Sunday August 31, 2014

Beetle-killed trees turned into whimsical art

Keith Anderson

Wood carver Brian Ferguson creates an elf lady out of one of his friend's beetle-killed tree stumps in his Barnhartvale yard.

Her name is Lady Klahaine and she keeps a watchful eye over the property.

She stands more than three metres tall, huge by human standards, but a mere fraction of the size she once was — when she was a thriving and vibrant Ponderosa pine.

"See, she looks over there," said Sue Northcott, pointing toward a street sign for Klahaine Drive.

"That's why we named her Lady Klahaine."

The huge elf carving is one of two mythical characters on Northcott's and husband, Pat Leibel's, Barhartvale property.

Like many of their neighbours, the couple lost several trees when the mountain pine beetle tore its way through Kamloops a few years ago.

The beetle-killed pines were to be cut down, but when the tree feller the couple hired discovered a nail in one of them (likely an old tent anchor), he stopped his chainsaw metres from the base and refused to go any lower on the remaining trees.

"He said, 'That's as far as I go. You cut it down from here,' " said Leibel. "He was ticked off because it ruined his blade."

So, Leibel and Northcott, who raise llamas on the property, were left with a collection of tree trunks, one of which stood out like a sore thumb right outside the stable.

"I sat and looked at it for two years wondering, well, what, should I grow a vine off of it?" said Leibel.

"Then Brian shows up at the door and says, 'Hey, I thought of a way of paying you back for that car you gave me."

Brian Ferguson, an old high school pal, got a GMC pickup from Leibel. He was a silviculturist with an artistic bent and a passion for woodcarving.

Ferguson suggested Leibel let him turn the unsightly tree trunk into something more appealing.

It was a win-win situation. Ferguson could practise his craft; Leibel and Northcott could fulfil their appreciation for mystical Middle Earth lore.

"We've got kind of a Lord-of-the-Rings theme with the llamas and the wizard and the elf," said Northcott.

The wizard was the first carving Ferguson masterfully etched. It was finished in 2008 and greets visitors to the llama pasture.

Newly finished, with sawdust still on the ground, is Lady Khalanie, the elf who overlooks the front yard.

What's next?

"I've got that one eyeballed," said Leibel, pointing to a shorter trunk inside the lama pasture. "I want him to put a gnome or dwarf, in keeping with the theme."

Ferguson has long since paid off the pickup truck and he jokes about the trade balance having tipped in his favour now.

Leibel, meanwhile, agrees Ferguson's carvings are worth paying for.

"To me, that would be worth a thousand dollars," said Leibel of the wizard.

Ferguson returns to his silviculture job in a few days but he plans to keep carving in his off time.

By the way, you don't have to be a homeowner with pine tree stumps to own a Ferguson original. Two of his smaller, movable pieces are for sale at Country Garden Greenhouse at 715 Victoria St.

Also, if you're a frequent visitor to Cooney Bay, you might see a chessboard Ferguson carved into a cedar stump on the beach.

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