The Mystery of the Fire Trees of Southeast Alaska
The Mystery of the Fire Trees of Southeast Alaska

Author - Mary Ida Henrikson

Did the early Tlingits and Haidas of Southeastern Alaska develop innovations for preserving fire for heat, light and cooking, well ahead of their time? While no written record can be found, artist Mary Henrikson, who grew up in the region, paid close attention to oral histories on their unique fire storage technology. Then, working with local boatman, she discovered carefully altered, centuries-old cedar trees with deeply burned interiors, apparently vented with slots to project firelight signals along their coasts. Inspired, the well-known artist crafted a series of paintings on fire tree use, in addition to employing investigative techniques favored by scientists. Her work combines both approaches in hopes of inspiring your own speculation.

"There are some fascinating original information and interpretations in the text. Some are very believable, while others strike me as being highly improbable speculations. I think the idea of fire trees as shelter, warmth, and protection for a hearth (as depicted in a sketch) makes a lot of sense. When John Muir traveled with Tlingits in canoes, he camped with open fires on the beach at night. Tlingits guiding him stated they did not traditionally travel that way as smoke and light would expose position and make them vulnerable to possible ambush. I have found campsites on terraces above well-traveled beaches that appear to be located to prevent light and smoke from fire being seen. Fire trees would be a perfect solution to this dilemma--and it makes good sense to me. 'Fire storage' referencing actual fire does not seem plausible. However, during a recent visit to Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, I saw the 'Hollow Tree,' a 1,000-year-old red cedar that showed clear and substantial evidence of burning through the enormous amount of charcoal apparent. The substantial charcoal remains in the tree suggested to me that the concept of 'fire trees' may reference the creation and utilization of charcoal, an easily ignitable material that would be easily accessible."
    --Stephen J. Langdon, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage

"I'm glad to see Mary Ida Henrikson has captured the burned-out cedar trees. They seem to be everywhere when you start looking. It has become a hobby of mine looking for them while walking the Southeast shorelines. I often wonder if there is much really known about them or their true ages. It seems you never hear many people talk of them as time goes on."
    --Dennis Diamond, Civilian lighthouse technician for U.S. Coast Guard and boatbuilder

"Mary Ida Henrikson has made a great contribution to increasing our knowledge of Southeast Alaska Natives' use of the environment through her work culminating in this publication, The Mystery of the Fire Trees of Southeast Alaska. Although a number of people have been aware of the ancient trees that the Tlingit used as a source to start fires, the extent of fire trees throughout the region and their other possible uses have not been previously recorded. Most often the ethno-archaeological investigations in Southeast Alaska have been conducted in the coastal regions and scientists have rarely ventured far into the forests. Once Mary heard about the fire trees, her natural curiosity and her love of wandering through the woods led to her serious investigation. Her artistic creativity also led her to record the scenes and even take artistic liberty in recording and further elaborating or imagining what the image might have been. Hopefully, her work might spur serious scientific investigation to further validate the role of fire trees and the changes through time."
    --Rosita Kaahani Worl, Ph.D., President, Sealaska Heritage Institute Member of the Tlingit Shangukeidí Clan and House Lowered from the Sun

"Mary Henrikson has pulled together some fascinating material regarding the mystery of the fire trees. There are many stories told by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian that provide a window into their relationships with the forest and specific trees. Mary's work is an important contribution to the exploration of the interaction between the peoples of Southeast Alaska and their natural world of forest and oceans."
    --Priscilla Schulte Ph.D., Campus Director and Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan Campus

"Mary Henrikson's process combines artistry, science, ethnographic research and direct experience in a way that weaves together the best of each modality. She provides a landscape for exploration, living closely to the land and its people, and gives a powerful and fascinating perspective that could not be accessed by most researchers. She shows us a powerful way of combining methodology and personal insights, bringing the world alive for those who join her. I have spent hours in discussion with Mary, and each time leave inspired, fascinated and motivated to dive into the mysteries of this world. I believe that by reading this book, you will as well. For in truth, there is so much we don't know, so much that we have lost of old ways and so much to explore. For that, I have always been grateful for the kindred soul I find in Mary. Fire Trees represents a lifetime of collective experience that culminated in this project of unbounded creativity and provides a model of process for artists, academics and anyone who wants to have a deeper connection to the world around us."
    --Joshua Cogan, Emmy-winning photographer and anthropologist

"Mary Henrikson and I met on the navigation bridge of a ship. I was a newly hired deck officer for the Alaska Marine Highway and she was a senior crew member who came up to 'check out the new guy.' Mary was one of a collection of experienced shipmate, who were to become my informal tutors of 'local knowledge.' These knowledgeable Southeasterners had been raised fishing and sailing the waters of Southeast Alaska, and though I had the technical training in modern navigation, they had the hard-won understanding of their surroundings. The local knowledge they passed on revealed their acute awareness of the marine environment of the Inside Passage: the local weather, tides and currents, and the geography crucial for subsistence, safety, and even survival. Over the length of my maritime career in Southeast Alaska, their teachings have served me well. So, when Mary describes the 'black waters of winter,' or how a navigation light is 'as precious, as it is a precaution' she knows of which she speaks. Her work correlating visual landmarks used for water travel with fire trees as navigational aids is extremely credible. The fire trees on Betton Island were perfectly located, and oriented, to have guided Native canoeists from the exposed waters of Clarence Strait to the safety of port. The tree on Gravina Island was very well-positioned to have served as a homing beacon for travelers on the long water journey from Haida Gwaii, across the unprotected, dangerous waters of Dixon Entrance. If I were alone in a canoe on the 'black waters' of Southeast Alaska, I would not only welcome the reassuring light of a fire tree, I would consider it essential to my survival. I believe Mary Henrikson has rightly revealed fire trees as prehistoric navigational aids of the indigenous peoples of Southeast Alaska."
    --Captain Jeff Baken, Southeast Alaska Pilots' Association

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Category: Nonfiction Suggested Price: 16.95 Release Date: 11/15/2017 ISBN: 978-1-935347-08-8 Product Type: Paperback # Pages: 88