Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Great Pine Needle Basket Caper

If you are not willing to learn, no one can help you.
If you are determined to learn, no one can stop you.

Alone we are smart. Together we are brilliant.
Steven Anderson

It all started innocently enough. A friend had been making wonderful art and baskets out of longleaf pine needles for a good while. A few times a year she offers a class on pine needle basketry at the Beaufort History Museum. I signed up for the class with a couple of other friends, and we arrived on the appointed morning ready to learn. Well, let me take that back. They were ready. I was completely unprepared. I did not bring a pocket book since I had a ride; no pen, no paper to take notes. I did not even think to bring my glasses to see the up close stitching I was supposed to be doing.
I spent a little time catching up by borrowing as much as I could, and calling my husband for an emergency glasses delivery. Finally I was ready to go, trying to get into the swing of the things. The process is time consuming and painstaking at first. But with friendly chatter, helpful oversight by our teacher, patience and glasses, we managed to pump out a sweet little basket each by the end of class. One little basket, and we were all hooked.

From there we took all sorts of directions. There were twines to source and buy, colors to pick, stitching needles to find, plastic straws to cut, bases to slice or invent. These items would come to me from one of our group before I had even thought about it. She'd tracked down everything we might need on Amazon, and packed the full set of supplies in a handy, homemade pouch. I was still working from behind.

Then of course there were pine needles to gather. First, we had to locate Longleaf Pines. They are usually found in areas nearer the southeastern coast, and I was sure I could spot them easily. We got some hints during class, and ended up one day in beach chairs under large longleafs chatting, collecting and bundling brown needles.

But what about green needles? Didn't we need some of those to dry as light tan additions to weave or dye? 

So that sent us off in search of shorter longleaf trees.  There were a few spots here and there with trees, but very often the green needles were not within reach. So we branched out to find hiking spots with large areas of longleaf pines that were protected, periodically burned, and otherwise controlled to safeguard the ecosystem. One of these spots was the Nature Conservancy's Green Swamp Preserve. 
                                                                                                                     We found Pitcher Plants, Sundew and Venus Flytrap growing among the wiregrass, sphagnum moss and cranberries. We located the burrows of gopher tortoise, identified  other plants in the mix, and found small, medium and larger sized Longleaf seedlings coming up after the burns.

 Armed with our collection bags, we secretly harvested green needles from unsuspecting juvenile trees to stash as bundles in boxes at home. 
Since then we've hiked in other Longleaf areas. The habitats have been different. Some are sandhills, some are swamps. Wherever we go, we now notice the differences in the look of pines. 

We watch each other's backs as we snatch more handfuls of green needles.  Imagine old women patrolling the back roads for seedling sightings, loitering under power lines, laughing over the loot, savoring our simple successes. No matter what the setting, these majestic trees stand silently over us, offering up needles for baskets and lessons of ecosystems, evolution, and stewardship. 

Now we're in search of interesting basket bases. Perhaps fired clay slabs from a friend's new pottery studio? Or maybe slices of a cedar trunk, or a driftwood log? So many ideas to explore.

 One little basket. That's all I've made so far. But I have so much more to show for it. 

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
 John Muir

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