Wayfinding: Cedar

801 E 6th Ave

Outside this apartment building are cedar trees; this land was probably covered with thickly buttressed old growth cedars and firs, home to species like flying squirrels (now extinct), and porcupines, I’ve read.


The universe of gifts given by cedar trees is catalogued in Hilary Stewart’s book, Cedar: Tree of Life to the Northwest Coast Indians; it was central to livelihood as well as spiritual practice. Among its gifts were wood for constructing houses and forming canoes; branches and roots for baskets and sometimes tools; and durable inner bark, beaten soft for clothing or split and twisted into ropes.

At the Museum of Anthropology they have samples of capes and wraps made from pounded cedar bark bound into lofty, water-shedding cloth with lines of fine nettle twine. Our friend Sesemiya says that cedar bark processed in the traditional way for clothes is warm and relatively dry even when wet with the west coast rains, and I believe it.

I’ve wondered how many trees were needed to clothe a family, and how often the clothes needed to be replaced. How many trees would I need to call on to clothe my family? And, how many trees would it take to clothe everyone who lives here now? Do we still have a choice, now there are so many of us, whether to rely on our man-made, fossil-fuel based fibres to clothe us all?