Pondering the Ponderosa Pine

The memorial to the ponderosa pine – a service berry tree is planted in the hollowed out stump.

Near the main house structure of Desert Rain  is a service berry tree planted inside a large stump.  It is a memorial to the magnificent ponderosa pine tree that once graced the property.  In the fall of 2009 in the very early stages of design and deconstruction of the existing houses on the site, the ponderosa pine posed a difficult decision.  Chris Hart-Henderson, landscape designer with Heartsprings Design has been with the project since Desert Rain was still a concept. She came in early to help guide the process of design in relation to existing vegetation, the orientation of the house, and how to take advantage of the vegetation and the views.  Part of Chris’s task was to help negotiate Barb and Tom through the process of weighing in the value of existing trees, including the aged ponderosa; what was the inherent value, the long -term value, the longevity? Should the home be built around the envelope of existing trees or should they come down?

Some of the tree planting crew. Two hundred one ponderosa pine seedlings were planted at Shevlin Park to balance the removal of the 201 year old ponderosa at the the Desert Rain site.

The ponderosa pine as the old house on site was undergoing deconstruction.

Barb was fond of the ponderosa and had concerns that removing it would negatively impact the environment and drastically change the character of the property. From the design and build viewpoint, there were concerns about the health and age of the ponderosa. The height and span of the branches created a good deal of shade that would be detrimental to the proposed solar energy system.  In the end, the difficult decision was made and the ponderosa came down.

Barb and Tom held a neighborhood contest to guess the age of the tree.  The winner received an artisan spoon, carved from the wood of the tree.  The ponderosa was estimated to be 201 years old.  In addition to the on-site memorial planting, Barb, Tom, friends, and volunteers planted 201 ponderosa saplings in Shevlin Park on the westside of Bend.  Part of the ponderosa was milled into lumber that will be used on site for fencing, benches, tabletops, and landscaping.  Some of the larger timbers have become inventory for future building.

Tom and Barb with the ponderosa logs in the background.

Ponderosa pine is one of the most important timber species in the western United States. Approximately 1.3 billion board feet of ponderosa pine lumber is produced annually out of Oregon, the largest supplier in the United States. It is popularly used for the construction of buildings. Contributed by USDA NRCS National Plants Data Center


On the mill – from log to timber.

Al Tozer, designer, with Tozer Design, incorporated the ponderosa memorial into the design plans. Al uses simple organic elements in his work.  He had the idea of a ‘paint brush stroke across a white canvas – an arcing stroke’. He came up with the idea of a curved wall that flows from indoor to outdoor spaces. Inside, the graceful curving wall separates the public spaces in the house from the private more intimate spaces. Outside, the wall will overlap and continue to wrap around the ponderosa memorial.  Al defines the look on a blank sheet of paper, ‘it is like the start of a Miro painting – simple curving lines that overlap. That creativity and geometry is imbedded into the house, and the house is wrapped around that organizing element’.

Barb and Tom admire the memorial plaque created by Bill Sturm of Oregon Timberworks using a slab of the ponderosa.

What is now called the ‘Miro’ wall, has become the spine of the home. When the home and landscaping are completed, the wall will visually bring the inside out and the outside in.  The reflective space created by the wall wrapping around the ponderosa memorial will give pause to pondering.  The spine and beauty of the ponderosa pine that once grew at Desert Rain, will retain its value – it will be remembered and honored.

The graceful curve of the ‘Miro’ wall back in the very early stages of construction.

The Artist – Miro
Joan Miró i Ferrà (April 20,1893 – December 25,1983) was a world renowned Spanish Catalan painter, sculptor, and ceramist who was born in the sea port city of Barcelona. Joan Miro



The beauty of wood – details of the plaque – walnut dovetails will keep the slab from splitting further.

Honoring Trees

The timber frame construction on the sign reflects the essence of the business of Oregon Timberworks.

In France, there is an ancient guild of craftsmen known as the Compagnons Du Devoir. Within the guild, dating back to 1226 AD, there are twenty-one different trades, one of which is carpentry, and more specifically, timber framing. In France, Compagnons built and continue to build everything from the great cathedrals to farmhouses and barns. It is a time-honored system of ‘stagiaires’ (trainees), working to become ‘aspirants’ (candidates), striving to become compagnons – the masters. The Compagnons must then pass on their knowledge, values, and ethics assuring dignity within their noble profession. The system fosters the perfection of character and education in each person resulting in more than 800 years of quality craftsmanship in building history.

Barb Scott and Bill Sturm of Oregon Timberworks with the ponderosa plaque in the background.

It was this history of the Compagnons and the legacy of the buildings that inspired local timber framer, Bill Sturm to pursue his passion.  Bill, owner of Oregon Timberworks, recently worked on a project for Desert Rain. He created a massive memorial plaque from a slab of the 201-year-old ponderosa pine tree that was removed from the building site.  I visited Bill at his shop to learn more about his craft and the materials he works with.

Some of the timbers in the stack.




Bill began his career as an architecture student at Georgia Institute of Technology.  He spent a year in Paris studying design and architecture where he was intrigued by the heavy, timbered structures, wooden joinery, and longevity of the built environment.  He attended the Design/Build program at University of Oregon, worked as a carpenter on traditional framed houses, and eventually found his way to a timber frame shop in Sisters, Oregon.  In 2000 he created his business, Oregon Timberworks.

