Fire Keepers | Week 9 | Cedar Cordage & Scouting Skills

The Fire Keepers enjoyed a sunny day full of focus and fun last Wednesday at Whatcom Falls Park! We began our time together by using a tool known as a leather stripper to process the inner bark of Western Red Cedar into uniform pieces, with the intention of using the bark strips for making cordage.

As you may know, Western Red Cedar is the most extensively used tree by the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.  The entire tree is integral to the livelihood of these nature-based populations, utilized for an incredible variety of survival purposes.  The hard, durable, rot resistant inner wood of the Western Red Cedar is traditionally used to create houses, roofs, canoes, arrow shafts, boxes, masks and totem poles.  The inner bark of the Cedar (which we processed on Wednesday) is used even more extensively, as it is finely shredded for cradle padding, sanitary pads, and towels, and coarsely stripped for weaving into skirts, capes, dresses, ceremonial regalia, mats and sails.  The tree’s sturdy limbs are twisted into ropes and used to tow hunted whales, while its strong and durable roots are used for weaving coiled baskets.  

The Western Red Cedar is known as the “Tree of Life”, and it’s certainly no wonder why it’s been given this name!  I could go on and on about the incredible gifts of Western Red Cedar, but I’m certainly no expert!  However, if you’d like to learn more, I strongly suggest checking out the books The People of Cascadia by Heidi Bohan and Cedar by Hilary Stewart.  

The Fire Keepers also spent their morning playing a fast-paced game of Fox Tails, and hearing a story from Pat about a sneaky scouty game of nighttime Capture the Flag that he and I once played in the dry wilds of eastern Washington with thirty or so of our classmates from Wilderness Awareness School.  It was an incredible and life-changing experience, which we will never forget!

After snack and story, it was time to focus in on cordage-making with the Cedar strips.  Pat and I taught the Fire Keepers how to make rope using a reverse-wrap technique, which you can find a detailed description of HERE.  This skill takes lots of time, patience, and is excellent for fine motor skill development.  Some of the Fire Keepers really got into it and found themselves addicted to cordage-making!  They were practically unstoppable as they wove several foot lengths of Cedar rope!!

After all that FOCUS, it was time for some FUN!  We played an exciting game of Scout Capture the Flag, which involved smearing a mixture of charcoal and mud onto our faces to camouflage ourselves in order to add an element of invisibility and sneakiness to the game.  Our team territories were established in a wooded area so that we could hide amongst the ferns and Firs and Cedars.  It was a challenging game indeed, yet it was also wonderful to witness the Fire Keepers practice their scouting skills!

After the game, we sank more deeply into our senses and observation skills as we each spent a few minutes at our sit spots, taking in all of nature’s spring time nuances!