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May 6, 2015 / philosophermouseofthehedge

Birches. Floating out epic characters.

Not sure if they are elusive like leprechaun gold, shy, or just picky about real estate.

Birch trees tend to stop people as well as dogs (who are non-judgmental about trees).

Obviously, these are the hippies, the free-styling sort of tree. A fringe element. (Some simply stand for anything to be appealing.)

Water birch tree. ALL rights reserved. Copyrighted. NO permissions grant

Emerald lady. Obviously a giving sort.©

Eco-friendly, too. Encouraging renewable resources.

Birches are all up for recycling their discards.

Repurposing without coaxing.

Highly prized birchbark once covered canoes made by the Algonquian, the Iroquois, and other tribes as well as Europeans who learned the skill. (Birchbark Canoes. Fort St. Joseph Archeological Project. Authentic pictures.)

Birch tree showing bark curling off. NO permissions granted for use of this image. ALl rights reserved.

Shirley Temple’s not the only one with natural curls.©

As kids, we were thrilled to stumble across a small stand of birch trees hidden in a thicket along a creek at the farm.

We carefully unwrapped bark from trees, gathered discarded curls, then made small birchbark canoes for those cheap plastic animals and men from the Five and Dime Store.

Yes, we were easily amused.

Ignoring possible loss of passengers in deep water by leaks or by rock pelting from equally bored siblings or cousins, we shoved the little vessels into the water

In solemn rolling tones we’d rumble out with great seriousness:

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis…..

We wanted to sound like this guy reading “The Song of Hiawatha”

(LISTEN: Audio of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s entire epic. READ the Gitche Gumee part of the sentimental tale about the “noble savage“/a hero who hasn’t been “corrupted” by civilization.)

1890 illustration of Hiawatha's friends. Birchbark Canoe. By Frederic Remington for Song of Hiawatha by Longfellow./ Met.Museum/

1890’s house hunting? Realtors love to get people trapped in their vehicle. (Seriously, Hiawatha’s friends in birchbark canoe/Remington/Met./USPD/

Exactly why would a bunch of dirty farm urchins be reciting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow?

Mainly because on hot summer nights after all the dishes were done, we’d sit out on the porch.

In the clanking porch swing, on the steps, or in an old chair dragged out.

It was deep dark with only a couple of bare light bulbs hanging in the house which was OK since you could catch fireflies easier in the dark.

Sooner or later, the adults would start musing over the poems they had to memorize as kids.

Then, every child at every grade level had to stand up and recite a poems in front everyone. Of course it was a small-ish audience in that one room schoolhouse where most of the kids walked barefoot to the school steps, then put their shoes on before going inside.

Everyone knew “Gitche Gumee”.

1880 Painting by Francis Hopkins. Minnehaha Feeding the Birds/ USPD., artist life/

1880 Hiawatha’s bride Minnehaha feeding birds. (Hopkins/USPD/   Look, it’s a period piece in a sentimental era that romanticized primitivism. Read it in context of the times and simply enjoy the writing.

Poetry sounds different when heard outside under a dark star-lit sky.

Nothing to distract from what the author intended.

Different when heard inside the sterile box of a classroom. Way to kill words.

Birch trees in Great Smoky Mtn. Park /Haas, fed.employee,Nat.Park Serv./LOC/USPD/

Do some birches hide because they are ticklish? (Haas/USPD/

Meanwhile, birches stand waiting for discovery and appreciation.

A dreamer noticing the tree’s freak flag flying.

A child recognizing a puddle’s boat, a historian unfurling legends, or a writer peeling off words.

Rooting for more than just canine fans,

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

Explore more: Hiawatha – how much about the hero is folklore/legend and what history says, those Indian words incorporated, the Finnish influence, the epic poem’s trochaic tetrameter, cultural response/critics, influence on music, art, other literature, and, of course, the parodies (Lewis Carroll’s attempt is shown there).

And the animated versions by Disney(1937) or Bugs Bunny(1941)  These created for an entirely different purpose from Wadsworth’s original saga about a noble hero untouched by the evils of civilization.

Try reading outside – under the stars.