Bill Sturm, owner of Oregon Timberworks, milling timber on site at his shop.







In the early years, Bill said there was very little use of reclaimed wood.  ‘Green’ was not yet a common term in the building trade and Bill did not intentionally choose timber framing as a sustainable profession.  Today he finds his craft and his business have all the elements of meeting environmentally conscious and sustainable building practices.  The quality of workmanship, materials, and design creates a structure with longevity.  He uses reclaimed materials when available.  The reclaimed timbers tend to be large diameter, high quality wood from demolition projects – grain elevators, commercial structures, barns.  Any new timber he uses comes from small mills. Bill often knows the source of the timber as he visits sites to choose the standing trees.

This reclaimed timber is an impressive 20″ x 24″ and was 50′ long when Oregon Timberworks was called to come in and cut them to smaller lengths.

Oregon Timberworks builds furniture, signs, houses, and barns. A recent project was a 40’ high tree house in the Willamette Valley. The process is math based so pieces can be designed and cut at the shop and then shipped to the building site. One house went to Hawaii in two containers. Bill likes to maintain control of the process so he works with a crew on site to construct the frames on the building sites.

Bill is adamant about not wasting wood or what he calls, ‘drop’.  He is a self-proclaimed timber hoarder, saving almost all scraps of 24” lengths and sometimes even shorter, if he likes the wood. Eventually, this ‘waste’ may end up in a project – a furniture piece, bench, or saw horses.  After many cuts some small scraps find their way to the firewood pile. Even then, Bill admits to occasionally rescuing a piece.

Bill has a story and enthusiasm for almost all the timbers stored at his shop. He exudes knowledge and a love for trees, timber, and his craft. Port Orford Cedar was used for the tree house project. Though not a true cedar, it is native to southwest Oregon. It has an interesting history and is considered a spiritual tree by the Japanese.

Port Orford Cedar Chamaecyparis lawsoniana is a cypress known by the name Lawson Cypress in the horticultural trade, or Port Orford-cedar in its native range although not a true cedar. C. lawsoniana is native to the southwest of Oregon and the far northwest of California in the United States, occurring from sea level up to 1,500 m (4,900 ft) altitude in the Klamath Mountain Range valleys, often along streams. (source Wikipedia)


Scarf joints are used to join two timbers together to make one longer timber that is structurally strong.

Bill has a spiritual philosophy about trees as well. His most eloquent words give perspective and reverence to his chosen craft of timber framing and working with natural timber.  ‘We have to appreciate that this timber was a living-breathing tree. The best way to honor a tree is to never let it see a burn pile. We must always let it keep its value’.

The plaque that Bill made for Desert Rain is mounted on a wall inside the house, honoring that Ponderosa pine.  The rest of the ponderosa story will be unfolding in an upcoming post helping that tree keep its value.

Some of the massive, reclaimed timbers in the pile came from Powell Books in Portland. Bill is always on the lookout for reclaimed timber.



So Many Changes in So Few Days

Desert Rain as seen from from the western edge of the lot. Plywood temporarily covers some window spaces, while sheeting covers others. April 1, 2012.

I made my way out to the Desert Rain site this afternoon after being out of town for a week. And what a difference seven days make! The cisern’s exterior walls are partially formed.

The cistern continues to take shape. April 1, 2012.

On the northern half of the cistern, where the interior wall forms have yet to be placed, you can see the reinforcing steel rebar that will give the walls additional tensile strength.

The home is now completely covered in plywood siding (FSC-certified and free of red list materials), except of course for those areas in which there will be doors and windows.

The curve of the interior “Miró wall” is seen in the foreground. At the back, the first section of the wall has been framed. April 1, 2012.

Inside, the Miró wall is also taking shape. This curved wall runs the entire east-west length of the home; in fact, it runs through the home and into the outdoor spaces, including a patio area devoted to memorializing a Ponderosa that once stood on the site (the large tree was removed in compliance with Living Building Challenge standards and is being milled in Tumalo for use in the home). Visually, the wall brings the outide in, and the inside out. Designed by Tozer Design Studio, this unique element was inspired the work of Joan Miró. “I had this idea of just this paint brush stroke across a white canvas—an arcing stroke,” said architectural designer Al Tozer. “That paint brush stroke was tied into the Ponderosa memorial with a secondary paintbrush stroke that overlapped the first then wrapped around the geometry of the Ponderosa memorial. Now, on a blank sheet of paper, it almost looked like you had the start of a Miró painting. That creativity and geometry was imbedded into the house, and the house is wrapped around that organizing element. Now it’s become the spine of the home.”

This landscaping layout shows how the Miró wall takes shape outside of the home—note the area between the main home and the accessory dwelling unit (“decomposed granite patio” and “existing ponderosa memorial”). The wall will wrap around the memorial tree. April 1, 2012.

Tozer’s Miró wall was not a part of the home’s original design. It only came to be after the first design was shelved when Tom and Barbara decided to strive for Living Building Challenge 2.0 certification. This is a beautiful testament to the remarkable things that come about with change—even when the change is difficult or painful. Says Tozer, “When you’re faced with the idea that something isn’t working, that’s pretty intense. Then you think, we have a blank sheet of paper. Let’s come up with something fresh and new. It’s fun to grab hold of something a client might have said or shared … and then let the creativity bubble up and try to build that into a new design. It’s really been fun.”

The memorial tree in the yard of Desert Rain. April 1, 2012.