Paper Birch – A Study of the Nature of a Tree

Paper Birch Tree

Paper Birch © 2014 Bo Mackison

…It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
~ Robert Frost, Birches

Known as a Canadian tree,
its habitat dips into the cooler regions of the United States.
Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest.

Paper Birch Tree

Three Trunks, Paper Birch © 2014 Bo Mackison

Birch tree, a variety of common names.

Paperbark birch
White birch
Paper birch
Canoe birch

Paper Birch Tree

Paper Birch Bark with New Life © 2014 Bo Mackison

Trees just beginning out in life and newer branches on settled trees are white barked,
smooth at first, then knotted with black spirals,
finally emerging as papery bark,
shades of browns, grays, greens and creams,
multiple layers,
wild and messy. And precious to the eye and hand.

Paper Birch Tree

Paper Birch Tree and Canopy © 2014 Bo Mackison

The canopy is my space. A place to spy on visitors and nature’s ways.

Like me, it too must have sun, a place of its own in full sun,
or it will not thrive.

Yet it is a pioneer. After fire or clear-cut, the birch is an early returner.
It makes do with less than tolerable conditions as long as it has its sunlight.

Paper Birch Tree

Paper Birch Bark © 2014 Bo Mackison

Its botanical name is Betula papyrifera.
Papyrus. Oh yes.

If you’ve ever handled the fibrous papyrus, woven horizontal and vertically and pressed flat,
then you will see evidence of those very first papers in this curling, peeling bark
its deep reds and oranges exposed.

Textures so full of depth, the longing to add a human element is strong
and equally strong, the urge to let it be as it is.

Paper Birch Tree

Paper Birch © 2014 Bo Mackison

An arborist writes the “catkins offer little special interest”.
I disagree. Delicate and pale green, swinging with the rhythm of spring winds.
Seeds feed the redpoll, pine siskin, chickadee; the catkins feed the ruffed grouse.

Catkins transform into nutkins, winged and fringed,
and fly the seeds away from its parent in autumn.

Roots and wings, the parent tree provides.

Paper Birch Tree

My Three Trunk Seat © 2014 Bo Mackison

Once the birch was utilitarian –
Bark as canoe cover.
Containers – baskets, bowls, baby carriers.
Comforts – mats, bedding.
Giver of light – torches.
Tool maker – spears, bows and arrows.
Transportation – snowshoes and sleds.
Sustenance – birch syrup, beer, medicinal tonics.

My birch?

It continues its tradition as a container – as I perch in its tri-trunked seat.
As a comfort – when I hold its wildness in my hands
As a giver of light – of the interior sort.

And as sustenance – for my heart and soul.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Oh Bo! I don’t often enough stop to say how much I enjoy coming here. After a morning of writing and sweet creamed coffee, this was the first thing I read when I turned on my computer. Thank you. <3

  2. Everyone should have their own tree, and yours is really quite special. The rough textured bark begs to be touched. Does your birch put on a show during autumn? We have river birches in the south but they are not as exquisite as these white birches, imho. Lovely post!

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