On the way home, I pondered whether to find scientific evidence for this phenomenon or just to be grateful for the lessons learned. It is possible to increase the natural resistance of wood to insects and fungus. It starts right in the forest when selecting the trees carefully and timing the harvest correctly.
Of course, I had heard of this old country lore. I also knew from experience that wood logged in winter had different components and ingredients to the one cut in summer. Its natural resistance against fungus and insects is higher compared to the one logged in summer. However it was new to me, to find out the moon phase had such an influence on the Woods' resistance to insect infestation.
These insects easily pick the weakest tree from a thousand logs, the one which counters their infestation with the least flow of resin and immunity. From these observations I concluded that it was not an accident with what I experienced with the two wood stacks on the meadow.
"The one who cuts trees around Christmas time,
His house will be safe and fine.
Around Fabian and Sebastian
The juices start to run."
The only obvious difference for me was the different moon phase when they were harvested and maybe the selection of trees. It was not possible to scientifically explain why the bark beetle preferred his logs to mine; they were stacked just 80 meters apart from each other. From all those years of experience when I was looking after my forestry as a district forester, I knew that bark beetles have a very fine, incredibly accurate sense of direction and gustatory system.
The same wood out of the same forest, on the same meadow stored for the same length of time and logged in the same month of the year - only at the wrong moon phase! His logs were greatly infested with bark beetles. One drill hole was next to the other, every few centimeters. All logs were affected without exception!
The owner was in the building industry himself and well aware of the circumstances. At the wood stack, I handed him an axe and we both looked very closely at and under the bark for any bark beetle infestation. Nothing! About 80 meters away, some of the neighbor's logs were left behind.
What then happened was utterly amazing. The anticipated phone call from the forester didn't come. It was mid-June and hot days and warm nights announced midsummer. There was no doubt that by now even the laziest bark beetle was up and working hard. On one of those summer days, I took the young couple whose house this wood was meant for to check on the logs.
I told Franz that if he found even one beetle in my logs, he was to immediately ring me and I would change all plans and send a truck the next day to pick them up for processing straight away. This agreement was perfect for me. I could rely on the critical eye of the forester and also save myself a couple of control hikes up the mountains.
He was responsible for not having any wood lying around that could trigger an infestation of these beetles. I fully understood his concern but also knew that we needed a few more weeks at the saw mill before we could get to the logs from 'Gerlosspass'. Once the round wood has been debarked and sliced into boards, the bark beetles aren't interested in it as a feeding or breeding ground and the risk is mitigated.
Every time I walked up there and checked, I was reassured and returned at ease. There was no trace of bark beetles at all (those beetles drill into the bark and wood and you can spot their presence by their small drilling dust mounds which appear everywhere). In May, the local forester came with some concern about the log stacks.
It is true that logs lying for long periods with the bark still attached are an ideal breeding ground for insects and that dreaded bark beetle and I was well aware that my wood hadn't been debarked. However, my spruce and larches had been logged at the right time and I was confident and didn't worry. When May approached, I did get a bit restless though and made regular checks on the logs.
No one was afraid that any wood would be swapped or accidentally taken away. A short time later, two meters of thick snowcaps covered both stacks and the logs stayed there untouched until late spring. This year we had a lot of extra work with sawing all the trees we had logged in different areas on those days in December and again in January.
To avoid any confusion, I made sure 'our' logs were stacked separately about 100 meters distance from the edge of the forest. The workers stayed on and kept felling trees which were sold to a wood yard. The logging crew left the other logs about 80 meters away from ours. Both groups of sawyers were in agreement and happy to trust each other.
The harvest of the trees proceeded according to my plans and we finished logging at new moon in Capricorn and the impulse changed from waning to waxing. Nothing extraordinary would have happened, if fate hadn't accidentally intervened. The forester was so interested to keep the workers on for a few days longer, to cut more wood in the same area.
The workers were not the only ones who were curious. The head forester too looked at me with a strange expression when I insisted on specific days for the tree-felling. I fully respected his opinion, however I did insist on having it my way. The only thing which was important for me was that the particular dates were adhered to. Therefore I was present on site, in the snowy-white mountain forest.
At Christmas in December 1992, a group of forestry workers made their way up to the 'Gerlospass', the passage between the 'Upper Salzachtal' and the 'Zillertal' (Tyrolean Alps), to harvest a number of spruce and larches. The workers knew that those trees had been selected by me and that I specified a particular time for their harvest. The men were starting to wonder why particular days of the year were suddenly of such importance. When one said: "This Thoma guy, he is a forester so he should know."
Later, I will introduce you to the secrets of our mysterious forests and how to incorporate nature in an easy and healthy way into your daily life. Irrespective of whether you are just looking to buy some wooden toys, furniture, lay a wooden floor or build a wooden house, this book gives you basic knowledge about wood and its products.
With the increasing use of chemical preservatives in the past century, man, the sorcerer's apprentice, has unfortunately forgotten about these traditional methods. In the first part of this book, you will read about the detour it has taken me to properly understand the wisdom my granddad passed on in his simple words.
The close study of these historical sources also brings to light another point of interest: besides the right timing of the harvest, the correct and thorough choice of wood type for the job required is of importance too. Even the way the tree has grown and the different types of soil and aspects have an influence on the choice.
Ever since we began collecting information about human life, we have found evidence of the bond between man and tree in the form of tools, buildings and other wooden items. Historical sources go back centuries and records show the best times to harvest trees is always in winter. This has been mentioned throughout Chinese civilizations, Roman antiquity and medieval ship-building techniques until the beginning of the 20th century.
Due to its color and texture, untreated wood furniture is highly individual and always one of a kind. Wooden hand tools are sleek, tough, gracious and light. Wooden barrels play a significant role in perfecting the ripening process of the wine or cognac stored in them. How did the old masters know? The ones who produced wooden musical instruments, without which we never would have heard the most beautiful music from?
Man relies on trees not only for building homes. We find examples of this symbiosis in nearly all areas of life e.g. wooden bridges connect two river banks. Their untreated posts have been standing in the water, often for centuries, without polluting the waters with toxic chemicals and without rotting away.
Together we can master most challenges and much of traditional architecture is living proof. There are buildings which have endured centuries of wear and tear, some even have survived fires. However, they were never treated with toxic paints and preservatives. There is an old court building in 'Sulz' which was built 700 years ago and is still made of untreated wood.
During and after finishing my forestry studies, I dedicated myself mainly to native forests and wood. The old wooden chimney became an important symbol of a real connection and friendship. Humankind and tree got to know each other very well over a long period of time. Both learned to handle each other and many secrets have been exchanged.
Caesar and Napoleon, the Roman historian Plinius, the French, German and Austrian forestry commissions preferred time for harvesting wood was in winter, ideally when the moon was waning, just before the new moon in Capricorn. This happens to be around Christmas / New Year every year.