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The Basket Weaver

by Douglas Malloch

No flashing loom is hers; no shuttle flies
To do the bidding of her hands and eyes.
No needle glides to designated place,
As weave her sisters overseas the lace.
Hers is a simpler workshop in the leaves;
This is a simpler pattern that she weaves,
Her woof the splinter of the forest tree,
The ash so white, the elm and hickory,
Her dyes the blood of marish weeds and bark
With tints as ruddy as her features dark—
These are her simple implements of toil,
The ready products of the woodland soil.

Yet who shall say her skill is aught the less
Than that of her who weaves the princess' dress?
For generations women of her race
Have woven baskets in this quiet place,
And she who weaves beneath the ancient trees
Reveals the skill of toilsome centuries.

Into the basket weaves she more than wood—
For weaves she in the romance of her blood,
Yea, weaves she in the moonlight and the sun,
The westward's burning rays when day is done,
The verdant tints of winter's evergreen,
The lily's whiteness and the willow's sheen,
The regal purple of her honored chief,
The simple beauty of her God-belief.

So, through its time, the basket that she makes
Shall sing to me of brooks and sylvan lakes,
Shall sing the glory of the vanished Red,
Shall sing a requiem for peoples dead,
Shall sing of tree, of flower and of sod—
Shall sing of Nature and the place of God.

Folk Ways

In an age before mass produced goods were widely available, many of life's necessities were gathered and fashioned from nearby woodlots. May was the traditional time for gathering "splint wood" to be used in such country crafts such as basket and barrel making. "Splints" were strips of wood rived out of log rounds.

May is the ideal month for gathering splint wood due to the unique qualities of the wood during this time of year. The sap and the new growth present in wood at this time give it a more bendable, rubbery quality, which is useful for some things. Also, the bark at this time of year is easier to remove before it has gotten a chance to tighten up and harden.

In times past, children could often be seen in May gathering up splint wood made of white oak, black ash, and hickory by the armful to be be exchanged for spending money with a local cooper or basket maker. The wood was often split into quarters, bundled, and placed in a stream of running water for a period of time to keep it soft and ready for splitting and pounding into splint material.

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Did You Know?

In May, ash and hickory wood contain their highest percentage of oil.

Below is a video clip of a traditional basket maker at work.

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