My Side of the Mountain

by Jean George
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What kind of bark did Sam use for soap?

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On page 68 of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Sam is enjoying the beautiful days of early summer by taking a bath in a cold spring. Bathing allows him to start the day “with a vengeance.” He ties Frightful up to a nearby hemlock, splashing her...

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On page 68 of My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, Sam is enjoying the beautiful days of early summer by taking a bath in a cold spring. Bathing allows him to start the day “with a vengeance.” He ties Frightful up to a nearby hemlock, splashing her occasionally. Between the ferns and moss, Sam scrubs himself with the bark of slippery elm, noting that it gets soapy when he rubs it. Slippery elm is a tall flowering tree that can grow up to 150 feet. The inner bark is collected in spring and early summer and is known to have a smooth, slippery texture, which can even become gooey with water. In the novel, the fact that it is early summer coincides with the fact it was ready for picking by Sam.

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The answer to this is that Sam used the bark of the slippery elm tree as a sort of soap.  This is not to say that he actually used it to make soap.  Instead, he used the bark itself as soap.  He said that this was a kind of bark that got soapy when it was rubbed.

This can be found at the beginning of the chapter entitled "I Find A Real Live Man."  When the chapter starts, Sam is recounting the daily routine that he follows in the summer.  He says that he would take a bath in the spring every morning.  When he would do that, he would rub himself with the bark of the slippery elm.

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