nichepoetryandprose

poetry and prose about place

harvesting colour – soaking the bark

with 11 comments


Birch bark is on my top ten list of natural phenomena.  Just the outer covering of a tree, but for me it has so many associations.

~

'Yellow Birch Bark' revision

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Walking in a stand of birch is an experience like no other.  The trees are ghosts, wavering and pale, unable to speak but capable of subtle quiet communication.  In the slightest breeze, they whisper in short syllables, dry murmurings I cannot quite understand.

~

Birch bark is magical.  Unravelled from its tree by a little tugging of the wind.  Like paper, in thin dry sheets.  Covered in unreadable script.  You know removing the bark could be dangerous for the tree but it lures you, encourages you to reach out and strip it away in unbroken, unblemished reels.

~

Such a useful tree: birch bark canoes, tinder for a campfire, sweet sap from yellow birch, the wintergreen scent of crushed yellow birch twigs.  And now, the promise of colour.

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Using bark as dyestuff requires time rather than heat.  Jenny Dean (Wild Colour, New York, 2010) suggests soaking the bark for days, even weeks to extract the first colour.  She says never to boil bark since heat may release tannins and dull any resulting colour.  From her book, I expect birch bark to yield colours ranging from purple to pinkish-red.

~

birch bark, donated by my brother-in-law

birch bark, donated by my brother-in-law

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I am so grateful to my brother-in-law for allowing me to use the birch bark he has collected as he works on next winter’s stove-wood supply.  I am sure he was saving it for a project of his own.

~

strips of birch bark layered in the dyepot

strips of birch bark layered in the dyepot

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To start, I stripped the sheets of bark into narrow pieces and set it to soak in cool water in my big dye pot.

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strips of birch bark, set to soak in water

strips of birch bark, set to soak in water

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I intend to leave it for a month before I take the next step of simmering the bark and dying my wool.

~

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requesting the favour of a reply

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these leafless trees

brush against

a linen sky

ink strokes

on rice paper

letters penned

at midnight

~

hidden in the hollow

heart of an oak

afraid to reach in

to feel only

curls of birch bark

desiccated leaves

~

these trees

all seem the same

empty envelopes

parchment ghosts

~

branches tangled

messages

lost

~

black spruce scribbled on sky

~

~

Poem previously posted 19/08/2011

Copyright  2014  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

April 25, 2014 at 7:18 am

11 Responses

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  1. Beautiful poem and drawing, Jane. The only time I’ve been in a stand of birch trees was sometime in the 1990’s when we vacationed “up north” in Wisconsin (not too far from the U.S.-Canada border). They are mysterious and beautiful trees, and I’ve often thought of planting one or two. I don’t know if they would grow here.

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    Robin

    April 26, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    • Hi. I had a look in my flora, and many species of birch grow as far south as Virginia, often at higher elevations. It is such a common tree here, I take it for granted! Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      April 28, 2014 at 8:31 am

  2. amazing drawing and poetry. Loved the way you have grasped the essence of that bark

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    kiwiskan

    April 25, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    • Hi! Thanks. I wonder if you have birch trees in New Zealand??? Jane

      Like

      jane tims

      April 28, 2014 at 8:27 am

      • we do – black birch and silver birch

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        kiwiskan

        April 28, 2014 at 5:13 pm

      • Neat. I learned about New Zealand in high school, but that was long ago. I must go on one of my virtual bike rides there one of these days. Jane

        Like

        jane tims

        April 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm

      • Yes do. You could meet me at my place…

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        kiwiskan

        April 29, 2014 at 1:45 am

      • 🙂

        Like

        jane tims

        May 1, 2014 at 7:11 am

  3. So THAT’s where all my birch bark disappeared to! 🙂 My guess about the final color? Tan.

    Like

    JD

    April 25, 2014 at 11:36 am

  4. […] Visit link: harvesting colour – soaking the bark […]

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