Connecting With Wood

Although we rarely watch sports on TV, the 2024 Iowa Women’s Basketball team captivated us. With athletic sneakers squeaking up and down the wood floor, Caitlin Clark’s sharpshooting and Hanna Stuelke’s blocks were amazing.

Curved wooden walls of the University of Idaho's new arena

ICCU Arena Photography by Lara Swimmer. Images use restricted. Use by permission only.

About a month after the season, we entered an elite new basketball arena. Neither Caitlin nor Hanna was there, but we bet they’d love playing in a gorgeous new venue crafted mostly of wood. It’s on the University of Idaho campus.

“The arched ceiling beams are strong, beautiful, and crafted of local Douglas Fir and larch,” said Dean of the University’s College of Natural Resources, Dennis Becker, as he guided us through the University’s Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU) Arena.  It opened in October 2021 after about two years of construction and several more of planning and fundraising.  Remember, this was during the Pandemic!




Modern, Flexible, and Beautiful Venue

After playing in the nearly century-old Memorial Gym and a few years in the massive Kibbe Football Dome, the University sought to create a gorgeous and flexible venue that enabled players and spectators to enjoy the intimacy of a largely wooden building that connects spectators with nature. Building it drew on the college’s academic strengths in forestry and wood technology, architecture, engineering, and athletics.

“Much of the wood used to create it came from the University’s Experimental Forest. In addition to being elegant its beams of laminated wood are sturdy, fire resistant, and gorgeous,” continued Dean Becker.

The Dean later explained that the reason the building feels warm and comfortable may be a concept expressed by Erich Fromm to describe the biological orientation humans have with all that’s alive and vital. Biophilia was expressed by the late Harvard professor E.O. Wilson as an affiliation people have with other life forms and nature as a whole, which is rooted in our biology.

Connecting to Wood

Perhaps biophilia made us feel comfortable immediately after entering the Arena as it does in our Iowa home. In both places, we enjoy being enveloped in wood.

We recently visited friends in their brand-new home. Although functional and low maintenance, something about it was mildly uncomfortable. Crafted almost entirely of human-made products the home had doors of plastic, flooring of artificial planking, and walls of plaster. Even the cabinets were plastic. It lacked wood.

In contrast, our 1947-era home replete with wood feels cozy. Floors are white oak and Douglas fir with beams and rafters of pine, fir, and cedar. Our tables were crafted from red oak and black walnut and on the fireplace mantle is a polished cross-section of an oak crotch and a leaf carved from silver maple wood.

What Is It About Wood?

We love wood. It’s gorgeously individualistic. No two boards are exactly the same. It projects a warm and comforting feeling while having environmental benefits. Sustainably managed forests allow land to continually produce wood forever. It is also easy to reuse or repurpose.

Last winter we hired a company to refurbish our downstairs bathroom of easy-to-clean plastic and vinyl. It functions well, but something about it didn’t feel right. No wood. So, Rich bought a half-inch thick oak board, cut it to fit, finished it with a soft finish, and nailed it to a ceiling beam. That single piece of wood made the bathroom more comfortable.

Whether in a home or the University of Idaho’s Idaho Central Credit Union Arena, the beauty and function of wood make us feel at home.

This is one of a three-part series of blogs stemming from a recent visit to our alma mater, the University of Idaho. The school offers an array of majors and is located in the rolling farmland of the Palouse and nestled below Moscow Mountain.  For information check out   Its College of Natural Resources offers majors ranging from wildlife biology to outdoor recreation, and forestry.  It’s where Rich graduated.  Marion received her MS from the Idaho College of Education, which features a variety of degrees, including movement science.