Stripping Bark

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Yvonne Walker-Keshick:
Usually when we pick the bark, it’s usually a hot, sunny day. The mosquitoes are insane, worse than today. They’re just swarming all over, the mosquitoes are. We need a thunderstorm, a hot, warm day, the strawberries, the wild strawberries got to be ripe, and then we need the birch tree, to pick the bark. The sun would be coming from that way, the sun would hit this side of the tree. The sap would be flowing heavier on the sunny side of the tree and a little slower and a little more sluggish on the shady side. But this is actually, the shady side, is where we cut because it seems to have the most scars and what we want is birchbark that is clear with no scars on it. To test it, we start off with a T-cut. If the bark is going to strip, this little corner would lift up, but it’s not going to today because of the temperature. No, it’s not; it’s sticking real tight, so the sap is really tight there. If that T at the corner had lifted up, we would have cut straight down and then across this way. By the time we were going across this way, this top stuff is peeling off and cracking and separating, and you can hear it. Sounds like a gunshot in the woods. If we had taken the bark off, it would have come off, we would have laid the bark on the ground, the sap-side up and it would start to dry. But we do not touch the tree. We don’t touch the sap if we take it. When we take the bark from the tree, you do not touch the tree because that sap there that’s under the bark is what protects that tree. And if you disturb the sap, then it could weaken the tree and insects could get there and land and disease could land on the tree and hurt it.

Isabelle Osawamick: Speaking in Anishinaabemowin [Odawa-Ojibwa language]

Video Courtesy of Burt Lake (Cheboiganing) Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians

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