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Stop the presses! A good-news story found in L.A.

November 26, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Compton sculptor Charles Dickson takes a break from carving a bench from this earpod, a South American tree with a trunk that was 5 feet in diameter, on the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden in Arcadia.
Compton sculptor Charles Dickson takes a break from carving a bench from… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Tired of reading about all the terrible things in the world? Then this is your lucky day. Because I have a good-news story for you. 

It’s about wood.

OK, I’ll grant you, that’s not on the order of “Cure discovered for cancer” or “World peace at hand” or even “Stores offer free Christmas stuff.” But hey, these days, you take your good news where you find it.

So, let me take you back -- one year ago.  It was a week many Southern Californians won’t forget, as a severe windstorm ripped through the area, tearing up roofs, toppling power lines -- as many as 350,000 people lost power for up to a week -- and downing trees.

And not just any trees. On the grounds of the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden in Arcadia, 235 trees were destroyed and 1,000 others damaged, many of them rare and exotic specimens from around the world.

It was a devastating blow.

As my colleague Alissa Walker reported:

Leigh Adams, an artist-in-residence for the arboretum, remembers feeling the “gut-punch” when she first surveyed the scene. It was as if a giant hand had swept through, she said, “not just knocking down trees, but twisting and turning their branches.”

But when nature gives you lemons, well, yes, sometimes you can make lemonade. And remarkably, that’s what happened:

The grounds were closed for three weeks as scientists assessed the damage -- and began to see opportunity, given the range of species and value of the wood, said senior biologist James E. Heinrich. Local artists saw the value too.

“Almost instantaneously we started receiving calls from people saying, ‘Do you have wood you're willing to get rid of?' ” Heinrich said.

In the end, the downed trees were distributed among 130 artists, furniture designers and wood turners with the understanding that their artworks, bowls, tables, sculptures, games and jewelry would be turned over to the arboretum for exhibition.

The result is “Forces of Nature,” featuring select works from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 -- the same dates as the three-day storm last year. The pieces will be sold at a live and silent auction starting at 6 p.m. Nov. 30. All artists are giving some of the proceeds to the arboretum, and some are pledging all of their sales to purchase new trees.

That’s right. A county (read: government) entity acts not like a bureaucracy but like a person with a heart. Artists get the chance of a lifetime. Regular folks get to see -- and even to buy -- beautiful things. And a wonderful, living resource benefits from it all.

Now, it’s not the biggest story of the year. It’s not even the best good-news story of the year.

But it’s a story that reminds us what’s best about people. And this being the holiday season, maybe that’s a gift we can all use.


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