Monday, January 12, 2009


In nature there's no blemish but the mind;
None can be called deformed but the unkind

Last night I spent a few hours sanding the stairs. I'm starting with the stairs between the dining room and piano room (only 3 steps) and I'll then move to the other set of stairs (10 steps up to the second floor).

The stairs had some bad stains and some new scratches. Willow maintains that these were caused by Thud. I threatened to bring in a toenail specialist from the CIA, but she didn't blink. She's good.

Wood gets stained like this when it is left unprotected and exposed to moisture for a while. I'm embarrassed to say that I've neglected this problem since we moved in. Various types of fungi and bacteria make the stains while doing their jobs of breaking down the wood fibers. They've been in this business forever, these full-time recyclers of all things organic. And they give you fair warning by showing up as dark splotches on the wood. If given a steady water source they can do real damage and quickly. But on the stairs they just nap and goof off most of the time. They really are pretty cool.

Cheryl and I did some hiking in Alaska, and we learned that wood decomposes there in an interesting way. Most bacteria can't handle the climate, so fungi is king and you see it everywhere and in all forms. Trees fall over and take a long nap on the forest floor covered in thick multi-colored blankets of mossy-looking stuff that slowly eats its way to the earth. The process is much more laid-back that the feeding frenzy here in Florida. The Alaskan redwoods get huge and live forever while their youngsters have a hard time finding enough nutrients to get a start. Pretty good deal.

The sanding process is delicate: I don't want to remove much wood but I need to get most of the stains and scratches out of the way. In this photo (after an hour of hand sanding) you can still see some tiny black marks on the wood. These are caused by gouges, by something pointy that penetrated the step during the past 80 years, making a neat place for the fungi to party.

I can't sand the blemishes away (they are too deep), but I can effectively hide some of them. And the rest will remain as a reminder to me that I (possibly) am also not perfect.

More on this later.

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