poetry and prose about place

Posts Tagged ‘birch

harvesting colour – soaking the bark

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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


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.


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


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


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


strips of birch bark, set to soak in water

strips of birch bark, set to soak in water


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



requesting the favour of a reply


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




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

(brackets in the birch grove)

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Last week we went for a walk (more like a struggle) through the birch grove at the base of the grey woods (see the ‘map of the grey woods’ under ‘about’).   To get there, we crossed the fern gully, mostly dry this time of year, and entered a mixed wood of birch, maple, spruce and fir, much younger than the mature spruce in the grey woods. 

These trees grow in very wet conditions, and the forest floor is a hummocky, spongy growth of Sphagnum moss and  fern. 

There is no path through this woodland, so the ‘walk’ was an up-and-down, over-and-under kind of trek.  To stay dry, you must take giant steps from hummock to hummock.  To stay upright, you must check your footing and hang on to the young trees.  With all this concentration on moving forward, I tend to miss some of the interesting detail, so I try to use each ‘balancing moment’ as a time to look around and observe the wild life.

One occupant of the birch grove is the bracket fungus.  This is a type of fungus that grows like shelves on both living and dead trees.  The fungus forms thick flat pads on the tree, usually parallel to the ground.  They remind me of steps, a spiral stair to ascend the tree.

The semi-circular body of the bracket fungus is called a conk.    The conks of the bracket fungus growing in our woods are thick, often oddly shaped, and constructed of various cream, tan and brown coloured layers.  The conks are the outwardly visible, reproductive part of the fungus.  The vegetative portion of the fungus grows as an extensive network of threads within the tree.


bracket fungi



in this forest




could any form

construe to magic?


fairy rings

moths in spectral flight

spider webs, witches brooms

burrows and subterranean

rooms, hollows in wizened

logs, red toadstools

white-spotted, mottled




bracket fungi

steps ascend

a branchless tree


© Jane Tims  2011

Written by jane tims

October 28, 2011 at 7:09 am

the stone between farms

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How do you show the boundary line between you and your neighbor? 

At Ågersta Village in Uppland, Sweden, is a rune stone positioned to mark a boundary between two properties.  The stone is carved with two serpent creatures entwined, their heads in profile.  Each has two sets of legs, the forelegs strong, and the rear legs weak and helpless. 

The stone was carved by Balle, a frequent carver of rune stones in Sweden, and raised by Vidhugse, in memory of his father.  The boundry, established in the twelfth century, showed the boudary until 1856 when the property lines were finally changed!

The inscription reads, in part: Hiær mun standa stæinn miđli byia – “Here shall stand the stone between farms.”

from my imagination and not the rune stone at Ågersta Village



stone between farms

            (rune stone in Ågersta Village, Uppland)

                                                                      Do not move your neighbor’s boundary stone…

                                                                                                                      – Deuteronomy 19:14


ninth morning already

irate I rise

gather my tools

trudge to the hillside


stone waits for me, Balle

(master carver of runes)

shadows pulled into dragon

compete with guidelines

‘what is not’ more complete than ‘what is’


another fair day

Vidhugse to the west and south

Austmadr to the east 

surely their bickering over boundaries

will cease


by noon the sun

embroils the rock

streaks my brow with sweat

floods the serpent creature’s clever eye

lip lappets drip


mosquitoes dither about

the creature’s profile acquires

the look of an insect head

reckless slip of the rune tool

could end its smirk


hill of rock dust

settles on my shoe

birches stir the air

odor of leaf layer

memory smell of Birka


© Jane Tims 2005

Written by jane tims

October 8, 2011 at 6:49 am

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