WoodCentral's Book Reviews
Celebrating Birch

Celebrating Birch
by North House Folk School

Fox Chapel Publishing: 2007
Paperback, 178 pp., $24.95
ISBN 978-1-56523-307-2

     This book was created to celebrate ten years of instruction at the North House Folk School in the village of Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the north shore of Lake Superior. The non-profit was formed by "spontaneous combustion" according to its editorial board, and what began as a single kayak building class is now 249 classes, 91 instructors, and over 1200 students from 33 states and five countries over the course of one year. Word really got around.
     Celebrating Birch covers everything from "Birch Splittin Bitter, Icicle Lickin Sweet Root Beer", recipe included, to woven bark baskets, birch tar, spoons, carved bowls, turned bowls, throwing logs and carved toys. There are instructions on harvesting the tree: the leaves for medicinal tea, the sap for a sweetener, the roots and bark, even fungi to be used as food and medicine. A lesson on the botany of the tree is a thorough lesson in hardwood anatomy as well as facts specifically on birch.
     Lore and Legends is an entertaining chapter telling the worldwide traditions and symbols of the birch tree, bringing together history and myth to describe the significance of this widely dispersed species in many cultures.
     Excellent photography and clear photos of procedures make up this wonderful tribute to traditional craft. School founder Mark Hansen says, "This is about doing, making things happen, and finishing something. There's a healing that happens when you work with your hands. It's not about efficiency; it's not about proficiency. It's about learning to be a human being with all your senses." Up in the far north woods, it sounds like sombody is getting it right.

. . . Barb Siddiqui