Yellow and White Birch are common trees in this neck of the woods. At this time of year, the winds have peeled some of the bark off the trees and what’s left has been frayed by birds looking for insects over the winter months. Now that spring is here, it’s easily torn off by small creatures to be used as a lining for nests.
Birch bark has historically been used by humans to create canoes, containers and writing surfaces. Russian birch scrolls, dated to the 1400s, were found in the 1950s, well preserved in waterlogged clay soil. The surrounding clay prevented exposure to the decomposing effects of oxygen. Considering the similar preservative effect of bog mud on organic materials, I wonder if any birch bark scrolls are buried out back.
In North America, the preserved birch bark scrolls of the Ojibwa reveal complex documentation of mathematics, astronomy, animal migration routes, rituals, songs, ancestry and mapping. Although today some Mi’kmaq artists still use birch bark as a surface for creating fine works of art, paper gradually superceded birch bark as a writing surface. With the advent of the printing press, printers and publishing houses became middle men in the fabrication of texts. But today, largely due to advances in digital technology, reproduction of images and texts is once again being put back into the hands of the writer.
Recently, two talented individuals whose blogs I visit frequently have published their own books: Mark Whitney of upstate New York (Nameless) and Regine Lord of South Africa (Gold Mines, Elephants and Foefie Slides: an Adventurous Weekend on the Garden Route) . Mark has thoroughly explained the process of publishing your own photo book at http://forestrat.wordpress.com/2009/04/05/publishing-your-own-photo-book/ while Regine has provided insights into her journey publishing a travel book at http://namibsands.wordpress.com/2009/03/30/my-book-is-at-the-printers/ . Their experiences are very different with regards to how much they chose to include a printer and others in the process.
Although e-books are quite popular these days and despite the advent of Kindle, human beings still like the feel of a real book in their hands. I’m sure this is one reason why Leo Babauta of www.zenhabits.net, who had successfully published several e-books in recent years, had his latest book published in hard copy (The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life).
Nevertheless, what would have been done years ago exclusively by a publishing house dealing exclusively with paper, has now been rendered with greater autonomy by the writer using digital processes available on his or her own home computer. My dad, who was a newspaper editor and publisher, would be amazed to see how much things have changed in such a relatively short amount of time.
Publishing a book of one’s own might not be for everyone but it certainly is a marvelous option for writers in the 21st century. As for me… it might be awhile before I can gather up enough birch bark to create even one copy of a scroll or book. But, once the birds have taken their share, I’ll have a look to see what’s left on the trees.