For thousands of years, people have believed deities use trees as dwelling places. The early Celts, Romans and Egyptians all believed in tree spirits. The Japanese believed kodama (spirits) inhabited trees. The practice of touching wood stems from the belief spirits living in trees were listening to our conversations. The expression ‘knock on wood’ calls upon tree spirits for protection from misfortune or a thank you to the tree spirits for bringing good luck.
You can actually see tree spirits if you visit Cottonwood Island Nature Park in Prince George in Northern British Columbia. In 2005, Elmer Gunderson carved fifteen faces into the outer bark of three hundred year old black cottonwood trees along the meandering, shaded paths along the Nechako River.
The intricately carved human faces are the size of a human hand and blend in with the tree’s rough bark. They portray trapper’s lined faces, Indigenous elders, old women, and other whimsical characters.
Over the years, some of the trees have been washed away or windstorms have felled these massive trees. Weathering has faded the carvings, but twelve remain. Part of the fun is finding the faces. They’re like hidden gems peeking out of the gnarled bark as if the spirit inside the tree is alive. If you venture into these woods, don’t forget to knock on wood, just in case the tree spirits are watching.
Cottonwood Island Nature Park