Superheated rocks and saltwater are used to steam and spread a traditional canoe.

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Saaduuts Peele puts more cedar and hemlock on the fire in the half light of morning on the shore of Lake Union. Peele, a master canoe carver and artist-in-residence at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle, started the fire at 5 a.m. Saturday to begin the process of steaming a new canoe, his seventh in Seattle.

“We’re opening up the canoe with fire, water and love,” he said. “We’re honoring the Duwamish, for they are not recognized, and we are honoring the Haida way.” Peele is a member of the Haida tribe.

The fire was built around a pile of special rocks from Mount Baker. The rocks have steamed three canoes already. After several hours in the fire, the rocks turn cherry hot. The new canoe is filled with saltwater, brought over from Golden Gardens, then superheated rocks are placed in the water.

The water heats up immediately and becomes steam, which spreads the inside of the canoe.

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“What we get out of it is what we put into it,” said Peele, who encourages people to avoid anger and distraction in the area and to maintain spirit and calm. He started the fire before sunrise and will keep it going past sunset until the steam dissipates.

“We’re not going to rush to do it,” he said. “We came here to enjoy it. No matter how many times you do it, it changes your life.”

To participate in the next canoe carving or steaming, contact the Center For Wooden Boats at

Bettina Hansen, Seattle Times staff photographer

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