Tuesday, November 9, 2010

pepperwood

I was over at Eric Kirks blog nosing around, and he has just done another “Food Post”. I've been wanting to tell him that my wife and I had lunch at Patrona's in Ukiah. (Located across the street from the north west corner of the Mendocino courthouse.) It was every bit as good as he and Ed Denson said it was. I had a grilled Ahi Tuna sandwich with aioli sauce and bib lettuce, with a side of spring salad. My wife had something that she said was delicious, I didn’t pay much attention because it was all veggies. The food was outstanding, the service was good, and, compared to Garberville,… swiftly delivered.

But, the thing that popped right out at me was their handcrafted furniture. I noticed immediately that it was pepperwood. Pepperwood is one of the prettiest grained woods that you will ever see. It is a light ginger colored wood with dark brown to charcoal streaks in it. The only problem with pepperwood is that it can never truly be tamed. It can be cured for years, then as soon as it is made into something it warps and curls and almost crawls away. If you try to brace or contain it, it will only crack and end check.

Pepperwood is so truly beautiful that I have always made things out of it with a high gloss, clear finish, to show off the wood. I’ve never tried to make anything large like a table, because I knew that it would only warp. It makes great bowls, jewelry boxes, and any SMALL item that won’t show the warpage.

As soon as I walked in, and recognized the wood, I also recognized the genius of the person that made the tables. Instead of trying to make a perfect, and flat finish, he went with the crude beauty of the wood. The wood appears to still have circular saw-blade cut marks in the wood. He made cross hatch marks across the blade marks so it appears that the back side of the saw blade cross hatched the lumber. It appeared to have been done with a sander rather than a saw blade because the wood ended up smooth, rather than slivered. The cross hatch marks are very subtle, but still highly visible. Then the whole table was sanded to a very smooth finish, lumps bumps warps and all. He oiled it with a light oil that sealed the wood with a light satin sheen. WOW! Why didn’t I think of that? Genius.


The above is a piece of pepperwood that I made a plaque for my wife from. I had such good cooperation from the club members, the year that I was president of Rotary, that I made them all plaques. I believe that most of them probably ended up as firewood, but I still see a few around. I made my wife one just for putting up with me. The wood is deep root-beer colored. The bottom looks to me like a sun and the rays away from it look like fire. The top looks like a brilliant sunset. It is very three dimensional in real life. The photo really doesn’t do it justice. But maybe I’m just prejudiced because I like pepperwood so much. I cut the pepperwood tree for firewood, but it had such beauty that I couldn’t bring myself to simply burn it.

I asked the owner of Patrona's what Kind of wood it was… but of course, I already knew. He said that it “is Pepperwood”. I knew instantly that he was a “Homey”. Only people that were raised on the north coast call it “Pepperwood”. The newcomers call it “Bay, Laurel, Oak, or Myrtlewood”. Cripes folks… The north coast of the United States is the only place in the whole wide world that this stuff grows... called what it has been called by the locals for years! Pepperwood! (It’s even more rare than Redwood) (but don’t let that get out or we will have Idiots trying to have it declared an endangered species.)

I digress… anyway, when he called one of my favorite trees “Pepperwood” I had to fight back the tears. I asked him how he came across the wood. He said that he had cut it for firewood, but couldn't bring himself to burn it… Well now I’m really choking back the tears. I complimented him on his knowledge of north coast timber, and his excellent taste. And, I thanked him for showing me how to let my wood be free and still be beautiful.

I hope this rain lasts long enough to build a butterflied Pepperwood coffee table. I have had the wood curing in my garage for thirty years, now I finally know what to do with it!

24 comments:

Eric Kirk said...

Glad you enjoyed the restaurant. Next time I'm there, I'll look more closely at the decor.

Next time you're there, try Oco Time - Japanese restaurant with plenty of dishes even if you don't like sushi.

Anonymous said...

Sure took you long enough to make up your mind what to do with the pepperwood Ernie.

Oregon

Fred said...

Pepperwood used to be my main source of firewood back around '77 when I was a caretaker on a ranch in Maple Creek.

kymk said...

Ernie,

I read this post and immediately had the urge to go outside and look at my pepperwood that stands out back. It is beautiful living now and some day it will be beautiful when it needs to be cut. (Also the leaves make wonderful spices for cooking.)Thanks for making me renew my love for this beautiful tree.

Kym

olmanriver said...

Aantcin was the local Wailaki name for pepperwood.
Historically speaking, the first newcomers in the area didn't use the oldest name.
Can you imagine?

The nuts are great roasted!

Ross Sherburn said...

I was told by an old Gypo logger,it was a Pepperwood tree that the airplane came to rest in??

olmanriver said...

I was inspecting a pepperwood leaf the other day that seemed to have a pollen like coating on the underside and a slightly different "Bay-leaf" smell. I put my nose down to it for a smell and about blew the top of my head off. It felt like agrain of acidic cayenne went up my nose and straight threw my brainpan.
I suspect that deer know better.

Ben said...

Pepperwood and Incense Cedar were (and are still) the two ingredients of a smudge used by the local Indians. It was used in a similar way to the sage smudges which are from the Southwest but found everywhere, these days. Roasted Pepperwood nuts are a mild stimulant. I have no idea what the agent is but they have an effect similar to chocolate.
I remember on trips to Oregon, years ago, we would see "Oregon Myrtlewood" roadside shops. I had no idea what they meant 'til I stopped and asked.
Being an LA guy, I still might say Bay Laurel. That's what my botany prof. told me it was. But Oregon had better start calling it "Myrtlewood" or folks up there might figure out he's from California.

