I grew up spending my childhood living most of the year in Chehalis, Washington, and spending my summers living with my Grandparents in a small town in Northern Germany. I have many happy memories of the woods in both places, having been afforded the freedom to explore the forest with my friends, build forts, and cause just the right amount of trouble. I’ve also been an avid mushroom hound since early on.
Corina’s affinity for the forest stems from her childhood as well. She grew up living in the middle of the woods with no electricity in a one-room log cabin, hand-built by her father, a carpenter by trade. Corina and I met shortly after we had both finished University. At 23, I started my career as a financial advisor for Edward Jones, which still encompasses my time to this day. In short order, Corina and I were blissfully wed. We bought our first home, started to settle down, and popped out a few kids. We even thought about painting our picket fence white.Along the way I was introduced to an assortment of characters, many of whom I blame for getting us into this tree farming predicament in the first place. At one point, Corina commented how it seemed to her that tree farmers seemed to be some of the most balanced and content people that we knew. Maybe there was something to this...
We decided that we wanted to become tree farmers. There were only two problems; we didn’t have any money to buy a tree farm (and tree farms don’t grow on trees) and we didn’t know anything about tree farming. The first problem we tackled using my skill set as a financial advisor; we budgeted, scrimped, and saved. We went for eight years with no TV, no cell phones, and tried to save in any way we could. Finally the day came where we felt financially comfortable to be able to make an offer. I still however, knew very little about tree farming. So I did what I have always done when I didn’t know what I was doing; I found out who did it the best and then copied them. I have many people to thank in this regard (mainly for letting me bend their ears for hours on end): Bill Scheer, Steve Stinson, Jim Murphy, and old timers like John Rankin and Adolph Huber.
So, finally equipped with just the right amount of knowledge to do some real damage it was time to take the plunge. I wrote up an offer, and it was promptly rejected. I found another tree farm for sale, and it was bought out from under me by a logger/developer who flew in on a fancy helicopter. This pattern went on for two years. It turns out there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to acquisitions. But, persistence pays off, and eventually we owned our first tree farm. In hindsight, there are many ways to acquire a tree farm; once, I negotiated a deal into the late hours over beers at a bar (drawn up and signed on napkins), another time, I haggled contract terms with John Meek using a coin toss to determine the outcome, and I’ve even done it the old fashion way, with an agent.
We currently own several parcels of land in Lewis County that we manage as a long-term multi-generational (hopefully!) tree farm. We own most of this in the name of our company “Waldgeist, LLC” which is German for “woodland spirit” believed by the old pagans to be the custodians of the forest. This is how we see ourselves, temporary custodians of our forest. I’ve tried my best to keep learning about how to do this well. I’ve served as president of my local farm forestry chapter, and got to know many folks who have helped nudge me in the right direction.
My day job, as a financial advisor, tends to color the way that I view the world. I don’t believe that we can successfully steward our lands unless we are able to benefit from them financially. The alternative is to sell off the land for development. I’ve been working at creating a long term harvest plan that would allow for an annual harvest of timber that would last into perpetuity, and therefore act as a de facto perpetual family annuity. Just like with portfolio management, we are working to employ the idea of diversification. We have tried to diversify our forestland by location, age, use, and tree species. That being said, each one of us definitely has our favorite trees. Mine is easy, as my favorite smell in the world is freshly cut Cedar. Corina tends to enjoy the lacy aesthetic of the Hemlock, even going so far as to ponder using it as a Christmas tree. To each his own.
After having owned timberland for a number years, we have come to appreciate everything that it does for our family and extended family. We enjoy the traditions of mushroom hunting in the fall (Chanterelles, Lobster, and Cauliflower!) and picking native blackberries and wild strawberries in the summer. In the springtime, Corina scours the woods for flowers for our home. In the winter, we heat with firewood (which I chop on Sundays). We built our home using timbers (and glulams) that we milled from our own land. We use our trails for daily walks and runs with our dogs. I’ve created annual traditions with my college buddies that include camping, target shooting, and late nights around the fire. The woods help to keep us well balanced; for me, there is nothing more meditative than spending a day out in the forest, either using hand tools, my power saw, or my tractor. Our hope is that these traditions will continue on with our kids, and then their kids. I’ve seen how this can work, and I am also painfully aware of how it can fall apart. I’ve learned that in order for the next generation to want to continue the legacy, they need to be emotionally and financially involved early on, and they need to work for this. From an early age, our kids have been involved in planting, habitat restoration, and general tree farm maintenance. We pay market rate, $.25/tree. It’s amazing how long it takes an eight-year-old to earn ten bucks, but it’s worth every penny.