Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Harvesting More Spruce Roots

Collecting spruce roots is a dirty, sweaty, insect-ridden affair but I have to admit it's an enjoyable part of the process for me. I really enjoy getting all mucky (thowback to childhood) and I find the aroma of spruce so refreshing. The roots are a fantastic lashing agent and relatively easy to work with, but like most things in nature, they require some patience and extra work before they are usable.

While up north last week, I took a break from constructing the building bed to harvest some white spruce roots for the build. Generally, all roots of the spruce family are long, thin structures that fan out from the base of the tree and are buried in very shallow topsoil. Sources up in the Muskokas are unfortunately embedded in the typical rocky granite ground of the area so take a lot more effort to harvest. Book sources mention that the best roots will be found in trees that grow next to open lots with few trees around them to prevent overlap and tangling of the roots. In my searching, I've noted that these sun-loving trees need some open space to grow anyway. As with any natural collection care must be taken to ensure the health and survival of the tree. Following some advice from Susan Marie, a Dene woman who collects roots for basketry, I picture the area around the tree as a pie cut into 4 pieces and only harvest one "slice" leaving behind 3/4 of the tree undisturbed. My father, a retired forester, assured me that cumulatively, these roots have a huge surface area anyway, so minimal harvesting from one area will not adversely affect a healthy tree.

I ended up collecting and armful of roots (still not sufficient quantity for the build) but ran out of time to properly clean and split them. So they were brought back home in a large bag in the back seat of the car. No need for fake car air fresheners when you've fresh roots in the back! Once back in the city, I proceeded to debark them on a nearby fallen maple tree in the ravine next to our place during one of Toronto's many heat waves. It was shady and pleasant here. Basically after soaking the roots in a bucket of water first, I would pull the root with one hand while pressing down with the dull spine of the Mora knife. This would effectivly debark the fresh roots. After about an hour of working in this manner (attracting the attention of some of the neighbourhood kids), I was left with a nice bundle of roots to split.

Debarking the roots

Before & after shots of the roots

In my effort to re-use our junk as much as possible, I saved our ugly curtain rod that we'll be replacing anyway and am now using it as a holder for the split & coiled roots. It's a convenient way of storing and accessing all those roots when the time comes.

Coiled roots on the old curtain rod

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