Build to Last

Some years ago, I took down an old barn to salvage the wood. The wood was a treasure, hand hewn oak and heart pine that grew as saplings at least a century before.  

I thought so much of the wood that I stored it under a shed which had been built to keep my tractor out of the weather.  It was carefully dry stacked to preserve it, and as an added precaution I covered the stack with a tarp. The tractor? Well, it had to sleep outside. 

Time passed and the wood remained under the shed. When I looked at it or thought of it, I imagined ambitious projects like paneling for the den and framing for doors and windows. The ground under the shed remained bone dry, so over time, temporary storage in the tractor shed became semi-permanent storage for a variety of things. The old tractor didn’t seem to mind the weather with some regular attention and a bit of paint now and then.  

Several years passed and other ambitious projects superseded my visions of antique wood carpentry. Family members got old and needed help, got older and passed away. Jobs changed. Sickness visited the family and was overcome. Life happened. If I thought of the valuable wood at all it was akin to how you might think of some old coins in a safe deposit box, something taken for granted.  

They say that time heals all wounds but given enough time, it wounds all heals as well. Somewhere on the tin roof of the shed, successive seasons of heat and cold, expansion and contraction, lifted a nail just enough that a bit of rainwater was able to seep under it. Water dripped down onto my stack of wood, not much, never enough to catch my eye, but it was deflected by the tarp, where it flowed to a tiny invisible hole and then onto my treasure of wood, out of sight and out of mind.   

It wasn’t a big leak. The ground never showed any sign of wetness. But water has a talent for seeking out any weakness in our defensive plans, and that tiny trickle over the course of several years had a cumulative effect. 

The day came when I wanted to get at that stack of lumber, and what I found there would break the heart of anyone who loves old and irreplaceable wood. The ends of the stack were still sound, but the middle was more compost than lumber. I was able to salvage maybe a third of the original pile.  

It took me about two days to sort and shovel the remains of my wood stack, and during that time I thought often of the friends who had helped me take down the old barn years ago. I thought also of the irony, for that friendship had gone pretty much the way of the wood. It was left unattended for too long, taken for granted, perhaps, or set aside while life was happening elsewhere. Then one day when I wanted or needed it, though it looked the same on the surface, beneath the covering there was very little left.   

We’ve all had fair weather friends, and some of us have probably been that on occasion too. There are some people who just can’t seem to stand any kind of inclement weather, and others who have been so long in their own poor climate that they can’t tolerate anything more. Sadly, sickness is a great revealer of fair-weather friends, and what makes it even more difficult to accept is that they disappear when you might need them the most.  

Unlike my rotted wood, sometimes a fair-weather friend will reappear when the storm has passed, but we are not likely to count on them ever again. But there was something else I found at the bottom of my unfortunate pile of wet sawdust. There were several lengths of pressure treated pine which were as sound as the day they had been cut. While everything else rotted around them, they maintained their integrity.  

We have friends like that too. True friends. Both kinds have their purpose, I suppose, as we build our lives. If we are wise, and lucky, we will frame our relationships with pressure treated friends for structural support. The rest are there for siding, paneling or veneer, and we will learn to accept their loss when it happens, because life often requires remodeling or redecorating whether we have planned for it or not. 

Ultimately, anything we value that we do not attend, anything that we fail to put energy into, will not last. Not my unfortunate old lumber, not even my mighty old tractor, which weathers the storms only because I care for it. Even a pressure treated post will fail if it’s left alone long enough. So, it behooves us to decide what we value, and never take it for granted.  

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