Balsam Traditions-Balsam Bed

Adirondack Journal

The Balsam Fir tree has been an important natural resource for the Adirondack region for many years. Below are excerpts from a poster series entitled “Balsam Traditions” that illustrate the seasonal uses and importance of balsam.

“The mountain goose is not a bird but a tree. It is humorously called a goose by the woodsmen because they all make their beds in its ‘feathers.’ It is the sapin of the French-Canadians, the cho-kho-tung of the New York Indians, the balsam of the tenderfoot, the Christmas-of the little folk, and that particular Coniferae known by the dry -as-dust botanist as Abies.”

Daniel Carter Beard (founder of the Boy Scouts), Shelters, Shacks, and Shanties, 1914.

“To all woodsmen the balsam is a friendly tree. Green, it will not burn, and seasoned, it burns too rapidly. But for generations of tired bodies it has furnished a soft and scented bed. “

T. Morris Longstreth, The Adirondacks, 1917.

“You can talk about your waterbeds or any of these fancy mattresses that you get today, but if you haven’t slept on a balsam bough bed, you don’t know what you’ve missed!”

Buster Bird, interviewed by Joan Payne, Adirondack Discovery, 1987.

“First, a base of balsam boughs was laid on the ground. Next, several loads of balsam tips were then stuck upright in the boughs with the bottoms bent under an inch or two. The result was a soft, springy bed fit for tender New Englanders, if not for the delicate lady in the story of the princess and the pea. “

Paul Jamieson, Adirondack Pilgrimage, 1986.

“After a day of such activities in the open, a bed of balsam before a campfire is an insurance against insomnia. It is also a cure for many other ills, both real and imaginary. One can always sleep the sleep of an infant.”

Henry Abbott, The Birch Bark Books of Henry Abbott, 1914-32.

“Balsam had a rich fir fragrance so nice for a pillow. It carried the aroma indoors. Put your head on a balsam pillow, shut your eyes, and feel of the forest went with you to the land o’ dreams.”

Edna A. West Teall, Adirondack Tales: A Girl Grows up in the Adirondacks in the 1880s, 1970.

Information from Balsam Traditions (a poster series) by Todd DeGarmo. Adirondack Museum and Crandall Library, 1992, with support from the New York State Council of the Arts — Folk Arts Program.

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