A Chapter from the Book of Human Smarts

Don’t you love the smart things human beings can dream up? When we’re not being monumentally stupid, that is.

I ran across an utterly brilliant thing in a lecture on an Alaskan cruise I took this past summer. The speaker, a delightful, soft-spoken Tlingit woman, described her people’s ingenious building techniques and even got us close to pronouncing “Tlingit” properly.

She explained the large clan homes that house sixty or seventy people each, made possible by massive cedar beams supporting structures. 

How do they create those beams? It’s easy. I kid you not. At least it is once you come up with the brilliant idea in the first place. 

In the early spring, when the weather is mild as these things go in Alaska, Tlingit builders shinny up the tallest cedar trees and cut off the tops. Then the climbers hammer wedges into the raw crosscut ends.

Next comes the biggest stroke of genius. The builders wait for fall’s wild, windy weather, when Mother Nature provides the power. The wind lashes the trees, working those wedges down the trunks until — voila! She has created huge new cedar planks, as long as the entire tree, to hold up the walls and ceiling of another clan home.

And some people wonder why I go on cruises. They especially wondered when I went on four back-to-back, along different routes but still running along the coast from Vancouver to Alaska and back.  

Well, when you hate flying, you might as well make that horrible time in the air worthwhile. Besides, there’s nothing quite like lying back with a full e-reader and all those ocean ions washing over you. Not to mention looking up from my latest book to a view like this!

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