I have been weeding out baskets. The one that used to rest on top the refrigerator, a back-up fruit basket for over all in fruit season, or a bread basket at celebrations when therere were extra people. Like at our weeding. It was a different basket, I never saw another like it, an octagonal shape of reeds stitched together, patterns forming in the sides and bottom, the way the utility of structure yields the beauty of design in baskets. This perfect fusion of beauty and utility is perhaps the root of why I love baskets. That and their history. A proud history of women creating serviceable objects of beauty for their life, wherever they were, with whatever they found around them.
It was this that prompted me to learn to make baskets. IT seemed imperative to fashion a basket from the Torrey Pines, that grow here and only one other place. Lucky for the natives, a three pronged needle twice as long as most pine needles, which made the work of bundling and coiling and stitching go fast. I made one Torrey Pines basket and it turned out better than any of the baskets I made. To do so I had to take classes and learan to prepare the needles, in the bathtube boiled water poured on them to kill the bugs that might later threaten the integrity of the b asket, glyercine to make the needles pliant. And then I spread them outside on newspapers to dry. I saved the prepared needles for a decade , even when it was clear I would never make another basket, that it was just too difficult for my arthritic hands which needed more to do other work. I saved them in a store bought basekt which fit their size and shape perfectly. It pleased me to look at it, it was the kind of bounty that gave me a sense of security. It was a kind of life I aspired to.
The store bought basket which held the pine needles was a gift from neighbor I once had, an older woman at the end of her life who lived upstairs over the laundry business she ran for years, after her husband died in the war.WWII, I used to see her at end of every day reading her paper on the livining room sofa. It was a comfort to me at a transient, unsettling time in my life. Margaret in the window at five p.m. were the words that used tocome to me , words I couldn’t shape into something fitting or deserving then and saved , like prepared needles in a basket. I tooke her something one day, plants i didn’t have room I believe she invited me in and showed me the dove-tailed corners of her dresser drawers. She was weeding out her life, looking th rough cards she had ever received, preparing for the end of her life. I was weeding out too. I am pretty much always weeding out, and felt a bond with Margaret, in the window at five p.m. a When I showed her my torrey pine basket I had made, she insisted on giving me basket that later held the needles, and I ‘ve saved it ever since in honor of the sjpontaneoud generousutiy of the act, a way that women often are.
Rec etnly I finally let the needles go, into the yard waste recyling. I’ve always taken a certain pride that the things I hoarded could be thrown outside on the ground and would de-compose. It was what made the saving okay. I let the needles go because I knew IK would never make more baskets and didn’t know anyone else who would. They had taken on that unconsciousness I cannot stand in objects in my home, that take on a museum quazlity. I let the needles go but saved the basket to hold my small percussion instruments I still use. There were several times I considered getting rid of the needles before I finally did, but each time whatever else put in the basket was such a disappointment of contents and container that I retrieved the needles and laid them back in place, tips matching the way my aunt placed her hair pins in the dish.
Most of the superfluous baskets I save are as representations of the people who gave them to me, who are no longer in my life. Or to retell the moment, like the one of Margaret’s spontaneious generousity. I have another basket, store bought as most baskets are that are in our lives, which has sat on the tops of shelves for over a decade. The kind of shallow basket women use to pick abundant bouquets from their cutting gardens. I have never mastered such a cutting garden and when I pick never have the basket with me and merely load up my arms. It is the sort of basket which rightfully accompanies long, flowing skirts and broad brimmmed hats, ribbons flowing in the breeze. It is a favorite image, a romantized version of the picking that has always been my favorite past time. In a just world this basket would be used to carry lavendar to the house. I grow lavendar but don’t have enough plants to ever be so reckless in the harvest.
The friend who gave me this basket was on h er way to Chicago to be with a man, a relationship that didn’t work out. But in that moment, hope and promise were still there, and the uncertainty which takes risk. She was paring down and eliminating, everything was packed and the basket didn;’t fit, so she turned and handed it to me. I’ve kept it ever since. I don’t know the woman any more, she moved away and we lost touch. l Something that has been painfully typical of my life in southern california. But I remember her in the basket. It sits on the ledge above the book shelves on the high wall in the living room holding three gourds I brought home from an important atrip to Tennessee.
At the other end of the ledge is a basekt that was a christmas gift. And frankly, it is probably on its way out. I have never really liked it. It troubles me, a cheap copy – something is not right. Although it made me happy when it came at Chriostmas full of oranges. I took its photography sitting on the floor under the tree, when everything else was gone. it was the sort of gift I wanted to receive, bought spontaneously from what I heard. The same sort of basket in the romantic image of flwoing skirts, but not quite right somehow, a poor copy from a friend who later said such hurtful words that it made it a good idea for the basket to leave. I’ve used it hold the date palm sticks I always loved that are also used in basket. The basket I made from them was funny shaped and loosely held together like the relationship that faltered.
Another basket I got for that friend that was refused because it was not quite right for the function became one of my most important baskets. It holds the bottle of water from the Jordan river that made me cry. A small viles of soil from the place where I was born, and other sacred treasures. It is unusual with compartments inside, a basket that could be used to organize utensils and napkins if it weren’t otherwise engaged. I ornamented it with hawk feathers I found, egret feathers when I first began to walk the land where we live.
There are two other baskets I want to eliminate, which are so wed to their function that it is difficult. I am sick of looking at both ot them, they are old and falling apart and I do not really love them, which is an important criteria for what I keep in my life. One of them holds ribbon and gift wrap and has for so long that I’m not sure I can give gift without it. It is one of the rare objects in my house that I cannot remember the origin of. It stands higher than wide an dh as a hinged lid, which perfectfly suits its job. It is easy to take off the shelf when needed and then put back. It will be hard to replace, has been hard tol replace , I have been waiting for a while to stumble upon something else. It is a neutral basket with a job, but no story. There are not many things like this in my life, but it has done its job extrememtly well for a very long time, and of course it was either free or cost next to nothing. That is almost always the case with baskets.
The other one is a basket I bought at a neighbor’s yard sale twenty years ago. A strange woman who hung her clothes out to dry across the car port, when no one else did. A struglleing single mother, with too many roudy sons who wouldn’t leave home. I lived across from her when I was young and judged her unfairly because I didn’t know then how life can make us strange, how ecentricities emerge over time, like the shape of a basket begins to reveal itself about mid-way. It was a lovely basket at the time. I had never seen one like. It had a cloth strap sewn to fit around it perfectly with strraps long enough to carry on your shoulder. I only occasionally used it for picnics, I had another one for that, but for years it held fabrics after I had pared sewing down. In recent ;years it has become my uncertainty basket.
For years I would never get rid of a basket, unless it was completely falling apart
the lady down the road has baskets hanging from her ceiling, the way I did and the way I wanted to even more
the house has no room
the way my husband laughed at how I bring out everything, an essayist skill
baskets woven together the same way
the simple life isn’t, leads to obsession