Traverse City Record-Eagle

Record-Eagle 150th Anniversary

July 20, 2009

'Timber' -- the plot and review

'Timber" is set in the barren pine wastelands of northern Michigan near an imaginary town called Pancake.

Here, Helen Foraker is trying to turn her dead father's reforestation dream into reality. He had believed that timber could be grown like a crop to produce not only timber, but tourism and a place of contentment and renewal for the human soul. He had planted a 10,000-acre plantation that Helen now manages.

Local residents call it "Foraker's Folly."

Luke Taylor, a bitter old lumber baron, hears about Helen's stand of "baby pine" and wants to cut it down to relive the glories of his youth. He sends his son, John, to buy it but the young woman refuses to sell. Luke travels to Pancake to bully Helen, who still refuses. The book climaxes in a raging fire that threatens to destroy the plantation but also transforms both father and son who finally understand that this planned forest and reforestation are important not only for timber but for the human spirit.

The book has flaws. It's melodramatic, often formulaic and its characters frequently preach in long monologues. But its fast-moving plot and vivid descriptions captured imaginations at a time when many people in Michigan questioned the state's policy of letting cut-over lands remain idle. Record-Eagle city editor Jay Smith gave the book a resounding review and reforestation a strong endorsement.

"Michigan is almost bankrupt," he wrote in 1924. "The reason it is almost bankrupt is because so much of its area is not producing. In this state alone are millions of acres which are totally unfitted for agriculture. They are sterile, useless and worthless, the way they are now treated.

"Harold Titus, through the medium of a bully tale, shows the way out ... Pancake, the locale of 'Timber,' is not an imaginary town. It is a composite of scores of towns scattered through the cut-over pine country of Michigan."

Story by Loraine Anderson

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