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The Story of Paper: From the Tree to Your Desk

Do you ever find yourself staring at objects, or turning an item in your hand, squinting at it and feeling some kind of bafflement as to how an object came to be what it is? If so, then this story might be one for you.

For years, the human race has relied on physical paper copies to transmit their stories, memories, facts, histories, messages and more across time and space. But what about the story of paper itself? Who’s telling that? Everybody knows paper is trees, but how does this happen?

Here is my account of the life of a piece of paper:

A tree’s body:

The story of paper must begin with the tree trunk. Each trunk has its own outer layer of bark to protect it from nasty little threats in the world: It is the tree’s armour, naturally formed to shield it from harmful forces like wind, rain, climbing children and grazing insects.

Hiding just inside the bark is thin Cambium, which holds the key to the cells which become the bark and inner wood:

Attribution due to Peter Linehan under Creative Commons License 2.0

Sapwood is a tree’s lifeblood; it flows through the parts of the tree’s body just as our own blood does. It ensures the tree’s nourishment and healthy existence.

And finally, the aptly named Heartwood is the innermost part of a tree’s trunk. It isn’t living but it’s the tree’s strength, stability and core.

Attribution due to Aleksi Steinberg under Creative Commons License 2.0

All this material is formed of fibres, tiny little friendly cellulose strands stuck together by way of a natural adhesive called lignin.

And this is where our part in the story of paper begins, as it is through our separating and rearranging these very same fibres that brings paper into existence

Early steps:

First of all, chop chop, the tree’s body gets cut down.

Attribution due to Beatrice Murch under Creative Commons License 2.0

The logs are then taken to a paper manufacturing company, where they’re bathed, soaked and cleaned before being transformed into good little chips of wood.

The little chips are arranged according to size and moved on for pulping.

And what is pulping I hear you ask?

During this stage, individual wood fibres within the chips are broken apart and separated: It is essentially a making soft of the previously tough and hard substance to produce a malleable, mushy and watery product.

Some other ingredients are also usually thrown in around this point, things like starch, China clay, talc and calcium carbonate which contribute to the strength and brightness of the young paper.

 

Moving on the mush

The created mush that we now have is pretty much 99% water at this point, somehow, this all needs to be squeezed out. First, the papermakers spray the stock onto a wire, which is actually a wide, long screen, not a wire.

The water drips out the bottom and meanwhile, the little fibres are caught on the top side of this wire where they start becoming friends and bond to form a very thin mat.  This bed of fibres at the top of the wire is then squeezed for all it’s got between press rollers that take out yet more of its water.

The Final Steps:

Even after of all this squeezing and wrenching, the mushy stuff is still 60% water.

Let commence the dry end of the paper story: Huge metal cylinders are filled with steam and the stubbornly wet mat passes through these gigantic hot rollers.

This process of heating and drying the wet sheet gradually forces the fibres closer and closer together to transform the mush into the glossy magazines and A4 sheets of paper we see all around us. Voila!

Ok, wait this isn’t quite the end of the story.

The fledgling paper is made ready for the world:

The paper makers use a machine called the Calendar which is not a calendar. It refers to big, massive and heavy iron rollers that press the drying paper smooth, all uniform in thickness.

Sometimes, depending on our piece of paper’s function in the world, it is coated with a substance such as clay which makes it glossy and easy to print on.

And this is how a matted bed of tree fibres comes to serve us as paper in a countless number of ways in the human world.

Paper Problems

I love paper and would never want to ban it from existence, I love writing on it, drawing, folding, making paper aeroplanes, you name it… But we should also be aware of some downsides that are a result of this story.

Pulp and paper mills are actually among the worst polluters to air, water and land and I don’t want to state the obvious, but it also uses up a vast quantity of trees.

Still, trees are renewable so that’s not the end of the world as some might have you believe: Most of the time tree farms operate by a cut one down, plant one new policy which is…good. What this policy doesn’t resolve is the natural diversity and population of an unharmed forest habitat where animals can live how they are used to and want to.

So, the point is, to be aware of other solutions and rally around ways to keep the stories of paper going but in the most ethical way possible. Recycling efforts help massively and so far count for recovering about 43% of all paper used. We should definitely support the paper mills that use only recycled waste as their primary source of raw material.

There are also alternative natural products that can actually stand in for wood, especially when combined with recycled paper: Wheat, oat, barley and left over crop stalks.

Maybe it’s time got more of the paper glory?

Sometimes it’s good just to know these things and get the word out. This is why companies like Whitepages are to be commended: With the growing number of people that would prefer to just find the correct online directory site and hit ‘search’ for the contact information they need rather than trail through a book too heavy for them to lift with one hand, Whitepages has recognized the declining need for default print copies of every phone directory.

Their solution is to operate an Opt-in delivery program, so if you REALLY want one, don’t worry, you can get one.

But Whitepage’s philosophy seems to be pretty much just right: It’s not about halting the paper story; it’s about managing it, and not creating thousands more unnecessary individual paper stories.

Amalia Dempsey is a dedicated fan of paper, interested in writing and the world. She supports White Pages, an online telephone directory and address finder, and their quest to ban unnecessary print copies of long directories.

 

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The Sky is Laughing at Me – a Young Woman Comes of Age

- Anonymous

I’m sitting on my bed looking out of my windows at the canyon, and out at my campus. Even though it’s almost summer, the sky is filled with grey clouds, and its dark outside. The light seeps through crevices in the storm, only to illuminate the fluttering of the leaves on the trees that are swaying in every direction. I don’t sleep because the howling wind encloses my corner room, and is slapping against my windows.

