Cutting balsa logs for the raft

08.02.2006 @ 11:56
We hear the splintering noise of core wood cracking slowly. A sound like that of thousand cracks of a whip runs through the air as if transmitted by surrounding loudspeakers. Thick branches being crushed into pieces in less than a second. The boom and the vibration from 40 meters of balsa hitting the ground become understandable only when personally experienced.


I ran towards the fallen tree as if I were the first person approaching the site of an accident. I felt strangely emotional about this tree. The hot, moist air was filled with seeds scattering with the wind - the mother tree creating her last generation of new balsa babies. The first Tangaroa tree has been cut down. This happened on the very same spot where Thor Heyerdahl started his incredible career 59 years ago.

Finally our questions will be answered: Will these trees ever become the basis of our raft?  The core sample of this specific tree had been dubious. At a meter’s height, the test sample revealed some strange reddish sawdust smelling like a mixture of urine and Tabasco. Further up the ladder we had collected a perfect sample. What kind of tree was this really? What kind of disease did it suffer from?

After having stated that the crash didn’t cause any damage on the log, we were deeply disappointed to meet such a sad sight at the bottom end; the stump resembled an anthill soaked in red wine… This was definitely not proper material for taking us safely across the Pacific! The excitement died out, and Olav in particular turned quiet, as he had given his name to this tree…

But Angel, the plantation supervisor, tells the man with the chain saw to cut off another meter of the tree…and I will never forget that beautiful sight of a perfect balsa tree now appearing, healthy all the way through to the inner core!

Several trees hit the ground that day under the burning sun, and we learnt more about natural science than from all previous school excursions. The bark was being removed the traditional way; a slimming of several hundred kilos per tree. The architect behind the rotten sawdust turned out to be a worm that, during a period of three years, feed very well on balsa before turning into a fat, colourful, flying bug.

On our way back to the hotel at the end of a long working day we pass through kilometres of balsa woodland. Hundreds of species of birds sing in these woods, a token of the advantage of the balsa industry compared to mono-cultures like e.g. banana plantations. In the balsa plantations several species of trees live side by side, and the balsa trees may be grown without utilizing any kind of eradicant.

Torgeir Sæverud Higraff


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