Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Bamboo Big as Pipe
I have had a small obsession with bamboo for decades. Like palm trees and tropical islands, they are things rarely associated with New York City, so I have had to travel and explore to feed the passion. In the 1980s, my fascination with bamboo reached its apex. I purchased a hard cover coffee table book on bamboo, helped my father fabricate bamboo fly fishing rods and sought out bamboo bonsai at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.
The pièce de résistance was a trip to the island of Nevis in the West Indies, where I sought out my ultimate dream - a bamboo forest. My sister and her husband, who were traveling with me at the time, however, did not share my dream, but tolerated it, hoping that after an excursion, I may regain my sanity and normalcy. I did.
On such a small island, networking to find services is virtually an effortless process. Shortly after arrival, I was able to find a local guide who would take me to a tropical jungle. This was easy, but the most imperative for me was whether or not we would see bamboo in its native habitat. He assured me yes, I would see "Bamboo Big as Pipe."
Bamboo is a remarkably versatile material and is used in furniture, flooring, molding, fencing, textiles (I have a bamboo t-shirt), paper, as a food, musical instruments, to build homes, scaffolding, even bamboo bicycles. All taking advantage of many unique properties of the wood - it is denser than oak, harder and lighter than maple. It is very attractive, distinctive and maintains well. It is stronger than wood, brick, concrete and steel and less expensive than many other woods. Unlike many trees, which can take 20-50 years to mature, bamboo takes only about five years, making it environmentally sustainable - this is the big plus from a marketing and consumer perspective. Some are calling this wonder grass the super material of the future.
The appreciation and use of bamboo with related imagery permeates Asian cultures. This is true to a much lesser degree in the United States, however, I am not the only New Yorker to enjoy the symbolism of bamboo - scores of restaurants, spas and other shops use the word bamboo in their name.
Recently, I found a retail store display of bamboo cutting boards. Nearby were two signs - one promoting bamboo as eco-friendly and the other, "why use bamboo?", featured 5 bullet points: renewable resource, resists odors and bacteria, naturally beautiful finish, harder and lighter than maple, stronger than steel. At a number of home furnishing shops I am seeing more bamboo furniture.
I am happy to finally see bamboo sprout all over the city in so many ways, helping to complete the overused but apt metaphor of New York City as the concrete jungle. No need to travel to the forests of Nevis - just look up and imagine Bamboo Big as Pipe :)