Saturday, July 31, 2010

Coney Island wood

A long time ago, back in the mists of time, say 2005-ish, C****** announced she hated poetry &  I almost ran the car off the road.  We went straight to the library & I handed her some Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  He really is the best antidote to "my love is like a red red rose" (or as someone who shall remain nameless used to say:  my love is like a dead, dead dog). Don't get me wrong, I like Robbie Burns just fine, but maybe this is an acquired taste.  Like bagpipes.  Or haggis.  & not where a person should begin.  Best to begin with the first thing you put on..ideally.

More recently, I have been helping to put together an exhibit to represent all the herbarium at the Natural History Museum for their big annual fundraiser.  Helping is a slight overstatement, I am putting four maybe five pieces of wood on a table of all kinds of other things, among seven other tables.

The first two woods were more or less assigned.  K*** had an idea about one wood being deceptively heavy & another deceptively light (when in doubt, go tactile).  He had examples, but I thought I could come up with better ones, which had the advantage of being roughly the same dimensions making the whole light versus heavy thing just plain more somehow.

The next two were my choice.   I went with a specimen collected in Japan on September 9, 1940.  No there is nothing oh-so-special about 9/9/1940 except that it is well before 8/6/1945.  The second was a wood I had plain never heard of, never thought of & yet have almost certainly been in contact with.  I am talking about Tabebuia ipe.  See, you have never heard of it either.  Go ahead, google it, I can wait.

There now, you see, colorful flowering tree, family Bignoniaceae, which happens to be right where I am now.  A surprising number of botanists working around me have been mildly surprised how well represented this family is a in a wood collection; it is famous for its vines.  It also has some of the quirkiest cards I have come across thus far.  Still, what does a pretty tree bring to the table, block-of-wood-wise?  It turns out this wood is so dense, it is naturally rot resistant.  It is even naturally flame retardant.  Therefore it is widely used as decking in public areas.  Sooo, if you have ever stepped onto the boardwalk at Coney Island you have stepped on Tabebuia ipe.  Like all schoolchildren back in the day, (I know they don't do this anymore-not on any standardized test), I was taught the history of my own community.  One of the highlights (lowlights) of that is the famous Ringling Brothers Fire.  Maybe this is why I am so interested in Tabebuia ipe.

I don't now what to pick for number five.  I need to come up with something soon, or it will be capped at four.  K*** is leaning towards an attractive wood, but I think attractive wood is all around us.  I would rather choose something interesting.  Alas Cybistax antisyphilitica is too racy for the local gentry.

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