Birch Bark Canoes and Writing Paper

The Native Americans of New England and eastern Canada used the bark from birch trees for many purposes. Waterproof and resilient, it was ideal for starting fires, carrying water, making baskets, and most of all for building canoes.
A birch canoe is built from the outside in. The first step is to assemble a shell of bark, using split roots from a spruce tree as the "thread" holding the pieces of bark together. The next step is to carve gunwales and thwarts out of white cedar, and lash them to the bark using more spruce roots. The third step is to split ribs and sheathing out of thin strips of cedar, and stuff them inside the bark to give the canoe its final structure and shape. The final step is to waterproof the canoe by smearing a hot mixture of spruce gum and animal fat over all the seams in the bark.
A well-built birch canoe can last 100 years or more.
Native Americans painted and carved pictures on pieces of bark. But they had no written language, so they didn't use bark for writing letters. That was the contribution of the European settlers.

The paper that forms the background for this page was hand-peeled from the bark of the Heart-leaved White Birch, a tree found on the upper slopes of the mountains of northern New England. In the spring, the tree trunks swell with sap, stretching their bark tighter and tighter until the outer layers split open, curl back, and fall to the ground. Walking through the woods, you can pick up a sheet of bark and carefully separate the individual layers by hand. Each piece of bark has a unique pattern of horizontal markings known as eyes, as well as three distinctive colors: a dark hue on the inside where it grew against the wood; a lighter shade on the sunny outer side; and a delicate tint, streaked with intricate "watermarks", that is visible only when a strong light shines through the bark.
For the best impressions, use a medium ball-point or felt-tip pen. Avoid pencils and fine-point pens because they may rip the bark. An old typewriter will work well, but computer printers are not recommended.
For information on how to obtain a package of this unique paper, click here.
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