Saturday, July 12, 2008

Gift from Mother Birch

I've been granted a wonderful gift from nature. While hiking around the surrounding cottage property, I came across a huge birch tree that had tumbled down from a precarious cliff position. It had come to rest lying horizontally between two mammoth Muskoka granite outcroppings and miraculously, the central trunk was perfectly suspended without damage to the bark. After weeks of random wanderings trying to source out some bark, I'm amazed that I never came across this find before. Its extremely difficult location made it really unfavourable to reach. Basically, it involved climbing up about 10 vertical meters of steep rock face overgrown with moss and other fallen debris. I noted the location on my GPS and later pinpointed it on a digital topo map...check out the location right at the confluence of all those contour elevation lines!

I couldn't have asked for a better find - appropriate width, length & thickness, the right amount of flexibility, within walking distance to the cottage, and naturally downed. It appears the tree fell very recently (this winter or spring) as the area around the base had what appeared to be freshly distubed soil. The fact that the bark revealed the darker and much sought after winter bark was a bonus. By this time it was late evening (7pm) and with the sun already gone behind the ridge, I set to work tring to harvest the bark. I didn't have my camera with me so never got to take shots of the progress.

I've found bark collection to be a delicate and sweaty affair that needs to progress slowly for risk of shredding the bark up into strips. Using my Mora knife, sharp Wetterlings Axe and some cedar shingles, I set out to defty pry the bark from the trunk. It took about 1.5 hours in nasty humid weather while being attacked by voracious Canadian mosquitos but I was determined to take advantage of the find. All went well except for 4 serious knots from healed branch wounds that caused the bark to split quite seriously. Basically my hopes for a single sheet hull were not meant to be, but the bark was still salvageable. In the end, I ended up cutting the natural split fault lines to result in 2 large 5ft long panels.

The next day I returned with the camera to document the final bits of removing more bark. While approaching the tree, I took a shot to show the difficult footing in the area surrounding the trunk. More than a few times, my foot sank into a sink-hole of soft soil and nearly got trapped under collapsing bits of granite boulders. Very delicate treading and solid balance was required to stay upright while harvesting.

Approaching the tree; Scene from the previous day's harvest

After clearing the another fallen tree (top right of 2nd photo) resting on the end of this birch (requiring 1/2 hr of chopping with the axe), I realized that I could've obtained another 5-6 ft of bark from the day before and maybe ended up with a larger single piece. Oh well. In any event, I started to collect this last bit which would end up having to be harvested only up to the giant rock on which the birch rested - there was no way I could under the tree after this point.

Starting the cut; Peeling with cedar shingles

Getting up the rocky slope was a challenge in itself. Climbing down with rolls of bark was a crazy affair but I managed without incident. Back at the cottage, I surveyed my harvest to visualize the orientation of the bark panels for a full-scale build. The main panels are a whopping 40" wide with the largest panel a bit over 5ft in length. I'm disappointed in my failure to successfully peel the bark as a single piece, but the awkward location made it difficult to work around those pesky branch knots. With the additional side panels from the previous harvest on Paul's property, I'll certainly have enough panels for the hull. Obviously, it'll need to be stitched but this is the same technique that Jim Miller uses for his full-scale canoes. If my quarter-scale model is any indication, the hull can still be made water-tight with this technique.

The winter bark side; White bark panels

Since it'll likely be many more weeks before I can get established in the build, the bark was rolled up, white side in, and tied off into rolls. With an overnight soak in the lake and plenty of boiling water, the bark should be good to go when the building process starts.

Bark rolled up for storage in the garage resting on Dad's fishing boat

No comments:

Post a Comment

Newer Posts Older Posts Home Page