Throughout the book, but especially in the first two sections (“A Sand County Almanac” and “The Quality of the Landscape”), Leopold looks to trees and wood in general as records of history, often comparing them to archives and libraries. This is made clear early in the Almanac when Leopold narrates the cutting down of a tree and, as he saws through each of the tree’s many rings, moves gradually backward in history, providing an account of various events that occurred during the tree’s lifetime. Trees provide clues about history based on how and where they grow. Trees form one ring each year, and the space between rings can indicate whether a given year was wet or dry, or even whether the tree sustained an injury. At one point, a tree that has grown in front of an abandoned barn door tells Leopold exactly how long it has been since the barn was regularly used. Similarly, healthy or sick trees can provide clues about the history of the soil, and the health of the landscape. In this way, trees and wood come to symbolize knowledge of the history of the land.
Wood Quotes in A Sand County Almanac
Now comes the job of making wood. The maul rings on steel wedges as the sections of trunk are upended one by one, only to fall apart in fragrant slabs to be corded by the roadside.
There is an allegory for historians in the diverse functions of saw, wedge, and axe.
The saw works only across the years, which it must deal with one by one, in sequence. From each year the raker teeth pull little chips of fact, which accumulate in little piles, called sawdust by woodsmen and archives by historians; both judge the character of what lies within by the character of the samples thus made visible without. It is not until the transect is completed that the tree falls, and the stump yields a collective view of a century. By its fall the tree attests the unity of the hodge-podge called history.
The wedge, on the other hand, works only in radial splits; such a split yields a collective view of all years at once, or no view at all depending on the skill with which the plane of the split is chosen. (If in doubt, let the section season for a year until a crack develops. Many a hastily driven wedge lies rusting in the roods, embedded in unsplittable cross-grain.)
The axe functions only at an angle diagonal to the years, and this only for the peripheral rings of the recent past. Its special function is to top limbs, for which both saw and wedge are useless.
The three tools are requisite to good oak, and to good history.