A SHAGGY BARK TALE


( A short story on bark collection in the dead of winter for the purpose of art making ,

this was first published in the Journal of Wild Culture )

napob art
Napo birch collection, McCrae Lake 1987

Eye was holding two wires, reflecting on our last camping trip in winter when the bark of trees called us out, dormant larvae waiting for marauding otters, no mosquitoes audio enhancement. I’m no cold wire in that department.

We leave three hours before daybreak, arriving after dawn bark collection is favourable setting up camp in the world of haute nature. Diggin snow cones till you hit bear ground giving the exposed twigs to waiting chickadee dee dees. Setting up the bar bee Q area we stockpile dead scrub oak and pulpy maypole trees that make you cry a smoky cry not tired long day setting up camp for the next few days. Not tired, by the fire yapping, sun just left, “see you in fifteen hours”, staging tomorrows run, it’s gotten a bit chilly willy. The flames don’t give a hoot; I froze all night, kept waking up, shaking out my hands and rubbing my feet.

Lone woodpecker perchance I’ll see morning coffee, air photos maps for worming our way up country, swamp hopping, cloud cover must dissipate the help in the bark harvest.

We need to supply the Arbor Vitae with solar radiation, which will release the ice formed between the bark and the pitch. Evident as the skins pop away from the hulks, when we can’t topple a rotting carcass with a shove we go for the bow saw.

Isn’t sawing one of the sounds included in the Voyager Probe?  Ya, hi where into clear cut logging. This is a sound any alien race will understand “having a good sleep and dream about clear cut logging”. Calling habitants of interplanetary craft, Oh ya I remember the pioneer days on Sirius Seven, that’s when we had trees, son. Oh here it comes, this things got a heart of solid ice, if we had a sound generator we could use resonance to get it down, Wo Oahhh tim burr.

 The victorious orphan worms set down upon the wee carcass, and take care to leave enough rotting tree standing ‘ cause we’re talking food for sap sucking palliates and evidence of frequenting yellow belly sapsuckers. A moment while I adjust my grip on the exposed terminals to juice up my recollections.  Those suckers will dig a double diner grid up the side of a birch tree, grub from pecking or served in a treacle of sap, these are tell tale signs of peckers which after numerous term overkill holes are transformed into carpenter ant condos.

 We return to home plate to sample hush puppies and grits as we sing “Home home by the dome, where magnetic particles play, and our fireside beaverage is pine needle tea.  Keeping warm by the hypnotic incinerator feeding it oak logs, away from the fire you loose sense from eye to ear in a frozen silence that envelops you. The eerie sound of stress in the frozen limbs of trees shreaks out to life in the long winter night, one prolongued serving of waiting for the sunlight to return. Exhaustion is the escape route to the collector lanes of ‘in vacuo senso’ dreaming, but the sub-zero air has us retreat into our mummy bags inside bivouac sacs our backs to the earth our bedrolls come loaded with options for the uncluttered mind, uncluttered dreams. In the coming day we are going north across the river to new swamps.

 Hey last night I dreamt of Thomas Edison. I says to him, “Hey Tom, what’s new and different?”  “Well ya see this thing”, he says, “it cost me two hundred Brazil nuts and it enables me to talk to the dead”. I says, “things like that are better off where the lie. “They lied” he says.  “Ya they lied”.  Vaudeville dream awaking to the first glimmer of sunlight.

We keystone for hours on wobbly sheet ice, snowshoes kicking sparks of sunlight off the powdered snieg. We pass the inlet where the beevers chewed our transmission pole for the Chew or Die arbor vitae. I walk point out on the water, mind adrift slogging snow, the repetitive motion, the invisible camel ride.

Christ in the tub, I go through the icy surface in a flash I remember, “Noah cancels construction of the ark and opens swimming school”. Liquid of life, bitter cold universal solvent, as I sink to my neck arms extended, how do I get out of this?  Bear paw snow shoes pulled by the current, can’t feel the bottom, grabbing a shield of ice, frozen, not safe yet but slowly emerging to the sub zero morning air. I get instructions from fellow wurms: “We’re choosing an address fro success fifty feet up in a stand of cedars” I get there after a polar climb and they place me in within three fires. “That really put a trauma in you’re my circuit”. Ya, I really got cooked. Grab those wires and let’s get back to camp. Today this little ghost went to the freezer.

Weather watch radio forecasts minus twenty-five full moon hidden by cloud cover. Dreaming is a full time occupation at the creativity trough I awake suddenly. The day seems overcast, I unzip the tent it’s the moon, the sky is clear, the air razor sharp, it’s four a.m… another four hours to sunrise, the drone of the distant highway drives me back into the sack. Aren’t we suppose to be vacationing in the solar factory? Got this problem, the sun won’t be here for hours.. I grasp the wires and drift into recollections, miles away from the power grid and the emf elf’s. How many nanoteslas can dance on the head of kin?

 Trepanning for bark as materials for art making isn’t about remedial surgery, it’s an outright autopsy, finding butterflies, and hornet’s nests in the frozen pitch. It’s counting coup, it’s the transformation from growth to decay and recovery of the bark, it’s medicine hide for creative work. Reaching under the skin, it cackles as it lifts from candlelight to electric light to birch bark light, always a reliable combustible. Cost a double saw back per square foot to retrieve and access the mystical qualities of birch. With palm open over it you sense for a hot spot and the encircle it with Revlon red lipstick, as the clock ticks and electrons wail for muons, the inner circle a sieve for electromagnetic fluctuations.

 Ghosts awake and dawn their coffin flares and solar laughter and talking as we emerge from another nights dream, we exchange coordinates. I dreamt of insulators and conductors,of bark and ice insulators. We clean up camp, what we bring in we take out, as we embark upon the thin ice of speculation. Coordinating the pick up on the sixty nines narrow shoulder, armloads of bark like phyllo dough, we accelerate and merge, tree loaders searching for the next grub steak heading down to the Big Smoke.

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