Balm of Gilead Trees


Years ago, when living in Ketchikan, I asked two Tlingit elders the names of some trees that smelled in Spring like church incense. “Balm of Gilead trees,” they answered. The memory seems fresh as new growth as Aki and I walk through the Treadwell ruins, now dominated by balsam poplar incense and the songs of American robins. Any residual sadness a person brought to this forest would surely ebb away before reaching the site of the mine collapse. I wonder if someone in the Ketchikan Tlingit community gave the poplars that descriptive name after hearing the old Balm of Gilead spiritual:

There is a balm in Gilead,

To make the wounded whole;

There is power enough in heaven,

To cure a sin-sick soul.


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