Wednesday, February 08, 2012
Sculptures in the Woods
An old rotted pine tree full of woodpecker holes caught my eye for this picture. It looked as though it was adorned with a steeple of sorts…a design touch with a rustic twist! A closer look revealed that it was the backbone of the old pine, or heartwood, but it seemed to set this nesting spot apart from all the other ones. My own picture made me wonder....what was that part of the pine tree called and how was it formed?
There are many of these sculptures around in the woods...a pine tree will die and rot away, and the center will remain standing with twists and knots and gnarls...I always called it "wood art" without much thought. I found that they are the results of the pine resin in the tree. If a tree receives a wound, the resin will rush to that spot to protect the scar. Resin also collects in the heart, or center of the pine tree, and it resists decay.
Some folks call it fatwood, stump candy, lighterd, lightern, lighter knot...many old time names. I remember my Grandfather having a bucket of "lightern." He used it to start his fires, and it would light with a match. I remember finding stumps that he would chop up and save. Most chunks of lightern are sticky and smell like crushed pine needles. They will light even when wet, and it has been a valued firestarter as early as prehistoric times. I also read that too many pieces in a wood stove can cause damage because of its extreme heat (something I’m glad to know for the cabin!)
I always look for lightern on my walks. It usually resembles stalagmites or little gnome hats! Most are found in stumps, but evidently sometimes it will stretch up the tree, and I have found many that are as tall as six feet.
In my readings about fatwood or lightern, not every fallen pine tree will make lightern. Pine resin will become more of a solid, and if the tree falls or is cut at a certain time of the year, or if the ground soil is a certain acidity, and if the tree is just the right condition and had the right amount of sap when it was living, it will leave lightern. In other words, it doesn’t happen all the time!
Search fatwood. There are many very interesting forums and stories about it out there. I do know, it is wonderful kindling... better than those store bought wax logs, but I think I love their art work in the woods even more!