Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Keep your eyes Peeled

Lee Johnson is the Heritage Program Manager for the Superior National Forest.  He's also a friend of ours who at one time worked with us here at Piragis.  He recently gave a talk here in town at the Grand Ely Lodge during one of our Tuesday Group meetings.

These meetings take place every Tuesday over the lunch hour and everyone who's interested are welcome to come. We have guest speakers and the subjects vary from who's newly moved to town and their personal introductions, to antique history and appraisals, to natural history and preservation to Ely area current events, to politics, to... well you name it.  It is great way to have lunch with others and connect and to learn about many things in person, that you probably have some connection with, but don't know too much about.

Lee was working on a project in the forest that is about to have the results published.  Travelers and members of the Forest Service have begin to discover what Native American canoe builders knew already existed.  Bark-Peeled Pine that dot the Border Lakes Region of Minnesota and Ontario.  What made these marks and why?  That was the topic of the study and the talk.

These are not the triangular fire scars that are widest at ground level, these are usually head or chest high and terminate at waist or knee level.  They profile deep tree wounds with large "healing lobes" and are most often present on Red Pines, though also on Jack Pines and occasional White Pines.  The theory presented by Lee was very interesting and rather easy to subscribe to based on the discovery and historical documentation that he provided. Native Americans most likely made these marks to collect Pitch for Gum that was used to build and repair birchbark canoes.  This pitch and gum was an integral part of the fur trade era.  Indeed, without it, your canoe would begin to fall apart and sink.

These Bark Peeled Pines are clues to the glue that held the culture of the fur-trade together and date back to the mid-18th century.  Each year we lose some of these ancient trees to age and storms, so preservation of these uncovered stories may depend on written record alone as time goes on.  It was a fascinating presentation and I've duplicated the brochure here for you:

If Birchbark Canoes interest you, you will enjoy Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappan Adney and Howard Chapelle with a forward by John McPhee.  Lee referenced it several times during his presentation and it has been a perennial best seller for us since we began incorporating great books into our retail store in 1979.  An interesting read and a fantastic resource.

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