The other day, Angelica’s friend Genevieve Hill gave us a little tour of some of the archaeological holdings at the Royal B.C. Museum. I could have stayed there forever, opening drawers, looking at the beautiful objects so carefully collected and catalogued. What I loved most were the fragments of baskets collected in wet-land sites. You expect stone tools, you expect evidence of cooking implements, burial goods, etc. But somehow the cordage and prepared roots and barks, woven so ingeniously into gathering bags, nets, the practical baskets used for carrying (and draining) clams and other shellfish — those were the things that made me stop and look carefully at pattern and function, wanting my hands to know how it felt to twist and twine those fibres.
When I was writing my memoir-in-essays, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees, I taught myself to make pine needle baskets as part of a process to understand Ponderosa pines and what pine bark beetle damage has done to their range and health. I made 3 baskets. One went to Forrest as a birthday gift and I have 2 left. The first one I made is the smallest. I used raffia to stitch it and I was not very good at it. The turns are clumsy and awkward. The second one is a little better. I used linen thread I drew first through a block of bees wax to strengthen it. I found a rhythm and I really loved the work. But somehow I haven’t returned to making baskets though I have some pine needles cleaned and waiting.
In the meantime, I began an essay a few weeks ago to figure out some stuff about string. Seeing the tattered fragments of cedar and spruce so carefully woven into baskets so long ago, preserved in the museum, has me wanting to thread my wide-eyed needles with linen thread, to begin the little spiral that begins the basket.
Old English streng (noun), of Germanic origin; related to German Strang, also to strong. The verb (dating from late Middle English) is first recorded in the senses ‘arrange in a row’ and ‘fit with a string’.
I was looking online for information about the importance of string and of course found page after page about string theory, the belief that particles are replaced by one-dimensional strings interacting or vibrating in space. Gravity is involved as a unifying force. This is where I stop, thinking, No, that’s not what I want to examine at all. Give me string, three-dimensional, lengths of fibre twined and twisted and accumulating until there’s enough to use for practical purposes. There is gravity and there is the ground, where my feet are located, firmly, though of course gravity has something to do with it. But bending, taking a strand of wild honeysuckle from the ground and realizing that it could be flattened with the fingers, maybe twisted with the bark of silverberry, and made into something – a basket, a loosely-woven bag to carry what needs carrying – well, that strikes me as an act of beautiful creation, worth exploring, worth gathering myself. Let the unifying force be what we can make with our hands to be useful in the world we inhabit. Let our strings vibrate, as violin strings vibrate. As our vocal chords vibrate. As a strong bag woven of string carries our wild greens home for our dinner.