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Henrikson to hold fire trees book signing
Artist and author, Mary Ida Henrikson stands in a fire tree Wednesday at Settlers Cove State Park. Photo by Hall Anderson

Daily News Staff Writer

Mary Ida Henrikson pulled into the first parking lot on the left at Settlers Cove State Recreational Site. She parked her car and made her way out of the blue Subaru, walking towards the woods until she saw a sign.

“Hollow Cedar Beach Access Trail,” the sign read.

Henrikson hiked down the trail a short distance and stopped at a peculiar-looking tree on her right hand side — a tree so large that it shows the juxtaposition of just how small humans are in relation to the nature that surrounds them.

But it wasn’t just one tree, Henrikson explained. It was three cedar trees that were tied together to become one. This tree and others like it are “centuries-old, carefully altered trees with deeply burned interiors — apparently vented with slots to project firelight signals along their coasts,” according to Henrikson.

She calls these “Fire Trees,” and since her learning of them several years ago from mariner Lawrence “Snapper” Carson, Henrikson set out on a mission to investigate them. Carson told her that a tree near her cabin was a fire tree, and explained a fire tree is where the Natives of Southeast Alaska stored their fire.

She said the Natives had a system for keeping embers alive, and the fires burned from the center of the red cedar trees, outward. After hearing this, she became more interested in the curious-looking trees. A painter since she was 14 years old, the artist turned to the canvas to illustrate and explain the fire trees.

“I was going to quit painting, I was up gold mining and I was bored,” Henrikson said. “I was just going to quit; I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to paint anymore. Then Snapper told me that, and I went “Woah, this is cool,” so I started doing a series.”

That series turned into the “Fire in the trees” exhibit held at Southeast Alaska Discovery Center in 2011, with many colorful illustrations of trees she had seen or had pictures of. Since then, she’s gathered all of her information about fire trees and written about it.  

Her first book: “The Mystery of the Fire Trees of Southeast Alaska,” delves into what she’s discovered about fire trees over the years. Henrikson will be having a book signing and conversation from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Tongass Historical Museum.

The artist has been working on the publication for about six years, and said she was trying to make the book an easy-to-understand description of fire trees. Written on the book’s cover is: “An artist’s quest for an ancient truth.”

Because of the sacred nature of the trees themselves, Henrikson noted she didn’t want the book to be published and then have people digging near them or tearing them apart. Once she found out there were a couple at Settlers Cove, a state-protected site, she decided to go ahead with publication.

Henrikson explained fire trees are everywhere, and can be found in other places like Vancouver, British Columbia, and she suspects there are several on the West Coast, down throughout California.

She said she hopes the book sparks more conversation about fire trees and her interpretation of them. Henrikson said it will also give people an excuse to beach comb, and she hopes it gives people a greater appreciation for nature.