By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water

(from “Hiawatha’s Childhood”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

1910 illustration of Hiawatha fishing in a birchbark canoe. Illustration from "Take my bait O King of Fishes" of  "Story of Hiawatha" adapted from Longfellow by William Stokes and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. illustrator.Kirk (, artist life/

1910.Squirrels discovered an early version of Uber? (Kirk/USPD/


  1. easyweimaraner / May 6 2015 1:33 pm

    that was interesting to read how many things you can make with birch bark… I have to admit that I was glad as our neighbor removed the “hippie community” in his yard last year… and because he picked the wrong time for “timber” we have small birches now everywhere in our yards… nice revenge of nature :o)


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 2:41 pm

      Sounds like the birch grandchildren have shown up and are standing around wondering where their relatives went. Soon they will be expecting you to invite them in for lunch and story time. Perhaps the dog community can step up and water them down a bit? Thanks for leafing a comment


  2. Paul / May 6 2015 1:58 pm

    Cool story Phil. I remember peeling birch bark and making toy canoes too. There seemed to be a whitish powder naturally on the surface of the bark that would get on my fingers. It was fun. I liked that bottom painting of the Native North American looking down into the water and seeing the fish. So true – the waters used to be teeming with fish. I had to laugh last night when i was watching America’s Funnest Home Videos. The camera showed the backs of two young girls, about 4 years old, wading through a shallow river. They were only about up to their knees so they were safe. One of the girls bends over and puts her arms into the water – then she stood up again. You could hear the adult running the camera shouting -“Turn around!” She turned around Phil and she had the biggest catfish i have ever seen clutched to her chest. It was so big that the tail was brushing the water and the head was above her head. It was moving but very sluggishly. It blew me away.

    Great post Phil.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 2:49 pm

      The waters here are generally muddier due to geological make up, but I remember you used to see huge fish swimming in Yellowstone and the Rockies. AS kids we avoided getting near catfish as they can fin you…and the big ones look fierce. Hand fishing wasn’t really a sport back then. Bet that was a funny video. Thanks for floating by!


      • Paul / May 6 2015 4:26 pm

        Speaking of funny videos – I’m not much of a hunter and I’ve always thought that it would be more fair if the animals were given guns to shoot back. When I saw this commercial I was delighted. We covered it in B-school as it was banned from the air. The hunters don’t have much of a sense of humor. this is also an old (but not as old as the Hamm’s) beer commercial.


        • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 4:30 pm

          EVERYONE DUCK OVER TO WATCH THAT! Paul that’s one of the most hilarious commercials I’ve ever seen. So funny. Snort coffee out the nose funny. Thanks for towing that bunch over.


  3. shoreacres / May 6 2015 2:09 pm

    For years, I toted around logs cut from our front-yard birches in Iowa. Finally, when I no longer had a fireplace where I could use them for decoration, I let them go. I’m really sorry, now, although I have no idea what I’d do with them. On the other hand, I have some birch-covered candles and a birch wastebasket and tissue holder in the bathroom. You never can have too much birch.

    As for Hiawatha and all that, don’t forget this take-off!


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 3:06 pm

      Oh, can’t believe you found that beer commercial. We used to scream that out infuriating our mom who thought songs about beer were inappropriate for young children to sing. She didn’t like candy cigarettes either.
      There is something – some energy or ancient memory – with birches. Hope these manage to survive. They don’t alawys look real happy with their location – especially in hot dry summers. (Hey did you know the big Ghirardi oak tree is recovering from hypoxy canker and “wood boring insects” attack last Sept. The city arborist ( and I use that term loosely…who is she related to to keep that job?) says new growth is evident and it’s looking good.Hess is due in shortly for another check up. It’s difficult to get any info from her about the tree or others like the slaughter at Randall’s (which the power company was totally not responsible for. We made lots of calls. It was the center’s developer worried about visibility and HEB…saying a branch might fall on pedestrians…Really? City property destroyed and arborist did nothing.)…and now the city is busy trying to take credit for saving/paying for the tree’s move and care when the city was the one discouraging the entire relocation, and grants/donations paid for most of it. Annoying)
      Oh, well. Other windmills to joust. Thanks for carving up a comment


  4. Bruce Thiesen / May 6 2015 2:17 pm

    Enjoyed the post. I too think of canoes when I touch birch bark. And yes, you are right. Poetry sounds different when heard outside under a dark star-lit sky.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 3:09 pm

      Those birch curls feel so smooth and soft inside. Really remarkable trees. Hope some of the fringed ones stand near you and whisper their tales. Thanks for wrapping up a comment to float over here

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Catherine Hamrick / May 6 2015 3:02 pm

    Lovely post. Robert Frost wrote a fine poem–“Birches”

    When I see birches bend to left and right
    Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
    I like to think some boy’s been swinging them….
    So was I once myself a swinger of birches….
    And so I dream of going back to be….
    Earth’s the right place for love:
    I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
    I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
    And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
    Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
    But dipped its top and set me down again.
    That would be good both going and coming back.
    One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 3:12 pm

      “Swinger of birches” I had totally forgotten that poem. It’s beautiful. Thanks so much for taking the time to stack that poem on this shore. Perfect addition.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ally Bean / May 6 2015 4:06 pm

    I like birch trees, but in this area they are a divisive issue. One must never make the assumption that one’s friends and neighbors enjoy them.

