........Comment by Bill Moore

...The forest around us


....Step right up folks, I have here the Dandy Handy Time Machine that can take you back into the years and let you view how things were, before yesterday, in this forest around us. All you do is walk through this doorway, turn a simple switch, select your year and place, and presto – you’re standing back in history.
....All right sir, you look like a man who is curious about the past – that’s it – now open the door, turn on the switch and away you go. Remember, the people of the past that you will see won’t know you are amongst them, but you will be able to see them and to hear them speak. Ready sir?
....1726: The west coast of Vancouver Island. A misty, calm-water day. A native Indian, his wife and two small children are camped in the forest a few hundred feet from tidewater. It is summer and they have just finished a meal of dried fish and some berries. The man, a strong fellow about 20 years old, walks over to a large tree and stands on the north side of it looking up.
....The silent visitor is about to witness
the intriguing performance of lumber being cut from a standing Red Cedar tree. The tree is nearly six feet in diameter at its base. The trunk is clean of limbs on its north or shady side, for about 40 feet from the ground. A frame-work of poles, lashed together by cedar bark strips, acts as a scaffold up to near the 40-foot mark.
....A large V-shaped notch, similar to an undercut, has been cut into the tree on this side at the 35 foot height. Our “time-man” notices that a like cut has been fashioned directly under this, a few feet from the ground. Looking about for the tool that has made these cuts, he sees an iron adze, tapered and shaped like an axe on one end. The adze is tied to a yew wood limb by means of tough looking hide thongs. The blade is only about two inches wide, with a half moon curve.
....The visitor is astonished that such a piece of iron existed on the coast at this date – but when he journeys to the beach later, he will discover from whence the iron came. Not from the Europeans, who will soon “discover” this west coast land, but from Asia by
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British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1976

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means of the Kuro Shiwo current. This ocean movement circles the Pacific from Japan to Alaska, then down the coast to Oregon and back to Japan via the Hawaiian Islands. For centuries this great circular current, traveling at a rate of 10 miles per day, has brought to the Pacific shores of North America the pieces of flotsam and jetsam of Asian storms.

....And so our visitor from time sees the wreckage of a Japanese fishing junk, with its iron and copper strappings and riggings. It did not take long for the west coast Indian to plan a good use for such pieces of metal.
....The coastal Indian was a person of the forest and the sea. He knew the right use to put each tree to. The red cedar was his most valuable commodity – after food. From this straight grained soft wood the Indian procured his canoes, lumber, rope in the form of long strips of sinewy bark. Sitka spruce was also of use for its lumber and its heavy pitch. The yew and wild crabapple tree were used for handles for various instruments. The bark of the Douglas fir made fires like coal. The forest contained gods and so the trees of the gods must be used wisely and with care.

....So now our visitor stares with awe as the young Indian climbs the scaffold, taking with him several three-foot long yew wood wedges. They are slim, tapered on one end and about two inches square at their thickest. He stands atop the scaffold and inserts the wedges, in a sloping fashion, down-ward into the cut he has previously made.
....With a stone, tied to a handle for a hammer, he will commence to drive in his wedges to free this large clear slab from the tree. By the visitor’s stan-dards it is slow laborious work 1 but by the times of that day to ours, it was very relative.
....The giant slab of cedar will take days to come off – with the use of many yew wood wedges – but it will come off. By further splitting of the 35-foot piece of wood, the Indian and his family will have lumber for a house and its furniture, a much needed shel-ter in this wet rain forest.
....The wet rain forest of the Pacific coast. An ideal climate for the growing of giant trees, but an area where his-tory is lost to the rotting of the west coast Indian culture. Not like the dry sands of the Middle East where the dryness has preserved the cultures for thousands of years. The rot and mil-dew of the rain forest in a few hundred years, or often much less, will take


away forever the woodwork of the Indian peoples.

....Our “time visitor” walks through the heavy salal bush to another small en-campment, where a group of families are temporarily living. Here a large red cedar has been felled and a 40-foot log has been cut from the best part of the tree. A 15-foot piece of the butt log has been discarded because of butt rot. The 40-foot log that the families are working on is very round with a few limbs on one side. This side they will burn and cut out to form the dugout, thereby leaving the good smooth side of the tree for the bottom. If, when the canoe dries out and cracks occur, the pitch from the Sitka spruce will be used to fill the cracks.
....Fires are going near the canoe. He notes that tools of many types are being used as chisels to dig out the inside. They are made of bone and rock and he again sees some metal from the Japanese junk being used as a chisel. The reader should note that about 1830 two Japanese fishermen were wrecked off the Queen Charlotte Islands after drifting in the great circle current for months. They were re-corded in the files of the Hudson Bay Co.’s trading post at Fort Simpson.
....Again the process is long – but the families will take up residence near the canoe until it is built 1 for they all know how needed the canoe will be when the salmon come to the shores in the fall. Our visitor notes that the cedar tree that is being formed into a canoe was not just felled any old way. The Indians had studied the “lean” and had made sure the tree was not “wasted” in its fall. They will use log skids under the canoe to pull it to the water’s edge. Sometimes the good cedar trees may be back a half mile to a mile from the beach and the job of moving the canoe to the water may take days.

....The visitor is then reminded of his own journeys through this west coast forest in “his” times – and can remember seeing the old “Indian stumps” – with a log missing from the rotting remains of the rest of the tree. He also remembers seeing the trees that had “slabs” taken from them when they were possibly 200 or 300 years younger. Nature forms a sort of “band-aid” treatment for such trees. The Indians did not want the tree to die or be wasted. They just wanted that particular slab – knowing full well it would not kill the tree. The “band-aid” treatment will cause the sides of the tree to fold over the cut out slab so as not to let the tree rot. The Indians knew well of nature’s healing ways.

....Again remembering his walks along the beautiful sandy beaches of Van-couver Island’s west coast, the visitor recalls the thousands of Japanese glass float balls that wash up on the shores, brought by the Kuro Shiwo current, that have originated from the Japanese and Korean waters when the storms tear the fishermen’s nets loose. The great circle of the Pacific must have brought many curious floating objects – possibly including humans? – to the Pacific coast Indians long before the days of the Russian, Spanish and the Englishmen, Cook and Vancouver. Certainly what was useable was used by these very intelligent people – particu-larly pieces of copper or iron. The visitor wonders why “his” people haven’t expounded this interesting theory to greater depth!
....The Pacific coast Indian used wood as we still do today – to build his houses, to make his furniture, his burial boxes, his massive totem poles and his canoes. Some of these red cedar canoes were as long as the ships of the Europeans who would come to “discover” these shores and claim them in the name of some distant monarch. The Haidas of the Queen Charlotte Islands would roam for hundreds of miles on the coast of B.C. in their large war canoes, raiding the Indians of other tribes. It has been noted by historians that as many as 80 or 90 of these great canoes would form a flotilla to meet the European “discoverers.”
....And so our visitor’s trip to the past has ended. He walks back out the door into his modern day and a sort of unreal world of millions of people – and of forests being cut for the use of those millions.
....He will ponder over the glimpse he has had of these fine people and their ways with wood, and of the link with Asia they must have had by way of the Kuro Shiwo current.
....The forest around us has always been of benefit to its inhabitants. Can it always be used with intelligence and care that the Pacific coast Indian exercised? They were our first “loggers” – and they practiced the first form of utilization – that we apparently have not yet mastered.

....Would that we could enter the time machine and view these great people at the “golden age” of their existence. It might make us ponder our ways today.

..............Keep out of the bight..

British Columbia Lumberman, November, 1976  
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