Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Woven in Time

   Look around your place. Each of us can find baskets being used to store onions, gather flowers & vegetables from the garden, sewing accessories, trinkets, extra towels, garden tools, balls of yarn, clothes pins, and a shopping bag in all kinds of shapes and sizes. I have one shaped like a star (from $ store) that I use at Christmas to make a no-bake low-fat 'Creme Brulee' for dessert.
   A list can go on and on, but while they're handy to stick things in we are sharing a heritage with ancestors that goes back at least 29, 016 years. The oldest basket to survive has been carbon dated back to 27,000 BC, add our AD years gives the first figure. Baskets are fragile, they're made from plant materials - hence they rapidly perish when exposed to the elements or come in contact with the soil. They were a creation of necessity to gather and store food from materials that were readily available to the weaver.
   Early peoples were hunters and gatherers who moved in small bands from place to place when food supplies diminished or calamities threaten the group. Baskets were then used as baby carriers and backpacks to transport their possessions. This was true all over the world in every known culture - a well stocked hearth had a plentiful supply of baskets. They were also used as fish traps, to boil water, and as very early cooking pots for stew.
   If you ever tried boiling water in a reed basket it is a tricky business. First the basket must be tightly woven to prevent leakage. Fibers will shrink as they dry creating gaps. Then the container must be re-soaked to close the spaces before liquid is added. Stones are heated in a fire, and then dropped into the water. It takes constant work over a long period of time to fish out the stones and then reheat them to complete the cooking process. Specialize baskets with small holes like colanders were used to extract seeds from their pods.
   Great civilizations evolved around the globe. Farmers not only used baskets to gather their grains, but they made one side flat to rest against the donkey's side so they could transport their produce to market. Woman developed a technique of carrying a basket on their heads particularly in rural areas, which is a good trick in of itself.
   Available materials influenced weaving techniques. Some common materials were tree bark, stalks & stems of plants, palm fibers, raffia, and bamboo. Anthropologists, who are knowledgeable in this area can identify where a basket originated from the material used and its construction style.
   About twenty years ago there were some lovely unique little baskets displayed in a window of one of the stores on the square. They were constructed from polished pine needles and made here in Ono County. We used those little baskets filled with seed pods of the Black Adler (look like tiny pine cones) in a scene in our latest mystery, Legacy of Death.
   Enjoy your baskets as they're a treasure that reaches back through the ages to unite people with a common utilitarian household item, that had another use. Little baskets were used to throw pieces like dice when people gambled or played games of chance.
   We've all heard the phrase "going to hell in a hand basket" when someone is doing their level best to destroy themselves. It means just that, "to rapidly deteriorate," which is what happens to a basket when it rots.
   Nash Black's ghost story collections are Haints & Games of Death.  

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