These were floors built to last, unlike the rapidly grown unnaturally soft oak in the parts of the house that are newer and trampled by fewer footprints. The spaces between the pine boards have grown wide and now serve largely as troughs for gathering dust. But sometimes while cleaning, the vacuum excavates an old hat pin or tack, and I ponder their stories.
Where did the pine come from? If the walnut furniture left behind by previous owners or the chestnut beams in the barn are any indication, it was likely from the back forty. There still is forest there, but it is an aged and unhealthy one. Nowadays, these woods are overrun by invasive plants and Hayscented Fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) – signs of human disturbance and too many browsing deer.
Our windows and doors are framed by rough-hewn cherry boards. The cherry trees of Pennsylvania are dying out now; the Prunus descendents have grown old and afflicted with disease and changing climate. The gypsy moths and acid rain have taken their toll too; just ask any of the old oaks. Some still stand majestically like Tolkien’s ents; others are favorite hunting grounds of the Pileated Woodpeckers, Dryocopus pileatus. Still others are losing their large limbs, a slow, but certain death. These insect-laden logs will not be turned into floor boards.
A few black walnuts are still around, and there are white pines, but they are relatively small in girth, nowhere close to the size needed to produce the planks in our house. The chestnuts are, of course, long gone. I love to lean against the chestnut beams in the barn, laden with holes from powder post beetles, but still as strong as steel. I try to imagine the forests that once covered these ridges of the Appalachians providing chestnuts and acorns and cherries for all of the wildlife. And, for this moment, I try not to think of the changes that are yet to come.