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The Life of Red Cedar

Post on 10th September 2021

The Life of The Red Cedar – A Very Tall Tale

When you are the end-user of a product that is created for you, it is very easy to overlook the journey of that product before it reaches you. As we are lovers of all things timber and only operate in a sustainable manner, we thought it would be fantastic to share the fascinating tale of the Red Cedar. 

We chose this one because it is far more than a tree – it’s part of its own ecosystem, and as so many of our customers are conscientious buyers, we wanted to invite you into the terrain of the Red Cedar – a tree so steeped in history, it would be remiss of us to not share this with the world.

This will be a mini-series of a few blog articles as the Red Cedar stems back for millions of years, and has a deep spiritual history that may be of interest to some of our more curious customers. So – are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin…

Cedar has been growing around Northwest America for as long as 50 million years.

The Tree of Life

The first thing to note is that the Red Cedar predates human beings with fossils showing that Western Red Cedar has been growing around Northwest America for as long as 50 million years. These magnificent trees have sustained life way before man arrived, and once humans inhabited the same space, the trees firmly rooted themselves as a vital part of their survival too.

Although the Red Cedar we source here at Slatted Screen Fencing is sourced from responsibly sustained forests in Europe too, Western Red Cedar started growing naturally in the cooler and moist climates between Northern California and Alaska.

Revered by the indigenous people living in harmony with the Red Cedar, it is affectionately known as Grandmother Cedar, Long Life Maker and Maker of Rich Women as well as The Tree of Life. This is because it provided so much more than timber and even has its own Coast Salish tale which indicates why Red Cedar plays such a significant role in their lives …

The tree became more widespread 4000-5000 years ago, and oral Coast Salish history tells how there was a generous man before there was Red Cedar. If his people were ever in need, he would give them food and clothing. The Creator recognised his kind heart and good work and proclaimed that when he died, he would be buried and a Red Cedar would grow in this very spot which would continue to provide for his people. 

Part Of The Fabric Of Life

This is exactly what Red cedar did – existed and evolved alongside the First Nations and helped them create unparalleled wealth within sophisticated societies of abundance and ingenuity.

They would use the largest cedar trees for the totem poles central to their communities and as wood for their homes and canoes. Their canoes would be filled with cedar tools all handmade with knowledge and craftsmanship passed down through the generations – from their paddles which would take them on new quests, to their nets, hooks, lures and fishing floats which would feed their families. 

The soft inner bark of the Cedars would be woven into clothing items such as tunics or provide warmth and comfort such as mats and blankets. It would also be shredded to make sanitary padding, nappies and fluffy towels.

The withes which grow from Red Cedar – the vine-like appendages which grow down from the branches – would be woven and twisted to make ropes so strong that 40-tonne whales could be hauled in with them. The Cedar roots would be coiled into baskets so tightly that water could be boiled in them.

The foliage was used too with the green leaves, which are flat and look like scaly plaits, would be made into calcium-rich medicine or incorporated into sacred rituals and ceremonies offering spiritual protection for those seeking it. 

Babies were born into cherished cedar cradles handwoven by the families and to ensure long lives, the placentas were often buried at the base of an old cedar. And at the end of their lives, people would be laid to rest in cedar coffins or canoes – at one with the tree where it can hold its sacred embrace on its people for eternity.

A Way Of Life

Rande Cook, who is a hereditary chief of the ’Na̱mg̱is and Ma’amtagila First Nations and also an artist and carver says “It’s impossible to not see Cedar in a very particular way when you’re Indigenous to the west coast”. He grew up with his grandparents and remembers Cedar baskets brimming with berries and carved Cedar bowls of Eulachon Oil produced from the local fish.

His grandparents and peers would all share their teachings and tales of the Red Cedar trees and how they held the spirits of his ancestors, to be cherished and passed on through the generations.

They’d share how back then, some of the people would cut down entire trees for their canoes and totem poles, but most of their wood was sourced from windfalls, or parts of trees would be taken without killing them. The natives were taught about being cursed by other cedars if you took too much wood and trees wouldn’t be cut down during the summer while eagles were nesting. When you think that these trees can reach heights of 70 metres, that’s quite a curse to be scared of!

There was a unity between the nature around them and the people – women would offer prayers and sing songs before collecting bark from a young Cedar during the Spring when the sap is running, and bark would be carefully removed to create scars once they had healed over to leave signs etched in the trunks of their historic and modern harvests – real living archaeology.

We love how there’s such a strong message of protection around the Western Red Cedars, and the irony of the fencing we provide for our own customers to protect their own spaces using such a highly revered and appreciated timber definitely isn’t lost on us.

We’ll share more in the next blog on the real depth of these trees and the part they play in the world, but if you have any questions on our responsibly sourced Red Cedar timber, get in touch and our team will happily help.