Issue 9 T.O.C. – “The Scribes of Nature: Dendrochronology & the Deeper Story of Wooden Objects” – Michael Updegraff

This is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Nine. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come. 

Please note that the subscription window which includes Issue Nine is open now through August 28th.

Courtesy Peter M. Brown, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research (
“The Scribes of Nature: Dendrochronology & the Deeper Story of Wooden Objects” Michael Updegraff


Trees capture and store a remarkable amount of information as they grow. From seasonal variations in rainfall to larger climatic trends, growth rings reflect the many variables that influence a tree’s steady climb skyward. Chop that tree down, mill it into boards or hew it square, and use it to raise a barn or build a table, but that information remains –  safely stored away, until someone fluent in the language of trees can read it. 

Photo Credit: Nation Science Foundation

Enter the science of dendrochronology. Methods have been developed to unlock the history stored in the timbers of old barns, or within the grain of centuries-old wooden buckets, that can speak to us today and reveal secrets about that object. Author Michael Updegraff explores this discipline as it has progressed, from simply tallying ring counts in the early days of the science, towards the future of actually analyzing the substance of the rings themselves –  elements of the atmosphere stored away by the tree centuries ago. “It’s as if vinyl aficionados had been enjoying their record album collections by cataloging dimensions and measuring grooves,” he writes, “only to discover that there was music hidden within.”

In accurately dating a historic house, examining a piece of furniture long considered a forgery, or cementing the lineage of a multimillion-dollar violin, this science offers fascinating insights into the study of wooden artifacts, as well as deep contemplations of the living historical record embodied in the growth of a tree.


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