Today @ Colorado State has been replaced by SOURCE. This site exists as an archive of Today @ Colorado State stories between January 1, 2009 and September 8, 2014.

Working at CSU

Of bark beetles and salvaged wood

April 22, 2009

Recycling typically means the careful disposal of paper, plastic bottles, and aluminum cans. But Paul Miller, editor of Colorado State Magazine at CSU, went a bit beyond the norm when he recycled an entire wall of a home that he'd sold.

Miller and his wife, Annie Miller, sold their home in Fort Collins several years ago to a couple who, immediately after the closing and exchange of keys, set about tearing down the tongue-and-groove pine on the eastern wall of the living room.

“The paneling was an honest three-quarters of an inch thick, a dimension you don’t see very often these days,” Miller says. “But even more interesting, the paneling was made out of blue-stain pine, which was created from a type of fungus when the tree was still alive. The fungus leaves behind interesting color streaks in the wood.”

Fungus among us

The fungus is carried into standing pines by bark beetles, the same tiny bugs that are killing wide swaths of forest in Colorado and around the nation. (The Colorado State Forest Service has more details on the beetles and other insects and diseases.)

Miller wrote about the bugs and his salvaging experiences in an essay called “Wood Blues,” which is included in a just-released collection of essays, Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers (University of Oklahoma Press), edited by Laura Pritchett. Pritchett received her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in English from CSU.

“In the essay, I talk about how contradictory it is to admire beautiful wood infused with all these colored streaks but at the same time know it was created from a destructive little bug,” Miller says. “I guess it’s human nature to struggle with such irreconcilable things.”

The core of Miller’s story, however, is how he rescued the wood from a premature end. It seems that the people who had bought Miller’s home and torn down the paneling weren’t sure what to do with the wood.

What the…

“I stopped by to pick up mail two days after the closing, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw the paneling piled all over the living room floor. The new owner said he was thinking about taking it to the landfill. I offered to take it off his hands, and he readily agreed.”

Miller filled his pickup with the paneling and set about recycling the material in the purest sense of the term. What he ultimately did with the wood forms the anchor of his engaging and lyrical essay.

As Miller puts it, “‘Wood Blues’ is a story of the near death and ultimate rescue of blue-stain pine, with supporting roles played by bugs and the warp of geologic time.”

Aficionados of green living

In Going Green, Miller joins more than 20 other writers who tell stories of Dumpster diving, eating road kill, salvaging plastic from the beach, re-using old dishwater and Popsicle sticks, preserving old cultures, and renewing old friendships.

The stories also explore larger, thornier issues dealing with what re-using – or not – says about our culture and priorities.

Going Green: True Tales from Gleaners, Scavengers, and Dumpster Divers will debut at Earth Day events and a book-release party from 3-6 p.m. Sunday, April 26, at New Belgium Brewing in Old Town, Fort Collins. Authors, including Miller, will read from their work and host a booth demonstrating recycled material and artwork.

The event is free and open to the public.