L'Alpe

L’Alpe 62 : Wood in every shape and form

Translations : Cary Bartsch

Written for people looking for information with meaning, L’Alpe is the first review devoted to the many cultures and heritages of Alpine Europe. Its ambition is to provide information, language barriers not withstanding. As your guide, L’Alpe looks at the people who, from the meandering Danube to the Rhône, have adapted to an exceptional climate. A cross between a book and a magazine, it draws on the first to provide background documents on a main theme, supported by rigorous analysis, an insistence on quality and the notoriety of renown authors. From the second, it adopts a quarterly rhythm for regular contributions to current debates, rich illustrations, the insatiable curiosity of its journalists and a necessarily didactic approach. Though rigorous in its approach to knowledge, L’Alpe is not a scientific journal. It calls on the contributions of history, geography, archaeology, ethnology, etc. to shed light on the meaning of the traces left by man on the mountain environment. And it is also open to current debates on the future of the Alps and other mountains in the world.

lalpe-62-07Forests for whom ?

Over the past 15 000 years, Alpine forests have suffered many trials and tribulations. In their search for wood over the centuries, humans cleared many slopes, damaging both the forests and the mountains themselves. Today, forests are making a come-back. However, this ecosystem so enjoyed by urban dwellers is a source of other problems as well. Forest management is a delicate balance between use of natural resources and preservation.

Workers of the forests…

The Italian lumberjacks from the central and Eastern Alps long constituted an excellent source of labour for forestry work. They have since been replaced by Moroccan, Czech and Polish workers who face hard and often precarious working conditions.

Strange woodsmen

Marginal, foreboding, yet fascinating figures, charcoal burners and lumberjacks represent another side of forest life that is intriguing, but also somewhat disturbing. The roles they play in folktales are ample proof of that. A look balancing between the picturesque, the sordid and the idealised.

Portfolio : working at the summit (of trees)

Last fall, Czech and Slovak lumberjacks travelled westward for a job on the eastern slopes of the Vercors plateau. Intrigued by their work, Emmanuel Breteau, a photographer from the Trièves, spent several days with them. The result was a wonderful meeting and a poignant story in the shadow of the Mont Aiguille and the snow of an early winter.

Rafting for your life !

For centuries, daring navigators travelled the Alpine rivers on their vast rafts of tree trunks, mastering the waterways to bring tons of wood to the cities. A dangerous job requiring a great deal of skill and experience. A glimpse at a little-known forest job.

To the sea (with your wood) !

In the Alpes-Maritimes department, wood from the mountains had to be transported to the sea, a difficult undertaking given the complex topography. It was required for the shipyards, of course, but also for train lines and the building industry. A small transport industry arose, subject to many difficulties…

Practical information : forests and woodworking

From Nice to Bavaria and from Geneva to the Trentino, all the best addresses to discover Alpine forests and the many job sectors working with wood.

The power of imagination

The woodworking creativity of Alpine inhabitants is renown worldwide. Examples are furniture and sculpted objects from the Queyras and Aoste valleys. But here and there, it is also possible to uncover some little-known treasures crafted by unusual artists. That is the case of Paulin Gilly, in the Ubaye valley.

Wood in every shape and form

The lifestyle of Alpine inhabitants expresses itself in woodworking. Since time immemorial, it has been an indispensable material, slipping from the outdoors into homes and farms, making possible fascinating activities where skill and know-how slowly accumulated to produce creativity. From sausage funnels to high-tech speakers that literally make wood sing, a selection of the many possibilities.

Alpine frills

Was lingerie created in the Alps ? Building on its strong textile industry, the region pioneered the sector with brands such as Valisère and Lou. The exhibition at the Musée Dauphinois, Isère undercover, reveals a century of underwear manufacture. A long story about fashion and women, but also a collective and industrial adventure.

Alps abroad : the Yosemite controversy

Toward the end of the 1800s, shepherds from the Alps watched over great herds of sheep in the West of the United States. They become involved nolens volens in an ecological-political-philosophical duel between writers John Muir and Mary Austin. A debate of ideas that continues to this day.

Barbed wire on the prairie ?

The Flock. The book by Mary Austin recounts the daily life of shepherds, most of them from the Alps, with whom the author shared the transhumance in the Sierra Nevada. Passionate about man’s relationship with nature, she advocated in favour of a lifestyle that was severely threatened at the time. A never-published excerpt from the French edition still being translated.

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