Trees: Protected citizens of the north woods

ESCANABA – It seems like every celebrity these days has their own “fragrance.” If you had to choose the favorite scents of my family, I’m sure you’d find hot buttered popcorn, lilies of the valley or fresh apple pie.

If you asked the male members of my family, they might also add things like: fresh-cut cedar, zesty balsam or sun-baked pine.

There’s a definite fondness, and a remarkable historical record, for working with wood or in the woods by members of my clan.

It was the lure of dense forests that brought parts of my family to this area. My dad’s paternal grandpa, August Martin, had been a Quebec woodsman who followed the lumberjacking to western Lower Michigan and eventually the U.P. My mom’s dad, John Stasewich, came from Minsk and briefly stayed with East Coast relatives before working in Michigan lumber camps. My mother even told a story about taking a train to see him in a Bay de Noc Lumber Company camp near Nahma when she was a small child.

Dad’s father, a hardy Kansas farm boy, fled the drought-stricken prairie to carve out an existence up here in God’s country. He had land cleared near Cornell for farming but ended up living in Gladstone after he married. His occupation? A veneer dryer at the Buckeye plant in Gladstone.

George Rose was very good with his hands and passed on those manual skills to my dad and his brothers Martin and Richard. Martin and Dad worked at the Buckeye for a time, with dad doing precision work patching plywood pieces, while Richard (nicknamed “Deak”) got basswood from the plant and set about making boxes for commercial fishermen.

Deak served in Korea and after the war planted numerous red pine on the family property by Cornell. Those little saplings are now mature pine measuring about 40 feet and form their own little ecosystem. A walk through those rustling pines makes a great tonic on a hectic day.

Speaking of Cornell, my dad’s kin there began tapping maple trees in the mid-1900s, a tradition that carries on to this day. Whether crafting wood into products or simmering sap into something wonderful, they seem to have an affinity for working with wood.

Trees have inspired us, warmed us, protected us from the wind. They gave employment to my youngest brother David, who was a piece cutter with my mom’s brother Larry when he was still a teen, and Jim the eldest, who worked a summer job at a cedar mill.

My dad’s main line of work ended up being industrial, but when he wasn’t at Harnischfeger, his hands were often busy with wood at home on Sheridan Road.

Dad crafted everything from baby cribs to napkin baskets to gun cabinets. Beyond the chainsaw, I’ve seen him use chisels, lathes, routers, planers, drills and all manner of tool making inanimate pieces of wood come alive. Some of my family’s favorite gifts were items like miniature rocking horses and “country goose” planters.

My sister Karen, an excellent outdoorswoman, is extremely knowledgeable about trees. She’s hiked among them, photographed them, named them and fashioned many beautiful objects from their varied grains. She began with small carvings and eventually progressed to weightier projects including our massive family totem pole. If you visit her these days, you might find her using the wood burner kit and making beautiful benches or a draw knife to sculpt a walking stick.

I admire all my forebears for their love of and interest in the outdoors and forests. I had a chance to get involved in my own little advocacy project regarding trees last year with my involvement on the Esky150 Committee. We had a subcommittee to increase awareness of Escanaba’s green spaces and ended up planting a variety of trees and shrubs in parks and school yards.

A map of those areas will be created so visitors to our city hall can “look them up” and help us protect and sustain them. In an era when many plants are being threatened by drought or disease, it’s become crucial to protect these fellow citizens.

This column was guest written by Lori Rose, Karen’s sister and former Daily Press staffer, in place of Wils, who is suffering from the flu. Lori Rose and Karen (Rose) Wils are lifelong residents of north Escanaba.