So, I’m sitting here, watching. It’s amazing how the earth can be so full of energy. But that energy is neither good nor bad, and it is not happy or sad. This energy is movement, and existence. It’s not complicated, it just is. This energy just happens, it can’t be controlled, and it can’t be predicted. It affects everyone at different times. Sometimes bad things happen as a result of storms, but sometimes people are lucky enough to safely observe them from inside their comfy rooms, and comfortable lives. I am sitting on my bed, but I know my heart is outside, struggling, swaying, in the dark, and howling. But at least, it is existing.

A little bird just perched itself up on my window sill, and then quickly flew away. For a moment, as I glanced over I felt a flutter of happiness for something so small to exist among the storms in life. But this was fleeting, as the black bird flew away against the backdrop of the storm.

When the trees stop moving for a second, there is a tangible tension. You know they are waiting for more wind. They are still for a second, stiff with anticipation of what to come. But when the wind blows, the move fluidly and without ceasing. The wind decides when they move, and in what direction they will go. The clouds play too, and let a little bit of sunlight through, so that everybody can witness this. This is a game. There is an energy between them, and I feel that I can sense it.

Is there a tension between them and me as well, that I foolishly think is blocked by the window and wall that separates me from outside? Am I a part of this game of existence? Is it possible for my energy to be neither good, bad, happy nor sad, and can I just simply exist? Can I just be, or am I more?

Who do I want to be? Do I want to exist, or do I want to be more? I want to be one with these trees, and the wind, and the clouds, and the darkness. I don’t want to fear. I want to move when I am pushed, and sway when there is force against me. Let the stresses of a storm press against me, that I may discover who I am in the silence of its passing.

At one time I found happiness in an idea of who I wanted to be. I wanted to be the woman my boyfriend loved. I wanted to be popular among my friends, loved by my family, the funny girl at parties, the nerdy student who always attended, and eventually the beloved teacher who also had her own kids that she and her husband adored. Like the light shining through the clouds illuminating the movement of the trees, it is so clear to me now that I can still have all those things. I am still moving even in this storm, and in this darkness. The only thing that has changed is that now they won’t all be with “him.”

So I am a tree, and I wait for the next set of wind to move me. I feel stiff with anticipation and anxiety because I do know more is to come. I’m still, and in a storm, this feel unnatural. I am nervous, and I don’t like it. But I can’t escape the truth because of the glare the sun is giving me dares me to realize the game is not over yet.

As the black bird perched atop my windowsill allowed me to admire it for a second before flying away, so “he” brought me the same glimpse of happiness. He stopped at my window and for a second I knew him, and he let me see him and love him. Away he flew, and the moment of rare happiness was left with a void and empty foreground atop an abysmal set of storm clouds. But since that moment, I have seen other birds fly by, and even though they are mere shadows cast by the rays of the sun piercing the black clouds, I know they are in this storm too. I wait for one of these birds to rest for a second, and let me see it. At least I know there are other birds.

Like these trees, I want to let life move me. I want to be flexible, and experience everything that happens around me. I want to see, I want to play, and I want to be.

Eventually I may get used to waiting for wind, and my energy will just exist. I don’t want to be this sad person that I have become. I know I can still have a nice life, and just one variable has changed. I want to close my heart to him, but open it up to love this deeply in other areas of my life.

I want to sincerely serve others. When I tutor I want to love the students in the after care center so much that I can’t wait to get to go there. I want to love my family, and enjoy hearing about everything they say, feel, hear, think, see, eat, do…everything. I want to be thoughtful and considerate. I want to be kind, and in tune with people’s needs. I want to listen to my friends, and hug them more often. I want to compliment people more, and appreciate them for what they do. I want to be friendly and welcoming. I want to be easier going, and less bossy. I want to be a lover, and a sweet girl. I want to feel free.

I want to feel. I want to know love in all the parts of my body like I do now. The way I know in my bones, stomach, heart, soul, mind, and everywhere that I loved him.  I want to know that sort of love, but for others. I don’t’ want to know love in my bones, heart, soul, mind and gut because it makes me weak and sick. I want to experience a love that I feel in my toes, and fingertips because it makes me better, and emboldens me. I want to love so powerfully that I feel it in my core, and I want to be somebody that helps people.

I don’t want there to be room for badness, sadness or anger in my body anymore. When there is no wind moving me, I want to stand tall and firm. I don’t want to wait nervously, but instead excitedly. I want to anticipate storms and embrace them as they come, as a confirmation of my existence. I am strong. I am. I am part of this, and I am more than this. I am more than an energy because I have life. Even though life is where the good, bad, happy and sad come from… life is what makes you free. I can do more than exist as an energy does, because I can live. I can be a tree, and await a storm,  but I get to choose how I wait. I can wait nervously, or I can be joyous for what is to come. Storms are solely energy, neither good nor bad, happy nor sad…so I can choose. I have choice. I can choose if this is a good storm, a bad one, a happy storm, or a sad one. It exists, but I live it.

I’m the one moving with the wind. Life is a choice, and I can choose who to be and what dreams I have. I can love people to my roots, and touch the world with my branches. I can wave to birds passing by with the flickering of my leaves.

I can’t control this storm, but I can control me. I can be an energy that is good, and I can live a life that is happy. The sky is laughing at me because the light I see shinning through already knew what its message was all along, but sometimes it’s hard not to get lost in the darkness.

I am a tree, and there are other trees with me, but I know now that he was just a bird.

 

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