The Turtle and the Worms of Justice


Last week I was driving home on Dixie Highway and spotted a small grey lump in my lane. Before I could steer around it, my truck’s tires went over it, and I immediately knew what had happened. I had run over a turtle.

A glance in the rearview confirmed it. The grey lump was flatter and redder. I adore turtles, and so I felt a bit sick to my stomach for several hours.

As penance perhaps, I’ve taken to rescuing earthworms while on my morning walk. When it rains, the worms get stranded on the sidewalk and die. So when I spot a living one I scoop it up on a leaf and return it to the soil.

I’ve got a lot of worms to save. This is the odd way that my head works: I need to save enough worms to equal the weight of a small turtle.

This sort of calculus is hardwired into my brain. You can mock it, but you might as well abuse me for being furry or having odd-shaped toes. There’s not a dang thing I can do about it.

I’ve long had the same urge when it comes to my woodworking. If I had any land, I’d plant trees to replace the ones I’ve used to build furniture. But lately I’ve come up with a different plan.

Now, before I tell you more, please understand I know how forest management works. I’ve visited the hardwood forests of Pennsylvania and watched it in action on both private and public lands. I know that harvesting mature trees is good for the ecosystem and is part of the great circle of life (cue the theme to “Lion King.” Wait, please don’t. It burns).

I try to use domestic woods whenever possible, reclaimed wood when I can, urban trees and even firewood when building stick chairs.

But like when I ran over that turtle, my brain demands more.

So I’ve decided to make a donation to a forest-related nonprofit every time I complete a project. There are many organizations out there that do research and work to create a better future for woodworkers.

To balance my psychic scales for the gateleg table I just completed (and shipped to its new owner in Colorado), I’ve made a donation to The American Chestnut Foundation, a non-profit organization that has worked since the 1980s to restore the American chestnut to the Eastern forest.

Chestnut was once a significant source of food and furniture lumber in the Appalachian forests until the blight, which was first detected in 1904. I’d love for my daughters and grandchildren to be able to work with this wood again.

After each major project, I’ll try to make a note here of which organization I’ve made a donation too. I’m not trying to say you should do the same – this is just the way my brain works.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. I’ll be in Germany for the next two weeks with little access to the Internet (this is intentional; I’ve heard that Germany has had internet for several years now). Kara and the rest of the crew at Lost Art Press will pick up my slack on blogging while I’m away.

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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24 Responses to The Turtle and the Worms of Justice

  1. tpobrienjr says:

    Christopher Schwarz, you are truly a thoughtful and generous man. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  2. blefty says:

    I saw a big snapper on a busy four lane highway in Knoxville and since the four lane wasn’t busy at that moment I scooped the turtle up and took it to my relative’s spring-fed acreage. I’ve since learned I should have left it in the neighborhood where it was.


    • Ah, my favorite TWS episode. For future reference and for the ease-of-searching of others, it’s titled: “The Spirit of Woodcraft” and it’s episode 7 of Season 26 (S26E07).


  3. jayedcoins says:

    Was combing the Underhill archives on the PBS app for a little Sunday morning relaxation. Watched a Thoreau inspired episode he did in 2007. Roy waxes poetic about the beauty of the tree sequestering the carbon we produce, allowing us to ultimately work that wood. Timely for this week and timely for this post, Chris.


  4. Every time I mow my lawn I plant some weeds in my neighbor’s flower beds. So I hear you about evening out the scales of nature.


  5. simplysands says:

    Great post,,, 🌳🌳🌳


  6. My family fusses at me for stopping on the interstate to rescue turtles! Box turtles, sliders, snappers any of them! I have two big common snappers rescued from the butcher! I started a breeding program with them and release their off spring in local swamps! As a carpenter, I recycle as much wood as possible. After hurricane Katrina, people were demolishing and disposing of all “old” wood, I picked up every piece that I could get my hands on! My office driveway has a stack of old cypress and red heart pine as long and as high as three trucks end to end! Love the stuff! …. and I use a lot of it in my restoration business!