Anonymous said...

Ben, I think most of the folks up around Brookings and Gold Beach are from Calif.. That's the home of Giant myrtlewood trees, but I would bet most of the Calif. pilgrims wouldn't know a myrtlewood from an Italian thistle.

Oregon

Ernie Branscomb said...

I’ll accept more than one name for pepperwood. I’ll accept the Indian name “Aantcin”, that Olmanriver pointed out, the white eye name “Pepperwood”, or the Wile E. Coyote name “Umbellularia Californica.

However, I have it on good evidence that the local tribe that calls it Aantcin is actually a “Newcomer” tribe of Indians. They displaced the tribe that was here before them, and just like all newcomers, they forgot the ancient name for the tree.

The pepperwood is called many names, but it is only indigenous to the California and Oregon coast. The Oregonians call it Myrtlewood and they claim that it is different than California Pepperwood. I agree with them. The Oregon Myrtle has shorter rounder leaves, and the wood is darker. I’d bet that a real sharpie could figure out that they are different sub-species.

olmanriver said...

However, I have it on good evidence that the local tribe that calls it Aantcin is actually a “Newcomer” tribe of Indians. They displaced the tribe that was here before them, and just like all newcomers, they forgot the ancient name for the tree.

Well it is true that the half a dozen or so elderly Athabaskans left alive when the whites started listening to their stories had a hard time remembering much of anything before some big Flood.

Myrtlewood? I wonder who Myrtle wuz?

Ernie Branscomb said...

"Myrtlewood? I wonder who Myrtle wuz?"

I don't know who Myrtle was. I only knew Mytlewouldn't. It just goes to show you, Myrtlewood had a tree named after her, nobody even knows Myrtlewouldn't. (Serves her right!)

Anonymous said...

"newcomer tribe"?? I have heard the Wylakie originated from the pacific islands. Maybe Hawaii.

Oregon

olmanriver said...

There is a very knowledgeable "primitive skills" teacher, Tamara, who comes to the Fiber Faire at the Mateel in the fall. She had a tray of roasted pepperwood nuts chopped up as for free tastes and they were very good in a taste that was between charred nut and chocolate.
Anyone else out there have any experience with gathering pepperwood nuts? When is there peak of ripeness?

Della Womack remenesced that pepperwood nuts and apples went together well.

spyrock said...

when the yurok came to the klamath river from the north they found white people living here that were called wa-gas. these white people inhabited the whole continent and the different races lived in peace. eventually, the wa-gas left going north saying that they would return someday. after awhile many of the yurok people became evil and forgot their sacred ways. two talth or upper class yurok were told there would be a flood. so like noah, they built a raft and when the rains came they were safe. when the rains stopped, the talth were searching for dry land when a dove flew to them carrying a twig of a pepperwood tree. when they harvested salmon for the winter, the yurok would put them in large baskets between layers of pepperwood leaves.
lucy says that there a no more pure bloods and the next time there is a flood we are sol. so be good.
i think oregon is right about the hawaians. they are just like the athabaskin people i seem to get along with whereever i go.
i'm reading a book about shamans and the guy says that they use the same methods all over the world. one of them is to go to a sacred place like up in the mountains and get spirit helpers. the common thread that i have found is that there are certain places where the land speaks to you if you are able to listen. anyone know of such a place? let me know.

Anonymous said...

Fred was that gig before MR farms put two ranches together, or down by the school?

olmanriver said...

Thanks spyrock, a number of local tribes had Flood stories, I just read last night that the Wiyot refer to two floods that occurred.

That story of white skinned people here first is fascinating. Wa-gas. Stephen Powers recounts stories of Indian falling down laughing calling out Wau-Gee in imitation of the ox drivers hollering out "Whoa and Gee".

In my delvings I have uncovered a number of references to small groups of whites shipwrecked and living amongst the native population. Now there is a novel to be written.

Ben said...

Briceland Charlie told a great Flood story about Salmon Creek and the survivors landing on Bear Butte. I do Agree with Oregon that some native groups came from the South Pacific.
Spyrock.. Get ahold of a copy of Kroeber's "Yurok Myths" It's a bit tough going but I have a feeling you will find it fascinating.
A theme found throughout North American tribes is the existence of First People who were without imperfection and in many versions, immortal. When human beings (Indians) came, the First People had to leave, often going back across the western ocean. Wogai (Spy's Wa-ga) the Yurok First People were white and the word means white in Yurok. It also means "middle".
When the Wogai left, some asked to remain in the home they loved and the creator granted their wishes by turning them into rocks, mountains, springs and trees. That is why those places are holy.
In the local flood story, the couple lands on Bear Butte and starts a whole new generation of Indians. At the end of the story, Charlie says Bear Butte is the home of "fifty boys". Spirit people.

Robin Shelley said...

Speaking of misnomers, Ben (we were, weren't we?) Oregon doesn't even live in Oregon. He calls himself that because he lived here for a few minutes. That's how history gets screwed up, you know. People calling things what they aren't.

Anonymous said...

I call myself Oregon because Ernie coined that name for me when I first started replying to his blog. I lived in Oregon at the time and see no since in confusing people with changing my name every time I move.

White Swan

Anonymous said...

*sence

White Swan: AKA Oregon

Robin Shelley said...

Great! Now he thinks he's a bird.

olmanriver said...

At least it is an elegant bird... people saddled me with "Waddling Dodo" years ago...

Robin Shelley said...

Ha, ha! I haven't been called that yet, OMaR, but I've been called every bird-thing associated with a robin imaginable!