MAINE TIMBER COUNTRY
The tree has symbolized the land, people, and wealth of the New England region long before Europeans stumbled onto its shores. The tree has been portrayed, as well, on countless New England maps, flags, and documents: official, sacred and mundane.
To put things in perspective, the first colonial coin featured a tree. The New England forest was claimed by the British Crown in the 17th century as timber became New England’s first big colonial calling card. Wood was of military import to the British Empire as a timber-starved England desperately needed wood ship masts for its ever-growing Navy. In fact, the first sawmill in North America was built in York, Maine, in 1623 for the express purpose of exporting lumber to England. The America timber industry was born as custom-built ships transported 100’ white pine ship masts and other lumber to the homeland in mass-market fashion. Nearly four hundred years later, the timber business continues to be a dynamic force on the Maine landscape, economy, and people.
From highways crowded with logging trucks to piles of timber stacked three stories high, it’s evident on the ground that timber is big business here. Almost 90 percent of the state of Maine is cover by forest and approximately 66 percent of the land is timberland. In 2005, the annual revenues from Maine’s forest topped $6 billion ($5.31 billion in forest-based manufacturing and $1.5 billion from forest-related recreation and tourism).
Beyond the dollars, timber benefits include stewardship of regional green space, wildlife habitat, and clean watersheds. The timber industry also offers a constant supply of environmental critique that range from chemicals used in the paper sector to woodland habitat loss.
Long gone are the days when unfortunate lumberjacks were buried in unmarked graves with their boots nailed to the nearest tree, but logging-related danger still looms on Maine’s back roads and highways. Ask any mother in Maine about heavily loaded, speeding logging trucks on local roads and you will be schooled.
Below the billboard issues lie the detail and cultural texture of living in a tree state. Abandoned skidders, landings, bottle cap clubs, nurse stumps, wood poaching, and wood pile contests are but a few of the cultural details of timber country. Logging roads and timber tracts provide the greatest cultural context, especially in terms of social and recreation opportunities. Their unintended use include hiking, bird watching, motocross, ski-dooing, and countless other wholesome outdoor activities. Far from prying eyes, these remote places host a bit of devious mischief, as well. Among other activities, quiet logging roads serve as popular under-age “drinking roads” — as evident by occasional trails of empty “road soda” cans. Such beer cans are but tiny shiny blips in the never-ending feedback loop between man and nature within the cultural landscape of America’s premier “Pine Tree State.”
Editor’s Note: David Buckley Borden is participating in the Boston Fun-A-Day 2014 project by developing 31, one-page landscape installation proposals during the month of January. The work is a freewheeling exploration of the New England landscape and our cultural love affair with the region’s “great outdoors.”
Follow Fun-A-Day Boston at http://funadayboston.tumblr.com/. And if you’re in the region, stop by the Fun-A-Day Boston 2014 show hosted by Voltage Coffee & Art (Opening Reception February 21st, 7-9pm; Show runs February 17th through April 5th).
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David Buckley Borden is an artist, landscape designer (highly unlicensed landscape architect), and humorist hailing from the great state of New England. David’s art includes a variety of creative work ranging from landscape installations to silkscreen prints covering an even greater variety of interests in landscape architecture, all things “great outdoors,” and the past, present and future challenges to the lands of North America. Outside of work, when not leading his one-man campaign for sustainable cutis anserine americana, David can be found quietly playing in the dirt in and around his Cambridge, Massachusetts home.
Find more of his work at davidbuckleyborden.com, on Tumblr atdavidbuckleyborden.tumblr.com and follow him on instagram.