There are a lot of things I love about wood. I read a great essay on wood some years ago by Buckminster Fuller. The gist of it was something about how wood, biomass, is a translation of sunlight, pounding at the earth, year after year. Instead of just bouncing off or getting absorbed and becoming heat, a portion of that light gets grabbed by the little greens.. and those little greens use the energy to make stuff, real stuff we can touch. And over the years it builds up to the point where we have whole ecosystems with big trees and animals too. His point was that it's not just some big tree... the tree actually represents decades of stored energy, like a massive biochemical spring that’s been wound up, season after season. And all the more with the coal and oil underground. And so we shouldn't be surprised by some pretty dramatic effects when eons of stored energy are released in the space of a few decades.
But the cool part for me is the coiling up of the spring. While much of the world tends towards chaos, with nothing more than this persistent source of primal energy, plants are able to weave order from the chaos around them.. they take little bits of this and that from the dirt, water and air around them, and weave them into something super orderly, and even pretty. The point for me is that when we hold a hunk of wood in our hands, that wood represents something quite cool. Everything has a back story, an embodied history.. and in the case of natural things, these back stories are particularly cool. I think it's because the plot is never simple, never sterile. The growth rings in a tree tell its story in a way that just isn't the case with plastic.
I especially love the imperfections.. it's these that give wood its character. I love the grains, the lines, and the knots. I was talking a while back with a manufacturer who has been working very diligently to cover these up. They were struggling, trying to make a perfect sample for me. Perfect.. such a horrible, homoginizing word. We were coming at the samples from two very different directions. Essentially, they were trying to work against the character of the wood.. trying to repress this natural beauty through opaques and polishes and varnishes and processing that would have the wood turned into an utter betrayal.
I’m of the other mind.. I would rather see the beauty brought out into full expression. A wooden toy should not aspire to being a plastic one. Wood is something different, it comes from life, it tells a story, and that story should continue to develop as the toy gets used.. little dents, worn edges, and so on. Wood, like leather, erodes gracefully, and in the long end, it'll be gone completely, no harm done. Well made things, like well made people, should get better over time. But we need to have the right perspective about it. It is the quiet unity of imperfections which give such lasting appeal.