Preserving antiques isn’t just a personal preference for me but an ethical action, tied so much to my environmentalism. So much of our planet has been unsustainably used for resources, mountains dug up completely for minerals and fuels, forests destroyed for their wood…
I have 1920s photos of the Great Smoky Mountains, mountaintops to the horizon and not a tree in sight. The forests regrew, but how much diversity was lost? How much never came back? The American Chestnut is gone to an introduced fungus, the hemlock is following, heart of pine no longer exists because trees can never reach the size they were before. The whole makeup of the ecosystem forever different because life reappeared in a different order than it originally populated an area. In other parts of world, you can find species so specialized they’re only found on a single mountain top…did we have and lose that here when we stripped mountains bare? How many species of plants and insects and amphibians and more did we destroy without ever even knowing they existed?
And it hurt us too. Hardwoods like walnut, used whole for load-bearing columns,
replaced today in construction by cheap, soft, easily-warped pine that has to
be glued together to get a wide enough piece because we’ve squandered
what was available until now it’s no longer feasible to use. Craftsmanship and durability unappreciated when everything’s disposable, our ability to discern material quality, our history of developing different uses for different natural materials lost. How many potential future resources, plant based medicines, biologic-inspired materials, just…simple knowledge of the world, is gone because of our opposition to limiting our consumption, to rationing what we take so it lasts into the future, rather than exploiting it all at once?
When we paint finished woodwork and furniture rather than repair the old finish, when we rip out or “modernize” historic architecture and structures, when we leave old stone to erode away as if it’s worthless…to not respect the products we made from that destruction, to cover up the natural beauty that lead it to be used and exploited in the first place, to throw away and replace the irreplaceable with more destructively-gained and increasingly-inferior materials…painting over old mahogany as if it’s existence and use is no different from today’s laminated particle board and water-logged pine… it’s disrespectful to what was lost, it’s disrespectful to the lifeforms that died to make that piece, it’s disrespectful to the planet itself.