The Wood Collector

Kerry-PierceI’m a wood collector.

I didn’t set out to become one. It just happened as a consequence of 40 years of furniture making:  20 feet of this, 100 feet of that.

In the summer of 2003, I decided it was time for a long overdue shop remodel, one that would include a rack so I could better see what I had in my wood collection. I carried every board out of my wood room and stacked it on 4 x 4 cross members in my driveway.  Then I went to work on the remodel.

At least I tried to. But that summer I wasn’t at my best. I often found myself standing in the shop, with a hammer in one hand and a folding rule in the other, staring off into space. Several times, I came into the house at 1:00 or 1:30 and napped away the afternoon. Once I fell asleep on a stool.

I went to my doctor. He ordered CT scans, MRIs, blood tests for Lyme Disease and more, but his efforts turned up nothing.

I bought some cheap plastic sheets and pulled them over my wood collection, weighing them down with chunks of firewood, and I began spending my days on the couch, while my physical condition deteriorated: fatigue, body aches, fever, chills and often excruciating pain in my legs.

I spent 10 days in two different hospitals. More tests.

Finally, in October, after a PETSCAN and three diagnostic surgeries, the man who would later become my oncologist told me I had Stage 4, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, so advanced there was no good chance of survival. “20 percent,” he said. “Maybe. If everything works out just right.”

I hadn’t forgotten about my wood collection. It was still out there in my driveway, stacked across rows of 4 x 4’s where I had intended to leave it for only a couple of weeks while I remodeled and built my lumber rack. Several times, I made the 100-mile trek to the wood stacks, tottering on matchstick legs, bundled up against the 90 degree August chill, and laid on more tarps, weighing them down with more chunks of firewood.

As I worked my way through six rounds of chemotherapy, friends nailed up the new ceiling in my shop. My brother and my dad came down to hang drywall, and by the time I got my first set of clean CT scans in February, the remodel had moved along pretty well without me.

In March, I had a second PETSCAN. That, too, was clean. Late that month, I began working half days. In April, my dad and my brother came down for a wood-rack raising party.

The following day, I threw off the layers of tarps, and if I hadn’t been so grateful to be alive, I might have cried.

I’d done a lousy job of tarping, and water had percolated through the stacks, creating a perfect environment for the carpenter ants, the termites and the powder-post beetles that infested the woods around my shop.

I went over each board carefully, forcing myself to throw 10-foot lengths of 8/4 curly maple and eight-foot cherry 4 x 4s onto the burn pile if I noted the slightest sign of insect damage. When I was finished, my wood collection had been halved.

A year later, after three more clean CT scans, I noticed piles of frass* on the concrete floor underneath my wood rack, so I went through my collection a second time, throwing out every piece on which I could see a single powder-post beetle entrance hole. I also replaced some parts of the wood rack which the tiny beetles had drilled.

Then finally, this spring, after four years of clean CT scans, my oncologist announced that our relationship was over. Later, I once again noticed frass on the floor under my wood rack, so I ran a couple of cherry planks through my planer to see just how bad it was, and when that top layer had been removed, I could see that both planks were riddled with burrows.

Desperate, I called a local exterminator who came out to look at my situation. He told me that if I was willing to put his children through college, he could treat my wood, but he added: “It might not work.”

So I threw out everything on my wood rack, not only everything that remained of my original wood collection but everything I’d purchased since then. The shelves of my rack are now empty, but at least the infestation is gone.

It’s time for a fresh start.

-Kerry Pierce

* Frass: tiny piles of fine sawdust found below the entrance holes of burrowing insects.

Posted in: