize the investment in the raw material with an eye toward future harvest, sale and profit. It’s also about conserving the richness of our natural environment for the well being of future generations. The Ogonek family has not only harvested trees from their farms, but has planted many there as well. Ogonek Custom Hardwoods as a business grew from the tree farming mind-set, and in its DNA is the idea of our raw materials being sourced from Ohio forests in a respectful, sustainable way.

Maybe the barn picture on that child’s map of Ohio is a good choice to represent the state after all, since the Ohio country-side is indeed dotted with many old timber frame barns, built by hand from nearby trees that are one of our state’s greatest treasures.