Guest post by Taylor Six, The Richmond Register
A writer, photographer, a history professor and tree-logger from all across the nation were brought to the small town of Berea Thursday afternoon for their one shared similarity in the interests of John Steinbeck and the restoration of The Western Flyer.
The Western Flyer, known as “most famous fishing vessel ever to have sailed,” was made famous with the sailing of the author Steinbeck, along with marine biologist Ed Ricketts, in their 1940 journey to the Gulf of California, which helped accumulate the notes for their 1951 book, “The Log from the Sea of Cortez.”
The vessel is currently being restored in Port Townsend, Washington, but the wood being used for that project, is being cut and logged right in the forests of Berea.
Friday afternoon, members of the Berea College Forestry Department guided everyone to participate in the logging of the sparse white oak trees for the restoration of the famous fishing vessel.
There are several types of logging, but Berea practices horse or mule logging, which uses the labor of the animal to pull the timber once it is cut, which is more sustainable for the forest and the growth of other trees.
The project, which began four years ago according to Chris Chase, the project’s director with the Western Flyer Foundation, began after Chase was introduced to a local logger to supply the wood for the planks of the boat.
Which is where Holger Groessler, owner of Maple Log Farms in Louisville, came in. Groessler helped construct the Deep Green Residence Hall at Berea College after meeting Clint Patterson, a college forester.
Both Patterson and Groessler had worked to supply the wood for the Mayflower ship restoration, something that Chase remembered, and prompted him to solicit Berea College and Maple Log Farms with their involvement in the project.
“White oak is like a unicorn in the forest, it’s about quality, and Berea is about the last with this quality,” Chase said.
Wendy Warren, the director of the Berea Forestry Outreach Center, said that the city’s forest was chosen for this project because it is one of the few that still grow quality white oak trees.
“The way we maintain our trees is what helps make sure that our wood is so good,” she said.
Chase, who is from Washington, has been working with boats for thirty years and says that the Western Flyer restoration project has been “all consuming.”
He said that the project is nearly a third of the way complete and projects it will be finished in late 2020.
Also hiking along was Jonathan White, with his son, Matthew, who filmed the entire process of the tree cutting.
White, a writer and sailor hailing from Washington, traveled to Berea to be apart of the logging process, as he has a book in the works about The Western Flyer, and it’s being rebuilt.
The two-time published author also has a passion for boats, owning some himself, and said that being a part of the project was just a “natural fit for him.”
Not only is White a part of the trip to log the recreation of the Western Flyer, but he plans to recreate Steinbeck and Ricketts’ journey along the Gulf of California.
He explained that the book is not only about the boat’s restoration, but humanity’s interest in the restoration itself.
“There is not only the physical restoration of the boat, but the restoration also in the fact that this boat will have an entire other life, than that of what Steinbeck and Ricketts did,” he said.
White said that the book is just in the beginning stages, and that he has been doing research for years for this project.
“There is a quote at the beginning of the “The Log of the Sea of Cortez,” that talks about the expectations of their journey, and it says something like, ‘Let’s just go wide open and not put it in a box,'” he quoted. “Even Steinbeck himself didn’t write the book until six months after returning from his journey, so I am going to emulate that.”
Dr. Susan Shillinglaw, a member of the board of directors for the Western Flyer Foundation and director of the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California also trudged in the mud to see the process of the logging.
An avid fan of Steinbeck, most of Shillinglaw’s career was spent as a professor of American literature and John Steinbeck in the English department at San Jose State University, where she was also director of the university’s Center for Steinbeck Studies for 18 years.
“Sometimes it seems like Steinbeck wrote my life,” she smiled. “I live in the same place he did, my husband is a marine biologist (like Steinbeck’s traveling companion, Ricketts) and our wedding anniversary is even on Ricketts’ birthday.”
She has been a lifelong student and scholar of Steinbeck, writing of many instances that the author’s work impacted that nation and the world.
“He is a writer that a lot of people know,” she said. “He had a full and complex career. You know, it is so nice watching people out here, doing this in a way I have never seen before and it is all because of this one project that has brought us all together.”
This article was originally posted by The Richmond Register on April 5, 2019. View the original article here.