One Saturday this September, my wife Heidi went on a hike with friends in Silverthorne. She sent me pictures. The clouds are amazing, hanging over the mountains. The leaves change, they have a glowing golden hue. A little while later, our friend Jill, with whom she is hiking, unexpectedly sends a completely unrelated video of a car covered in green leaves.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to take that big one down anyway,” says one man.
The video from her neighbor shows the scene outside her house. People are gathering and chatting. “You guys been out?” asks another.
Thanks to one of those windy fall days with gusts up to 50 mph, large branches and broken twigs covered the street and parked cars. “Sure, hit it and bounce,” says a third.
I ran over to our friend’s house and saw that this massive tree had come down on our brown Nissan Leaf. I know this is going to sound very public radio, but this is an electric car.
There’s debris on the roof, a broken window. The roof has shrunk about a foot. The back door does not open.
I have no idea what to do at this point. But it seems like there has to be a way to get something positive out of it. I called the tree expert Patricia Smith and she came over to take a look.
“Well, wow, that’s typical of the silver maples around Denver,” she said.
Smith knows a lot about the city’s trees. Many of this variety were planted a century ago.
“So this particular branch, it’s one of the main branches of the tree, and it’s across the street. He hit two cars. “One definitely looks broken because of the crushed roof,” she said.
I tell her the one with the crushed roof is my car.
Like many of us, trees weaken with age, and in high winds or snow, they fall.
“These trees like to collapse because they just can’t handle the weight when they get to a certain age and size,” Smith said.
But she and her husband, Peter Cozens, know what to do in these situations.
Cozens and Smith have a wood turning business called The Shape of Wood. They salvage wood from neighborhood trees all over town. The tree branch that fell on my poor little leaf was quite large, maybe 30 feet high and several tons.
Cozens went at it with the chainsaw, carefully slicing the tree into pieces, carefully sawing it so it would roll off the car. Sawdust flew. Soon you can see the problem.
“So here, downtown, where it’s really dark, it’s rotting. It’s a type of dry rot where the water seeps into the center and then just rots the wood away,” Cozens said.
In places the rot has just eaten through the interior of the wood. The bugs shoot out of the holes.
“That branch over there holds this whole thing. So when I cut that branch, everything will fall,” Cozens said.
After some time, Cozens removed the branch from the car and cut the tree into large pieces. He said he looks for hard pieces roughly 12 to 18 inches in diameter “that are not dirty or rotten. Where ants have not settled.
A few weeks later I met Peter and Patricia at their home. There is a carpentry workshop at the back.
“You’re welcome John, you’ve got a pile of wood here.”
Wooden blocks are piled up and scattered around the yard. The shed has saws and a lathe and all kinds of wood carving tools. Cozens begins to describe various samples.
“So this is a red cedar. This is unusual. And there’s a lady on Monaco Parkway that took down a tree and a friend told us about it,” said Cozens, who is a construction manager at his day job.
There is wood from Montview ash, wood from Park Hill, Hilltop, Berthoud, and some of the remains of a tree from a family that lost their home in the Marshall Fire. “They found out how we were saving trees and wanted Peter to make a bowl out of whatever surviving pieces of sugar maple he had,” said Smith, who is a marketing and communications consultant.
It is common for people to form a deep, lasting connection with their trees. “They take down their favorite tree in the front yard and think of it as part of their family,” Smith said. “This is their family tree. Bad pun.
Cozens disagreed. “That was a good play on words.”
Over the course of several visits, Smith and Cozens show me how it’s done. A mound of wood is cut to a size that can fit on a lathe. Then Cozens used metal tools, gouges and scrapers with names like the slant chisel.
Sometimes there is blood.
“I sprained a couple of fingers. Cut my hand. I cut my fingers on the table saw,” Cozens said. “Yes, we have the route to Rose Medical Center. down.
But except for emergency room visits, Cozens, behind a protective mask, carves down the wood as the lathe spins rapidly, through repetitive cuts, with huge volumes of bowl-shaped streams of sawdust.
He applies wax. It is placed in a kiln to dry out the moisture and then with a little sanding and polishing, the finished product is ready for shows and sales, craft fairs and art festivals.
“This is the finished product, honey locusts, maple, cedar, ash,” Cozens said, indicating a table of wooden objects: a baseball bat, a baby rattle and many bowls, each a different color.
“It’s from your tree, your maple tree,” he said. It’s beautiful. “It really is a beautiful piece of wood.”
This one has a golden yellow hue with rings of darker brown lines. Some have waves and variations, all have some personal connection.
“I think as more science discovers about how trees and forests are and how trees are connected,” Smith said, “it really seems like a very natural and spiritual thing for us to understand that a tree is really present as more than just a piece of wood
And like so many pieces of wood carved by humans, there is a story. This could be called: How a tree lost a leaf and became a bowl.
Oh, and the car was indeed wrecked.