    Some people hate them because of the thin branches that snap in the wind, then scatter around the yard. Other people hate them because they grow so large so fast— and screw-up landscaping plans. Other people hate them because they feel that the loose bark is unsightly.

    Like I said, I like them. We have three of them. But I’ve learned to “zip it, lock it & stick it in my pocket” when it comes to birch trees.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 4:27 pm

      As a kid, I thought they only grew around creeks. Birches aren’t plentiful around here – unless landscapers get a deal on them. They are showy, but have noticed they do seem to twig litter a lot on the greenbelt. Birches sound just too helpful in your area. Threes with their own plans in their canopies….(maybe a jobs program grant could pay people to thin them out by making canoes for recreational areas. HA HA! Many ha ha’s) Thanks for breezing over to stick in a comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. robincoyle / May 6 2015 5:29 pm

    I immediately thought of the I Love Lucy episode where she reads By The Shores of Gitche Gumee. I tried to find a clip of it but failed.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 7:14 pm

      Oh, I remember that one, too! It’s got to be somewhere. I can hear her reciting now. Guess EVERYONE knew Gitche. Thanks for tuning in here


      • robincoyle / May 6 2015 8:48 pm

        Yea, I was surprised it didn’t come up. Wasn’t she dressed in full Indian gear including a giant headdress?


        • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 9:38 pm

          In season 2, episode 24, Ricky hires some Indians do a show at the Tropicana….of course, Lucy, the new mother..(She has one feather and a papoose eventually) Lots of stereotypes, but watch as a period piece as a Cuban bandleader once again tries to keep Lucy away from the stage… video here:
          Wonder if where the other show is….looking…


          • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 6 2015 10:16 pm

            HEY! Another “I love Lucy” with a society lady quoting “Hiawatha”:
            “Lucy writes a play.” Season 1, episode 17 (Towards the end as the lady tries to fill time on stage while Lucy and the gang get things together backstage)


          • robincoyle / May 6 2015 10:26 pm

            You found it! It is full of stereotypes. What other show? Oh, the one with On the Shores?


  8. Silver in the Barn / May 6 2015 7:28 pm

    Now I’m kinda sad. When I was girl living in Minnesota for a year, my grandmother took me to a Hiawatha pageant in Pipestone. It was marvelous. I just googled it and learned that after sixty-odd years, they’ve closed the show. Poor attendance. Sigh. But I do feel better after reading the Uber Squirrel caption.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 3:07 pm

      Oh, closing that show makes me sad, too. Never saw that one, but there’s something about an epic regional story produced on a grand scale especially outdoors. There used to be a big one on Galveston Island which closed years ago, too. That one had popular musicals as well as regional history. People have so many other options for entertainment now – ones with AC and no mosquitoes. So far Palo Duro canyon has been able to maintain their draw for “Texas!” which is a musical about the early settlers. Saw that as a kid. I’ll never forget that lone rider opening the show up on top of that huge cliff – or the “lightning streak” down the cliff. The canyon is pretty cool, too…and of course my mom could never let anything go by without some educational content…we were glad it was the show and not her reading from a book! (here’s a link there. (and the canyon. great canyon. It just suddenly drops down off the plains! Thanks for hiking down these trails!


      • Silver in the Barn / May 8 2015 4:46 pm

        It would be a crying shame if that show were to close. It sounds like a wonderful reason to go to Texas in and of itself. We were traveling in China a few years ago and had the opportunity to attend the most amazing outdoor show I’ve ever seen. It was produced by the same guy who did the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics. Horses, drums, native tribes dressed in feathers and beads – I kept nudging my husband with my stunned observations on how closely they resembled the American Indian. This was high up in the Himalayas in LiJiang Province. At about 9:31 in this video you’ll see the first signs of horses. The show is all about the Naxi tribe and other small mountain tribes. Very cool.


        • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 4:55 pm

          Very cool! We’d like to visit that area someday. (There’s an amazing similarity with weaving pattern for rugs/fabrics from many cultures around the world – very close in design)
          Thanks so much for including the link!


          • Silver in the Barn / May 8 2015 5:16 pm

            Yes! And they had carvings of ravens and fish which you would have sworn were NW Pacific Coast Indian.


          • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 11:21 pm

            Someday, maybe when people grow tired of shouting about how different everyone is, there is be a composite “Whoa. Look at that. We all have so much in common…Let me count the ways….” Time to take stock and do a bit of rediscovery.There’s always hope!


  9. reneejohnsonwrites / May 7 2015 9:42 am

    I love birch trees–remember seeing entire forests of them out west. We don’t have many around my area for some reason, which is regrettable. But I didn’t know that lovely peeling bark was a source of materials, although I’m not surprised. Native Americans were brilliant at using nature’s resources. I’m completely in awe of their culture. Thanks for sharing that lovely epic poem too. It’s a favorite.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 7 2015 3:38 pm

      The little birch trees always look like they are flirting with eyelashes among the elder trees with curls. It’s always a surprise how smooth and soft the bark’s interior is. Birches aren’t native trees here – wrong soil, but they are very showy in landscaped areas. They always make me smile. Thanks for hiking along this birch forest

      Liked by 1 person

      • reneejohnsonwrites / May 8 2015 12:26 am

        Maybe the soil is the problem here as well. Maybe I’ll try to plant a couple and see what happens!


  10. LifeOfBun / May 7 2015 1:18 pm

    Birches are my favorite trees to look at. Those and massive oaks.. magical! Everything sounds different when said in proximity of impressive trees, for sure.


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 7 2015 3:41 pm

      If trees exist in a total different dimension (one where they live/move so slow we don’t notice), birches would be the divas and showgirls? Nothing like an ancient oak. They always look like they are inviting you to climb up into their arms so they can tell you a story. Maybe they are the novelists and writers of myths and legends? Thanks for climbing over to chat

      Liked by 1 person

      • LifeOfBun / May 7 2015 3:47 pm

        Ohhh.. ents…. yes trees have seen it all! If they could talk..


        • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 7 2015 6:32 pm

          Maybe we just don’t know the language…..(hope they don’t hold grudges about all the furniture? giggles)


  11. Russel Ray Photos / May 8 2015 5:18 am

    Some of the eucalyptus species that we have in Balboa Park and the Zoo have bark that very much reminds me of the birches I grew up with in Utah.


  12. Robin / May 8 2015 11:41 am

    I love birch trees. I first met them in the north woods of Wisconsin, long ago. You’re right about poetry under the stars. It’s a wonderful thing. I’ve been thinking about finding a good poem to memorize, just to work the brain, but now I have a better reason since you reminded me of how good poetry can be when recited outdoors. 🙂


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 8 2015 4:35 pm

      I think trees, fauna, fields, and their inhabitants appreciate poetry, too! They don’t even mind repeat performances of the same poem. Thanks for musing along


  13. Unconfirmed Bachelorette / May 12 2015 3:08 pm

    Having spent summers growing up on the big lake they call Gitche Gumee, I am familiar with the joys of birch bark. I wrote letters on it and sent to to boyfriends back home. But I never made a canoe. Seeing as I’ve no current use for boyfriends, perhaps I’ll put birch bark to better use this summer and give making a canoe a shot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 12 2015 3:44 pm

      Writing letter on it. Never thought of that, but the inside surface was amazingly smooth. A birchbark canoe could make a pretty pix. Thanks for rowing by with a comment

      Liked by 1 person

  14. jmmcdowell / May 12 2015 11:24 pm

    Oh, dear. This post has now triggered memories of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” Which probably wasn’t your intent at all!


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 13 2015 10:10 pm

      (Gales of laughter) We lost a few canoes to unauthorized waves from sneak attacks by giants. Learned to tie strings to the ankles of passengers. (Too hard to find flotation devices that size) Thanks for tugging over an unexpected response.


  15. marthaschaefer / May 14 2015 1:14 pm

    The birches are fragile here, Phil. They rarely grow very wide as the soil is thin, but I do love seeing their ghostly white bark. I have a neighbor who still makes authentic birch-bark canoes, he learned from the Native Americans and they are very pricey, taking many months to construct. Perhaps I shall blog about him…


    • philosophermouseofthehedge / May 14 2015 2:03 pm

      “Ghostly white bark” That’s the perfect phrase – there is something other worldly about them. The ones here are constantly tossing off branches and do seem to get blown over by the wind more than others. I thought they just weren’t established well, but maybe it’s their fragile nature. We would all love to hear about your canoe building neighbor. A real fine art and skilled craft. (Pictures!) Thanks so much for floating over to chat.

      Liked by 1 person

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