By Brad Withrow-Robinson, OSU Forestry & Natural Resources Extension – Benton, Linn & Polk Counties
This blog often carries information about insect or disease problems emerging in local forests and woodlands. Today I will address a sensitive but common problem in the local woodland owner community, starting with the question: Do you or someone you know have an irrational attachment to wood? Behaviors such as holding back low value logs to saw into boards hoarded for undefined future projects may indicate an important condition you need to be aware of, the wood sickness.
Common signs of the wood sickness are large accumulations of round or milled wood in a person’s yard, shed, garage or barn. Excessive buildup of chain saws and other logging tools, portable mills, and all sorts of secondary wood working tools are often also evident. Symptoms experienced by suffers may include dry mouth, shallow breathing and irregular heartbeat when near burl wood, quarter-sawn oak or spalted wood. Quilted maple, figured walnut and live edges have been known to cause sweating and dizziness.
People suffering from wood sickness often imagine great future profit, but are generally reluctant to part with any of the gathered wood, leading to an ever-growing supply. Thus, many hours which these men (yes, a great majority are men) could spend in productive family interactions are spent accumulating wood, arranging piles of wood, rearranging piles of wood, trading wood and shaping pieces of wood into other forms. The most common conversion is from round to rectangular shapes which are more easily dried, arranged and rearranged. But the wood may also be formed into floors, furniture, bowls and other household objects in the belief that it will lead to validation and acceptance of the sufferer’s activities. There is of course little evidence of this ever happening.
Left untreated this condition can become an all-consuming obsession that may lead to the substitution of many familiar metal or ceramic objects with wooden versions, among other things. Treatment options are quite limited, with no pharmaceutical treatments currently available. Rumor has it they are trying out support groups on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In acute cases impacts on the family can be severe, leaving the “woodshop widows” with little recourse but to retreat to the comfort of spinning wheels and sewing machines and the consoling fiber arts.
This article is not meant to stigmatize those with the wood sickness, but to raise awareness and understanding of those with this affliction. It is not limited to but certainly correlated with woodland ownership, and the suffers are commonly friends and family members just trying to lead normal lives while facing future years of retirement. We are deserving of compassion and understanding.