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The Green Life: A Woodsman With a Sense of (Re)purpose

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October 06, 2011

A Woodsman With a Sense of (Re)purpose

Sequoia trees A piece of bark, a propane torch, and a butter knife. That’s all Peter Hickey needs to show people the fire resistance of the sequoia tree.

He burns the bark for a couple of minutes, scrapes the carbon out of the hole with the butter knife, and puts his finger into the hole to show that it’s only warm, not hot. And if he can get brave members of the audience to do it, especially children, then, he reckons, “You’ve got yourself a conservationist for life.”

Hickey’s connection to the ancient trees run deep. He lives in a small town about 50 miles from Sequoia National Park, an area his ancestors have lived in for five generations.

Talking with Hickey, his love of and connection to the giant sequoia is palpable. He hopes his fire-resistance demonstration makes people appreciate the species' amazing beauty, and helps nature lovers form their own lasting bond.

The giant sequoias are the largest trees in the world — they can grow as tall as a 26-story building. And according to the National Park Service, the diameter at the base of some of the largest sequoias is wider than many city streets.

As Hickey tells it, before the giant sequoia was a protected species, many of the mature trees were cut down and used for logging. The majority weren't even adequate for the mill, so the logging companies just left them on the ground. Hickey's ancestors then used this discarded wood to make shingles, grape stakes, and fence posts.

Nearly every summer weekend, Hickey heads up to Sequoia Crest, a 785-acre grove of sequoias at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, to sell woodwork — from candle holders to birdhouses to pencil holders — that he’s repurposed from the old grape stakes and fence posts, selling these wares on his website.

Hickey says that in summer, he gets about 25 to 50 visitors each day up at Sequoia Crest. But he adds that his major contact with people is not through the selling of his gifts, but through teaching them about the sequoia, a subject he’s spent a lifetime learning about.

--Josh Marx

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