I like to make and sell exquisite original jewelry that begins with lovely bits of foraged birch bark. Over the past decade, I have so enjoyed witnessing people as they first discover my work- it is wonderful to watch their smile grow with recognition of something familiar and beloved in a totally new context. I think of them as kindred spirits- fellow travelers who, like me, love to work in their gardens or wander the woods, and are keenly observant.
I look intently at things up close, perhaps a pleasure that arose upon developing myopia when I was small (I was embarrassed and hid it for a long time, but finally the school nurse outed me and bam! I got blue Coke bottle glasses and could finally read the blackboard.) But the habit of looking closely stays with me.
Like most anyone, I savor the distant vista after climbing a mountain. But for me, it is still the details along the way that I am most hungry for: the colors of stone and lichen in the mist... the contours drawn on an icy bog as it freezes and re-freezes... exuberant fungi and mosses adorning an old stump.
And, for sure, the undulating surfaces of tree trunks: the muscular ropey-ness of an ancient white pine, the ridges and furrows of red oak, and of course, the bright beauty of birch, with its delicate patterns of white, gray, black, and sienna. Taking it all in is a visual feast that fills me up.
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HUNTING FOR BARK
I love the hunt! I harvest birch bark in small amounts and only from naturally fallen trees whose life-cycle has expired. Someone once questioned the truth of this statement as marketing nonsense, but it is indeed the case! Believe me, in addition to being respectful of the life and beauty of the forest, taking the bark from fallen trees makes sense in so many other ways too.
First, in purely practical terms, it is much easier to remove the bark as the inner wood begins to dry out.
Second, where birch trees grow, one will find many that have fallen naturally, for all sorts of reasons: birch's relatively short life span; injury sustained from storm damage; or natural decline caused by shading and crowding as species like pine and hemlock become more dominant.
However, even with an abundance of birch trees on the ground, it is still no easy task to find the finest quality bark with the special colors and markings that I deem suitable for jewelry. In fact, I take none at all from most fallen birches I find; and only small choice bits from carefully selected specimens along the way. I generally cover 3-5 miles to fill a knapsack with just a few special pieces of bark. Laborious, yes, but a labor of love!