Bristlecone is no ordinary wood. Just because it is a member of the Pine family (Pinaceae), that doesn't mean it is in any way "common." Our wood is the Rocky Mountain Bristlecone species (Pinus aristata), and it all grew on a remote mountain hillside in southern Colorado. It is a very slow-growing tree that adapts to extremely harsh environmental conditions that other trees are not able to grow in. Much of our wood has somewhere around 100 years of growth rings within a single inch of wood, which is a real testament to how harsh the mountainside climate is, and how special this wood is.
Somewhere around the 1880s, the entire mountainside known as Bone Mountain burned, and thousands of Bristlecone trees were killed. However, the bones of these extraordinary trees remained, and were subsequently weathered to a beautiful patina by the forces of wind, sun, rain, and snow. Every piece of wood that is harvested from the mountain have been sculpted by the harsh alpine elements for over 130 years.
In the early 1970s, Jim and Ruth Ann Christy began to hand-harvest some of this wood. Jim has a deep love for extraordinary pieces of wood, and I suppose that is what drew him to Bone Mountain. Lacking other markets, he sold thousands of cords of this wood as firewood, but he also never failed to visit Bone Mountain without "adopting" a beautiful specimen of wood that was lovingly carried home over an endless bumpy road to the Christy homestead.
Harvesting the wood itself is an extraordinarily difficult task. Bone Mountain can only be reached during the height of summer, after a 1.5 hour drive from the Christy homestead over difficult four wheel drive roads. The terrain on Bone Mountain is steep, rocky, and brutal to maneuver. Most of the mountain is simply inaccessible to human beings (and most of the wood on Bone Mountain will never be touched), and every piece that is harvested is either carried or dragged via human labor (at 11,000 ft. elevation) to the 1960s trucks that are used to transport the wood. Working on Bone Mountain generally involves dodging freezing rain and/or thunderstorms, and the work of collecting the wood is extremely demanding.
After the wood is brought down to the Christy homestead, it is loaded off trucks and trailers. Since each piece of wood bears different character, it is then individually analyzed for how best to utilize each and every piece. After all, this is an extremely scarce resource, and we feel a real obligation to use it as best as we possibly can. Once this collection of wood is gone, it will never be available again. The only reason this rare and slow-growing Bristlecone is even ethical to harvest is because the entire hillside of trees was killed by natural forces long ago. So each piece is examined, and often two or three members of the family will have a quick discussion about how to best utilize a particularly beautiful feature. Each piece is then cut to minimize waste, and maximize the utility and beauty of the wood. In some instances, the end grain will be sanded (and often sealed) to make the extraordinary grain more visible to potential buyers.
As a general rule, Bristlecones are not large trees, since they grow very slowly in harsh climates. The trees from Bone Mountain have been further eroded by fire, and as such, the pieces are generally smaller pieces. We do have some larger pieces, but have not yet ventured into the realm of selling them, as they are rarer than hen's teeth.
The work of analyzing each piece and cutting it for sale is generally done in Jim's wood shop, which has three walls and roof, but which is open to the sun on the south side, to allow the mountain sun to warm the space. The work is fast paced, as there is always a mountain of wood that needs to be cut, and many buyers eager to purchase a piece of wood. But the job is always done in the spirit which infuses the Christy homestead: appreciation of the outdoors, appreciation of each other, and everyone pitching in to get the days' work done. Hard work is intermingled with chasing children, eating delicious meals, playing games (always after all the daylight has been burned), and stopping to enjoy the crisp mountain air, and the smell of fresh sawdust.
As with the rest of the Christy homestead, the wood shop is powered by solar electricity (Photovoltaics). The Christys' remote location caused them to be very early adopters of solar technologies, and their solar system has evolved and grown over the decades. Today they have the luxury of having more electrical power than at any time in the past, but nevertheless: use of electric wood shop tools is always done with an eye on minimizing electrical usage.
After the pieces are cut, each one is branded, and then boxed to ship down the mountain to our photo studio. In the studio, each piece that is going to be sold online is individually photographed, so that our customers can actually see what they are purchasing. Photos are processed, batched, and eventually uploaded to our online shopping cart software, where an individualized description is written for each piece. After it is sold, each piece is carefully tagged and packaged before being lovingly handed off to the shipping company. We sincerely hope that every piece gets into the hands of someone who can appreciate it, and find joy in handling it.
At the moment, all of the above work is done by members of the family, and a very small circle of close family friends. We are working on increasing our capacity, but by definition, we will always sell this wood in extremely limited quantities.
Our process is not the model of efficiency. Nothing about our operation resembles Amazon.com in any way. Everything we do is about love and respect for our rare wood, for maximizing this incredibly rare resource, and respecting the special place that is Bone Mountain. We always focus on taking care of each other, our customers, and continually trying to steer our lives in the direction of happiness. We try to breathe deeply and enjoy the incredible aroma of the Bristlecone every day, while enjoying the laughter of small children.