  7. I am envious of your visit to Germany as it is a country I love dearly as indeed are most of the countries in the European Union. Thus BREXIT has been a very unhappy experience for me and I am hoping against hope that it will not happen though I fear the worse.

    I hope you have a great time there and enjoy the Weiss Beer.


    • misterlinn says:

      Don’t worry Bernard; “brexit” (stupid, stupid word – made up by morons) won’t make the blindest bit of difference to real people. It’s only something for the weirdos who think politics is somehow important to get their knickers in a twist about. We’ll still be pals with the real people in Europe.


  8. I’m a tree service guy in IA, and this speaks to me. Every tree we take down we try to plant at least two to replace it. The bad part is that we see the Emerald Ash Bore coming and there are a lot of Ash trees in our community. The town has yet to realize this so if you live further west than the Missoury​ start planting trees.


  9. The American Chestnut is making a comeback. They just recently planted a grove of them in Hamilton, OH.


  10. Lee B says:

    Speaking of worms and balance. I read recently about worm bins, where you combine food scraps, dry material (wood shavings?), and red wigglers (a type of worm) to create a rich black compost. Seems like these should be in every home Maybe someday for every rail car of food that comes into town, another rail car of the the townsfolk’s dutifully collected compost will go back out to the country to replenish the soil.

    Things like that and woodworkers donating to forestry projects give me hope that we can find ways for our lives to not be totally out of wack with nature


    • These are really just compost bins made from thick (recycled) plastic and a lid but no base. It is set up on bare soil and any organic waste thrown in. Within a couple of months it should be colonised by wigglers. They turn the rubbish into rich compost that can be used on the garden etc. They work even better is you can add some urine to it!


  11. I appauld your choice, ACF is great organization doing good and important work. I’ve been contributing to them for over twenty years. One day I would love to have some chestnut to build something with. I suppose we are going to need an American Ash Foundation soon too.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Funny you should mention American Chestnut. I had a someone contact me yesterday that had been sitting on a bunch of wormy chestnut he was trying to sell. It was to rich for my blood.


  13. Great idea. I know someone who, among other things, retrieves and sells chestnut floor boards from old mills and factories that are being demolished or altered, as well as other old wood.


  14. Never seen Chestnut spelled Chesnut before. Beautiful print all the same.


  15. Simon Stucki says:

    whenever I run over a turtle I just skip the next turtle soup or chicken or steak… just kidding I stopped eating flesh a few years ago. And luckily the chance to run over something big with my bike isn’t that great. I do feel bad though when I run over or step on a snail or worm or whatever and I try to save them even if I haven’t run over anything lately.
    With wood however it doesn’t feel the same for me, I try to use domestic wood that comes from sustainable sources because I know it is important, but I don’t feel anything (yet?).
    But I really do appreciate very much that you are one of the few real (e.g. someone who makes more that pallet projects) woodworkers who talks and thinks about where our resources come from and who demonstrates that it is absolutely no problem to make beautiful furniture with domestic woods.


  16. Jeff Hanna says:

    I’m in the reclaimed business, so we get quite a bit of chestnut. We probably saw somewhere from 1,000-2,000 BD FT of it a month. If you’re taking down barns here in PA, odds are there is going to be at least some chestnut. I probably get about a dozen calls a week with someone saying they have chestnut (people think they’ve won the lottery). It’s a hard conversation to have with someone; once they believe what they have is chestnut, they don’t want to hear anything else.

    Interesting fact: the chestnut blight has not caused the American Chestnut to go extinct. You can find the saplings here in the mountains all over the place. They only grow so big and then quit. The bark on red oak acts as the host for the blight, though red oak itself is unaffected by it.


  17. Jeff Hanna says:

    Also meant to mention, if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to chestnut, sassafras looks and feels very similar. I’ve seen some that, were it not for the smell (it smells like black pepper), could have fooled me.


  18. Roslin Steeple says:

    I believe every step counts and you, Sir, are making a huge difference. Thank you for sharing this and inspiring me.


  19. Bob Jones says:

    Turtles eat worms. Just throwing that in there.


  20. Hey Chris, I look around as I save worms and gardening, oy! But as the forest so the turtles. Just a thought –


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