Welsh Oak

Trees made durable by surviving the elements

Cracking open a fortune cookie last week at a Vietnamese restaurant, I read a fascinating line:

“Good timber does not grow with ease
The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees.”

For some reason this struck a resonant chord. Curious as to where this little saying came from, I whipped out my cell phone and looked it up. The line comes from a simple poem by Douglas Malloch titled “Good Timber.” Known as the lumberman’s poet, Malloch grew up at the turn of the last century amidst the forest, logging camps, sawmills and lumber yards of western Michigan.

The stanza of his poem goes on to say:

“The further sky, the greater length
The more the storm, the more the strength
By sun and cold, by rain and snow
In trees and men good timbers grow.”

This reminded me of something I read once. In the 18th century, Welsh oak was highly prized for ship building. Admiral Rodney of the British navy requested it specifically, and the trees were cut and floated down the Severn River to Bristol. Welsh oak was valued because it grew in difficult conditions–unrelenting wind, rain, snow and cold–making the wood slow-growing and the grain more dense, and therefore more resistant to cannonballs.

Malloch’s poem ends with:

“Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife
This is the common law of life.”

His poem also got me thinking that the stories we write, no matter the genre, usually concern individuals facing conflict and obstacles in their lives and emerging changed and stronger. It’s the common law of life, something we can all connect with. This is the universal story.

Provoked by a simple line from a fortune cookie, I rediscovered that our God has no intention of making our lives easy and comfortable.  Those who suffer and survive hardship are equipped to minister to others going through similar travails. We are meant to endure stiff winds and the lashing of the elements. It increases our dependence and trust in our Creator. It builds character, makes us strong and solid, and increases our usefulness in this life, wherever we are planted.

We are being refined into Welsh oak.