Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Witch Tree - the Spirit Little Cedar
One of the coolest, most evocative, and most history laden spots on Minnesota's north shore of Lake Superior is this relatively small white cedar tree that sits almost on the tip of Hat Point near Grand Portage. It's first written mention is by French explorer Sieur de la Verendrye in 1731, who commented on the tree as a mature tree at that time, making it at least 300 years old now. The local Ojibwe in Grand Portage had known of the tree long before that and Manido Gizhigans, the Ojibwe name for the tree, has spiritual significance and the land it sits on is considered sacred. Because of that access is restricted and now hikers must be accompanied by a guide from the tribe when they visit the tree. If a person visits by sea kayak however, both the view and proximity are excellent.
I've taken a lot of images of the tree including the one above on our last trip. I'm almost embarrassed to post it though, when I look at Travis Novitsky's images of the tree. Travis lives in Grand Portage and one of his images, not mine, is framed and on the landing of our St Anthony estate. The VOR and I are big fans of his work and stopped to say hi and pick up yet another Travis image on our recent trip to the area. Don't try to visit Grand Portage State Park during the week this fall though, its closed while they build the new visitors center.
Part of the lure of the tree is the history that its witnessed. We had a similar situation out in Oregon when we hiked the same trail in Ecola State Park Lewis and Clark had taken on a mission to acquire some whale oil in the Cannon Beach area. The giant Sitka Spruce are roughly 400 years old and were there and mature when Lewis and Clark passed by. I find that sort of thing compelling and the Spirit Little Cedar falls into that same category. The voyageurs and the couer de bois, the independent French trappers, used the tree as the landmark that told them they were almost to the fort at Grand Portage and their journey was almost over. On the way back to Montreal, in the big freighter canoes heavily laden with furs, they would offer tobacco to the tree to help insure safe passage on the often treacherous waters of Gitchee Gumee.
It an interesting tree with a lot of legends associated with it and its unique shape, formed in part by the 'bonsai' action of several centuries facing the gales of November on the big lake, make it an interesting photographic subject. But if you're paddling on the lake, starting a major crossing, it can't hurt to offer a little tobacco to the Spirit Little Cedar. Legends and traditions like that always seem quaint and funny. Until a person is in the presence of the tree that is; then all of a sudden it doesn't seem so funny and there is that feeling that maybe it would be prudent to sprinkle a little offering before heading out on the big lake.