Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A tale of two cedars

In both places, it was the rich smell of cedar that hit us first.  Two tales bound together across more than a thousand miles by communities and individuals presenting the past to visitors to help us understand the present and future.  Two tales bound by the rich, red, aromatic gift of cedar trees.

In Carcross, Yukon, Keith Wolfe Smarch, a well known Tagish-Tlingit artist was bent over a cedar totem pole, carving totems of the 6 clans (beaver, raven, killer whale, crow, frog and wolf) in the region who have recently gained political sovereignty.  He graciously invited us to share in his work and to visit his shop.  Each totem is massive, with one central figure for each clan brought skillfully to the surface of the tree beneath Keith’s hands.  He sees figures in trees, old buildings, and throughout the natural world and his training with his teacher in British Columbia and master carvers in Alaska and Japan has given him a unique style.  His tools are those of a wood worker from more than one continent and often made by his own hand so that not a branch of the cedar is wasted.  His son Aaron has joined Keith in his passion, working by his dad’s side with a unique style of his own as the two year old grandson draws his own emerging designs.  The tree, in this final act, may stand for a century or more engaging visitors in the culture of the people of the area.  

In McBride, British Columbia, the locals have partnered with a dozen organizations to build an incredible loop trail through 20 hectares of old growth cedars previously undiscovered.  The lichen and moss drape over the ancient giants in a world that takes visitors over 2,000 years to the past.  The trail is sacred and the opportunity to see the majestic trees that stood watch as Vikings and Europeans landed on the eastern shores is a privilege protected by locals. 

In both places we met people that want to maintain their history, their culture, their sacred places so they can share them with their families and the steady stream of visitors venturing forth toward the north.  We have seen citizens, like those in Gunnison working on the Hartman Rocks area or bringing a farmers market to life, come together in partnership to promote their place.  The efforts are not always easy as generations of locals work with recent arrivals to find a common future.  Yet, this is a theme we have seen repeated across thousands of miles.  Community, history, collaboration, and preservation.

Posted in Haines, Alaska


  1. Lila loved this post. Totem poles were very cool!

  2. We have fond memories of the totem poles in Carcross - glad you got to spend some time with the artists . . .