This decision I have made to use string making as a way to contemplate connection to the earth and plants, a way to think about Indigenous law… is teaching me a lot. Not all of it as expected. Which is the way learning goes, when it goes well! I am noticing potential string-plants in the neighbourhood a lot. And as I do that, noticing so much more.
I have been learning some more about the supposed divide between public and private. It turns out that if I take up my damp leaves and it is light, and so I think perhaps I’ll go and commune with a tree (or try to imagine what communing with a tree would involve)–or even just stand beneath it in admiration and enjoy the birdsong–I can just about never manage this alone and without comment.
If I take my wet leaves up the street and round the corner to check on the latest little saltbush plantings, I end up listening to one of my neighbours who spends a lot of time on the street himself. I hope it helps him to talk, because in all honesty, it isn’t that relaxing to listen to him. But the string does help me and he doesn’t notice it.
Other people do notice it. People do not expect you to do anything when you are out in the neighbourhood other than walk, or walk your dog. Knitting while walking is a spectacularly attention grabbing thing to do. I have known this for years, I admit.
So is gleaning (picking up fallen bark, leaves or spent flowers). So is weeding. So is planting. So is picking up litter. Walking a dog is fine, but walking a wheelbarrow stands out from the crowd. I now discover that fidgeting with strips of leaf in the street is also worthy of comment. A friend who had been to Central America once said to me that I was the only white woman she had ever met whose hands were never still. I took it as a compliment. I am not sure why being passive is a desirable thing. Rest, I can understand. Sometimes stillness, too, is desirable and necessary. But not all the time. I think making and gathering and tending the commons, even in the suburbs, is much more fulfilling.
I am also learning about the uses of plants. I hadn’t realised that this would be such a simple way to assess the qualities of a leaf. I thought this plant looked like a cordyline (a plant known to basketry and a member of the family whose leaves I happily turned into string at Tin Can Bay), and so I gleaned a single dead leaf. It is extremely tough. Even after 24 hours of soaking, when I could split it with my nail and pull it apart along the length of the leaf, it felt dry and tough and hard to twine. But the fibres were exceedingly tough and there was no fragility with twisting. This made me think that this plant would make a great stitching medium. You could thread a strip through a needle and use this to stitch.
This plant had tough leaves that I soaked and split. I managed to create string with it but it felt unpleasant–simultaneously slightly sticky and as if the fibres had a square profile–and I strongly disliked the smell–which made me wonder whether long term skin contact was a good idea. From now on, it is safe from me. But the string was… stretchy!
I took this photo over the top of a tall fence, as this plant is tree sized–taller than I am. I haven’t tried it out yet but if it is useful–it has many dried and dead leaves falling off onto the footpath. Gleaning goodness. I have also been learning about my own skill levels… as wearing the string means I can see which fibres break first and where the weak points in my work are, and I can see the different thicknesses and finenesses of string I am able to make, too. The learning continues…