Plants as baskets, rope, fire-making tools and more!

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On a weekend in late September, we gathered together as part of the Plants Apprenticeship 2022 to explore what some call the “utilitarian” side of these awesome beings. Starting as always, with some sharing of gratitude and life updates and a little time to sit and arrive on the land – we had a beautiful sunny Saturday! In that moment, we didn’t need fire or rope and it was too early to dig roots (not quite Fall yet), but we were excited to spend the time working with our hands, and carving tools and needles to make plants into a wide variety of useful and beautiful objects.

First up – it was time to carve (after a little safety orientation!) and we made a stylus for peeling bark and also, a smooth angled digging stick for upcoming root digging adventures. With the time to saw saplings, and work around the tough spots that knots can be, it was a different type of intimacy and relationship building with the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) material.

Then, we had some time to work on carving with a much softer wood – Northern White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis). After a skillful demonstration from Alexis, we were each shown the different components in a bow-drill friction fire kit – the hearth, the handhold, the spindle and the bow. Using hand tools to split up dry cedar into various pieces and sawing some hardwood handholds, many of us were able to make pieces of our own kits – lots of smoke and dust building and baby fires to come!

We spent the latter part of Saturday peeling fresh White Pine (Pinus strobus) bark from rounds of wood so that we could fashion the fresh bark into baskets – a container that can be sewed along the joining edges and harden to create a place to gather berries, art supplies or any number of small items that might need to be contained. The stylus was a helpful tool in keeping the bark under pressure to peel, while not splitting it with the sharp edge of a knife, so that we could have bigger sheets to work with. We used upholsteyr needles and waxed twine or hemp to finish the edges.

On Sunday, we had a chance to continue working on friction fire skills by using and adjusting our kits – we also peeling cordage fibers from Milkweed and Stinging Nettle plants and used some corn husks for an introductory lesson on the reverse wrap cordage method – rope! A highly useful part of any camp set up! We also made some plant dye preparations, opened up the projects of coal burnt spoons and made a recipe for pitch – a glue that dries hard – made from tree resins and ashes. There are so many things to do with plants and so many ways to get connected to the everyday items that fill our lives.

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