If you’ve been reading my recent WOC posts, you’ll know that I am presently visiting my brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Bev Ohlman at their “estate”: Bluebell Springs on Orcas Island in the upper Puget Sound. Orcas is one of the San Juan Islands—a major vacation spot for summer travelers in the West. I say “summer visitors” because when November rolls around the weather “goes south” along with thousands of Pacific Northwest “snowbirds.”
But it’s the gray, gloomy, and wet months (November through April) that make these islands such a summer delight: sunny and normally cool days in which to enjoy the trees and other flora that beef up on the winter rain and fog. The next few “Ambling” posts will highlight some of these wonderful trees, most of which are in ample supply here at Bluebell Springs—emeralds in a setting almost unparalleled in natural beauty, with an abundance of birds and deer taking of its fare and providing even more of God’s creatures to delight in.
The Western redcedar is a major actor in this cast of stalwarts—as the little reverie by Bill Reid above indicates. It was the most important tree to the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest—providing them with clothing, shelter, tools, transportation, and furnishings from cradles to coffins. Strips of cedar bark up to thirty feet in length were skillfully taken from the trunks, hung up to dry, then beaten into fibers that were used for baskets, ropes, hats, and mats. A sister tree, the yellow or Alaska cedar, provided smaller and softer fibers that were woven into cloth for skirts and other attire.
Of course today we see it all over North America in the form of roof shakes, siding, and fence posts. The wood is ideal for these purposes because it is soft, easily split, and naturally resistant to rot. One roof made of cedar shakes here in the Northwest lasted from 1859 to 1909 before it began to fail.
I had the woodworker’s joy of using cedar lumber to construct a small generator shed for my brother last week—both the siding and the shakes were cedar, and the odor when you cut it is wonderful. Of course I am an incurable wood sniffer as well as tree hugger. The “barn” in which my wife and I are staying also has cedar siding, trim, and roofing.
The photos posted here were all taken at Bluebell Springs