Magazine article American Forests

The Biggest Western Redcedar

Magazine article American Forests

The Biggest Western Redcedar

Article excerpt

The champion of this prized species seems to stand almost forlornly as a symbol of a debt we owe the land.

Before VISA and MasterCard and Lewis and Clark, the Native Americans of the Northwest used "credit cards" in the form of totem poles made of western redcedar. Instead of writing nasty letters and hiring a collection agency, the creditor would carve a wooden statue depicting another man's unpaid debt in shameful symbolism for all the village to see. (It would be like VISA displaying your charge account Vegas style on your front lawn.) When the debt was paid off, down came the totem pole--with no annual fee.

Of course, the Native Americans had many other uses for redcedar including rope, roof thatching, blankets, and cloaks made from the inner bark. From the wood they made potlatch houses and sophisticated canoes some of which were 65 feet long and could carry 30 people. Lewis and Clark also chose this tree to make their boats for descending rivers to the Pacific.

Today we still prize redcedar for boat construction, although most of the decay-resistant wood ends up as shingles. …

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