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Blog

Winter Bark Harvest

jarrod

This is the time of year for harvesting "winter bark". The mild weather and early spring temps puts us about 3 weeks ahead of last year. I know I have explained what winter bark is in the past, but folks who may not have looked back into the past posts may not know. This type of bark is very special as it has a very thin layer of the inner bark attached as you peel it. Once the surface dries and then wetted it oxidizes and turns very dark brown to red. I can then scrape the winter layer off to mark designs in the material. In North America this bark historically was used primarily for special baskets but was also used on canoes as well, although mostly for more decorative parts like the area right below the gunwale or at the bow or stern.  I have also seen examples of winter bark baskets from Sweden and Russia. So this characteristic was know world wide. The window to gather this type of bark is pretty small. In a few weeks the peek growth will begin after the leaves come out and the whole bark will loosen from the inner to allow for new growth around the circumference of the tree. This bark is know as "summer bark" it is smooth and shiny and usually the normal yellow tones. I teach a etched winter bark basket class at  North House Folk School in July and the material I am gathering will be for this class as well a for making a few baskets for sale at market or galleries. Every year I make about a dozen of so etched bark baskets and they sell pretty quick. It is a really unknown or rare form of birch bark work, especially in baskets with most of the etched baskets being antiques.  I know of only a few makers in the whole of the united states. Most folks go for the summer bark as the window for harvest is longer and is easier to hit. You can see some of my etched baskets here.

While out in the forest I visited a few trees that I peeled last year. They are doing well and are in process of growing new bark. I wanted to show folks that healthy trees do grow new bark. Have a look at the previous post on a tree that was peeled years ago here. I've heard folks comment on different web content documenting native bark harvest as well as comments to me when I'm out and about selling that people should use bark from dead trees not living trees. Well, this won't work, bark from dead trees is just that, dead. When you participate in the natural world you come to understand the beauty in using things from nature but also that we humans have such a limited perspective. Thus looking at this new bark being grown to me is beautiful and powerful as the trees themselves. Some people can only see the the brown inner bark as ugly, a man made scar on the tree.  I'll leave them to look at the natural world through their car windows and televisions. Sorry if I offend anyone this is not my intention.

Along the way we found a spot along the forest road where the road crews had been working on widening it. The piles of fresh wood were to hard to pass up. Much of the wood is my preferred turning wood, birch, so with chainsaw in hand I filled my truck. Some of you may know I turn wood with a foot powered pole lathe, after filling up the truck I could almost feel my leg throbbing, a lot of bowl's.

modified linoleum knife for bark harvest




first tree peeled this year




the winter bark comes off kind off fussy




this entire lake is surrounded with birch, but only about 10 trees will be good to harvest bark from




healthy regrowth of new bark in process




old inner bark with new inner bark with new outer bark being grown, it's still brown and fuzzy




piles of wood along the road




a lot of nice birch for bowls and spoons