turned spalted wood bowl

Russian Olive Bowl

We had a howling windstorm one night in Albuquerque. We lived at 6000 feet and that mountain went on up to 9,500 feet. The wind could really whip down the mountain.

Driving in to work the next day I noticed that a Russian olive had blown down in an apartment complex. I tried to find the owner but finally gave up after several days and took its disposal into my own hands.

As the name implies, Russian olive is not a native wood to the United States. Seeds probably came over in hay from central Asia. It is tough enough to make a living on the steppes of Eurasia and had no trouble adapting to its new habitat.

It resists disease and drought and is replacing native species in the southwest. For this reason it is considered a pest. The wood is noncommercial. The trees are never very large and they have a crooked pattern of growth.

Yet the wood is quite beautiful. It looks like an exotic, and I guess it is. So I saved this piece from the landfill.

I made the bowl on my old Sears and Roebuck Craftsman lathe. In spite of the limitations of my tools, I was quite pleased with the piece. It never seems to sell at the craft shows I do, and I am happy to continue to have its company. The swirling grain around the knot adds visual interest to the piece. The ogee form tends to be a pleasing one.

I will tell you a story about the first of this species I ever had the pleasure of working. My wife and I were driving to Gillette, Wyoming. I was going to do a locum tenens and take over a doctor’s practice for a couple of weeks. Then, we were driving on to Stockton, California for a visit with her family.

My mind was wandering as I drove the straight roads through South Dakota and Wyoming and I expressed a desire to have some olive wood to work.

I knew that my wife’s father grew olive trees and wondered if he would give me some wood. My wife said I could ask but all his trees were very young. I said that I really had an intense desire to have some.

The afternoon was hot and the road was long. As she did not share my passion for wood the subject was changed and forgotten. After doing Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota, an experience all to itself, seeing prairie dog colonies for the first time and almost getting run down by a mule deer while walking in a ravine in the Bad Lands we headed on to Gillette.

We arrived at the apartment where we would stay and I noticed some skid marks on the lawn. The next day I saw a Russian olive tree lying on the ground beside the dumpster.

On inquiry it turns out that, about the time I was expressing my desire for olive wood, a teenager took a curve too fast and ended up in the yard. The car sheared off the tree and prevented him from hitting the building.

I asked him if they were going to do anything with the wood. They were not and so I helped myself.

As we later drove on to Californian with the wood on the floor of my little Dodge Colt, my wife turned to me and said I should be more careful as to how I would come by the wood I wanted, so as not to endanger some innocent individual.

I took her warning to heart and have been more moderate in my desires for a specific species of wood. However, she still maintains that I am a wood magnet and it is just naturally drawn to me. Problem is that I am running out of storage space.